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Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Not Selling your Soul to GPS

Today's world everyone wants, gets and use in-car navigation device (a.k.a. GPS). Well, the origin of technology back to 60s through military needs in US and Soviet Union. It just happens the American GPS (where the name comes from) is the most stable, functioning and long-lasting from 1970s onwards. The Soviet/ Russian GLONASS completed its full set of satellites in mid 90s but due to financial crises, the number of satellites functioning fell make GLONASS unreliable. Now, it is back to action. But the damage was done, the American GPS became the noun for all in-car navigation device. Either way, from what I have deduced, the in-car navigation device is marriage of the two geospatial technologies- GIS (Geographic Information System) and the Satellite Positioning Technology (a.k.a. the GPS).

  We often hear that people got stranded using the in-car navigation devices. The stories ranges from people ending up at national parks (Apple Maps fiasco) to people ending up in another country .On this matter, I believe the issue stems from the GIS where the road database and turn-to-turn direction is stored. The amount of information stored in the navigation devices are immensely huge and expensive in dataset purchases. So, when the database has erroneous information, no matter how good the Satellite Positioning Technology works, you will end being lost. Capitalizing the failures of GPS, Universal Publishers (Australia no.1 street directory publisher) created a rectangular ad entitled 'Is your GPS driving you to the wall?' In today's brief article, I will examine why street directories are important and what Malaysia could learn from Australian street directories.

  Before the era of GPS, the street directories, or hard-copy map pamphlets were your navigation devices. The street directories, the good ones ,were very thick and bulky. However, it contained all the information for your metropolitan areas. If your street directory company in your country is good, the company would produce street directories for remote or rural towns. Basically, the street directories have two advantages against the 'GPS'.

1) It would not breakdown due to heat, loss of battery power

If you are travelling remote areas of country (i.e. Australia), the journey will take for hours. It is expected that your nearest power source or internet provider will be too far. With the age of smart phones, the phone GPS taps the internet service to show the maps from the database and move them as you go. Having said that, if you go to Outback Australia or hidden forest roads in Malaysia, your phone will not be able to connect to internet. Then, your online maps would be showing the last maps you turned it on. The rest would be blurred or not available. Then, you argue that you have non-online GPS on the Phone like Garmin or Magellan. Well, it would work as it depends on the satellite positioning and visibility. The only problem do not turn it on for too long or the battery would die. When battery dies, the 'GPS' is dud machine. Some instances, the environment would not suit for a GPS due to temperature extremities, humidity or other factors. In short, street directories are capable to function on this situations. I heard in Australia, there may be a law that makes taxis to have mandatory street directories as your plan 'B'

2) You can see the bigger picture of the world we live in

Street directories being like book allows you to see the bigger world around the place you want to visit. Since your GPS currently is small device, you only see lines and other data in confined world. Not knowing how things are related to other parts of the world. Plus, street directories are controlled art forms where users can keep on looking, staring and appreciating the cartography behind it. You look at the GPS for a while, but not much to appreciate the design of maps.

Lessons from Australian street directories

Australian street directories have been successful in their publications since 1930s (or maybe before). In Australia, there are two monopolies of street directories (Ausway and UBD-Gregory's). Gregory was started by Journalist in 1930s to map out Sydney and soon amalgated with UBD (now the Gregory brand is dead after 75 years I think). Ausway (started as Melways) is one of the most successful directories in the country. The term Melways became a noun for Melbournians as most Melbournians one way or another have a Melway (despite in the world of GPS). Started off in 1966, Ausway eventually produced directories for Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth. Handling 4 cities would be heck of work where thousands of square kilometres with thousands of roads are being mapped. UBD (Universal Publishers) is the street directory company that rules street directory and atlases across Australia. They produce street directories for every capital city in Australia, state atlas and their regional spin-offs (e.g. regional SE Queensland).

Assessing their products, I have deduced the number one factor of their popularity of this directories: Content. In order to meet the needs of a driver, you need to ensure the maps are up-to-date and loaded with so much data without compromising the beauty. Below here are the key content features of Australian street directories:

1) Address points- UBD/Ausway street directories puts an address range in every possible street in their directories. The potential of doing that is immense- they make sure the directories are useful for the public to use in the age of GPS

2) Public Transportation network- The directories strive to show the tram stop locations, train stops, route numbers, transportation network topology for every city and regional cities covered.

3) Location of traffic information- They show the traffic light, road restrictions (i.e. tonnage limit, private access), speed humps and emergency telephones

4) Points of interests- Strive to show every information centers, parking areas, toilets, telephones, building, landmarks, bridge names

5) Maps of universities and other key landmarks sites- Australian street directories devote a section of maps of university compounds areas (the location of faculties, building names), airport terminal information and maps of sporting areas or other major events area

6) Maps of regional cities- For example, Melways do not cover only Melbourne, they show maps of Geelong, Mornington Peninsula and Phillip Island. Likewise, other street directories do not focus only metropolitan areas, goes beyond that to show the layout of rural towns. UBD has wide range of products which shows many rural towns in Australia accompanied with key information. 

Well, the list can go on for long (e.g. comprehensive index and telephone numbers). However, I am stressing the major highlights of a street directories. If you look an Australian metropolitan street directory, it is whopping 500 pages for every metropolitan area.
(Article under construction)

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