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Mapping the world, one street at a time August 14, 2009

Posted by Bahadir Sahin in English, Haber (News).
Tags: , ,

Between GPS devices on your car’s dashboard and digital maps of almost any locale in the world on your smartphone or laptop, it’s hard to get lost these days.

We may take these 21st-century services for granted. But someone still needs to do the actual legwork of mapping these places and making sure the information is accurate.

Meet the people at Tele Atlas, the company that provides so-called “base maps” to such high-profile clients as Google, MapQuest and RIM, the maker of the BlackBerry. Tele Atlas also provides digital-mapping services for its corporate owner, the portable-navigation company TomTom.

You can’t say the company isn’t ambitious.

“Our ultimate goal would be to map the entire world,” says Pat McDevitt, vice president of engineering at Tele Atlas, which is based in the Netherlands and has its U.S. headquarters in Lebanon, New Hampshire.

Base maps are the raw data — highways, streets, stop lights and exit signs — that navigation companies use as a starting point before adding their own applications.

Most of the industrialized world has been base-mapped already. But Tele Atlas is constantly updating pre-existing maps to include new roads, traffic signals and buildings.

Tele Atlas gets this information by combining satellite imagery, local, state and federal maps and most importantly, putting the rubber to the road in its Mobile Mapping Vans. See how it works »

Pimp my ride

Six cameras, two side-sweeping lasers and a GPS sit atop each bright orange Mobile Mapping Van, making them, as McDevitt says, “look a little bit like something out of ‘Ghostbusters.’ ”

The cameras point in all directions, capturing a 360-degree view of everything the van encounters. And the GPS lets Tele Atlas know — within a meter –everywhere the van has been. A computer screen sits next to the driver’s seat so the driver can monitor images captured by the cameras above.

“The driver is really responsible for making sure the images coming from the camera are actually of high enough quality to be used on our production floor,” says Kamron Barron, technical process manager at Tele Atlas.

That means when a bug splatters on a camera’s lens, the driver gets out to clean it off. This happens a lot.

And if you think the vans must poke along, causing traffic jams on the roads they’re mapping, you’d be wrong. The vans drive at normal speeds while snapping about three images per second. That’s more than 100 million images per year, per van.

When you consider Tele Atlas has dozens of vans worldwide, you begin to get a sense of the scope of the company’s work.



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