Tracy Newhart
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When I was six months pregnant with twins, my Prius, with me behind the wheel, was totaled by a driver who drove up a bike lane, past all the other cars waiting at a stop sign, and then proceeded to blow through a stop sign at high speed.

Was he drunk? No.

Did he think he was on his bike? No.

Was he distracted? No.

Was he challenged by understanding exactly where his navigation system was telling him to take a right turn? Yes.

We’ve all he read more..

Was he challenged by understanding exactly where his navigation system was telling him to take a right turn? Yes.

We’ve all heard the stories about people who listen to their navigation systems and end up driving into bays, lakes, construction zones, snow covered closed roads and more recently onto train tracks. The Feb. 24, 2015 incident in Oxnard, California of a truck and trailer stuck on the train tracks, reportedly when his navigation made it unclear about where the next right turn was, resulted in one fatality and 32 injuries when a commuter train struck the truck.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has since released a recommendation that mapping and navigation companies incorporate grade crossing-related geographic data, such as those being prepared by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), into their navigation applications. They have made these requests of specific businesses including Google, Apple, Garmin, HERE, TomTom, INRIX, MapQuest, Microsoft Corporation, Omnitracs, OpenStreetMap, Sensys Networks, StreetLight Data, Teletrac, and United Parcel Service of America.

When the FRA posts their GIS data, they typically rely on the user to understand their data dictionary and to pull the correct data. This means making sure that they aren’t pulling data that is in the planning phase or construction phase. But what happens when new data is available? When construction is done? Do each of these mapping and navigation companies return to the FRA GIS site again and look for updates? How do they know when the updates are done?

The current process for pulling agency supplied GIS open data is inefficient and guarantees that this ever changing data will always be out of date. This is not unique to the FRA, but spans all government agency GIS open data clearinghouses.

These agencies needs to think differently. They need to consider efficiency, reach and real-time condition and availability updates.

What happens when there are new roads, railroad crossings, housing or business complexes? What about unplanned disruptions to highways, roads, bridges, or rail lines, in the case of flooding, wildfires, avalanches, rock slides, protests, or earthquake damaged roads and highways?

There is also the issue of temporary closures and the need for temporary maps that happens with planned events. Consider roadway construction, races, parades, street fairs, and redirected traffic around busy sports venues. What about commute times when lanes are repurposed for commute direction traffic and left turns are unavailable? I know I’ve been often frustrated by my Google maps app telling me to turn left during commute hours when the left turn lane is closed.

Seasonal closures have also inconvenienced travelers and put them in danger when their navigation systems have sent them on routes closed for the winter.

The authoritative content owners of the transportation infrastructure and these planned events need a system where they can easily define public data, vs. internal, or planned projects data and easily update real-time content from the field without relying on in-house, or contracted GIS experts. This system should be map and navigation app agnostic and push real-time updates to map providers.

With the latest FRA recommendation, each one of these businesses are expected to individually figure out the relevance of the data supplied and only implement that data. That’s a lot of duplicate effort that doesn’t include a process for getting continual, real-time updates. Map and navigation companies should be able to rely on a push system for real-time updates from the national, state, city and local bureaus of transportation and all the associated transportation agencies, first responders and events managers.

At the same time, the responsible agencies, must commit to posting real-time updates for unplanned events and publish in advance, planned events that impact transportation.

Through a long evolution of listening to land and infrastructure managers, these are some of the challenges that Nau Media has set out to address with the rNavigator SaaS platform. By creating a platform that is map agnostic, easy enough for authorized users in the office or the field to make secure map and content updates to, and by providing the ability to push real-time, incremental updates, we are making it possible for the authoritative content owner to supply map and navigation companies with real-time and temporary data quickly and easily without relying on crowdsourced data.

The driver of the car that hit me and the one that ended up on the railroad tracks had something in common, they both misinterpreted the instructions of their navigation system on where they should take a right turn. Drivers are becoming more and more reliant on what navigation systems and map apps show and tell them as opposed to reading road signs. It seems that there will always be challenges with navigation app users not using all the information available to them, but with detailed information about temporary map changes and real-times updates to navigation systems we can reduce the number of wrong turns into construction sites, commute traffic, roads closed for the season, and areas impacted by a crisis, increasing the safety of drivers and those around them.

One of these days, technologies such as ours, will also send warnings of approaching trains through sensors and APIs to navigation systems, and vice versa warnings to trains of vehicles stuck on the track, thus avoiding the Oxnard incident.

It’s all an evolution toward greater safety through more thorough knowledge and better, more efficient technology and yes, drivers must still keep their eyes on the road and road signs.


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