Out there gathering map data, one intersection at a time


The New Yorker reported some time ago on how Navteq gathers map data. This story reminded me that, at least as of a few years ago, Navteq listed the driveway of a colleague of mine as a through road. Drivers came up to his driveway, realized that they've been hoodwinked, and spun their wheels in the gravel in frustration on their way out.

He told me that he had reported the error to Navteq three years previously, but they still hadn't updated their map data. I haven't checked back to see if the data has been updated yet...

Comments (20)
  1. DavidE says:

    My favorite mapping service goofup was from mapquest. In 2000, I was driving around the US, and I used mapquest directions to get from place to place. There’s a road in SW Illinois that is also "Main St" in several towns. I needed to go to 123 Main St in one town. Mapquest took me off the interstate about 50 miles too soon and led me to 123 Main St in a completely different town. Luckily, I had been to my destination before and realized that I just had to keep going.

    Then there’s the map that shows a road that is in the middle of the North Fork Snoqualmie River for about a mile…

  2. Leagle says:

    I believe that if these companies do not correct their products after written notice, that they should be held liable for any emergency problems caused by them. Regardless of disclaimers.

  3. C Gomez says:

    They should probably have no more liability than, say, a traditional ‘stack o’ paper bound in a book’ map company under the same conditions (written notice… though it is not given what requirements the written notice must meet.)

    I’m not saying I know what their liability is, but if I was asked to guess, I would say it is little to none.

  4. Bob Plankers says:

    Navteq has always been quite responsive to the reports of errors I’ve found. It takes them a while to correct the error, probably because of the way they gather the data (sending a truck out to remap the area). Then because their data is embedded in other products it takes even longer for the fix to make it into consumer products like Streets & Trips. Nevertheless, the fixes do make it in (Streets & Trips 2007 has fixes I reported in 2005), and I always get an email when they close my update request.

    As for liability, are traditional map companies liable for anything? In my opinion the driver is solely responsible for the operation of the vehicle, emergency or not.

  5. Scott says:

    The worst is when the site says "can’t find that road, but here’s the ZIP", and you don’t notice and end up following directions to the middle of the ZIP code.

  6. David Walker says:

    Navteq is WAY behind in one of the areas in my home town.  There is new construction here, but some neighborhoods that have been here for well over a year are still not in Google’s maps, or MSN maps, or Mapquesst’s maps… and I think all of this data comes from Navteq.

  7. Steve Loughran says:

    If you want to do up to date maps of your area, put the GPS unit on your bike and do a tour of every single street in your vicinity. Then upload it to OpenStreetMap: http://www.openstreetmap.org/, who are trying to build an unrestricted map of the world (this matters a lot in europe). you can also edit the map data, delete incorrect roads, hightlight which are for mountain bikes only, etc.

    See also a nice presentation on how to test map routing:

    http://model.based.testing.googlepages.com/exploratory-automation.pdf

  8. ChrisMcB says:

    Back when I was growing up, I lived just outside the city limits. There was a LARGE desert across the street. Before I was born, whoever owned the land wanted to build houses there, and had already requested streetnames and locations from the city. Meanwhile on my side of the street, the original land owners just created roads, but never told anyone about the roads. Until I was in high school (when they finally started building the neighborhood across the street) maps would show streets in the vacant land across the street, but nothing on my side of the street.

    As far as emergencies go, this meant that if you called 911, chances are the ambulance would have a tough time finding our house.

  9. Ben Cooke says:

    Between my house and my workplace there is a pair of roads that almost meet but are not joined together due to a large farm in the middle. It seems that the generally-available map data on this area has this marked as a through road, because it shows up that way on all of the online mapping sites and my SatNav unit will always try to persuade me to drive through there. Visitors to my workplace often call up and complain that they’re stuck on a farm with no idea where to go next.

    I wish they’d fix it, but since the UK’s Ordnance Survey refuses to make their map data available to the public I refuse to help them fix it on principle.

  10. Nick Lamb says:

    Before Steve gives people the wrong impression…

    OpenStreetMap is a good project, but right now it’s not very relevant to people in North America. In Europe many countries either don’t have a government geographic survey team or the team is funded by selling its results to the highest bidder. Even very simple map data (like street names) is available only via copyrighted sources like NavTeq. So OSM’s first task was to use aerial photography and street survey teams to re-collect this information. In a few cities that work is already finished, but it will be some years yet before all of Europe has good coverage.

    Where OSM is "finished" it’s somewhat equivalent to TIGER – the US census geodata mentioned in the article. You can make a map from it, but you wouldn’t want to use it for a satnav system. Actually they’re understandably downplaying TIGER in the text, it does contain a lot more than road names, including layer information (so you can see the difference between a road brige over a railway and a railway bridge over a road) but it is missing turning restrictions, tolls, etc. that are vital to a driver’s atlas. Those are the sort of things NavTeq employees are looking for.

    Eventually, as OpenStreetMap becomes more complete, they’ll go back and add the attributes needed for a navigation system. Driving through a town making note of no-entrance signs, toll bridges etc. is a lot faster than using a GPS and notepad to record the name and location of every cul-de-sac in that town’s housing estates so I expect this upgrade to go quickly. But right now OSM’s database isn’t suitable for concepts like "You can’t turn North onto James Street from Oxford Way, but you can turn East onto Oxford Way from James Street" so that will have to be a project for another year and by then the 2007 TIGER data will be imported which means you’re not starting from a blank canvas in the US.

    OSM in 2006 is where Wikipedia was in 2002. It’s got beyond being a good idea in principle, and moved on to the stage where there’s just a lot of work to do.

  11. Nothing made me distrust computers more than the time that Mapquest sent me the wrong way on a one-way street in Beaumont, TX.

  12. Fred Foobar says:

    My favorite had to be Navteq’s data for the Grand Canyon National Park. I didn’t know the exact address of Grand Canyon National Park, so I opened up the POI database on the GPS unit, and searched for "Grand Canyon." The first response: "Grand Canyon National Park." I figure that it’s the right address, and click through the screen following, which shows the address, without even thinking.

    Several hours later, I’m in the middle of Flagstaff. The GPS unit tells me to turn into a subdivision. I find that rather odd, but play along. Then, it tells me to turn down an alley. Now I know that something’s up. At the end of the alley, it announces, "You have arrived." I get out and look around, and the only thing remotely canyon-like in the vicinity is a foot-wide pothole.

    Moral of the story: sanity-check any address before driving to it.

  13. Gabe says:

    Paul, NavTeq doesn’t know that I live on a one-way street, so half the time I go somewhere the directions hell me to start off going the wrong way.

  14. tsrblke says:

    I work at a Place that exits at 20 N. Grand, in a city where there is a 20 E. Grand about 4 miles away.  We called an ambulance once and the dispatcher though I said "E. Grand" even though I said North several times and even told him the name of the university I work at (mind you it has the same name as the hospital less than a mile down the road.)  20 minutes later the ambulence finally pulls up, saying they went down grand in the wrong direction for a stroke of time.  Go GPS navigation system!

  15. HeadlessCow says:

    My neighborhood has a couple of nice features that always threw off directions in the area.

    1. My street and the street parallel to us are actually split in two and there’s a swamp between the two ends. Apparently all the maps were made before it was decided that the wetlands would prevent the two ends of each road from being connected. We always had people driving around lost looking for house numbers that were higher than the last house on our end. We’d have to send them out of the neighborhood and down a few roads to get to the right end of the road. Eventually the town renamed the second half of each road to help clear this up.

    2. Exit 12 from the highway only has a southbound entrance and a northbound exit but many of the direction sites assumed it had the other directions as well. Getting directions that say "Take a left onto the Turnpike" aren’t quite as helpful when you realize that the real directions are "Drive 1/4 mile farther, take a left, drive a few miles, take a right onto Rt 101 then take the second exit and merge onto the turnpike northbound". Even better when your directions tell you to get off on the southbound exit and it’s a number of miles south of the exit that you actually needed to take.

  16. apl says:

    Regarding your post on bogus apologies: you may enjoy this article from today’s New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/14/washington/14mistakes.html

  17. Johan says:

    If you find an error in the maps you can submit it online:

    http://mapinsight.teleatlas.com/

    http://mapreporter.navteq.com/

  18. Martin says:

    I used to live in the foothills just above Carnation, WA by John MacDonald park.  It took a passage of 3mi of properly numbered but completely rugged dirt roads to get to the house.  Being new to the area and with GPS mapping still in its infancy, I used the Thomas Guides.  One year, our road completely dissappeared from the Thomas Guide.  On calling the company, we were told it was ‘selectively deleted for copyright purposes’.  Apparently, Thomas twiddled the maps to make illicit copies easier to spot.  While electronic map providers may not delete whole roads, I can’t help but wonder if they fiddle the low bits of their maps or make other intentional errors for ‘copyright purposes’.

  19. Jason Spiro says:

    In comment 4, Bob wrote:

    I always get an email when they close my update request.

    Wow.  That’s much better customer service than many companies give when you provide them with feedback.

  20. Chris J says:

    There’s been a couple of high-profile inacuracies over here in Blighty…

    First, the Satnav that told drivers to drive over a cliff:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/north_yorkshire/4879026.stm

    …and another took drivers through a rather deep ford:

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/article707216.ece

    I think a lot of it can be put down to drivers putting far too much faith in technology, rather than using common sense ("does it really want me to drive onto this railway line?")

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