Traffic on Your GPS: Big Brother or a Helping Hand?

Location-based services website has an interesting little article from NAVTEQ on traffic congestion. Navteq is the geographic information systems (GIS) computer mapping company behind most of our online maps, and many of the maps in Global Positioning Systems (GPS) units many of us plug into or come with our cars these days.

I don’t have a GPS. I’m a map guy and I work with GIS every day.  Yet I’ve kept waiting for them to get smaller and add more features. Never small enough. Never enough bells and whistles. My stepdaughter—a new driver—got one for Christmas and I helped her get it set up.  I can say I’m impressed by how far the technology has advanced.

On our holiday vacation we plugged the unit in and took off.  I was particularly interested in how the real-time traffic reports worked, since we were driving up to the Twin Cities which is on Navteq’s coverage maps.  True enough, when we got into the outer-ring of suburbs the lines on the GPS map for the Interstate changed colors.  Unfortunately, we were late for church and got off the road and by the end of services rush hour was over.

I felt like I used to when I counted cars for a County Transportation Department internship back in college.  Never so sad so see rush hour end before I got to play with the new toy… It still intrigued me.  I saw the lines on the maps, but where did that real-time traffic info come from?

(You can get a taste of the Navteq US traffic data at

I hadn’t thought much more about it since then—traffic congestion in rural Minnesota is a couple pheasants strutting across icy roads—until I saw a tweet about the advertorial.

NAVTEQ, the leading global provider of maps, traffic and location data enabling navigation, location-based services and mobile advertising around the world, today issued their experts’ rankings of the Top 10 most congested rush hours in Europe. Topping the list are London, Paris and Dublin.

NAVTEQ Traffic™ is used in leading automotive, personal navigation, mobile, and online solutions worldwide. In Europe, NAVTEQ Traffic spans 13 countries providing consistent and seamless traffic information. That information is based on data from an unmatched portfolio of sources including billions of GPS probe data points per month, a vast sensor network, as well as event-based data collected from bodies such as the police force, emergency services and road charge organizations.

NAVTEQ composed its Top 10 “most congested” list based on a mix of criteria including greatest rush hour delay in Western European cities containing more than one million inhabitants. The Top Ten list includes:

  1. London
  2. Paris
  3. Dublin
  4. Berlin
  5. Stockholm
  6. Hamburg
  7. Manchester
  8. Lyon
  9. Vienna
  10. Marseilles

With NAVTEQ® quality-tested traffic data, drivers get a comprehensive solution that links up-to-the minute traffic information to map data and enables wireless transmission directly to in-vehicle navigation systems, personal navigation devices and mobile phones.  NAVTEQ Traffic delivers detailed information about current traffic conditions, allowing drivers to make better routing and re- routing decisions.

Here’s the video that goes with it:

London’s congestion is 5,000 miles away, but it brought me back to my earlier puzzling.  Where does that data come from?  at 1:56 in the video Mr. Erwig talks about their “raw data sources”.  He sticks to the fuzzy corporate line, found on their About page:

Our highly-accurate data is a result of combining the right sources with the right processing:

  • Proprietary sensors: NAVTEQ operates the world’s largest proprietary sensor network,and our highly accurate sensor network covers 35% more roadway than the nearest competitor
  • Probe: robust commercial and consumer GPS and cellular probes improve coverage and accuracy
  • Data validation: proprietary data corroboration and verification methods check and recheck data accuracy
  • Data processing: Our NAVTEQ Smart Traffic Processor™ blends and optimizes the widest array of traffic information to provide comprehensive and reliable real-time traffic information. Unique processing capabilities combine and prioritize multiple data sources to provide the most accurate speed values possible.

I’m sure the field is highly competitive and they must keep their methodology close to the vest.  Still, I’ll have to poke around a bit more to better understand.  On one hand I’m really intrigued by any way people use maps, high-tech, low-tech or mind-blowing tech.  I just love maps.  On the other hand, I’m slightly paranoid about GPS tracking technology.  Not Gene Hackman Enemy of the State paranoid, just some healthy skepticism.  Big Brother may not be watching quiet yet, but I’d like to understand how he might just do that someday.



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1 Response to Traffic on Your GPS: Big Brother or a Helping Hand?

  1. John says:

    NAVTEQ has more than 400 experts monitoring traffic 24/7* in 113 markets. NAVTEQ traffic operators gather more than 45 million new traffic incident records per day…
    US Cities with the Worst Rush Hours
    1.New York
    2.Washington DC
    3.San Francisco
    5.Los Angeles

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