Cover Story

| July 02, 2009

Real-time data on changing conditions
Real-time road conditions are showing up in GPS units and GPS-functional smartphones. In the iPhone, says driver Mark Pritchard, the GPS application with Google Maps has the capability, in many metro areas, to overlay the color-coded traffic data available on Google’s online map service.

Real-time rich data capability is a big advantage of GPS-functional devices with a communications link to cellular networks like the iPhone or a Windows-based smartphone or laptop running CoPilot Truck, says ALK’s Dan Titus.

Says telemetrics service provider Blue Sky Network’s Carlton van Putten, “On a rudimentary level, the drivers will all have GPS in their phones.” As cell providers move in that direction, GPS navigation device manufacturers are going the opposite way. Garmin’s Nuvi 465T comes standard with subscription-free lifetime traffic alerts for most major metro areas nationwide from map-data provider NAVTEQ Traffic. It will notify drivers of traffic delays and road construction.

Garmin has announced the planned release of its location-based-services-centric Nuvifone in two different versions, the G60 and M20, says spokesperson Jessica Myers. Truck routing won’t be available on the products, but may be added later, she says.

Real-time weather data, too, is available on various devices and in different forms. Pritchard, for instance, skirts approaching road and weather problems via “the iPhone’s Internet browser – a Safari application,” which he says “works really well with the webcams the states are installing. You can access them directly from the state DOTs’ sites. Having that in the palm of your hand – that’s revolutionary.”

Geocaching
Geocaching falls under fun, not business, and it’s well-suited to those who are on the move. Pritchard describes geocaching as a “high-tech Easter-egg hunt that goes on all year long.”
Geocachers have hidden thousands of containers worldwide, mostly in parks and other public property. In each case, the person establishing the cache logs the GPS coordinates (latitude and longitude) and gives discretionary clues, including difficulty levels, posting everything on a website such as www.Geocaching.com.

Most caches have a log book to sign. “Then you go to the website and leave your log,” says Pritchard, who’s been experimenting with the activity for years.

When drivers Christie and Frank Williams (“TwoTruckers” on Geocaching.com) of Powers Lake, Wis., launched their GeoTruckers.com site in 2006, they were reacting to the dearth of a central location for information on cache sites accessible to large-vehicle drivers. GeoTruckers has attracted more than 600 members since, with about 500 listed caches accessible by trucks.

At the site, Christie provides links to bookmarked lists of caches that are available for download to your GPS receiver. In the Garmin StreetPilot that he and Williams use for navigation in their truck, Christie has programmed his cache list. “The unit will actually start chiming, telling me there’s a point of interest nearby,” he says.

Christie warns that a basic in-vehicle navigational unit that cannot be switched over from its mapping function to basic GPS can be a problem off road. He’s tried various GPS-functional smartphones and found them to be less accurate than standalone GPS devices.

Social networking
Increasing GPS functionality has combined with web-based social-networking sites to bring back face-to-face interaction.

Wired magazine’s February cover story on GPS discussed the WhosHere app for the iPhone that allows users to make their location and profile information available to other users. While writer Matthew Honan’s experiments with the app turned up a user nearby named Bridget who claimed to use WhosHere only for “finding people to have sex with,” truckers and others normally use such functions for less exotic purposes.

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