Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Growth stumps tracking systems
Car technology can't keep pace with new streets

Bill Jordan, of New John Hagar Road in Hermitage, says visitors have trouble finding his street, which is not yet on any maps. STEVEN S. HARMAN / THE TENNESSEAN

Published: Saturday, 06/30/07

When Paul Newman drives a new section of State Route 840, his car's GPS gets anxious.

The road connecting U.S. 31 to Interstate 65 was completed several months ago, but according to his GPS, he's driving into a blue abyss of uncharted territory.

"It keeps telling me over and over to make a U-turn," said Newman, a Franklin veterinarian who drives often for work and uses his car's global positioning system to guide him. "But the minute I get to Interstate 65, the road shows back up again."

The problem is not an isolated one in fast-growing Middle Tennessee. Residents across the region say technology isn't keeping up with the changes in their communities, and mapping companies agree that tracking high-growth areas like the Midstate is a nonstop job.

"Our field analysts don't drive around randomly looking for change, but in the process of their job they find change," said Kelly Smith, vice president of
corporate communications with NavTeq, the company that provides mapping information to MapQuest, nearly every in-car GPS and an assortment of portable GPS devices. NavTeq technology is used 90 million times a day, she said.

"It's a big country, and it takes a while to get to all."

'My street isn't on there'

Ed Miller has lived in his Lebanon home for more than eight years. FedEx delivery people and florists have finally figured out where Paradise Hills Lane is after many confusing trips with no help from Internet mapping sites.

"My street isn't on there at all," Miller said.

Bill Jordan's home in Hermitage is much newer, about 6 months old, so he expects some confusion from visitors. Plus his home is on New John Hagar Road, which is connected to John Hagar Road, but taking the wrong side of the split puts you on Old John Hagar Road.

Just the main road, John Hagar, is visible on GPS, Google maps or MapQuest.

"The pizza man always gets lost," Jordan said. "The Sears repairman always has to call."

The problem isn't only with missing locations but also with misleading ones. While Clayton Fryer's Hendersonville subdivision has made it on the map, MapQuest directions send drivers the wrong way down the street to his house.

"This subdivision is about 10 years old," Fryer said. "My GPS uses NavTeq data. They don't seem to have it right and they don't seem to care."

Fryer was concerned that being off the map meant emergency responders might not find his house, but he was assured by city officials that they know where his house is.

In Metro Nashville, ambulance and fire departments use mapping information from the city's planning department that's updated several times a month, 911 center spokeswoman Jeanne Mallory said. NavTeq offers four updates a year, but it's rare for a customer to get them that fast.

Changes show up slowly

New maps go through many hands before they reach an in-car global positioning system, but they start with David Merrick and Jacob Face. They are field analysts for NavTeq, and they physically drive new or previously unnoticed Tennessee roads with GPS tracking equipment to lay the groundwork for the maps.

Generally, Merrick said, the maps in urban areas like Nashville are more detailed than those in rural towns or sprawling suburbs. Merrick said he and Face take their cues from city mapping information, growth patterns and customer complaints in deciding where they need to map next.

"We're always working to expand that level of detail," Merrick said. "We encourage customers to let us know directly if they're not mapped."

Once NavTeq receives a complaint, Smith of NavTeq said, the company adds it to the list of places analysts like Merrick need to check out. Once it's been confirmed, the information is added to the database and released with the next quarterly update.

Upgrades cost money

But not all GPS companies buy updates that frequently. Even then, customers would need to purchase the newest version to ensure that they have the most current information.

"It's a pretty complex chain," Smith said. "Maybe it's June when I report something … and my device might be using the second quarterly update. The change reported in June might not show up till the third quarter, so then it could be another year till you can get it."

The Garmin GPS company charges about $75 for a yearly upgrade, spokeswoman Jessica Myers said. The annual update is "standard" across the industry, she said.

"There's too much construction throughout the country to keep up that fast," Myers said.

Reporting a mapping error

• Most major GPS and mapping companies, like MapQuest, Google and Garmin, use data gathered by field analysts from NavTeq. You can make a complaint to either the vendor or NavTeq directly.
• Go to the Map Reporter tab at www.navteq.com or call 1-866-4NAVTEQ (1-866-462-8837) between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday to report an error.

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