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Google Maps packs in the data with LTA and Quantum Inventions

November 19th, 2009 | by Aaron Tan

LTA and Google representatives posing for the media

Yes, Google has spoken… when it comes to improving its map’s accuracy and ease of use, it’s going to haul ass as it brings in multiple data streams quickly.

At a press conference held in the basement level of the Dhoby Ghaut MRT station in Singapore, LTA and Google announced a new data partnership between the two which promises to help LTA reach its goal of creating a “people-centred land transport system that shows the commuter how to commute seamlessly”, according to Mr Yam Ah Mee, LTA’s chief executive.

Are homegrown online maps being side-lined?
However, it’s interesting to note that this visualisation of the “penultimate” transport network will not be stewarded by homegrown online map providers like gothere (lauded by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a national speech) and Singapore Press Holdings’ Rednano search engine.

Fellow Techgoondu, Chan Chi-Loong, also pointed out during the press conference that Singapore already has plenty of competing products to Google Maps.

Yet oddly, this boat will be manned and captained by a US company for a start.

However, both Yam and Mr Andrew McGlinchey, the product head for Google Maps in Southeast Asia, were quick to point out that this partnership is non-exclusive, fairly open-ended and is intended to last as long as possible.

It’s a pretty open statement and leaves plenty of room for verbal maneuvering. When queried on future map partners LTA has lined up, Yam instead pointed out LTA has partnered with many local firms before, but made no mention on who is next. It remains to be seen whether other map providers can get their hands on the same data that was handed to Google.

According to Yam, LTA’s broad vision is to make public the virtues of Singapore’s land transport network and thus hopefully entice motorists to explore the public transport system and increase its usage by commuters. Yam cited the availability of similar public transportation information on non-map entities like onemotoring, PublicTransport@SG and LTA’s own hotline number.

In line with this vision, LTA claims it will be partner-agnostic, but until we see more local map partners gaining the same data, it remains, at best, a statement.

So what’s new at Google Maps?
With the influx of new authoritative geospatial data, Google Maps, both on the web and mobile phones, is now able to whip out a host of new features built on top of LTA’s data.

For one, users can now choose to navigate by car, public transport (MRTs, LRTs and buses) or simply to walk. For public transport, Google will display, where feasible, different combinations of transit modes a commuter can take to reach his destination.

On the motoring end, Google will manifest prevailing live road traffic conditions identified by coloured lines—green for smooth flowing traffic, yellow for average and red for congested roads. Using historical data, Google users can also determine how congested a selected road will be.

However, unlike what we predicted, that Google can intelligently avoid congested traffic when it plans out a route for the motorist, McGlinchey admitted in an aside with Techgoondu, that the system cannot provide this at the moment, though there are plans to blend the two in the future.

Google also introduced the use of mapplets, a platform which allows third parties to create additional POIs (points of interest). Mapplets will be loaded as an additional layer on top of the map whenever the user requests it.

At launch, there will be mapplets depicting bicycle trails, ERP (electronic road pricing) gantry location and road report incidents. When queried on the ranking of mapplets, McGlinchey revealed that such ranking (display on the front page) will be manually determined by Google based on how useful a particular mapplet will be to the commuter.

Who’s really powering it?
The heart of this lies with the corporation between three entities: The Land Transport Authority (LTA), Google Singapore and Quantum Inventions (a company that processes LTA’s raw traffic data).

Google essentially draws data from two sources: LTA for bus scheduling, GPS locations of bus stops and bus routes. An upside for Google is that it will stand to benefit from LTA’s research collaboration with IBM to improve its predictive accuracy for bus arrival times.

Quantum Inventions, on the other hand, will be handing out live traffic data (traffic flow, traffic incident and ERP) to Google. It is of note that internationally, Google relies on crowdsourced information when mobile users leave the Google Maps application active while commuting. Google aggregates and averages the speed at which these users are travelling to derive overall traffic speeds for a particular road.

McGlinchey told Techgoondu that in Singapore, this solution is not possible as yet since there are not enough handsets and users for Google Maps. Instead, Singapore’s Google Maps will be relying mainly on Quantum Invention to facilitate this feature for the moment.

So, yes, Google is hauling ass all right, but all that muscling may just crush out homegrown talents lacking support from their own government.

Disclosure: The writer is a product manager at Rednano.

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  • http://www.edvarcl.com edvarcl

    Thanks for your comments, Onghu.

    Though your statement states that my article “tries to establish that local players get sidelined” is generally correct. You failed to note the first sub-header in the story: “Are homegrown online maps being side-lined?”

    I was referring specifically to the sidelining of online map platforms. QI is not a online map platform at the point of publishing.

    As a fellow startup owner, I am happy to know that a local startup (QI) is benefiting from this tripartite relationship.

    However, I am concerned on one point you raised–that “other companies can use the resources from all of these to build their map applications”. Prior to that statement, you cited the unique services of OneMap and QI.

    I would like to point out to Techgoondu readers that these local “unique services” which also includes V3, are either not free or are notoriously difficult to gain access to, due to proprietary and/or legacy systems or the data owner’s own unwillingness.

    Disclosure: I no longer write for Techgoondu and am currently hacking it as a social media manager at MediaCom and running a variety of other media-related projects on the side.

  • Onghu

    While the article tries to establish that local players get sidelined, I think it fails to mention that Quantum Inventions is also a ‘small local company’ – Google chose to work with a small local company in the launch since QI provided a piece that was needed for their launch.

    However, the way that Google works has meant that this collaboration has resulted in gothere.sg having a free traffic data overlay for their maps – so, it’s not a clear cut decision between winners/ losers.

    I feel that there is a space for the local companies:
    * GoThere has good local maps and has added great value in their public transport routing.
    * QI does a lot more with real-time parking and traffic, and personalization – currently, only http://www.qi.com.sg offers traffic-aware routing free of charge online. (the article notes that Google doesn’t do traffic-aware routing at this stage)
    * OneMap (ok, not a small local company!) has certain kinds of information that are not available elsewhere
    * Other companies can use the resources from all of these to build their map applications.

    Disclaimer: During the day, I work at QI.

  • Sashsash

    “but all that muscling may just crush out homegrown talents lacking support from their own government.”

    Yet again.

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  • http://www.techgoondu.com Chi-Loong

    Great post Ed.

    LTA wins — and to be fair, so do Singaporeans — when they open their content data to all and sundry .

    Google wins, and it’s a no-brainer for them to include the information into their platform for more reach and potential ad revenue. Look at just how they destroyed GPS app makers like Garmin and TomTom with their foray into free GPS map applications about a month back. Why would phone makers pay for the GPS app when they can get it for free?

    So the ones that lose out are small players in the mapping space, like Gothere.sg. It’s a story oft-repeated in the tech industry: Promising enterprises get killed when a big competitor comes along and throws their huge colossal muscle behind it, no matter if the smaller company has a better product (at least for now till Google throws its R&D behind it).

    For example, Gothere.sg has had street level views since last year — TBs of photos they had to go around and shoot all around the island — that Google will get around to do so. Their map data is their own and probably the freshest out there — hours of work driving down every Singapore street — and not based on existing maps of Teledata, like Google takes its map data from. And from a mobile perspective, Gothere (and even Rednano) already had mobile public transport routing available on their platforms, so this isn’t new by any long shot.

    I’ll admit I’m biased towards Gothere — no, I don’t work for them in any form, shape or way — because I like the founders, their scrappy fighting ethic (journalists love an underdog), but mainly because their product is an excellent one that was crafted with sweat and tears. Unfortunately, they are running into a behemoth here.

    An aside rant here.

    Yes, I understand that our government loves to be technology agnostic and always picks the pragmatic route. But besides luring MNCs and importing talents at ludicrous rates, help our local start-ups, even if it means being a little biased.

    And I don’t mean by disbursing money via MDA grants — a topic for another time — but by government arms sticking your neck out and giving these start-ups more business rather than doing the “safe” management thing and partner/buy from a large established MNC.

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