GPS use grows, but some areas remain uncharted

John Curry/Staff
Roads that have been around for years, such as Broad Street in downtown Augusta, are easily mapped by GPS devices. But mapping services sometimes don't recognize new streets.

Stephanie Lipecky has lived in her 3-year-old house in Evans for two years, but according to online maps and Global Positioning System units, her street doesn't exist.

 

"Pizza delivery people can't find us, we are not on the GPS system (map) anywhere," she said.

Lipecky's Riverwood Plantation home is in a high-tech map black hole. It's an odd place to be in a time when GPS navigation is growing so fast.

Google Maps and Mapquest offer free and easy directions with a few keystrokes. Navigation systems had reached 56.4 percent of U.S. households in 2009, according to the Telematics Research Group of iSuppli Corp.

In-dashboard navigation comes standard on 8.1 percent of cars. And 34.9 percent of drivers use in-car navigation systems, because they're affordable and portable, said Danny Kim, an analyst and the global manager for portable devices and location-based services at Telematics Research Group, part of iSuppli.

The fastest-growing navigation system is through smart phones. Kim said a few industry moves led to this: Google, in November, announced it would offer free navigation applications to android phones. At a time when competitors with iPhone applications were charging at least $50 for navigation services, it was a game changer.

Nokia announced in January that navigation applications would be free or preloaded, which has global implications because of Nokia's reach, Kim said.

Mapping services are becoming more of a standard for cell phones, almost as common as cameras.

But technology can be fallible, and mapping can be incomplete. Some readers of The Chronicle and Twitter users have noted difficulties with new traffic patterns being recognized by GPS navigation units in areas such as Bobby Jones Expressway at Interstate 20.

Others, such as Lipecky, note other blacked-out areas around Evans and Hephzibah. For example, many streets in Hephzibah off Willis Foreman Road cannot be located on Google Maps.

Elaine Filadelfo, the spokeswoman for Google Inc., wrote in an e-mail that the company relies on service users to report such problems so it can update its data.

"Google Maps are updated on a continual, ongoing basis," she wrote. "We allow our users to report any errors or updates directly to Google, via the 'Report a Problem' button in the lower right corner of the map, and constantly make updates based on that feedback. We strive to address user submissions within a month."

Google Maps used Tele Atlas, which provides geospatial data for TomTom devices, up until last year when Google decided to do it on its own.

GPS units often require users to update maps. TomTom, one GPS navigation unit brand, updates its maps four times per year, but it'll cost you extra.

Lipecky said her address shows up on Columbia County records but not other map data. Navigation systems and online maps don't use those records.

The in-car navigation systems maps data are provided by two main geospatial data companies, Kim said. Tele Atlas provides data for TomTom navigation systems. NAVTEQ provides data for Garmin.

Though sometimes not having her home show up on high-tech maps such as Google Maps makes Lipecky feel as if it "doesn't exist," new technology is still a benefit, she said.

"You tend to take something for granted," she said. "Think about 10 years ago. You had to buy a map at a store."