User conference focuses on location-based services

April 30th, 2015, Published in Articles: PositionIT


TomTom Africa’s annual user conference and developer day which took place on 21-22 April 2015 in Midrand, Johannesburg, shed light on a connected future and how the developing world is emerging geospatially. The importance of this on business and profits received great attention as before.

With increased sensor capabilities the Internet of Things is a growing reality said TomTom MD: Maps and Licences, Charles Cautley, and automated driving is already filtering through to commercial level. Location is essential for operations in both instances, and has also brought a need for real-time (or as close as possible to it) data. Not only should data be real-time, but it must also be highly accurate, bringing into focus verification and new verification methods. The company has long relied on crowdsourcing for change detection, but now looks to new technologies to faster implement such changes and get it rolled our within a target of two days, Cautley said.

Testament to the importance of location in business applications was the acquisition of deCarta, a location-based service platform, by Uber in March this year. DeCarta’s CEO Kim Fennell also took the stage at the conference to explain how the platform’s routing, geocoding and in-line search system offers businesses a flexible platform accessible through APIs, and which is also open to new branding. TomTom has had a three-year partnership with deCarta, and although Uber now owns the company, it continues its operations as per usual, Fennell explained.

Speakers at the TomTom Africa User Conference and Developer Day 2015.

Speakers at the TomTom Africa User Conference and Developer Day 2015.

Open application programming interfaces (APIs) and software development kits (SDKs) received a lot of attention at the conference and developer day, since few things better illustrate “connected” than the popularity of mobile phones and how users access services and applications. Mobile phones have become a driving force of location technologies and business applications, and open APIs and SDKs have become essential business models to drive adoptions of platforms such as deCarta. (IBM was also at hand to explain how developers could use its cloud-based BlueMix development platform to faster develop and deploy mobile apps.)

As for real-time data, M4JAM’s Warren Venter showed how the M4JAM platform allows people to update spatial data, which the company then sells to clients like TomTom. The platform, which can be accessed online and on mobiles, provide monetary incentives to “jobbers” who report changes and others who verify these, and do so by “gamification” of this process. Most participants it turned out participate for the fun factor, and compete with friends to map and verify the most places in their daily routines.

TomTom also launched its business-to-business “TomTom Bridge” device and the Bridge developer platform. The ruggedised device, which has lifetime maps and traffic integrated, uses an open-platform to allow businesses to integrate their own tools for their business applications. Use cases have seen it being used as a payment terminal, used in vehicle checks and reporting (in combination with the device’s built-in camera), and with additional hardware it can even print and scan while mobile.

The TomTom Bridge was launched at the conference.

The TomTom Bridge was launched at the conference.

The conference also showcased several use-cases, ranging from how traffic data is used in road infrastructure planning and transport research, to mobile apps such as WIMP, as well as utility asset mapping in Uganda.

WhereIsMyTransport (WIMP) is one example of a mobile app, and was presented by WIMP CEO and co-founder Devin de Vries. What started out as an honours thesis turned into the development of an advanced public transport management system for developing countries. The app draws in data from public transit operators to deliver point-to-point routing for users, who De Vries explained prioritise routes and timing over the different transit operators. Not only that, but the app’s data, through the FindMyWay backend can relay data to other digital systems such as ticker-boards and more.

Another interesting application showcased was utility asset mapping in Uganda, presented by AfriAdd’s Dennis Ruharo. AfriAdd has been selected to map an electricity utility’s assets spatially, as well as to geocode their customer base.

With little formal infrastructure and no formal addressing system, mappers executed the task on motorcycles armed only with mobile phones. The collected data was represented with Mapcodes, a numerical-alphabetical system. The system is accurate, has a vertical component.

The day also featured several other interesting speakers and case studies, and concluded with a prize giving and cocktails, and included prizes such as an iPad, “Put your business on the Map” service contracts, and other devices.

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