For many people, a regular, dedicated sat-nav device is the ideal in-car choice for navigation and traffic information. Less expensive than a new car with HERE Auto installed and more fit-for-purpose than a mounted smartphone or tablet device, it’s easy to see why they remain so popular.
They are also a segment where we continue to see impressive innovation. HERE 360 talked to Garmin’s Olaf Meng, who heads the company’s traffic solutions in EMEA, to find out more.
“We’ve recently improved Garmin DAB Traffic on new devices,” says Olaf. “This delivers detailed, accurate, up-to-date traffic information to drivers.”
Historically, there were two choices for Garmin when getting live traffic information from HERE to drivers with Garmin devices.
It could be delivered using traditional, analogue FM radio, using a standard called RDS. This had the advantage of being lifetime free services (it’s just a regular FM radio signal) but the disadvantage of being limited in detail, because of the low bandwidth available: it’s a bit like broadcasting traffic information in Morse Code.
Alternatively, you could have a sat-nav device with its own SIM card and data contract, or one that’s tethered to your own phone, and connect to an Internet feed from there. That will solve your bandwidth problems, but brings in a different set of constraints – the ongoing cost of transferring data on mobile phone contracts.
Now there’s a third way, and Olaf says that using DAB radio signals brings the best of all worlds to customers.
“It’s easy to use. Just like switching on the radio, it’s plug and play. The radio antenna is in the power cable, so the user doesn’t have do anything. Then there’s no subscription charge either: like FM, DAB radio is free and so the entire cost is paid with your initial purchase.”
“And the bandwidth available with DAB is more than equal to what we’re asking of it. We’re able to use the much more detailed TPEG TEC and TFP formats. We can refresh the information once a minute or faster: the latency is so low you always have the latest situation on your device.”
“For traffic information, switching from FM to DAB is like the difference between an old analogue TV set and a brand new digital smart TV.”
On the ground
Garmin DAB Traffic is already available in Western European countries where demand for DAB radio services have created the necessary infrastructure to support it (Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway and the UK). Other countries in Europe such as Italy, Switzerland and Sweden are in a transitional state. In the US, equivalent services like HD Radio, could serve for the same job. The new nüvi® Advanced Series of sat nav devices, such as these two, are the ones to look at.
Behind the scenes
Garmin gets both its maps and traffic information from HERE. It’s a pretty complex process, so getting updates once a minute is quite breath-taking once you understand what happens behind the scenes.
Olaf explains: “HERE uses probe data, which are the speeds at which all the different devices in the system are moving.” There’s an enormous quantity of this probe data flowing through the system in real time: more than 70 billion probes-points a month at present, and growing all the time.
“Then HERE looks at historical traffic data and factors that into the forecast,” Olaf continues. If it’s only 7AM Monday, for example, but the traffic is already heavy, we know that it’s not likely to get any better for a couple of hours, because of what happened on previous Mondays. With enough of this, we’re able to spot and let you outwit annual events like the Spring Break traffic rush.
“Public authorities also feed in, with reports of road and lane closures due to construction work, for example. And then there’s journalistic information, like public holidays or large events taking place in each city.”
HERE analyses and mixes these sources in its data centre to produce information both on the traffic situation – the speeds at which specific roads are moving – and traffic incidents, such as where road works or accidents have caused specific issues.
HERE then works with a broadcaster to transmit the relevant segment to cars in the area covered, every minute of every day. Garmin devices capture this feed of ever-evolving information inside your device, the traffic broadcast is decoded and matched against the map and your route to provide you with the best information possible.
DAB will continue to offer significant advantages for sat nav users for years to come, Olaf concludes. “At some point along the line, connected and highly autonomous vehicles will need dedicated internet connections. But for now and the next few years, DAB is ideal. It’s high bandwidth and it’s easy to use, so it can deliver exactly what we want: a stress-free journey for our customers.”