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Waze – Map data collection with an exploration game approach

While projects like Google Building Maker or Google Map Maker enable people to contribute bricks for Google’s Digital Earth, other tools like a new Points of Interest Collector facilitate map data collection for the Open Street Map project. Hey, there is probably nothing wrong with people working on different map data silos – may not be ideal and may take twice as long, but maybe there is something else to map making than commercially motivated backgrounds – for whatever commercial reasons that may be. Most often, because no one really wants to pay for map data, right?

So it is quite interesting to see yet another approach to crowdsourced map-building. Waze, which labels itself as a „social mobile application“ provides free of charge turn by turn navigation based on data that Wazers have already collected and are collecting right now. Starting from a blank map, the road network and Points of Interest are growing minute by minute as people contribute their traits and mappings. The Waze map emerges. I have yet to try this myself, but it must almost feel like the early days of the Open Street Map project. I am not sure about the initial idea and motivation behind Waze – but I enjoyed reading this bit on the Waze blog„In fact, in certain countries with no base map, users will literally be building maps from scratch – paving the roads entirely themselves, as they drive…“

To me that sounds like a call for wakening the explorer inside ourselves. And it works. I do feel like going out exploring today! Maybe not so much on the road – but wouldn’t it be great to waze the Great Outdoors? Map the trails you have walked, the walls you have climbed, the streams you have mastered and the slopes you have skied. Make it an exploration game – creating your personal Digital Earth. Your private universe.

Imagine, having your personal discovery map – a map that basically puts you back in time to give you a terra incognita experience, but customised for the 21st century. The map would just show the roads and tracks that you have already explored solely by yourself. Personal exploration by direct experience that is. No virtual exploration and discovery tools like Google Earth or Bing Maps allowed. In fact, these virtual globes should be banned since they take away all the fun of direct personal exploration if you can’t resist having a look. Statistics would provide your total life-kilometres, a spatio-temporal lifeline and your personal exploration road and track network. Boldly going where …. you have not been before.

Augmented Reality – A new interface to search, explore and discover

Augmented Reality technology must be nearing the gap – at least that’s what comes to mind when you discover two articles about the latest developments around the technology on the front page of Germany’s most important online news magazin, Spiegel Online.

Both articles are in German, but Google Translate results will get the core ideas across. The first article provides an overview of different use cases that can already be served by the technology. The author of the first article notes that what is still missing, is an application, which pulls things together to offer a one stop shop for augmented reality search, exploration and discovery. The second article looks at some applications like Mobeedo and Layar in more detail.

But it was a third article about the disruption in the Navigation Systems market that Google Maps Navigation and low-cost iPhone navigation apps like Skobbler have kicked off recently, which got me thinking about augmented reality in a different way – even though that third article does not actually cover augmented reality.

The authors argue that Google’s camera equipped Street View Cars are in fact Trojan horses, since capturing the images is just one aspect of the map data collection and processing that is actually happening behind the scenes and under the hood of the Google Street View cars. As the 360 virtual reality mapping mission progresses, each kilometre of geodata generates more information and less privacy. But how is this related to Augmented Reality?

Google continues to build the most impressive digital earth application out there – Google Earth. Thinking to the end, it may be difficult to distinguish the real view that you see when you are actually out there, exploring, from the the virtual reality view, generated by geodata. The next best thing to being there. So what is the difference between…

  1. …pointing your iPhone or Android device around and looking at the augmented reality camera view that displays overlayed objects in reality and…
  2. …virtually moving around a 360 virtual reality world, where additional information can also be overlaid?

Time. Obviously, Google’s virtual world cannot provide a real time view any time soon. Although first steps in that direction have been made by research groups, even Google consider it creepy and probably also a little bit too difficult – at least at the moment.

Screenshot Mapsicle

Screenshot taken from Google Geo Developers Blog

But if you don’t mind the time gap between now and when the images were taken, then Mapsicle, a cool new Street View library developed by New Zealand company ProjectX, will enable you to create and experience armchair augmented reality. Virtual tours that link up panoramic images and overlay information have been around for quite a while, especially in the real estate industry. But with Google Street View providing the ultimate roadtrip virtual tour and easy tools to overlay information and add links, like Mapsicle, things are taken to a new level. Mapsicle was even featured on the Google Lat Long blog and we may expect that there is more cool stuff ahead with this project. Why?

Because it is very cool to have a real world interface that complements the map as a way to search, explore and discover information as if being there. State of the art augmented reality apps enable you to check out what’s around your current position and put it in context of what you can see in a certain direction – soon we’ll find out what’s around the corner in the same photorealistic way – but without having to walk there if it is not worth it. We can virtually explore and use augmented virtual reality as an intuitive real world metaphor for search, exploration and discovery.

Serendipitous discoveries – Penang Tropical Fruit Farm

According to Wikipedia, serendipitous discoveries can be described as discoveries, where someone „…accidentally discovers something fortunate…“ Well, this is exactly, what happend to us on a day trip on Penang – in fact, twice it did. We were actually heading north to Taman Negara Pulau Pinang National Park, when we saw a Tropical Fruit Farmsign on the side of the road. On the spur of the moment, we decided to take the turn and have a look. It is often difficult to precisely pin down what triggers your decisions in such moments – maybe you just did not have enough food for breakfast? Maybe you always wanted to find out what the heck a tropical fruit farm has to offer – subconsciously at least. Whatever it was -the next moment, we parked our rental car and a person, who turned out to be the manager of the farm, was already explaining to us that we just needed to get two tickets for RM 25 and we would be shown around on a guided tour with a fruit buffet and a freshly squeezed fruit juice included at the end of the tour. Initially, we felt a little bit pushed and weren’t quite sure whether this was worth doing, but then we decided to get the tickets and find out more about all the tropical fruits that apparently grew around the place. Of course, we also thought that even if the tour didn’t turn out to be any good, we could still feast on the fruit. Deal.

Together with a few other people, we got into a van and drove up the farm road. The driving seemed a bit pointless, since we got off just a few hundred meters up the hill – Anyway, our guide started to show us some fruit that grew next to road – Mango tress, Banana trees, Jackfruit and he provided a wealth of information about how, when and where they grow and what is special about them.

Banana Tree

Coconuts

Dragon Fruit

Jackfruit

Pineapple

We continued walking around a bit and every few meters there was another species of fruit to be discovered and learned about. The guide explained everything in a really entertaining way and we very much enjoyed our outdoor fruit seminar.

Dragon Fruit Plant

Fruit Farm

„Any fresher, you have to squeeze it yourself“

Then we got to the feeding part. There was a huge fruit table – and straigt away, we knew that the next hour or so would simply be awesome. So we took a few pieces of fruit from each of the fruit plates, piled them up on our own plate, and then started digging into.

Fruit Plate

It is difficult to describe how good and healthy it feels munching fruits – many of them you have never even heard of before, let alone tasted them. And then, here it was – the second serendipitous discovery of the day – obviously a consequence of the first one – the fruit farm itself. I have never ever tasted anything like it before. Lúcama – or also called „eggfruit“ – a more descriptive English name for what I reckon must be the most tasty fruit on this planet. I immediately found myself focusing fully on the eggfruit plate and after the plate was refilled for the third time, I started to feel a little bit guilty. I felt even more guilty after we asked about buying some of the eggfruit to take away and were told that they don’t actually sell them because there are only a few trees on the fruit farm – and that’s about the only place in Malaysia that you actually find the fruit at all. Still feeling guilty, I also thought that this is almost unbelievable – something that tastes so nice and you can’t really get it – at least not that easily as it seemed. Since I only managed to take a photograph of the nicely cut fruit, you might want to have a look at the whole fruit on the following site, which also provides eggfruit nutrition fact.

Incredible new Zipflbob World Record at 157.34 km/h

In case you don’t have a clue what we are talking about here… This photograph shows the standard Zipflracer model that was used for the sucessful world record attempt. It is a bit bigger and heavier than the traditional Zipflbob model. If you are keen to try Zipflbobbing yourself, now is the time to have a go. Many ski resorts are already closed, but there are still beautiful patches of snow left on the runs that you have almost exclusively for yourself!

Zipflbob - The Dark Knight

More details about the new world record at www.dooogy.com.

Mount Everest Extreme – First Descent with a Zipflbob marks new Milestone in Alpine History

On the 22nd of March, Pavlek Levpist wrote alpine history. He is the first mountaineer to Zipflbob down Mount Everest. According to news coverage by the outdooractive Magazin (German), Pavlek and his brother managed to climb up to the base of Hillary Step, where they had to abort their summit attempt due to severe weather conditions.

Pavlek Levpist

However, this was only the start of their remarkable adventure. From the base of Hillary Step, Pavlek used his Zipflbob to slide down the icy 40 degree south face on the Lirpa 1 route. They succeeded in following their strategy to ascent and descent in a single push.

Zipflbob-Descent-Lirpa-1

„Speed is your life insurance up there“ said Pavlek in an interview after their trip. They did not use bottled oxygen on their attempt. „Bottled oxygen is like doping – it’s just not our style. We like the idea of knocking-off the bastards by fair means. Many people suggested that we should use the plastic material body of our Zipflbob and fill it with oxygen – using the Zipf as a breathing tube – but this is just really not our idea of moutaineering.“

Zipflbob First Descent

More images from the expedition can be found on the outdooractive news page and a video is also announced to be available on outdooractive in the next few days.

Asked about future plans, Pavlek said that he wanted to cross the European Alps on a special Zipflbob Transalp route. „Many people do a Transalp by foot, with skies or with a mountainbike, but I think that the most exciting experience will be to do this with a Zipflbob – as far as I know, no one has done this before and I like to explore new ways of doing things.“

News media are still waiting for feedback and opinions about this remarkable achievment from Reinhold Messner, Hans Kammerlander, Ueli Steck and the Huber Buam. All of them can be considered pioneers and legends in mountain climbing and each of them introduced a new distinct style and spirit. Now, Pavlek Levpist will join this heroic list.

Skitour with Trails on the iPhone

iPhone Trails

Trails is an iPhone application that lets you import, export and record GPS tracks. Recording works fine, but chews up battery pretty quickly. Feels a bit odd to look at the green Google Maps cartography on the display when everything around you is covered in snow. I should probably file a feature request for real-time map colour coding with Google – so some 20% project mastermind can do a kick-off, dig into real time weather and snow forecast data, figure out an algorithm and then use some magical filter to give the map a more realistic look – a cold snowy one that would be here. Or how about OpenPiste Map? Hold on, I just saw I can now style my own map. But then, how do I get it displayed on the iPhone afterwards?

Mountain Bike Transalp – Google Maps based Route Planner

Anyone planning a mountain bike transalp challenge in the European Alps can now use a transalp route planner based on Google Maps.

outdooractive Transalp Route Planner

While there are already a lot of outdoor route planning sites in general, the MTB-Transalp site we launched at outdooractive last week, is specifically aimed at people who want to plan a mountain bike transalp trip. Based on an underlying 14.000 km track network of selected transalp trails, users can put together an individual route. The site is in German language only, but you can watch a Transalp Route Planning Video on our related blog post, to get an idea about how it works.

Route Planning Interface

Anyone, who has used the point-click-drag-n-drop interface from Google Maps to plan a trip by car, will appreciate the same basic functionality, which is also available for the Transalp Route Planner. Since Google Maps is still ill-suited for decent planning in offroad areas, we have added a nice outdoor map with special cartography for Germany and a standard topographic map for Austria, which will both give you more details as a basis for planning in the offroad areas.

outdooractive outdoor map

An elevation profile of the route shows you information about the expected quality of the track surface and highlights the areas where you will have to walk your bike.

Transalp elevation profile

Once you have put together your route, you can export a GPS (GPX) track of your individual transalp tour to take with you on the trip. There are also export options for PDF that will give you a print-out map if you don’t like GPS devices or you just want to back up your digital devices with a printed map. If you want to explore your transalp route in 3D, you can do this by switching to the 3D-View – this requires the Google Earth Plugin to be installed – or loading the GPS track into Google Earth. Note, that this may not work for all routes at this stage yet, as we are still resolving some issues to optimise performance for long tracks with many route points.

Selected Transalp Routes

If you don’t like to put together an individual route you can also select from predefined Transalp Routes. Here, our editorial team has put together some very cool routes with detailed descriptions, photographs, GPS track, elevation profile and all sorts of other information about interesting places along the routes.

As an alternative to the outdooractive Transalp Route Planner, you can also try the following site, which also lets you plan a transalp trip by putting together predefined route sections.

Transalp impressions

So start planning, get fit and then explore and discover your personal Transalp challenge!