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The Grand Public Transit App Challenge

One of my workmates took on the the Grand Public Transport Challenge for Munich last weekend. The Challenge – that is visiting all train stations of the Munich S-Bahn and U-Bahn public transit network in 24h. I think he took an extra 2h hours, which in the end, is still a remarkable achievement. I am pretty sure he could have made it in less than 24h though if he had been supported by the App that is still missing. So today, I am calling for the Grand Public Transit App Challenge. The challenge actually consists of two parts.

  1. The first part is for the developers. Build an app that provides real time traffic information and supports users to navigate through the whole public transit network of a city in the shortest time possible. And by support, I mean – real support. Not just showing departure times or live traffic information. Actually calculating the „best“ possible route for users in real-time based on real-time information. Note that I am not a developer, so forgive me if I may ignore theories on computer science and algorithms that say that it is not possible… – I believe in you – you can make it work – somehow! Just do the next best thing to perfect then. Start by limiting usage of the public transport network to trains. Once you have worked it out, you can switch to advanced mode by extending the public transport network to busses as well. If you want to make it super-hard, cycling is also allowed. So you can bike between stations as well. Just make sure that you only take bikes on trains during times when it is actually allowed to take them. In some cities, bikes are not allowed during rush hours.
  2. The second part is for the freaks. Using the app(s) provided by our developers, visit all the train stations in a city in the shortest time possible. In some cities, 24h may not be enough. There is a bit of chance in this, since public transport is … well – not 100% reliable. But hey, that’s part of the challenge and part of the fun you’ll get out of being part of this.


  • Of course, developers can also take part in the second part of the challenge and non-technical freaks who want to focus on the second part of the challenge are not excluded from the first part – although they will have a much harder time here I expect…
  • You need to provide some kind of proof that you’ve actually been at each of the train stations within your timeframe. So the Apps should track your movements and/or enable you to take photographs at each station.
  • Android, iPhone, Blackberry, Symbian-Ovi-Nokia-MeeGo-whatever-it-is-called… all ok.
  • Yes, you can sleep on the trains – just don’t forget to track where you’ve been.
  • There is a special prize for the least kilometers travelled
  • There is also a special prize for the fewest additional station visits
  • There is another special prize for visiting all stations by bike only
  • Not sure if we should do a special prize for most ticket controls that you were involved in
  • And yet another special prize for the cheapest travel fare which is not a flatrate ticket.
  • Do not cheat – which is the same as not being evil – but I guess you already knew that.

If you can develop the Grand Public Transit App for a city, the city should also get a prize for Open Data provision.

To get you started, here are some news for your motivation. Today, Google announced live public transit data for Google Maps in a few cities. Also have a look at Stefan Wehrmeyer’s great Transit Pulse map that I came across reading an interview he gave recently.

So what is the Grand Public Transit App Challenge prize? At this stage, fame, glory, personal satisfaction and at least myself being really impressed. Anyone interested in sponsoring the challenge with more than that, please get in touch.

Good luck. May data, code and dedication be with you!

Dive into the map and explore the area

The metaphor „dive into the map“ was never more applicable than today, given the seamless integration of 360 panorama imagery with earth viewer technologies from Google, Microsoft & Co. Dive into the map and explore thea area around to discover all the fascinating things that places have to offer. Discovering geographic information through different user interfaces and user interface metaphors is a topic I have been interested in for a long time. Users have their individual cognitive styles and a user interface that may be well suited to some of us may be tedious to use for others. Some explore and discover by reading text. Others prefer browsing image galleries or watching videos. And some of us prefer to explore the area – explore places – through a map. A map is a neat way to understand geography and it provides an exploration experience that can can be heaps of fun – especially when the concepts of information scent are integrated into the mapping experience.

Google Apps Marketplace – Geo Apps and Geodata in the Cloud

Recently, Google has announced a new Data Mining tool that provides statistics for a changing world, as Google phrased it. The Google Public Data Explorer provides access to some huge piles of data and even enables non expert users to dive into a great data mining experience – something that is usually left to the pros from the statistics department. Then, a few days later, the Google Apps Marketplace was announced. The marketplace enables people to sell and buy apps. We know how this works from the iPhone App Store and the Android Market. And this got me thinking about the Google Data Marketplace. That, however, hasn’t been announced (just yet?). Since I am all Geo, I am most interested in the Geo Apps Marketplace – and the upcoming Geo Data Marketplace, of course 😉

There are enormous amounts of geodata rotting away on hard drives all over the world. So far businesses like GeoCommons, WeoGeo or Koordinates (affiliated) have started to organise some of these data, make them findable, accessible, and even shoppable through their cloud based infrastructure solutions. However, in think-big mode, there is nothing like an iTunes of geodata out there yet. Where do you go to shop for geo apps or geodata? – Amazon? iTunes? eBay? I don’t think so. Spatial Data Infrastructures are being built up worldwide. Remember that Google, as well, is already working hard on the Google Spatial Data Infrastructure. Today, finding geo apps or geodata when you actually need them, is still cumbersome. But is there actually something like a „market“ for geodata? Geodata appears to be free everywhere. Open Street Map provides free mapping data – Google, Microsoft & Co provide free maps. Even self-announced GIS market leader ESRI – or shall we better call it the new GeoDesign market leader – provides loads of free geodata. Geodata increasingly appears to become part of the enabling fundament for a broad range of business models. In order to support their advertising business models, Google, Microsoft & Co have disrupted the GIS market in many aspects. Free geodata and free geo apps from the big players have made many „geo-magic“ business model from „the time before“ superfluous. The latest disruption in the navigation market nicely shows how  „…the candy they give away to you…“ – as Paul nicely put it in an argument about how even ESRI is using geodata to support their software business, often is „geo-candy“ – geodata or geo apps that are available for free. Nonetheless, Apple’s App Store proved that there is a sound business model in selling Apps -So I am excited to see how the geo-corner of the Google’s new Apps Marketplace will do. And since geo apps are only fun when fuelled with geodata I would be surprised if there wasn’t a solid business case for a Google Data Marketplace selling geodata. At least for professional geo apps and geodata, there should be some beef left.

Mapping tracks with Google Maps and Google Fusion Tables

The latest post on the Google Lat Long Blog presents a neat new way to visualise big piles of data on a map. Pretty cool that they chose an example with bike trails to explain what can be done with Google Fusion Tables. The MTBGuru blog has more details along with maps and screenshots on their site. I think that we will give this a try at work and see if it may be an alternative to a more traditional clustering approach that we are using for visualising many thousand trails on a Google Map at the moment.

Track Clustering Map

One problem I see with the approach of simply drawing all the tracks on a map is that there are many sections, where you will have overlapping tracks. Most of the tracks are GPS tracks that are not snapped to a network and you end up with tracks on top of tracks on top of tracks. A spaghetti trail map. If the trails were modelled as a network, then it would be cool though if you could just click on a part of the track network and have suggested tours come up that pass the section of the network you just clicked on.

Climb the Zugspitze – Free iPhone Hiking App

If you are planning to climb the highest mountain in Germany this summer and if you happen to own an iPhone, you can download a new hiking app that we submitted to the App Store a few days ago – for free! Our marketing team decided to only include one tour in the app – but this is the most popular and also the easiest route to climb the Zugspitze. From Garmisch via Reintal onto the top of Germany. However, the real highlight is that the app also includes the best outdoor map of the Zugspitze-Wetterstein area that is available at the moment. You have a great level of detail, including contours, hiking tracks, rock formations, ski lifts and heaps of other cartographic goodies. And needless to say that you can also use this app to go mountain biking in the Zugpspitze area. The app will show your current position and if you plan out where you want to go before, you can refer to the map to find out if you’re on the right track. So all you need to do now is wait for the snow to melt. Usually in June or July the conditions are good enough already. Enjoy!

Zugspitze iPhone Hiking App

Tour2Go – outdooractive Tour Widget for presenting your Outdoor adventures

Yesterday, we released another cool feature for all our users. Our platform already features a few thousand top-notch tours – no matter what kind of outdoor sports you are into -there are plenty of hiking tours, bike trails, skitours and many more things to explore and discover. At this stage, we only offer a German user interface, but we’re already working on supporting an English UI as well. The platform already enables users to publish their favourite outdoor tours in a very professional way, including an interactive tour map, an elevation profile, descriptions and an image gallery. For skitours, there is even a layer, which shows steep slope angles as potential danger zones with a red coloured map overlay. Now, users can also grab an IFrame and integrate it on their own website or blog. People can then check out a summary of the tour and even switch to a Google Earth 3D view to get a better idea about what to expect from the tour. The following example shows a skitour from Scharnitz to Pleisenspitze. Also note the outdoor cartography, which fills in all the white spots that you find in Google Maps when it comes to the Great Outdoors.

Der Experte fĂźr Outdoor und Touren