x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Not being lost comes with a caveat

Off-roaders in the UAE now have access to digital maps that direct drivers through unpaved tracks in the sand.

Navteq, which sells its digital maps to the makers of cars, mobiles, satnavs and other GPS devices, has rolled out the off-road service to drivers across the Emirates. Sammy Dallal / The National
Navteq, which sells its digital maps to the makers of cars, mobiles, satnavs and other GPS devices, has rolled out the off-road service to drivers across the Emirates. Sammy Dallal / The National

Local off-roaders wary of getting lost on unpaved tracks or deserted in the dunes can now access digital-trail information on GPS systems within the UAE.

Well, 346 kilometres of off-road trails, anyway.

Navteq, which sells its digital maps to the makers of cars, mobiles, satnavs and other GPS devices, has rolled out the off-road service to drivers across the Emirates.

Avid enthusiasts of dune bashing and other desert-based driving antics can also access nearly 400km of paths in Oman and more than 13,000km in Saudi Arabia.

"It provides route guidance for four-wheel drive vehicles or motorbikes on unpaved sand trails," says Frank Pauli, a vice president at Navteq, which is a subsidiary of the mobile manufacturer Nokia.

Navteq has also expanded its availability of maps that feature real-time traffic flow updates from just three cities in the UAE to all seven emirates, and the company has also launched the service in Saudi Arabia.

But the challenge to provide drivers in the Gulf with accurate directional information is still far from over.

"The reality, of course, is the road networks here, due to the ongoing development, have been changing very frequently and very rapidly compared to western Europe, where networks are stable," said Ghassan Freij, the director of sales and the general manager for Navteq in the Middle East and North Africa.

"Therefore the amount of work we have to do to keep up is much higher," he said.

In the UAE, Navteq gathers daily road information and traffic updates and relies on seven million monthly "probe points" that provide location-based information from sources such as mobile-phone signals.

But the company delivers fresh releases of its maps to customers only every quarter, which helps to explain why even some drivers who use a satnav still feel like they end up looping around endlessly looking for the right destination.

One of the latest tactics the company is using to display information more clearly to drivers includes transforming two dimensional images into 3-D.

"There is huge development and investment going on in this region - a unique investment in this region - to transform the map from 2-D to 3-D," said Mr Freij.

A 3-D database of local landmarks is still being developed, although prominent buildings such as the Burj Al Arab and Burj Khalifa have already been rendered into the format through some devices that rely on Navteq's maps.

About 700 landmarks are now depicted in 3-D in the Mena region, which is up 60 per cent from last year.

"The next step is full 3-D coverage of a city area," said Mr Pauli.

nparmar@thenational.ae