Brian.oco 0 Posting Whiz

On a trip to Newport Beach, Oregon, this past summer, I was introduced to a global positioning satellite device for the first time.

It was a real eye-opener. All I had to do was type in the address I was heading toward, and the satellite took care of the rest. For the two-hour trip, I was gently reminded by the device's "voice -- call it Julie Andrews-like in her "Sound of Music" days, to "turn right in one mile" or "turn left at Juniper Street" . . . and so on and so on until we reached our destination.

Now I'm hooked. I bought my own GPS unit on my return home and, judging from the research I'm seeing, I'm hardly alone. ABI Research says that traffic and driving "location" technologies will reach more than 83 million users worldwide by 2012.

The technology is getting better as the market is growing bigger. ABI sites in a recent report entitled "Traffic Information for Navigation Systems" that the technology's next frontier is a richer variety of location-aware content. According to ABI, the first prominent example of such dynamic content is real-time traffic information, which will be further enhanced by the addition of historical and predictive traffic data to assist drivers in determining the best route.

“When it comes to collecting and distributing useful traffic data,” says research director Mike Ippoliti of ABI Research, “the emphasis is shifting. Reporting of ’incident data’ from accidents, road closures, other emergencies is becoming routine; the next step is predictive and probe-derived data that can deliver information on more complex problems and support re-routing of drivers around traffic problems.”

ABI Research sees three elements to the puzzle of providing truly useful traffic data for navigation systems.

First, the traffic data collection ecosystem is very complex. Infrastructure measurement systems (road sensors, cameras, radar, or loop sensors) are expensive and hard to install. But alternative collection methods such as floating-car data, and potentially cellular movement data, require no roadside installations, and may prove to be the sources of choice for many data collectors.

A second challenge is traffic data aggregation. As the basic data becomes more available, the complex data derived from floating-car probes or predictive modeling will become the differentiator. But such data are harder to integrate into navigation routing.

A third factor is market landscape. ABI Research expects INRIX and NAVTEQ/ to become the two players in traffic data. Other players will largely become marginalized, or will supply INRIX or NAVTEQ/ That said, Ippoliti adds, “INRIX is itself a prime target for acquisition within the next few years. One could speculate on potential buyers, such as a PND maker who was disappointed not to acquire a map data provider, and needs a source of data leverage in the market.”

All in all, a very bullish sentiment from ABI on a rapidly emerging, commercially viable technology. With ongoing improvements in GPS/traffic applications, the road does indeed go on forever.