The problem with navigation system POI

I”ve been toying around a good bit with the GPS system in my new Acura TL, mostly figuring out what”s possible to hack and/or modify in the system (with lots of info from AcuraZine). Changing the initial load screen to an LSU logo, getting rid of the “OK” button click required to launch the nav and enabling the trip computer display are fine, but what I really want to change is the Points of Interest (POI) database – listings of businesses and whatnot. And I”ve hit a wall with that. There”s a file I can extract from the DVD called OAR_5002.POI that holds the points database, but so far I”ve not been able to make sense of it. I may reach out to some engineer friends to poke at it, but it”s also not clear that I”d be able to burn back out a workable replacement DVD with my modified POI file.

Digging into the POI data, however, has led me to start thinking about how poor of an implementation the DVD system is and how an ideal system might work.

The problem, of course, is that a POI database is outdated before the DVD is even pressed. Starbucks, for example, opened 727 new stores in the U.S. between the time my POI disk was pressed in June 2005 and this August. In the best case, a POI database can”t keep up with new businesses, and the reality is much worse.

Looking at listings for East Atlanta, my POI file is hopelessly out of date. Restaurants that have been closed for more than two years are still on there, but what”s truly amazing is this:

That”s a Texaco station up the street from my house. Yes, there used to be a Texaco there. I have a picture of it hanging in my foyer:

I suppose the place was still there after the Bonnie & Clyde era, but it”s long, long, long gone. And my award-winning Acura navigation system still thinks it”s there.

Of course, that”s more of a data quality issue than anything. I believe Acura gets its POI information from InfoUSA, and apparently InfoUSA sucks. I don”t know where InfoUSA gets their data, but the only reference to this imaginary Texaco I could find online is at some cut-rate online yellow pages called Superior Business Network.

Acura should get a better POI data partner. But that”s sort of beside the point of this discussion.

Assuming the POI data was completely accurate, it”s still outdated by the time a “gold master” version is created and DVDs go to press. Even if I were to get annual updates of the DVD, there would be considerable lag in data freshness.

Considering that I carry around two devices (a Treo and a Helio Drift) capable of easily showing me Google Maps and POI (also known as Local Search), the in-car DVD experience is really sub-par. Online Local Search isn”t 100% accurate and up to date, but it”s a hell of a lot closer than a year-old DVD – and always will be.

All we”re really talking about here is data. The system just needs to get it, put it somewhere and fetch it back when needed. We live in a world where all of that is very doable in ways better than burning data to a DVD.

I have Bluetooth phone integration, so I was thinking that when I say “show me restaurants”, the system could call out over my phone to Google or Yahoo and fetch listings based on a lat/long it sends up. No different than an online API call, really. But I imagine it would be a pretty slow connection/get data/send data/display data process. They would have to make the online stuff “as available” and keep the DVD data as the fallback.

What would work really well, though, is to take the POI data off of the DVD and put it on a bit of flash memory in the system. The POI database is 1.14GB. Shoving 2GB of memory into the system would be no problem. It would be cool to have a WiFi antenna in the car so it could fetch updates monthly or something while sitting in my garage, but just having a USB port for updates would suffice.

Acura could give me a memory stick coded with my car”s identification code to prevent piracy and charge me $3 a month to keep the system updated (would work for map updates, too). I”d be more willing to do that than pay them the $185 they want for an updated DVD. Hell, they could include Sponsored Results and monetize it that way rather than charging me a subscription fee and make a killing.

It won”t be long, I imagine, before we see Google Maps, Yahoo Maps or Microsoft Virtual Earth powering OEM in-car systems. I”m surprise none of those players have struck a licensing / branding deal for standalone GPS systems yet, but I”m sure that”s coming.

A few years ago, having a semi-accurate database of restaurants, gas stations and ATMs in your car seemed pretty fabulous. But in today”s connected world, the DVD model is glaringly weak. Car-system makers will catch up; I just wish they were already there.

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