Solving the Traffic Jam Problem - Getting Cities Moving Again

, posted: 15-Nov-2019 11:29


I got pretty excited when I read the press release about Volkswagen getting together with D-Wave, using quantum computing to demonstrate real time traffic optimised routing at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon a few weeks ago The conference was sold out but they did live stream it.

I’ve been involved in collecting and delivering real time traffic information (RTTI) to business and consumers for over 10 years and have seen the evolution from dedicated PND’s, to in-car navigation, to smartphone apps like Google and HERE. I was involved in a number of innovations which helped ease the consequences of traffic congestion for those who bothered to use it.

I have become increasingly frustrated with the lack of real innovation, or even desire to innovate outside the box, and have seen entropy develop in the way we respond to ever increasing numbers of vehicles on our highways. We have become linear in our approach to dealing with planned and unplanned events. This modus operandi often results in merely shifting a problem from one place to another.

Having attended international transport conferences and endured university paper presentations going into great detail about management strategies for a 500 meter strip of road, it is little wonder that the problem isn’t going away because even academe is mostly rehashing the same old stuff. At least in the streams where we source our traffic engineers.

On my commute to the Auckland Transport Operations Centre (where I worked until recently) from home, Google would always route me via the highest ranking highway, even if it was congested. With local knowledge I knew a better way and found a rat-run through residential streets, saving me about 5 minutes on my journey which hardly anyone was using. Before too long people found out about it and then to top it off, Google started recommending it! Over time the shortcut ended up creating gridlock, resulting in driver stress and a liberal dose of daily road rage because those 'doing the right thing' didn't want to let the rat-runners back in.

Councils and departments of transport have limited control over their networks at times of unusual demand. They run optimisation programs with intersections and do their best to keep roads flowing on arterial routes to the best of their ability, but any unplanned event can lead to concatenating outcomes farther up the network. A car crash for example can lead to multiple arterial routes becoming gridlocked.

Previously as Sales & Marketing Manager for GeoSmart, I was involved in the specification and sale of route optimisation solutions for commercial fleets, which were largely based around the traveling salesman problem. The crux of this is how do I visit every client on my list but drive the minimum distance and time?

I was able to help many companies improve their productivity and profit, by providing the tools to calculate the optimal routes for their vehicle fleets, in many cases overnight for the following day, for each vehicle. I wrote many articles about our product Route2Go on our company blog at the time, which are still on the web explaining the benefits of route optimisation as a service, even though the company no longer exists.

Waterloo University in California came up with some novel solutions from the shortest route to do a pub crawl to every pub in the United Kingdom and a walking tour of the top 50 places to visit in the city of Washington. As you can see, the route is roughly a circle that starts and ends at the same place.

These routes are brilliant when there is no traffic, not too bad when there is some traffic, but there are two situations where it doesn’t work well.

  • When there is a blockage to the route. It could be commuter traffic, an accident, planned roadworks. Your pre-planned circle totally fails if you try to stick with the order you have planned.
  • When there are other constraints to your journey. You have to be at a certain place at a certain time. For example one of my clients was a national logistics company delivering alcoholic beverages to stores. They could only deliver when the licensed manager of the premises was available to receive the goods. Those unexpected traffic events would mess with the entire day’s workload and whilst we understand that we can’t prevent unplanned events, customers still expect work to be done on time and transport costs are also based on ‘fixed’ overheads.

So back to Volkswagen and D-Wave. They were demonstrating the use of quantum computing with 26 buses going from the Lisbon city centre to the conference site. Each bus had its own route calculated independently. It took into consideration where people are waiting to catch the buses (in real time), what the current real time traffic conditions were on the available routes, for example the locations of accidents or traffic jams, and even predicted traffic jams based on current network sensors and activity using artificial intelligence.

Consider the future implications of this sort of technology. In Auckland, New Zealand, in order to reduce the road toll and number of urban accidents, the city has decided to reduce the maximum driving speed on 10% of urban roads.

Here is there YouTube explanation: 

We do have a problem and the city is trying to do something about it, as they should.

However this causes other problems. For example the freight and distribution industry over recent years has been expected to make more deliveries as our population increases, in less time, and for less return. Already it is common to hear of couriers and other drivers speeding and risking being caught because “if they can’t meet their quota, they can’t afford to run their business”. I’m not justifying that stance, they are breaking the law and taking the very risks Auckland Transport is trying to reduce.

However, as David Aitken, CEO of National Road Carriers said in a recent press release,  “Slowing down roads slows down our economy.” In the linked release he spoke about the necessity to research approaches to the problems of safety and network performance.

So this is where quantum computing comes in and I believe this will deliver some amazing outcomes, but initially, because of cost and the share scale of the problem, and perhaps because those who need it are trying to deal with the day to day demands of their business, rather than looking to solve the bigger problem, it will be delivered to individual companies who have the resources to invest in this technology.

One day, this is what Smart Cities should deliver, but I suspect we are 10-20 years away from being able to scale a real time traffic based route optimisation solution that will work for all users in a modern city. I suspect that most countries and cities will not have the vision to start developing these solutions, or the budgets. When politics comes into play, long term strategies are often derailed.

What can such a solution deliver?

A unique route for every vehicle on the network, irrespective of whether it is a single destination journey or a large number of stops such as the route for a rubbish truck. This route will be calculated dynamically based on what is happening on the network and the calculated impact of planned and unplanned events. It will be able to take into account the impacts of weather, school or public holidays, and use historic information. It will continue to recalculate dynamically throughout the day as conditions or circumstances change.

The vehicles or fleets using this technology will get an unfair advantage as will any Fleet Management or Car Navigation company providing these solutions. Each journey is unique. Three trucks leaving a depot 10 minutes apart for the same destination, may if appropriate, be given three different routes.

If I were still in the industry, I would be offering this to commercial road users as a cloud based service. For the driver it would be like car navigation, but in practice this is transport gold. Like gold, it won’t be cheap because the cost of the calculations is high, but this will be offset by increased productivity. perhaps there will be levels of service to match budgets.

A smart city would need to totally change its way of thinking about traffic, travel information and the way they control their network. I’m not confident they will do that in the coming decades, so it will be up to the transport industry and technology disruptors to do it. The city can provide data to the third parties who will deliver routes to end users.

Those who are prepared to pay for it, will get better outcomes. As more and more commercial road users adopt this type of technology, we will start to see traffic flowing more like water or energy, maximising the network capacity and steering traffic away from blockages until they are restored. This of course will also improve safety for all.

These concepts can also be applied to public transport, especially express routes, school buses, long haul and special event transport.

The immediate challenge is for the Fleet Management industry, or at least an initial key player to embrace quantum computing travel information/routing solutions and pilot them with companies or associations who want better outcomes.

This reminds me of the early days of eRUC, where companies created solutions allowing commercial vehicle operators to pay road taxes electronically straight from the vehicle. In the early days that was a big deal, today it is just BAU.

So what do you think? Want to wait for 10-20 years? Every large city in the world has the same problem and it is getting worse. By managing the network in the same way as they do now, do you think we will get a different result?

As this article from City Lab says, ‘Traffic has a Mind-Blowing Economic Toll’.

What does that mean for the consumer? Everything costs more. It’s that simple. We have known for years that traffic congestion has a major impact on GDP. It hurts everyone. Maybe it’s time to introduce some innovation. What do you think?

A great opportunity for LBS developers with Real Time Traffic API from HERE

, posted: 31-Mar-2019 09:29

I didn't realise it has been so long since I blogged here. Thanks for turning it on again Mauricio.

HERE has just released a new set of Real Time Traffic API's which I think offers a great opportunity for the many developers who work in Fleet Management, Transport, Distribution and other location basee areas. 

Over 10 years ago it was estimated that the cost of traffic congestion to the GDP of Auckland, New Zealand was over 1 Billion dollars per annum. We have grown a lot since then. Our economy has suffered, companies' productivity and profit has reduced; and the end result of that is that the price of goods and services has increased and companies that didn't have the business intelligence have fallen by the wayside. Not only do businesses suffer, but so do consumers.

I'm excited to say that I have learned of a suite of product from a company called HERE (previously known as Navteq). The HERE Routing API set has the potential to turn some of those losses around.

Now I haven't tried the API's myself, but I know the company and having read about the tools, and used their real time traffic based car navigation in New Zealand and Australia, that they certainly have the information and the smarts. They have a FREE app WITH Real Time Traffic for your mobile, just look it up on your app store.

As Sales & Marketing Manager for the leading mapping company GeoSmart (sold to TomTom) in New Zealand for 7 years, providing map data and tools to the leading Fleet Management and Car Navigation brands, the elephant in the room for our and their customers was traffic congestion.

One of the top ICT distributors in Auckland built a massive robotic warehouse on Auckland's North Shore, the most modern of its kind. But because much of their incoming and outgoing product went via the airport in South Auckland they could no longer meet their delivery promise, even though the picking and packing was now lightning-fast, the traffic on the motorway wasn't; and they had to tear the warehouse down at massive cost, but new premises and start again close to the airport at a cost of millions of dollars.

I spoke to so many companies who were forced to change their delivery promise from 'order in the morning and deliver in the afternoon', to best endeavours next day. Service companies can no longer do as many visits on the same day and neither can sales people, merchandisers, couriers and other business people who visit clients and prospects on site.

Even my insurance broker told me he could only commit to about 3 meetings a day in order to give as close to possible a guarantee that he would be able to meet clients on time. Even then I'd sometimes get a call from his PA, saying, "Sorry Luigi, but Tom is stuck behind an accident on the motorway and will be about 15 minutes late."

Calls like that, or simply absences when meetings are supposed to start are commonplace as people try to keep squeezing meetings into time slots that they are unlikely to be able to commit to. I hate that because it costs me my time and productivity too. The only good thing is having email and other tools on my mobile, (as I suggested in my first book 'Unleashing the Road Warrior') I can still get some work done, anywhere, any time, on any device, which I coined as A³.

So what am I on about?

HERE has developed a set of routing API's (tools developers use to create applications) that will facilitate a wide range of route optimization queries. It includes comprehensive information on historical traffic congestion data as well as Real Time Traffic Information (RTTI).

I'll give you a couple of examples of how it could work.

A truck has 10 deliveries to do. If they use common route optimization, they will use what is called the Traveling Salesman Problem algorithm. The outcome of this is usually something like a circle if you are starting and ending at the same place and will be the most economic route. This is generally much better than a driver would work out, because it knows about speed zones, one-way streets, turn restrictions and other elements that impact the selection of the optimal route, not only for the complete set of stops, but also between each one.

Using historic traffic information means that you can run a similar algorithm based on what traffic is like, say on a Tuesday (often the busiest day of the week during morning and evening peaks) and the route may end up criss-crossing itself, because certain locations have more or less traffic at different times of day. So the next closest stop, may actually take much longer to get to than one which is farther away. The new route may look counterintuitive on a map, but it will get more visits done. In this environment you can still give people an expectation of roughly when to expect the delivery.

One of my old clients had certain deliveries that had to arrive within a specific time frame. Liquor deliveries, for example, require the presence of the person holding the Liquor Licence. Let's say that was 10 AM. Other deliveries might not be time based. The algorithm can then plan based on what traffic is normally like on those days and the sequence will be different to the one above.

The next cool thing is that on top of all of that, the API includes Real Time Traffic congestion. Now this layer adds a whole new level of valuable data. The route plan was based on the best possible route based on what traffic is normally like, but what happens if there is a crash and that causes an unplanned traffic jam? Their new API covers that as well. Rerun the tool that someone would develop using the API and hey presto, you have a new route, avoiding the new traffic jam as much as possible and it will cause much less delay than you previously would have used.

Another way of using the tools would be on an ad hoc basis. I.e. I have a list of visits and I go to the first stop. I then run the tool over all the other visits I plan to do today, based on real time traffic and it tells me which one I can get to the quickest. Note I am talking about speed of getting there, not the distance. As an example, I once used an Uber to get home in the afternoon after doing aqua-walking for my back injury and he went past 3 schools. It took almost an hour to travel less than 10km, when he could have used the motorway and got me home in 15 minutes. I got a refund, but this is local knowledge that Google didn't seem to have, or perhaps he had the traffic layer turned off.

You wouldn't need to, but if you added HERE car navigation with real time traffic information in the vehicle, combined with the next location from the routing tool, you can also avoid any minor incidents or traffic jobs between your current location and the next one. It obviously needs mobile data to get the traffic information, but the app is available from your mobile app store for free.

I'm really excited about this. It won't recover the Billion dollars of GDP, but it does give power back to transport users in a big way and will reduce the cost of commercial travel and increase some of the productivity lost and improve our GDP if companies use it. That means more income in the same amount of time and hopefully reductions in cost of goods and services. It is potentially HUGE!

What's the catch? HERE provides the tools, but a developer has to use them and apply them into their dispatch or work management systems. Competitive Fleet Management companies will pick up these tools and add them into their mix. I'm sure these tools will be scale-able as well, so small companies should also be able to have access to tools to optimize their day's work.

I'll put a link in a comment below this article for anyone who wants to explore this further.

Just for the record, I do not work with or have any financial relationship with HERE as I write this story. I don't know what the services cost. I do use HERE on my phone for free and also on the Heads up Display in my car. I know people at HERE, because I have a long history and connections in the industry. NZTA provides real time traffic data for New Zealand roads to them for free via an API, which is available for to business that wishes to subscribe to it, providing they don't charge for the information they get from us for free.

So, if you are in any business that is impeded as a result of traffic congestion, check out the link below. I'm sure this service works in most countries around the world, even though I have been talking specifically about New Zealand and Australia. It WILL save you time and money.

Please feel free to leave questions or comments below. I will be happy to respond.

What do you think is the best Wordpress add on for social media sharing?

, posted: 11-Jan-2014 09:36

Social sharing is an important part of blogging if you want your message to go wide. There are loads of tools available that will do this and I have done very little research on this topic. A tweet from my Empire Ave friend Ben Hanten today got me thinking about this. Whenever I set up a new blog, I look at what’s available.
Social Sharing

Social Sharing

For example, this one is from my Luigi Cappel blog. It’s deliberately small so you have to go visit one of my latest posts to see it better.
So I got to thinking about what we want from these tools. Fundamentally we want them to be easy to use and relatively intelligent, for example if we want to tweet about the blog, we want the tweet to be include the headline as well as the link. It would be cool if you could highlight some text and it incorporates the selected text. But now I’m getting into the features of the linking tools rather than the bundle in a plug in app.
A couple of things I would like to see are:
  1. The ability to control the order of the social media offered.
  2. One that is regularly updated with new social media apps that come up.
  3. The ability to pick which individual linking tools to use, effectively make your own plug in without having the knowledge to code it.
  4. An analytic suite that allows you to do historical search on what information was shared with which social media and how often.
Most of these features would come at a cost, but I would be happy to pay a small sum to be able to use a tool with these features.
So the question for you is, what do you use/like and why? What would you recommend for a WordPress blog for someone like me who doesn’t do code? Does what I’m asking for already exist?

New TomTom Report on Worst Cities in Australasia for Traffic Congestion

, posted: 11-Nov-2013 16:02

TomTom has just produced an update on their report on how long motorists spend stuck in traffic jams in Australia and New Zealand. When I first looked at the numbers I thought about commute time, but this is really about the time when you are pretty much not moving at all. Suddenly 94 hours a year sounds like a lot. That’s a lot of lost productivity!
It probably won’t surprise you to see Sydney at the top of the list, but probably the most significant statistic in this report is the 16% increase in congestion in Auckland, New Zealand. This won’t be surprising to people who commute in Auckland given the continued growth in population.
How long are you prepared to sit in traffic and what will you do to avoid it? Many people tell me they have no choice but to sit in the traffic, other than starting early or finishing late. I don’t agree and I’d say neither does TomTom, otherwise they wouldn’t have real time traffic on their car navigation GPS devices. This is one of the major reasons why I recommend TomTom as the best GPS to buy for New Zealand, having tried most brands at some stage.
So what can you do if you are in New Zealand? There are loads of websites you can visit, but if you are driving, in my book a TomTom device is the best option, because traffic is fluid. The conditions can change significantly between the time you pick up your keys and the time you start driving. They will very likely change even during your trip.
  1. Buy a TomTom with Real Time Traffic. Many people say they have no choice, for example when they live on the North Shore. Wrong, I’ve gone the long distance into Auckland via SH18 and had a clean drive all the way through.
  2. Trust the nav unit. A couple of years ago TV put it to the test. They had one person use TomTom with HD Traffic, one following Google instructions and another following local agreed best routes. Watch the video and see what happens. To cut the story short, the guy using real time traffic really struggled with the apparent lack of logic, constantly getting new instructions to turn into minor roads. Guess who got there first? The instructions may change while you are driving, that’s why it’s called real time traffic:)
  3. Check out AA Roadwatch before you go.
  4. Check out the Auckland Traffic Webcams.
  5. Check out the NZTA Traffic Conditions site.
  6. have you seen the new Auckland Traffic current speed page?
  7. AA Journey Times is a great resource.
  8. Use a traffic app like Waze. I haven’t used it for a while and am have just reinstalled it on my mobile to see if it has improved. Last time I tried it, it was reporting a red light as an incident and the reports from the public were about where about where there were police with radars. I don’t speed, so I don’t care. Also the roads weren’t up to date in my area. Just checked and they still aren’t. The app looks smarter, but looking good doesn’t get me where I want to go in a hurry.
  9. Google also has real time traffic, if you set up a route and provides you with alternative routes. How good is it? I’d love to see some tests. The big difference to me is that TomTom uses a combination of all of their users as well as commercially tracked vehicles. Google tracks mobile devices. I doubt that it can tell the difference between 15 people in a bus, or 3 people in a car. It’s way better than nothing, but what is your time worth?
  10. Telecommute. This one is really interesting because many people don’t need to be in their office all day, every day. One of the barriers is a companies not trusting that their staff will work from home, or will get distracted and do non work related things. Of course people could do those in the time they would have spent in the car so it would be a win win. I’ll discuss this in a future blog, because it is worth exploring how to make this work successfully. Some days have worse traffic than others.
What is 94 hours of your time worth? Let’s put it in perspective. How much do you earn an hour? How many things didn’t you do because you didn’t have time? Ever missed your child’s school performance or sport? How do you recover that? Ever arrived late or not at all for an important meeting. Ever been late for work?
The really cool thing is that if you have a device like a TomTom with Live Traffic, you can contribute to the information yourself, so the more people using it the better the quality of the information.

So what do you reckon, I'm up for some debate:)

Grab a FREE copy ofmy eBook now

, posted: 1-Nov-2013 13:28

You can download a FREE copy of my eBook Buying a House - Using Real Estate Apps, Maps and Location Based Services right now and for about another 8 hours. I did it as a Halloween promotion, but its in the Amazon US time zone.

Whether you are looking, in the industry, develop location based apps, or know someone in the industry, hopefully it delivers some value and your download helps my ranking:)

For more info about the book, check out this blog.

Who can you trust? Who do you trust?

, posted: 30-Oct-2013 13:51

Who do you trust? Who can you trust? With happenings in Auckland, New Zealand mayoral politics recently, the NSA spying, and other revelations, we find ourselves in interesting times. With the invasive growth of social media we live in a world of increasing transparency. Corporates and Governments which have thrived on sharing only what they think people need to know are losing that battle.
I’ve been reading article in The Futurist by Rolf Jensen, Chief Imagination Officer (I like that title!) of Dream Company in Denmark who compares today’s society to the first Renaissance. Gutenberg’s Press accelerated the spread of new ideas, and the golden age sprung out of the middle ages where much of the world was controlled by a religious hierarchy.
FragWe have a similar break-up to political hierarchy’s now, particularly in but not limited to the Middle East and Europe, and like the Gutenberg Press, Social Media is now making important information available to the masses, most significantly in real time. This means that it isn’t possible for governments and corporations to use smoke and mirrors quite so much. With trending information, we can see right past the kaleidoscopic obfuscation to what is really going on.
Here are some interesting statistics that Rolf shared in his article in The Futurist:
  • From Pew Research: In the 1960′s 75% of the US public trusted their Government. In 2010 the result was 25%!
  • The European barometer polled UK voters in 2005 and found a trust level of only 34%. In 2012 that was down to 21%.
  • CEO’s of large corporations are trusted by 45% of the US population (almost double the number that trust their politicians, that’s positive isn’t it?)
  • Gallop says that teachers are trusted by 84%. That’s great news isn’t it. What a shame they get one of the smallest parts of the budget!
Back to social media though, what we are doing is finding groups of people that we do trust and building a new society. We’re sharing knowledge and information in countless ways that have immediacy.
As an example, in my new eBook, Buying a House – Using Real Estate Apps, Maps and Location Based Services, I speak a lot about using social media to research where to live. I cover questions like where to find people who are like you, or people who can tell you about a suburb or area, who have nothing to gain by sharing that information. Who can you trust to give you honest information?
I feel very grateful to live in such exciting times where the power is gong back to the people. Of course ‘the people’ do have to take the power and whilst everyone subsequently had an opinion on Mayor Len Brown’s indiscretions, only 33% turned up to vote in the Auckland local Government elections. I do like the saying ‘You get the Government you deserve’.
So who do you trust? Who do you go to for advice? How are you going to use the information now available to you, to help build the world you want for yourself and your children? How will you contribute?
Comments welcomed.

New eBook about buying a house using apps, maps and location based services

, posted: 8-Oct-2013 09:53

We all know buying a house is stressful. Get it right and you can own your dream home, get it wrong and the dream could be a nightmare. It’s all about Location as Luigi Cappel explains in his new Kindle eBook ‘Buying a House – Using Real Estate Apps, Maps and Location Based Services’, new on the Amazon Kindle store today.
Buying a House Final Cover ArtThis unique book takes you into the world of mobile applications that take advantage of mobile and tablet functionality such as GPS and the camera, web sites and map tools that can help you do your essential research before you start looking at homes. Illustrations show examples and there are many links to apps and web sites from around the world.
We chose Kindle as a platform because it is universal. You don’t have to own a Kindle device, you can get free software for your PC, smartphone or tablet.
What will you learn about in this eBook? Topics covered (with examples of and links to free apps and web services) include:
  • Real Estate Agents. Should you do your homework first? How do you find a good one? How do you find a good real estate agency? Why does it matter?
  • Social Media. How can you use social media to find out about areas you might want to live in, even if you don’t know anyone who lives there? How to use tools like Facebook Graph Search and others.
  • Scoping the Neighborhood. What’s the street like? What are the demographics, are the people there like me? What about neighborhood crime? You don’t have to drive 120km like I did once, to find the neighbors had rusting car bodies and other mess all over the back yard.
  • Utilities. Can you take it for granted that you’ll get good TV coverage, gas, cellular mobile or fast broadband? How can you find out?
  • Commuting. How long will it take to get to and from work at rush hour? What are the transport options such as buses, trains or ferries?
  • Viewing houses without having to buy a gas station. Optimizing your day visiting properties.  What tools make that easy and how do you use them.
  • The property and risks. How do you identify risks like floods or slips? Does it get all day sun?
  • What amenities are in walking distance? What do you need? Schools, shops, health services? How can you check for things like that before you go?
  • Check List Applications. You can’t possibly remember what belonged with what house once you’ve seen a pile of them. What should you even be looking for?
  • Real Estate Applications. There are hundreds of them. What should you look for? Should you use one that is unique to a real estate brand, like Barfoot & Thompson or something more generic like Trulia? What sort of features should you look for?
But wait there is more. This is a valuable book for anyone who is contemplating buying a house. As an eBook you can easily click on any section and go straight there and of course with Kindle you can add your own comments and bookmarks.
If you know anyone who is thinking of buying a house, let them know about this book, it is an investment that they will benefit from. It’s an easy read, packed with lots of useful information and very little jargon.
Check it out here and feel free to leave comments. If you buy it, I would welcome a review on the Amazon site.

Have You Tried The New Barfoot and Thompson iPad Real Estate App?

, posted: 30-Aug-2013 17:53

Barfoot & Thompson have a new (well relatively new) iPad application
out to help people find their next house in New Zealand. It is crisp
and clean and has some very nice features. It’s been selected as a
finalist in the Designers Institute Best Design Awards 2013 and I’m sure it will do well. Here’s my review. 

It opens up showing your current location on a map with properties in
your proximity, if you have allowed it to know your location using the
GPS on your iPad. This is interesting even if you’re not looking to buy
in your neighbourhood because you can get an idea of what’s for sale and
perhaps how your property value may be faring.

Tap on one of the map pins and you will see a photo of the house and
tap on the picture and you go into the property screen, where you can
scroll through photos and information. I’ll come back to that.

I was surprised that they haven’t done an iPhone app, nor an Android app, but they do have a website optimised for mobile.
More people have mobiles than tablets and a lot of people have Androids
today. Personally I would have gone for a responsive website rather
than a mobile specific one, but that’s just my opinion.

There is a potential fatal flaw here. Most iPads do not have SIM
cards. This means that unless they have another means of connecting to
the Internet, such as tethering to a mobile, or WiFi, then a lot of the
location based features fail. This is another reason why I would have an
iPhone version. It would need to be rewritten for the form factor,
whereas if they had started with an iPhone app, you can always use that
on an iPad as well.

The User Interface is nice, but the experience will vary based on
your knowledge of apps. There are lots of hidden gems that you might
have to stumble over in order to find them. I would like to see an FAQ
or even a tutorial to make sure that people don’t miss out on valuable
information that could influence their next step.



When you search for a Suburb, Listing ID, or Keyword (and I’m not
going to get pedantic about upper and lower case:) the result is very
smart, similar to using Google Maps, but you wouldn’t know it from the

You can search by number e.g. 119 and it will show you listings
starting with that number. If you enter a suburb, you will first see
properties in that suburb, but if you don’t scroll down, you might not
realise you can also view suburbs, schools and find the nearest Barfoot
& Thompson Branch. If you select School, it will show you the
location of the school you select. As I said, hidden gems.

Property Filter


The Property Filter feature is elegant, I really like it. It is smooth and intuitive.  Save or Apply and go explore.
I didn’t find the book marking functionality as user friendly. It’s
obvious when you select it, that it is a book mark, but if you forget
you have used it and are looking at a map, you may wonder where all the
listings went. That’s because it’s only showing properties on the map
that you have bookmarked and if you haven’t bookmarked any yet, then you
won’t see any properties at all. Logical, but logic and user
friendliness aren’t always the same thing.

The listings themselves are full of nuggets and you need to try all
the buttons at the top to find out what they do. It’s also obvious that
some agents put a lot more effort into providing information than

Additional Docs

Titirangi buyers for example may find a lot more information than in some othe
suburbs, for example, one property I looked at had a LIM Report, Title
and more. There were photos, floor plans and even Google Street View.
When there are Open Homes, there is an Open Home Reminder, which lets
you choose from available Open Homes and put your selection straight
into your calendar, so you won’t forget.

The arrow on the right hand side at the top lets you email the
property details to yourself or someone else, complete with a “Try the
App” option. If you have AirPrint, you can print straight from your device at home, even if you’re not
there, I like that! You can also select the Agent and get their details
as well as other listings they are personally managing. Finally you can
“enquire” which will open up your email and allow you to send an email
request to the agent.

So what’s missing? As I said up top, a tutorial would be good, it
could be FAQ’s or a video walk through. As IT people, we often assume
that users are more experienced than they really are. Many people I know
will get frustrated and abandon the app, or wish it had features that
it does in fact have. The good thing is that Barfoot will be getting at
least weekly reports on downloads, upgrades and usage and even where it
is being used most.

Points of Interest would be an easy addition. I know schools are important (if you have kids) but as I’ve mentioned in previous blogs,
things like Shopping, Food, Health Services and Public Transport are
also important and easy to get from the Google API’s.

Google now offers real time traffic information on their maps. Imagine if you could
see that in real time to see what traffic is like in the neighbourhood
right now, or when you are planning to go and look at the property.

I don’t expect demographics, at least before the 2013 Census is out.
But wouldn’t it be cool if you could get some information about the
people in the area and find out if they are like you?

Getting around Open Homes can be a chore and I often seem to find an
agent (not talking about Barfoot here) that doesn’t have a great sense
of direction. A route planner would be very cool and that would be an award winning feature imho.

I was also surprised to not see any social media links in the app. I
would have thought that the ability to share a property for sale with
family and friends via Facebook and Twitter at least would have been a
big plus. Word of Mouth is an important and social media is a free
marketing tool.

All in all, I really do like the app and congratulate Barfoot on
creating it. They have set a standard that realtors will have to equal
or better. It is not only useful for people in New Zealand, but also for
expats and people thinking of coming from overseas. It isn’t the only
app on the block, but his review is just about them.

Location based or general notifications would be great for the
serious home buyer. You could set your criteria of price and features,
maybe a timeframe when you are open to be notified. You might be looking
in Browns Bay, but there could be an amazing property in a totally
different part of Auckland, where you happen to be driving on a Saturday
afternoon that you would never have considered. You could have an alert
for Open Homes near your real time  current location, again based on
the saved criteria of price, bedrooms etc that you are looking for.

What other features would I like to see? Watch out for more blogs
and also for the eBook on using Location Based Services to buy real
estate, which is a few weeks away. The following eBook will be for

In the meantime, if you have an iPad, try the app out and leave a comment on this blog to tell me what you think of it.

22 Apps to use when the big Wellington Earthquake hits

, posted: 1-Aug-2013 08:25

What will you do if the big earthquake hits? Are there location based apps that can help and what lessons can we learn from previous earthquakes such as the ones that devastated buildings and people in Christchurch? The answer is a resounding yes and perhaps not the ones, or in the way you might have thought.


GNS Science calls them the Cook Strait earthquakes and aftershocks, but most people have their eyes on Wellington. As at the time I am writing this post there have been almost 2,000 quakes and aftershocks in the last 12 days.

So what are some of the problems you might face and apps you might be able to use?

Where are my friends?
Where are my staff or colleagues?
Where are my family?
What roads are open?
How do I get to my key people?
Where do I go?
Are there shops open?

Do keep in mind that GPS and communications uses up batteries and chances are you will use more than normal, both because you want to stay connected and because some cell towers may not be working. I recommend you buy a back up power supply for your device. I got a great one on Deal Extreme, for $18 including delivery. Here are some ideas for you:

Foursquare. A lot of people don't get the point of Foursquare and most people don't think laterally. Foursquare uses the GPS on your mobile to allow you to check into places. If you do nothing else, set up your family, close friends and colleagues on Foursquare and during times like these, get them to check into the places they are going to. Even if you can't contact them, you will know the last place they checked into. You can also add comments and photos and link to other applications, for example you can automatically tweet your location and photos and any tips. Tips saying that a shop or petrol station is open would be helpful as would information about gridlock.

Facebook. The mobile Facebook allows you to check in as well. It doesn't appear to have the same number of locations in its database as yet, as Foursquare does, but you can check in. Chances are you already have all your friends and family set up if you are a Facebook user.

Twitter. Twitter allows you to check in as well. One of the things that Twitter does well is use of hashtags. #eqnz and #wellington are good examples and you can save searches of hashtags in order to get the latest news. One thing Twitter does well on PC, but not on mobile apps is Lists. On a PC you can create lists of people who you can follow, so for example you can create lists just for the people you want to stay in touch with.

Hootsuite. As above. The good thing with Hootsuite, which allows you to do the same things as Twitter, is that you can set up multiple streams in columns, so for example you can have live streams for specific 'searches'. Note you could also create a unique hashtag that you agree to use between contacts. All you need to do to create a hashtag is pick a word and put the # or pound symbol in front of it and its a go. Hootsuite isn't the only application of its type but it is one of the big ones and has recently acquired one of its major competitors Seesmic, which is likely to be merged into it soon. Hootsuite also allows you to post to other social media including Facebook and LinkedIn.

Google+ is another one which is growing rapidly and of course with the search capabilities of Google, would be a wise app to include. Personally I like the app better than using it on my web browser.

AA Roadwatch aka AA Traffic. Not actually an app, you need to access it on your web browser, but it is the best service in New Zealand for real time traffic information. If you live in other parts of the world I'd recommend Google, but in New Zealand AA Maps is the best imho. You can also subscribe to SMS area or route alerts on your mobile and the site also includes airport and Cook Strait Ferry information. Unfortunately not for Wellington Airport.

TomTom Car Navigation. TomTom is my GPS car navigation product of choice when it comes to car navigation and real time traffic conditions. You can have it as an application on your mobile smartphone or you can purchase a GO Series device. I haven't got the latest model, but I have used these in New Zealand, Australia and in the USA and the combination of real time traffic and the latest maps takes a huge amount of stress out of the situation. It will not just give you the best route, but it will route you around traffic jams and road closures. I had friends in Christchurch during the last quake who took desperate hours to drive a few kilometers to locate family members and get them home. TomTom used to have a Buddy Finder feature as well, so that you could share your location with other people using a Go Live devoice. I think they stopped that and I haven't tried their latest products, so I don't know if they still have it. They also supported 3rd party apps on the nav device like Foursquare, but again I'm not sure if that is on the current devices.

Your newspaper apps. I have NZ Herald, Stuff, ABC News, and NBC on my iPad. I do have to warn you that many newspapers are light staffed during the night, perhaps still a historic legacy of their print origins and cost cutting, but they are still worth having. In an emergency I tend to rely on social media, which you might notice is where the newspapers today get a lot of their their latest 'on the spot' images and news from. After all if there is gridlock, they can't get there either.

Vine and Instagram are worth having, particularly if you want to share still or video images with family or friends. They also allow location based searching and hashtags.

The Metservice app includes traffic cameras, so you can see what is going on key highways and check out the weather at the same time.

Emergency Check Lists. There are loads of apps available that allow you to compile lists. You shouldn't need any help with that. Your phone book has lists of things you should have in your emergency kit, whether that is what to have at home or what to keep in your car. If you are in a risk area like Wellington and Marlborough right now, hopefully you have the fully sorted. You could just use the notepad on your device, but there are some great list apps like Wunderlist and Evernote is a great free tool for keeping information together that I recommend to everyone. You can do all sorts of amazing things with it including copying this whole page. It will synchronise your information across every device you have it installed on.

Civil Defence Apps. I have the Auckland Civil Defence App. I have registered and have notifications enabled. This is important because if there is an emergency, say a tsunami for example, they can't establish Welfare Centres and other beachheads until they know which areas are safe. I did find it interesting that Wellington doesn't appear to have an app.

NZ Quakes

NZ Quakes App
. I have the NZ Quakes apps on my iPad and iPhone. It can be morbidly fascinating and as you can see from the image, it has been relentless. If you're in the zone, you may not need to know that there has been yet another quake, but it can let you know the location and intensity. It could of course just add to the stress. Me, I like facts.

Accommodation Sites. Take your pic for what is available in your area or country. This may seem strange, but if you find yourself suddenly in need of accommodation, it would be handy to have an application that can tell you where there is local accommodation. There aren't any apps that I'm aware of designed for emergencies and this might be an opportunity for developers to give this some thought. The issue is that if properties don't have power or communications, it is not going to be easy for them to advise reservation engines if they have rooms available.

Vehicle Tracking. A lot of people invest in low cost vehicle tracking solutions in order to track their company vehicles and claim back road user charges. But this same technology is often used by people who have sports or classic vehicles, vehicles they don't want to lose. It can also be used to keep track of the kids when they are borrowing your car. These systems, such as the GPS Log Book Live are available for only $399 and $20 per month for live tracking. This could be the perfect solution if you want to know where your people are. If this is of interest, let me know because I am trying to negotiate a deal for my readers.

Glympse is a great application for people who need to let their friends and family know where they and where they are going. It can track you in real time and let those who need to know where you are find you. 

Where's My iPhone. I have this on my iPhone and iPad. It is a standard feature and allows me to see where my devices are on a map from another device or PC and even make a noise, or blank them out. To do this, the person you entrust must have your Apple ID and password. There are similar applications for other mobile operating systems.

Flashlight. If you find yourself in a critical situation in the dark and you didn't have a torch in your emergency kit (do it now), the application called Flashlight can turn your mobile display into a torch. Do keep in mind that this will have a major impact on your battery life, but useful nevertheless.

I could go on, but this should give you a head start in your preparation for an emergency situation. If the big earthquake hits your town, if you are racing away from an impending tsunami, or a new volcano decides to appear on your doorstep. If you live in a country like New Zealand which is perched on the ring of fire, it is highly likely that you will experience an earthquake. The more prepared you are the better and the device you are most likely to always have on you is your mobile.

Do you have a favourite app that I haven't mentioned? Please share you comments on this blog so we can all learn fro each other.

Poor GPS Map Data on Aftermarket HUD Car Nav Devices Turns Heads

, posted: 29-Jul-2013 09:59

New aftermarket GPS car nav units have been blamed for a spate of car accidents due to inaccurate map data. The wave of new aftermarket HUD (Heads Up Display) car navigation devices over the last few years were met with much enthusiasm. Being able to purchase devices like the Garmin HUD (How did they manage to get that as a brand name?) that launched in 2013 for under $200 bundled with a nav unit or $150 on its own, made it the next car enthusiasts must have device (toy).

With in car options (admittedly including in-car entertainment, climate control, car computer etc) adding an easy $2,000 to the bill for people who could afford a new car, a solution that cost that can go into virtually any car was a great starter for 10%.

Touted as being much safer than in dash systems because you don’t have to take your eyes off the road, it appears to have unwittingly revealed a much more critical situation that has caused stress and confusion and has allegedly resulted in accidents and assertions of liability being placed on the manufacturers of the nav systems.

The reason is that in many cases the map data is either out of date or inaccurate. This means that the driver is seeing both the road in front of them through the windscreen as well as a laser image representation of the road from the HUD. When these do not match and the driver is in a relaxed frame of mind (partly due to confidence in the GPS car nav data) confusion may arise. For example driving late at night or on a foggy morning on a country road with poor visibility and the nav displays a sharp turn (but the road has been realigned) could result in a nasty accident. Urban roads (such as Wellington in New Zealand) where one-way streets were changed to run in the opposite direction are another classic example.

Psychologist John Doe from Lost Highway University said “When drivers used traditional in-dash car nav devices, they relied mostly on auditory instructions, glancing at the nav unit from time to time to confirm the details, but then interpreted the information and commands based on what they were seeing. This meant that if there was a discrepancy in the directions, common sense usually prevailed and they would act on what they actually saw through the windscreen. Since large numbers of people started using HUD systems, they mentally merged the heads up data with what they saw through the windscreen and when they contradicted each other, this caused confusion and stress. It only takes momentary confusion at 50 miles per hour to find themselves in an accident situation,” he explained.

The more sophisticated units such as the Pioneer system released 2013 in the video below, do have some advantages over the cheaper units because they also include character recognition of outside objects such as speed signs. This means that if the car navigation database says the speed is 50 mph but the sign on the road says 30 mph, the navigation instructions will give higher credence to the physical roadside sign. 

John Doe went on say that many car nav companies have managed to get their prices very low by purchasing cheap car navigation data and not updating them as often. People accepted that for a low price, they weren’t going to get high detail map updates and because the map wasn’t in their face, they were able to deal with the discrepancies.

Portable HUD car GPS manufacturers are now adding modular components to their systems including WiFi cameras and adding software to their Smartphones and Portable Car GPS devices including character recognition, distance and speed of the car in front and connection to in car entertainment such as streaming audio. Legislators are now looking at enforcement of restrictions, ensuring that drivers can only see car control related information on the HUD, ensuring they can’t be distracted by videos. email messages etc which can also technically be displayed on the screen whilst driving.

PDAMan's profile

Luigi Cappel
New Zealand

Helping people getting their message to potential customers with blogs and social media.
Futurist and start up founder.
Passionate consultant about all things to do with Social, Location, Augmented Reality and Mobile.
Member of Auckland ICT Cluster
Chair of Computing and IT Industry Advisory Committee at National Technology Institute
Founding member and past president of the New Zealand Wireless Forum.
Past Vice President NZ Sales & Marketing Institute.