2006 April 13

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Editor's Introduction

This week I review the Pharos Traveler GPS 525 and report on the implementation of Bentley’s ProjectWise by the Port Authority of Genoa, Italy. Because I am travelling, this issue does not include my usual round up of news from press releases.


Review of the Pharos Traveler GPS 525

The market for hand-held GPS-based navigation devices is exploding, a headline in an Italian newspaper announced a few days ago — followed by a subhead pointing out that digital maps are multiplying too. No longer limited to luxury vehicles, these devices are now increasingly factory-installed in mid-range cars and even on motorcycles. From conversations with people in various Italian cities, including employees of electronics stores, I am convinced that Italian consumers are well on their way to overtaking U.S. consumers in incorporating GPS receivers into their daily lives. After all, Italy has been for many years the country with by far the highest number of cell phones per capita.

While the abbreviation GPS is commonly used here and, for now, GPS is the only satellite navigation system in use, the expression "satellite navigator" is more common. It is also more appropriate, in the long, because of the advent of Galileo, Europe's counterpart to GPS, and the revival of GLONASS, the Russian system. Already many devices on the market feature more than 12 channels; this can only mean that they are intended for use with multiple sat-nav systems, because it is impossible to receive signals from more than 12 GPS satellites from any one spot on Earth.

Of course, the extremely rapid increase in the number of sat-nav devices is also driving an equally rapid increase in demand for up-to-date digital maps. In turn, the increased availability of these maps is one reason for the explosion in the popularity of navigation devices — thereby feeding a virtuous cycle. Many manufacturers of laptop computers, PDAs, and "smart" cell phones, some large and well known, some small and new, are entering the fray — including Blaupunkt, Vdo Dayton Siemens, Asus, Lg, TomTom, Navigon, Navogo, Acer, Sony, Nokia, Medion, Typhoon, Motorola, Fujitsu Siemens, Packard Bell, BenQ-Siemens, HP, and, of course, Garmin.

Only half a dozen companies, on the other hand, dominate the market for digital maps. I suppose the reason is that the initial investment to, say, map a European country, is much higher than that of producing a new hardware device. The largest single supplier of digital maps for GPS-based vehicle navigation systems and GPS-enabled cell phones is Navteq. ViaMichelin, TeleAtlas, Autoroute, and Route66, however, are not far behind.

This competition in hardware and software, of course, is all to the advantage of the consumer. In particular, the competition in software drives the acceleration in update cycles — covering changes in roads, one-way streets, points of interest (such as hotels, gas stations, and monuments), etc. — and the development of new capabilities and services — such as real-time reports on traffic, weather, and room availability at hotels. TomTom, for example, now offers users the ability to not only locate hotels within user-determined parameters as to cost, distance, and so on, but to also communicate directly with the front desk of the one they choose and make a reservation. All of this demand for information is multiplied by the number of countries covered.

In addition to the more traditional vehicle navigation systems, an increasing number of pocket devices are available, some integrated with cell phones and other ones entirely dedicated to navigation.

I have been testing a Pharos Traveler GPS 525 — a combination pocket PC, PDA, GPS receiver, and WiFi device. It comes equipped with an AC adaptor, a car charger, a car holder, a headset, and a USB cable, as well as all the necessary software and manuals, and has a slot for MMC/SD cards, an infrared port, a Bluetooth connection, and a voice recorder. It has a 300 MHz processor, 128 MB of ROM, and 64 MB of SDRAM. The 6 x 4.5-centimeter, 240x320 pixel color screen, which can be set to display in portrait or landscape modes, is bright and sharp, though hard to read in bright daylight. The 525, which can be easily synchronized with such PC application as Outlook, ships with a ready-to-use Outlook e-mail account, an Internet Explorer Mobile browser, and such standard Pocket PC programs as Excel Mobile, Word Mobile, PowerPoint Mobile, and Windows Media Player.

The GPS navigation software is Ostia 7.5, which takes up 5 MB of memory, and the data source is Tele Atlas. Detailed street maps for the United States come on three CDs. To use maps covering Oregon and Boston, I had to first install them on my laptop from the CDs and then transfer them to the 525 using the USB cable. Pharos also gave me maps for the Italian regions in which I am traveling on an SD card.

I have used the 525 successfully to find my tiny, private street in Eugene, Oregon; read my e-mail while walking around Portland, Oregon; navigate to a street address in Boston; and check the accuracy of the lat/long inscribed on a plaque on an ancient building in a small town in Northern Italy. I have also used it to determine the presence and strength of WiFi LANs that I could use with my laptop.

The 525's satellite and compass information screen gives latitude, longitude, altitude, time, speed, direction of travel, and distance from destination. The map scale ranges from 100 meters to 50 kilometers. Locations can be found by address, intersection, POI, lat/long, or directly from Outlook contacts. The device gives directions in several ways, including text, streets highlighted on the map, and audible guidance, and the user can choose between three routing methods: fastest, shortest, and no highway. Tapping a street on the map displays street information, an icon indicates whether the GPS receiver has acquired enough satellites for positioning, and the map can be viewed from overhead or from a 3D birds'-eye view.

I am enjoying very much the 525's capabilities, its small size (110 x 59 x 18 millimeters) and weight (126 grams with the battery), its very well-written manuals, and the excellent technical support. However, I've had a few problems as well. First, I required technical support to install the maps because the device's user manual and the manual for the Ostia software are not integrated. In fact, even though the user manual's front cover displays the title "Pharos Traveler GPS 525 User Manual" and an image of the device displaying the Ostia software, the 133-page booklet contains nothing at all about GPS or navigation! Second, the tiny joy stick makes movement around a map jumpy and, therefore, a bit frustrating. Third, each time I've changed maps — for example, when switching from the map of Liguria to that of Tuscany — I've had to reset the device and wait for it to reboot. Finally, and most disturbing, while my position on the map was usually dead on, in several instances — in Portland, Oregon, and in Milan and Pisa, Italy, it was off by a block or two. Had I not already been very familiar with the local geography, I would have been lost.

Genoa's Port Authority Implements Bentley's ProjectWise

Last week I met in Genoa, Italy, with Giuliano Ferretti, information systems manager, and Fiorella Rebuffa, CAD manager, both members of the technical staff of the city's Port Authority ("Autorita` Portuale di Genova"), Andrea Marilone, a GIS consultant, and Laura Roveda, a sales manager for Bentley Systems Italia S.r.l.. Twenty years ago the Port Authority (PA) had a staff of about 3,500 that operated what is one of the largest and busiest harbors in the world, about 15 kilometers (9.4 miles) long. That ended in 1994, when all operations were privatized. Now the PA staff, down to only 200, supervises about 800 30- or 50-year concessions to private companies that handle such operations as loading and unloading cargo. The PA is also responsible for land use planning within its territory and for building and modifying large structures, such as new piers, funded by the European Union, the national government, or income from the concessions.

The meeting was arranged by Roveda because the PA — a long time Bentley client, having used MicrStation since 1998 —recently signed a new contract with Bentley to implement ProjectWise, starting in early May. It was very interesting to not only hear about the project's history and requirements, but also the staff's expectations for it.

In addition to Bentley's MicroStation CAD, the PA's technical staff uses an Oracle database, a version of Intergraph's MGE that it admits to be "a bit dated," and GeoMedia to visualize these three components. They have made only minor modifications to these programs and use them almost entirely to monitor the activities of the concessions.

Compared to a classic GIS this one is rather undersized, though initially the PA set it up with greater ambitions. Over the past four to five years the staff used the system mainly to inventory all of the PA's assets — such as piers, roads, buildings, etc. — starting with those that were already managed by computer, and joined the mapping data with the alphanumeric data in the Oracle database. Each of the concessions, represented in the GIS as the area that they occupy on the PA's land at sea level, is linked to detailed drawings in CAD for each floor of each building.

Initially the GIS had been structured on the basis of very different typologies, such as train tracks and piers, rather than concessions and infrastructure projects. Now cartographic base is static and the only dynamic element are the concessions, which vary over time. This is where the CAD portion of the projects are developed, to then be used in response to public RFPs.

Because the PA has never implemented a comprehensive and user-friendly archival system, finding documents relating to even recent projects requires much time and effort. This is a problem not just for the PA's internal operations but also because other government agencies often ask it to provide information on projects and structures that are active or about to be put out for bid in a given area of the port. Therefore, for the past few years, the PA has been studying how best to archive documents by project, while retaining the ability to manage different versions and recovering as many old documents as possible, including those created on paper before 1988, which it has digitized.

It is not surprising that for this project the PA turned to Bentley, with which it had a long-standing relationship. Discussions proceeded for for more than two years but, for budgetary and administrative reasons, the PA delayed the start of the project until now.

The PA's needs do not require any significant customization of ProjectWise. The biggest challenge will be recovering the historical data and reconstructing the history of projects, which are rarely completed as planned. It is also hard, prior to having used a product in production mode, to know exactly what the needs will be. However, because ProjectWise is based on a standard Oracle database, the staff expects and hopes to be able to access all of its data.

One of the tasks of the new system will be to manage the cartography and photogrammetry, reflecting such changes in land use as the construction of a new one building or the lengthening of a pier. Additionally, the PA often exchanges exchange data with the local and regional governments, especially as the city is slowly encroaching upon the PA's territory and the border between the two is becoming increasingly blurred.

Aerial photogrammetry is not updated frequently, both because of its cost and because, in theory, the PA is already aware of all construction on its territory. The last flight was done in 1998 and it only covered the western portion of the port. The eastern portion was last flown in 1989. However, the staff acknowledges that it would be good to fly the area every five years or so.

The staff is not entirely clear, yet, as to the connection between their old Intergraph GIS, however underutilized, and the new system. They usually think in terms of projects — such as the construction of a new warehouse, from design, through bidding, to construction — so they need to have gather all the documents relative to a project into a single directory. Given that these project can only be within the PA's territory, which is also the area being managed by its GIS, it is possible, the staff told me, that they will think of ways of exchanging data between the two systems. Right now, for each concession, the GIS includes only the footprint of each building, and such data as its area and number of floors, while technical drawings and engineering specifications are stored separately in MicroStation CAD. The two systems only share the cartographic base. The long-term goal, of course, is to combine them.

Because ProjectWise is not a GIS, all the geographic analyses will still be done in the current GIS, which will download the latest data from the new system. "The priority," Ferretti told me, "is to have a system in which designers, technicians, operators, and managers can find the information they need about a project quickly and reliably and with the certainty of always accessing the most up-to-date information." However, the PA's technical staff and Bentley have not yet discussed exactly how to implement this integration. Once the PA's staff will be able to access reliable, up-to-date information, Ferretti says, it will then start to think about how to use that data in the GIS.

According to Ferretti, two of ProjectWise's capabilities were determining factors in the PA's decision to buy it. The first one was its geographic component, which will allow the staff to, for example, find all projects in a certain geographic area, as opposed to searching for them manually. The second one was its ability to manage the CAD side of things. This, says Ferretti, will also allow the staff to access updates in real time and keep track of versions.

The new system will be installed in early May and should be all up and running by the end of May, after a couple of days of analysis, a couple of weeks of customization, training of the management, and training of the technicians. The next phase will be uploading all the old data.

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