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Emergency Vehicle GPS "Drive To..."

I do some gratis work (helping out with their PCs, light-duty app development/maintenance) with the local government’s emergency services (police, fire, ems) and have been approached with a problem.  New workers (and indeed veterans) have problems responding to calls on the “road less traveled” – namely the city has many streets and they may not know instantly where a particular address is located and have to ask the dispatcher for some landmarks.

All of the police vehicles have laptops in them (running Win2K IIRC) and communicate with the HQ via encrypted wireless radios (they connect to the laptop via the only com port).  They can chat with other officers, get call information, etc. but there is no off-intranet access.

My proposed solution is this:
1) Add GPS units that hook into the laptops on the on-duty vehicles
2) Somehow interface with the dispatch software to read the address of a call
3) Use off-the-shelf mapping software to provide driving directions from current GPS point to address

This means that I’d have to write the glue software from the dispatch program to the mapping software (that is to say I’d have to write code which inputs the location to the mapping software and have it refresh the driving directions).

This fulfills the requirements that it be:
1) Cheap
2) Mostly maintainable by someone other than myself (one guy there is somewhat proficient in VB, so I’d make it a VB6 application)
3) Provide a map to show the driver where to go

GPS units are not terribly expensive and the department only needs to buy as many as on-duty vehicles.

Off-the-shelf Win32 mapping software is not terribly expensive.

I am free, and this doesn’t sound like too difficult/time consuming a proposition.

However, I’ve never worked with GPS nor mapping/dispatch software in such a fashion, and so I’m looking for the following advice:
1) Does this scheme sound reasonable?
2) Has anyone tried something like this?  I can’t find anything online which would fit these requirements (Garmin et al said they have no such products that would do this natively)
3) Does anyone know of off-the-shelf mapping software that would do driving directions, or in the least show a map from X to Y (like yahoo maps’ driving directions)
4) Any other suggestions

Thanks!

Bob
Thursday, April 08, 2004

Personally I don't use GPS (I already know where I am), but I use MapQuest ( e.g. http://www.mapquest.com/maps/main.adp?countrycode=250 ) frequently (if I have a map of where the place is then I can figure out for myself how to get there). The same site can also offer driving directions.

Perhaps http://www.mapquest.com/solutions/product.adp could sell a product to run on the intranet.

Christopher Wells
Thursday, April 08, 2004

I worked for a company that has a GPS solution (hardware - Windows CE & software VB ASP) that is deployed in fleets of trucks and trains.

TWe used MapObjects from ESRI to do the programming:

http://www.esri.com/software/mapobjects/mo-index.html

I believe you can develop using Map Objects in VB, ASP, C++, VB.NET, ASP.NET, C#, Delphi,  PowerBuilder & Java

For more info on the company I worked for see:
http://www.dcs.com/

genx'er
Thursday, April 08, 2004

I've never used it, but check out Map point on MSDN.

pdq
Thursday, April 08, 2004

It seems you should be able to get it to the point where they just have to copy the address from one application on their laptop over to another pretty quickly.  And I would be shocked if the GPS programs didn't have some way to be operated more automatically.  My uncle has used GPS for probably close to ten years, to get news vans to point their little satelite dishes in the right direction.  We're not really talking cutting edge here.

Keith Wright
Thursday, April 08, 2004

I'd be surprised if what you're looking for isn't available off the shelf. Certainly some of the up market cars (mercedes, BMW etc.) have satellite nav. systems into which you simple input a post code anywhere in Europe and it will give step by step navigation instructions AND they keep their temper when you overshoot a motorway exit, which is more than can be said of ....

As a downmarket alternative, look at any of the portable sports aviation GPS systems. These generally allow you to store lists of air strips, way points etc. (equate landmarks or neighbourhoods). You just select one and press GOTO and this big arrow points the way.

David Roper
Thursday, April 08, 2004

Microsoft's MapPoint ...
a) integrates with GPS units
b) does driving directions
c) has maps of the whole US
d) has an accessible object model

Leaving you to get the 911 address from dispatch to the local PC and pump it into MapPoint, generating a route and hooking in current location.

CAVEAT: I have not done this; as with all programming tasks, one gotcha can ruin your day. But in theory it should be doable (if you have MSDN it's definitely the cheapest option to try out first)

Disclaimer: I'm a Microsoft employee.

Philo

Philo
Thursday, April 08, 2004

You should stay right away from this. Emergency services is a vital service. It's no place to be introducing poorly tested systems done for free, and particularly without formal training for users and new procedures.


Thursday, April 08, 2004

An interesting and very valid point.

But, realizing that emergency services is traditionally underfunded, how do you deal with the idea that absent this solution, there won't be a solution?

In the case of emergency services, is 3/4 a loaf better than none? Or is it dangerous to encourage a false sense of security regarding street routing?

Questions I'd definitely get answered in writing... :)

Philo

Philo
Thursday, April 08, 2004

Various comments:

The fire/ems system that I am familiar with still uses paper maps.  They are quite detailed.  They show individual apartment buildings, which side the entrance is on, where fire hydrants are, etc.  They also take up a lot of space, a stack of binders several inches high.

Can you get electronic map databases that detailed yet?  Or can you get databases that you can add to?

Fire/ems units usually respond with a crew of at least two, so one can drive while the other navigates.  This may not work so well for police.

The paper maps require constant updating.  You would have to do that with an electronic GPS database, too.  Is there a simple way to update your system?

GPS receivers are cheap.  A basic receiver is only about $100, some less.  They typically interface to the outside world via an serial data line.  If the one COM port on your laptop is already in use, you'll have to figure out another way to connect.  USB maybe.

One company that looks like it has the sort of software you need is http://www.teletype.com  I have never used their products, but remember their name because, rather than inventing their own name they are recycling an old one.  Anyone that has been around computing a while remembers the Model 33 Teletype machines.  This seems to be an entirely different company that picked up the name when the phone company lost interest in it.

mackinac
Friday, April 09, 2004

I have just read your conversation and believe that this problem is a great one. I live in Western Australia and are working in a similar problem. What we are doing or attempting to do is to load and electronic copy of the telephone book into a database and like it to map navigation software. The idea is that you could nominate the place you would like to go. example. the nearest hospital it would use the current GPS position and recalculate your route. We are having a little success with this and are using open source code ATM.
We are using a great locally made product made by www.rojone.com.au to tell you the truth they even have a product the uses Dead Reckoning in combination with a standard NMEA output. making working in and around sky scrapers in built up areas and problem of the past.
I am also looking for soloutions and Maps for my neck of the woods but Microsoft stuff seems on available to the masses in highly populated areas. As we all know It is beter to use open source software as everyone can input.

Cammo....
Sunday, April 11, 2004

Thanks for the replies/emails.  Yes, there is an element of risk -- we're not sure whether or not we'll roll it out because of that.  However, there will be significant testing and training long before it is rolled out.  I'm not /that/ crazy.

Bob
Monday, April 12, 2004

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