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Photos: High tech vans map out Europe

Far more high-tech than they look... honest
By Tim Ferguson, Contributor on
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Far more high-tech than they look... honest

This is one of the vans used by mapping company Tele Atlas to gather images and data that eventually ends up on numerous navigation devices.

The Dutch company is one of two major European mapping organisations - the other being Navteq - that provide maps to sat-nav manufacturers.

Customers include Google, Mercedes Benz, Navman, Nokia, Tom Tom and Via Michelin.

As part of the mapping process the company uses a fleet of 22 vans to map individual streets and landmarks across Europe.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson

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The Tele Atlas vans have between six and eight cameras mounted on them to take images of the passing roads and landmarks. They take three shots per second which are then stored on hard drives located in the van.

The van co-driver views the live images on a tablet PC mounted on the dashboard to monitor the picture quality.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson

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The tablet PC displays images from the rear of the van. The driver has to adjust speed depending on the light conditions to make sure the images are clear. This can sometimes be as slow as 40km/h.

During the winter the van operators have enough light to take images for around six hours per day. During the summer they can operate for as long as 11 hours.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson

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The data feeds into two hard drives located on the van and is stored there until the operators are given the green light by the Tele Atlas head office to delete it.

In a single week, each van can generate up to 250GB of data. This is then sent to be processed in India by 700 Infotech digital cartographers.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson

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Stijn Ulenaers (left) and Gudrun Vanlaar (right) from Belgium make up one of the teams operating a Tele Atlas mapping van across Europe.

The teams live on the vans - which are much like a normal camper van inside - as they travel around Europe.

On average, teams spend four weeks driving and living in the vans before taking two weeks off. However, Vanlaar and Ulenaers have been on the road for five months.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson

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This is the view from the van during a demonstration run in Reading. The co-driver watches the screen to check image quality and to make sure nothing gets onto the camera lens.

Tele Atlas estimates around 20 per cent of the European road network changes each year, meaning it constantly needs field data from across Europe.

As well as its vans, Tele Atlas uses around 50,000 different sources for mapping information. Examples include Deutsche Post, which supplies house number information, and databases belonging to Ordnance Survey and National Land Survey.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson

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This is another display-setting on the PC in the van. It uses GPS information to show the location of the van geographically and the route it needs to take to fully map an area.

The van fleet covers around 3.2 million kilometres per year.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson

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Here are some of the devices on which the mapping information obtained by the vans ends up.

Pictured are a selection of car navigation systems from GPS tech manufacturer, Navman.

Photo credit: Tim Ferguson

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