This customary phrase announcing the ascension of a monarch to the throne due to the demise of a predecessor may soon be relevant in today’s mapping industry. Having navigated (puns encouraged) this industry for many years, I’ve seen numerous innovative disruptions, technology consolidations and an overall maturation of mapping services. However, the current landscape as it relates to mapping data is staid, static and stodgy — very much resembling monarchs who are quite happy collecting taxes from complacent kingdoms.
Map data updates operate at differing cadences that are decoupled from the 24/7 operations of today’s real-time, on-demand services that depend on the data. OSM data gets a nightly build based on community contributions, but either your mapping service provider or you need to maintain the process for consuming the changes. Commercial map data providers deliver incremental updates in what might be weekly, monthly or quarterly cycles depending on contractual terms and service agreements. What happens when there are known events, construction zones, temporal road closures or other impactful road network impacts? Will your route planners, delivery drivers, service personnel and other critical personnel get routes that effectively consider the impacts?
At NextBillion.ai, we are addressing (again with the puns) these needs and many others to bring our customers a real-time, dynamic mapping platform that leverages map data that is up to date, relevant, customized and consistent across all services.
Mapping Stack Overview
Our focus at NextBillion.ai is to help our customers leverage customized mapping services that are optimized for their specific operational requirements. As my colleague likes to say, “We are a great fit whether you are delivering a person, package or pizza,” and our diverse customer base is doing just that, using a platform that adapts in real time.
The above high-level architecture diagram provides a good overview of the depth and breadth of the stack that NextBillion.ai delivers, and how we can complement existing customer data and third party services with our own differentiated core mapping and navigation platform.
For this article’s topic, we will focus primarily on the ‘Custom Data’, ‘Road Editor’ and NextBillion.ai routing/navigation services to highlight how these components work together to deliver one consistent route graph and solution to multiple user personas — route planners, delivery drivers and map operations team.
The Problem: One Destination, Two Routes
Let’s dive into a common use case and map (there’s another one) its requirements to a set of available services. For this use case, we envision a route planner who is tasked with finding optimal delivery routes to dispatch to a fleet of drivers. The planner uses a platform aided by NextBillion.ai to solve complex vehicle routing problems that consider vehicle capacity, delivery windows, various constraints and historical/real-time traffic impedances. Satisfied with the planned route, the planner dispatches the optimal route to the fleet, and a driver is assigned a sequence of stops.
At this point in this example, the driver receives the route and launches their local navigation app to sequence from stop to stop. Unfortunately, all of the hard work of the planner and route optimization platforms has been driven (…ding..) to uselessness.
Below are the views of the two personas in the example. On the right, a planned route that has an avoidance of a known construction area and on the right is the navigation route using a consumer navigation application that the driver will use.
The business has invested in improving operations by using a route optimization platform, an experienced route planner, and a customizable mapping platform that considers the business operations and local conditions; however, unless the driver follows the same route solution, the investment will have limited impact.
The NextBillion.ai Solution: One Destination, One Route
Now let’s consider what the same situation looks like in a more integrated end-to-end solution. On the left is the driver delivery application integrated with the NextBillion.ai Navigation SDK, which receives the route solution directly from the route planning service. The route that was planned in the operations center is identical to the route sent to the driver app, and is ultimately acted upon by the delivery driver. The local knowledge of the road segment with the construction work is factored into BOTH routes.
The NextBillion.ai Solution: Real-Time Map Edits
The use case described in the previous section is made possible through use of a map editing tool from NextBillion.ai. Our Route Editor allows our customers to make either lasting or temporary changes to the underlying route graph using an interactive tool. Map operations teams and route planners can restrict access to specific segments/ways and turns across nodes as well as set speed costs across segments. After changes are published, they become active in near real time in the route graph and will deliver route solutions that consider all of the restrictions and changes applied.
Let’s take another example to highlight how we perform a map edit, apply the edit and view the routes that consider the edit. Our customer knows that there is an upcoming festival that will close Plaça de Tetuan in Barcelona from 08:00 – 18:00, and wants to ensure that there won’t be any routes passing through the traffic circle at the location during that time.
Here’s a view of the NextBillion.ai Road Editor where we simply select a couple of entry segments to the traffic circle and restrict access. We establish start and end times and apply the restriction. In a matter of minutes, the change is in place and new routes calculated during the restriction time window will consider the road closures.
Again, the route planner and the delivery driver have a consistent view of the routing solution based on the modified route graph, ensuring that the festival area is avoided during the specified times and days.
“Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” (Let them eat cake!)
Enterprise customers are demanding mapping solutions that provide services that are aligned with their 24/7 operations. Correspondingly, their map data needs to be continuously updated, optimized and tuned through that same 24/7 lens. The staid and stodgy mapping service/data incumbents seem largely uninterested in these specific enterprise needs and continue to collect their service fees (taxes) while signaling a ‘Let them eat cake!’ message.
At NextBillion.ai, we are delivering an end-to-end platform that meets the 24/7 operational needs of customers across a diverse number of verticals. In doing so, we are ensuring that their investments in mapping and routing services generate maximum ROI.
Whether you are a long-time user of one of the incumbent mapping services or just venturing into the mapping space, I encourage you to put NextBillion.ai head-to-head against any of our entrenched competitors. We are confident that it will be a rout! (..last one, I promise!)