An Idea a Day: #2 Me Go Topo

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/genista/112733992/

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/genista/112733992/

Me Go Topo

Ok, what was I thinking when I challenged my self to have ideas? Coming up with an idea is hard enough when you have a specific problem to solve, a target audience has been identified and you have metrics and KPI goals to meet, but an idea out of thin air? Way tougher! This is going to be a challenging week, but a fun week. Nothing like creating problems for yourself. This next idea has been floating around in my mental coffer for a while, well at least since I went to San Fransciso last spring for the Intel Tizen Conference, so it kinda feels like cheating…but it still keeps popping back into my mind so I may as well get it out there.

The Tizen conference trip was my first extended trip away from my kids since SXSW 2012 and since I wasn’t going to be hung over like I was everyday at SXSW, my goal each day was to get up early and and go for a morning run. I would pick a spot or landmark in San Francisco that I wanted to see and I would map my route from my Hotel to the spot using Google Maps on my iPhone. This was pre-Apple Maps, thank god or I may have never found my way back to the conference.

I would start off on my journey at a steady pace, but as San Francisco is known for, I would quickly run into an ass kicker of a hill.  This of course didn’t surprise me, but from running in Florida which is relatively flat and and around Portland which I am far more familiar with and has significantly less hills, I failed to calculate exactly how much time the hilly terrain would add to my run. The first day I got to my destination and realized I didn’t have enough time to make it back to the conference for the day’s start. I had gravely misjudged the time the round trip would take me.  When I had routed the walking distance on Google Maps, I had converted it to my total running time by calculating my per mile average against the distance data.  I quickly realized the big component missing to my calculation was the terrain and the average elevation gain throughout my route.

I tried to find a better app that would help me out, but as I searched through the app store, I realized  there was no good app that allows you calculate all these factors just simply by choosing your route and adding your personalized data. Google maps attempts to estimate your walking time, but it is only gives you a general average and there is no way to put in your own personal average speed to get a more accurate estimate. There are all sorts of GPS apps or accessories on the market that can track your route from point A to point B and give you great stats like distance, average speed, calories burned and number of strides while enroute. There are even altitude finder apps which can use GPS and ASTER to pinpoint your elevation for a specific spot. Yet, as far as I know there isn’t an app where you can measure the distance between two points in an urban or rural area, put in your known per mile average and combine that with the overall elevation change from point A to B to get a better estimate of time or difficulty before you even take a step or turn a pedal.

I thought about all the people that go on business trips or vacations and go for runs or bike rides in unfamiliar locales. There are running and biking apps that can give you suggested routes and people use those often, but what if you prefer to take a new route? What if you get lost and need to calculate the truly fastest way back? It also is not just runners or walkers that can benefit from this type of technology. What about people pushing strollers, riding bikes or those that require ADA compliant routes?  Think of how amazing it would be for an individual in a wheel chair to go to San Francisco and be able to map an urban route to a location  by basing it not only on their average wheeling capability, but also by finding a route that meets the ADA grade compliance.

It seems like with all the technology floating out their for altitude evaluation, GIS, satellite mapping, accelerometers and GPS  in devices there has to be some way to combine all this technology to make this type of app or service a reality. The problem with a lot of the tools that do exist is that they are made for one specific use or for data mapping geeks and fail to offer a comprehensive feature set in an easy to use interface which would be key to making this app work for the average individual. I can geek out on some map data, but not everyone cares to do the same so the success depends on making it feel simple to the end user even if there is tremendous complexity behind the app.

Initially an app or service like this could start with urban cities that already have the majority of their data mapped, but could easily expand to more rural or rugged terrain with a user generated component for those who go off the beaten path and choose to record and share their routes, elevation gains and average speed over the route.

Obviously an app like this is pretty complex, would require a great deal of funding, perhaps government backing and a whole lot of time to create it but I think it could prove really useful to several audiences.

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