Here's a sight that might unnerve members of the Neighborhood Watch: A car is slowly driving down the street, as the passengers inside make notes on electronic tablets. Even from the outside, it's impossible to miss the amount of equipment in the car -- there are computer monitors and video cameras on the front dashboard. Is this a gang casing the neighborhood? Will a string of burglaries or kidnappings follow? Just what are the people in that car doing?
While it's always a good idea to report suspicious activity to the authorities, in this case, you might find out that the group was performing a more innocuous service. Every day, field agents from Navteq, the United States' largest digital mapping company, are out and about in car and on foot, ensuring that their maps are correct and up-to-date. Their cars are updated with high-tech equipment that allows them to collect data on the go, and if there's an area that's inaccessible by car, they'll head out with handheld devices to complete their research.
With the new information, Navteq updates its digital map collection, and then sells it to companies like Garmin, which produce the GPS devices that many of us have come to rely on for getting around. Garmin, in turn, codes the information so that it's compatible with specific devices and offers it to customers in the form of map updates. While GPS system owners may also need occasional software updates, the map update may be the most important if you want to maximize the effectiveness of your GPS device.
There's a saying that as soon as you buy a new car or computer, they're out of date. Maps are much the same way. Between road construction and restaurants going out of business, last year's map may not get you to where you want to go. Find out how to get the all-important Garmin updates on the next page.