Speed trap app Trapster's major limitation is a lack of map data. Last week's sale of Trapster to Nokia-owned map provider NAVTEQ will fix this one glaring oversight. In return, NAVTEQ will finally be able to amass real-time parking data.
If you've downloaded Trapster to your mobile device, you're aware it smartly imports driving data reported by users (speed traps, red lights, natural disasters, construction) and spits it out in an interactive map for drivers. A cop with a radar gun over the next hill? If you're on a well-traveled road it'll let you know.
But there's one problem: Trapster knows where you are but has no idea what road you're on. They've sort of tricked you into believing this because they associate your GPS location with whatever map your phone uses (Google for iPhone/Android, Bing for Blackberry devices) and spits out reports based on their latitude and longitude, which is almost always going to be along a road.
Use Trapster in a crowded area and you'll notice reports from roads adjacent to you you have no desire to drive on. Also, if there's major construction five miles down the road and you want to detour you're not going to get the alert until you're within a mile of that location, which is probably too late (you can go online and enter your route to avoid this problem, but most people won't go through the effort).
The sale to mapping company NAVTEQ, in theory, solves this problem.
"Trapster's going to be a million times better if it can know, at any given time, what road the user is on, without them having to enter a route," said Trapster CEO Pete Tenereillo. "Our users use Trapster every day, and they're not going to want to put a route in every time they got ot work or the store."
What this means is a smarter app, likely with a common map, able to figure out you're on an Interstate and project speed traps and other obstacles miles away into the future. It'll also let the app passively or actively track frequent routes and make recommendations.
NAVTEQ's plans for Trapster haven't been revealed, but the initial benefit to a mapping company is obvious. Trapster's nearly 9.5 million users are actively reporting, for free, a giant cache of road data and passively transmitting road speed information anytime the map is being used.
And the future of that data is parking.
"[NAVTEQ] wants to see us grow and implement crowdsource parking, and other things that users put in and crowd source and generate," said Tenereillo.
Imagine millions of people (mostly in urban areas) reporting back data about open parking spots, secret parking spots, new parking spots. Then imagine your car being able to tell you, via the NAVTEQ-supported GPS system, where one is.
This isn't a far-out idea. It's probably no coincidence that NAVTEQ just won an award for its mobile-phone based Parking Dialogue system, which lets users identify and pay for open parking spots. They've got the technology and now they just bought the user base.
NAVTEQ isn't the only one playing this game, as Google's Open Spot app aims to solve the same problem (and thus collect the same data), but the number of users in the Open Spot community are unlikely as large as the soon-to-be 10 million Trapster users.
It's still in the future, but with this most recent sale to a company that provides maps to multiple manufacturers it's a not-so-distant future. People are fearful this sale will mean Trapster will no longer be free, but because Trapster's user base size is so important it seems doubtful NAVTEQ would risk the data for a small profit.