Landmark navigation

Random thought of the day… for places like Boston, where street name signs are considered a luxury that should be cherished for their scarcity, Google Maps /etc. should perform an experiment wherein directions are given relative to landmarks instead of street names.


  • Turn right (90°) at the Shaw’s onto Walnut St. (0.4mi)
  • Turn hard left (140°) at the first street after the third traffic light, Elm St. (0.6mi)
  • Pass over 2 bridges, under 1 bridge, and a large graveyard on the right.
  • Turn right (45°) onto Undefined St., one street after the I-93 overpass and across from a Kappy’s liquor.

Then solicit feedback later on how many times the person got lost while following it, overall frustration level, etc. I think the results would be pretty interesting. (Or…predictable. I think addition of landmarks would blow the pants off the current system of street names and mile counts alone.) Not sure how much of an undertaking this would be (I don’t think the USGS/GIS has a database of sculptures and coordinates of big-box stores and local businesses), but counting streets and (possibly) stoplights ought to be fairly straightforward. (Calculating intersection angles should also be trivial using existing data.)

On a somewhat unrelated note, with thoughts of fun with Nintendo DS and a GPS receiver, today I came across this. Now everyone with a GPS capable of logging its position over time can upload this data after a drive to contribute to a free, publicly available and open-source street map database (i.e. Navteq without all the cost and licensing restrictions.) Currently you have to type in all the street names yourself, but I could see even the raw GPS results (hey, there is definitely a street here!) being useful for some applications.


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