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Summary:

After nine months of work, Telenav is waving goodbye to proprietary mapmakers in its Scout navigation app and relying solely on crowdsourced maps. The iPhone app gets the upgrade first, followed by Android in June.

Steve Coast OpenStreetMap Telenav

People who use Telenav’s iPhone navigation app Scout should start noticing some subtle differences in the quality of their maps when on their daily commutes. Telenav has completed a nine-month transition away from proprietary mapping sources like TomTom to completely crowdsourced maps taken from OpenStreetMap (OSM).

The migration started last September with Telenav’s online mapping tools, but on Monday it began rolling out the updated map dataset to iPhone users and expects to have all iPhone Scout users in the U.S. on OSM by the end of the week. In June, it plans to perform the same gradual rollout for its Android user base.

As I wrote when Telenav first announced these plans, this is a big step for a navigation services company since Telenav is essentially relying on common folk like you and I to update its mapping database rather than a team of professional mapping vehicles and digital cartographers. The person behind Telenav’s move to crowdsourcing is OSM founder Steve Coast (picture above), who took a job with the company last year and adapted OSM’s map data for the needs of a turn-by-turn navigation service.

An OpenStreetMap map (left) compared to the same grid by Google Maps (Source: Steve Coast)

An OpenStreetMap map (left) compared to the same grid by Google Maps (Source: Steve Coast)

“OSM is a decade old now, but for its whole life it’s been mainly a great display map,” Coast said. OSM’s editors are very keen on keeping the map up to date, logging new streets, sidewalks and even park benches and trees, but what the OSM community isn’t quite so meticulous about adding traffic directions, turns allowed at an intersection or raw physical address data. “You can put OSM on the wall and it looks good, but we had to make it useful for navigation,” Coast said.

Scout for iPhone with OSM - Close-up WatermarkA lot of what Coast has been doing for the last year is taking data gleaned from Scout users to fill in the missing pieces of that map. For instance, by tracking average speeds Scout users drive down a street, Telenav has been extrapolating speed limits. It’s been gradually filling in address data, and, where necessary, it’s been sending out mapping vehicles to verify specific bits of information.

Telenav is also renaming Skobbler, the OSM-powered nav app it acquired in January, as Scout in 50 countries. Though all of Telenav’s consumer-facing smartphone apps will now be branded Scout, the U.S. version will continue to use Telenav’s underlying technology, while the international versions will use Skobbler’s original technology.

Telenav has also finally launched a SDK for developers that want to add mapping and navigation features to apps and websites. Telenav said it is offering access to its APIs at prices undercutting Google, Apple and other competitors – one of the benefits of using OSM license-free cartographic data  — but it’s also unique in that it’s giving developers access to its data offline so they can download map data to their apps for use without an internet connection.