Why OpenStreetMap is now navigation-ready for people like you

OpenStreetMap vs. Google Maps

OpenStreetMap vs. Google Maps


If I’m right, today will be marked as a turning point for the mapping industry. Something huge has happened: We broke the sound barrier. Telenav’s consumer facing navigation app Scout is shipping with OSM data!

OpenStreetMap (OSM) is nearly ten years old and until now has been a great display map. Looking at it, it looks great! You can put pins on top of it. You can print it out. It even looks better than most maps, due to the insane detail the community put in to it every day. People have founded companies to monetize OSM based on a great looking, open and free map of the world.

OSM is made by people like you. We use our phones, GPS devices and laptops to add streets, footpaths, parks and anything else you can imagine in to the map. It’s been wonderful to watch it grow.

But adding turn restrictions and every stop sign in a city is not as fun. In fact, it’s kind of boring compared to the other things. Getting every address in Kansas and putting them in OSM isn’t exactly a bowl of cherries either.

This is why up until today there hasn’t been a great navigation experience using OSM. The data wasn’t there. To make a great route from A to B you need to know where B is and all the navigation details in between, and OSM just doesn’t have that data.

To make sure you arrive on time, your routing software has to know about all the one-way streets, the turn restrictions, the speed limits and much more about all the roads between you and your destination. OSM doesn’t have any of this today.

Enter Telenav, where I work. We’ve spent approximately a zillion man-years to fix these issues and today we’re announcing navigation using OSM within Scout, our consumer navigation app. We’re starting in the US and on iOS with the rest to follow.

Scout has a lot of users and so we need to make sure the quality bar is very high. If we shipped OSM as-is in it, we would quickly have not as many users.

We’ve built that quality by first analyzing GPS data. We take anonymous traces of where people drive and looked for patterns. If everyone drives one way down a street, maybe it’s a one-way street. If they all drive at 35mph on average, maybe it’s a 35mph road and so on. We license address data and point of interest info to find your destinations.

We’ve spent time automatically and manually correcting things in OSM to bring it up to what a consumer would expect to see.

And of course, we’re giving all that we can back. Via our own editing, maproulette and competitions we’re pumping all the good stuff that we can back in to OSM. This takes time due to OSMs consensus on not importing the masses of fixes we generate.

We’ve spent time drive testing. We’ve sent real people out across the United States with Scout using OSM to find out how it works. We’re very happy with the results.

Will it be perfect? If only! No, no map is perfect. The world is changing all the time and you can invest billions of dollars and still have map issues. But whenever anyone finds an issue, they can fix it. That’s the difference. We have feedback mechanisms built right in to Scout and we’ll take care of issues our customers report too.

I’m sure we’ll find issues in the map. We want to! That’s the whole point! Every issue we find and fix is making the map better for everyone. Since it’s open and free, every fix means it’s fixed forever, out there being loved instead of stuck in a dead dataset.

Feel sorry for how proprietary maps are currently built. When there’s a new road built, they all have to scramble to add it. Repeating each others work, trying to own everything and not sharing their corrections. It’s hardly efficient. Then it takes months and years to ship corrections compared to OSM where these things are instantly available.

What does all this mean?

It means OSM is ready for prime time!

Navigation is the very peak of Mount Map. By leveraging a decade of OSM and sprinkling on top some expertise and GPS data we’ve surmounted all the major issues in making open mapping available to all.

We’ll look back and wonder why we ever used closed maps.

OSM will roll out to iOS Scout users over the coming days. Watch for the OpenStreetMap attribution in the lower-right of the map.

OSM Attribution

OSM Attribution in Scout

A decade, you say?

It’s hard to believe but yes. I started OSM, designed the API, wrote all the early code, did hundreds of speaking events and a bunch of other things… but a lot of that was a while ago now. We need to thank a lot of people who were key along the way or have quietly toiled to make the project work. So in no particular order and surely, inevitably, missing people:

OSM wouldn’t be here without thanks to Matt “genius” Amos, Tom Carden (no home page without Tom), Ben Gimpert (with Tom, one of only 4 people at the first anniversary event), Alexandra Lotinga, Andy Robinson, Andy “the biker” Allen, Tom Hughes (for keeping five 9s uptime for 6 years or so), Richard “boatman” Fairhurst (first (and maybe last) decent web editor), Mike Collinson, Ian Brown, Mikel “the beard” Maron, Artem Pavlenko (the first colour maps), Henk Hoff, Tim Bruce, Jon Crowcroft, Nick Black, Imi (JOSM!), Etienne, Simon Poole, Frederick “serious” Ramm, Jochen “linuxhotel” Topf, MapMyShaun McDonald, Harry Wood, Gur Kimchi (MSFT aerial imagery), everyone at AND, Richard Weait, Grant Slater, Russ Nelson, Migurski & Rodenbeck (and all at Stamen), flickr/brickhouse, Jay Bregman (eCourier – first GPS traces), everyone at MapBox, Rich Gibson, Schuyler Erle, Jo Walsh, Randy Meech, Philipp Kandal & Oliver Kuhn & all at Skobbler, Serge for being Serge, Ed Freyfogle, Kate Chapman, everyone at the first mapping party on the Isle of Wight, anyone who dared enter legal-talk, Petter Reinholdtsen, Nick Hill (first servers), Joerg Ostertag (GpsDrive started it all), Nick Whitelegg, Dan Karran, Jon Burgess, Dermot McNally, Hiroshi Miura, Simone Cortesi, Dave Stubbs, Brett Henderson for osmosis, Paul Norman for being an important steward of the database, Kai Kruger for invaluable work on the OSM tool chain, Robert Barr, Andrew Turner, Iván Sánchez Ortega, Ant Pegg,Ed Parsons (and all the motivation from OS), Tristram Cary, whoever invented the Garmin Gecko, the Jeremey Bentham pub, UCL for all the bandwidth and electricity, Alasdair Turner (RIP), Mike Batty, Alan Penn, everyone I offended, everyone I missed, Hurricane and then Matt Amos again because awesome.

Wow, someone should write a book about all that history.

Another set of folks need thanking from Telenav to make Scout with OSM happen. It would only be complete by listing hundreds of employees so again forgive my brevity:

Loren Hillberg, Ryan Peterson, Martijn Van Exel, John Novak, Guoyuan Xiao, Eric Godwin, Robert Stack, Vlad Lemberg, Kristen Kam, Chris Zontine, Jon Locke, Tony Ma, Song Gao, Matthieu Nahoum, Huiheng Kuang, Chris Yu, Ben Luo, Rob Daniels, Dariusz Paczuski, Xiaotao Liu, Jonathan Zhao, Yong Yang, Ran Lei and everyone I missed.

36 Responses to Why OpenStreetMap is now navigation-ready for people like you

  1. huxley May 19, 2014 at 9:37 am #

    Scout doesn’t seem to be available in Canada through the iTunes store, is that part of the longer-term rollout?

    • Erik May 19, 2014 at 11:11 am #

      It’s mentioned in the post that Scout is only available for use in the United States (“US”) at the moment: (“We’re starting in the US and on iOS with the rest to follow.”). I’m sure they want and will expand in the future.

  2. Jonnathan May 19, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    [..]one-way streets, the turn restrictions, the speed limits and much more about all the roads between you and your destination. OSM doesn’t have any of this today.[…]

    I’m pretty sure OSM has one way streets and speed limits…

    • Steve Coast May 19, 2014 at 10:19 am #

      Yes just not very many

  3. Garrett May 19, 2014 at 11:02 am #

    Not gonna change the world when it’s only available on iOS. That’s underwhelming.

    • RobJN May 20, 2014 at 4:19 pm #

      Rome wasn’t built in a day 🙂

  4. Hugo May 19, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

    What about Europe, will Scout eventually be available over here? I know Telenav acquired Skobbler, so will Skobbler finally morph into Scout for Europe?

  5. david May 19, 2014 at 1:59 pm #

    Will the data you’re adding (one-way streets, speed limits, address markings etc.) be exposed back to the OSM community via ODbL?

    How do you make a distinction between TNAV data and OSM. What if OSM is used in deriving the new data, is it made public?

  6. JakeW May 19, 2014 at 2:18 pm #

    Great work.

    The skobbler website (http://developer.skobbler.com/features#qualityMapData) under the “Quality Map Data” section says:

    OpenStreetMap is one of the world’s most active open and crowd-sourced projects with over 1.5 million registered editors. And we don’t stop there: we take the OSM map data, add our traffic data enhancements, real speed computing algorithms and traffic lane detection to end up with the OSM+ map that we use in our products.”

    Is the “OSM+ map” with all the traffic enhancements different than OSM? Is it subject to sharealike?

    • JakeW May 19, 2014 at 3:55 pm #

      Just noticed David’s question. Sorry for the repeat.

  7. Justin Alan Ryan May 19, 2014 at 3:07 pm #

    Cool story, bro. When do I get elevation-aware bike directions?

    • Peter May 20, 2014 at 6:43 am #

      Justin, that is already possible with GraphHopper and it also scales to world wide (see our website)

      I also wonder why one can integrate (traffic) data into OSM and hide them. But I’m pretty sure Steve has a plan for this as always 🙂 !

    • Mark Harrison May 20, 2014 at 9:42 am #

      In the UK, you already have elevation-aware bike directions via the CycleStreets website that uses OSM data:


      I’m not sure if there is equivalent coverage outside the UK via CycleStreets or a similar website.

    • DAC June 4, 2014 at 1:18 am #

      The best UK route planner IMO is http://www.bikehike.co.uk/index.php – various datasets with dual viewing, elevation data, editable and exportable routing in different formats. It doesn’t give turn by turn directions but it does allow off road routes.

  8. Neil Cawse May 19, 2014 at 6:41 pm #

    Good job. How do you guys work around the incomplete address data in OSM – specifically street numbers – makes that part of navigation less than ideal.

    • RobJN May 20, 2014 at 4:22 pm #

      It’s in the article: “We license address data and point of interest info to find your destinations.”

  9. Fatman13 May 19, 2014 at 11:30 pm #

    Great post!

  10. james72 May 20, 2014 at 7:06 am #

    all the contributors/mappers deserve a big thanks too

  11. Mike70 May 26, 2014 at 5:50 am #

    Nice if Scout will be Waze-like, using gps data to improve oneways etc. in osm. also will be nice to add pois from the app, like gasoline stations (amenity=fuel) and add poi features like fuel:lpg=yes for a gasoline station with liquified petroleum gas for example. and to search pois filtering by these tags, so you can find gasoline station with lpg nearby. Traffic alert?

  12. Brian Egge August 19, 2014 at 8:30 am #

    Hi Steve,

    It appears Scout only uses the licensed address data and ignores the OSM address data where it is available. This is unfortunate, because in some cases OSM has much better data. For example, many gated communities simply have a location of the main entrance, while OSM may have the addresses for each building. For my townhome, Google/Apple/Garmin/Scout puts people about a half mile from my unit, while Skobbler will navigate them to within a few feet.

    I’d like to see Scout use OSM address data when available. Additionally, Scout could create an ‘address needed’ map, similar to how Strava maps routing errors:

    In the end, this could improve the quality of OSMs data, and reduce Scout’s licensing costs.



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