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City Smart | Street Smart

A Rocky Road for Mapping in Cyberspace

July 05, 1996

Computer prophets have long predicted that in the future, a software program would be able to instantly map out detailed directions to drive between any two addresses in the country.

The future has arrived, and it's a first draft.

"Road Trips Door to Door" is a new CD-ROM that marks a significant advance in the digital genre known as routing software. Previous to this CD-ROM, which is scheduled to hit computer outlets and bookstores next month, routing software was generally limited to city-to-city mapping or to in-city travel in a few major metropolitan areas.

Now available are city-to-city routing software programs from several companies, including Delorme Mapping, AutoMap and Rand McNally. Recently, Philips Media released "Metro Navigator," which offers routing to a limited number of addresses in eight cities, including Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.

But streets and highways have never before been combined in a comprehensive manner as "Road Trips" attempts to do.

"That's because we're talking about two separate kinds of available databases," said Dan Titus, president of TravRoute Software, the Princeton, N.J.-based company that produced "Road Trips."

TravRoute has worked the last couple of years on combining databases compiled by various federal agencies into one product that could be used for routing.

And how did TravRoute's marriage of highway and street information sources turn out? Judging from a test run of an almost-complete version of the CD-ROM provided by TravRoute, the honeymoon might not be entirely blissful. The long-term prospects, however, are promising.

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"Road Trips," which will be available for the Windows platform (Titus said the company has not yet decided if a Macintosh version will be developed), installed smoothly on a Pentium-speed computer. Although it comes with lots of features, its basic operation is fairly simple to figure out without the aid of a printed manual.

The first screen to pop up in the program is the "Trip Planner." There, you enter the starting point for a trip--you can use the ZIP Code if you have it, and the software will fill in the name of the city or town.

The next step is to enter the final destination, perhaps with several addresses where you want to stop en route. Then you click on the "run" button and in about 30 seconds, "Road Trips" produces the directions and a map, both of which can be printed out.

One problem everywhere in California: "Road Trips" directions do not include the names of freeway entrances and exits. It only gives the mileage between them and the street you wind up on when you leave a freeway. "In later versions, we hope to have them clearly marked," Titus said.

The first version of "Road Trips," which will sell for about $50, obviously is a work in progress. Updates, to be made available at a "nominal fee," Titus said, will remedy many errors and shortcomings.

One shortcoming that won't be remedied any time soon is that software can't detect the millions of shortcuts, traffic avoidance schemes and otherwise preferred routes known only to locals.

An executive of Thomas Bros., makers of the widely used Los Angeles-area map books, says that is what has kept the firm out of the digital routing business, although it does sell CD-ROM versions of its maps.

"Our research shows that no matter how good your computer program is at giving directions, people know a better way," said Glen Jansma of Thomas Bros.

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