Azure Maps integrates weather, and your own data
Blog|by Mary Branscombe|30 December 2019
Adding data sources to maps makes them even more powerful. Maps aren’t just for navigating and routing; they’re also a great way to visualise any data that involves travel, locations or different territories. And sometimes location, distance and travel time don’t give you enough information to make a decision until you know more about the situation, like what the weather is. That’s why the ever-growing list of Azure Maps partners now includes AccuWeather, and Power BI.
The Azure Maps routing and route matrix APIs can take a lot of detail into account when planning a route. Different vehicle types include bicycles and motorbikes as well as cars and trucks, and you can specify everything from the weight and number of axles to the dimensions and whether there’s hazardous cargo. You can even specify whether the engine is electric and what the uphill and downhill efficiency is, or tell the route range API how much petrol you have to get a list of locations you can reach before running out.
Weather Service for real-time weather data
Adding the weather along the route from the new AccuWeather partnership can make travel time more accurate or help you choose between different routes. “With our routing service, you can get multiple routes returned that are all reasonably within the same amount of travel time and go through and compare the weather for each of them,” explains Azure Maps principal technical program manager, Ricky Brundritt. “Is it raining where I’m going? What’s the weather like? You can say ‘I want to pick the route that has the least amount of rain, because I don’t like driving in rain’”.
Watch the recording of our Azure Maps webinar over on our YouTube channel here
Whether it’s not wasting time by taking the scenic route in the rain, keeping a heavy truck off icy roads or making sure that temperature-sensitive cargo in an unrefrigerated vehicle won’t be exposed to too high a temperature, weather forecasts will help you make better routing decisions based on the conditions.
Weather Service use cases
The service launched on 20 November 2019. Initially, current weather data is available as well as the past five hours of data plus weather predictions, with both a forecast for the next few hours and minute-by-minute forecasts for the next 45 days, including weather along a route, as well as radar and infrared overlaps for maps. Historical weather data will also be available in the future, so you’ll be able to use it for analysis.
“If people want to do, say, accident reconstruction and look at the variables that played into an accident they can do that,” Brundritt suggests. “Or if you saw a huge spike in umbrella sales at a particular store, you can go back and say did it rain that day or was it something special about those umbrellas?”
Weather Service and IoT
The real-time weather data can also improve decision making for IoT devices (which you can now use with Azure Maps). “If I have a moisture sensor in a building and it detects a bit more moisture than usual, it might be a leak starting. Or it could be that someone left the window open and it’s raining, or generally the moisture level is just a little higher than usual because of the rain outside. So you can combine the sensor data with the weather data and say we’ll ignore the reading any time it goes up when it’s raining unless it goes over a certain threshold, but if it goes up at all when it’s not raining, let’s investigate.”
Weather might even factor into the multimodal routing that Azure Maps is building with Moovit and TomTom; for the same route, you might be happy to take a scooter between the train station and the bus stop on a sunny day but if it’s raining, you’d prefer to hail a ride share.
There will be more classes of weather data available from AccuWeather on Azure Maps in the future, including tropical storm data, hurricane tracks and weather alerts for events like severe thunderstorms or flood warnings. And the weather data will also be available for visualisation in the future, Brundritt expects. “Eventually we’ll have polygons where you will be able to say I want to take this polygon and use it with something else like my own customer data, to see where the overlap is.”
Azure Maps and PowerBI
While Azure Maps is a powerful visualisation platform for geospatial data, it means writing code. Power BI inherited the simple geospatial visualisation of Excel’s Power Query tools, but now it’s going to get more of the power of Azure Maps.
“One of our goals is to have a way to use Azure Maps without having to do development; and at the same time, we want to turn Power BI into a simple geospatial platform for analysing information.”
Make the most of your data
The first steps for that will arrive with the April 2020 update to Power BI which will add 3D bar charts, traffic data overlays, custom tile layers (including weather maps from AccuWeather or your own data) and drag and drop GeoJSON reference layers. These features will be in the free Power BI Desktop software as well as in the web service.
This is all easy to work with visually; you can tilt and rotate the map interactively using a mouse or the on-screen controls, so 3D data looks natural on it. Turn on real-time traffic and you can see that as an overlay with traffic incidents on the map. Then as you add and filter your own data, you see it appropriately placed on the map.
Place a 3D bar chart and it initially shows up as a cylinder, but you can change that to a box and style it in different ways; colours are initially allocated at random but you can change that to be data driven like the heights, so it’s more meaningful. The 3D bar chart stays visible as you filter the data in your visualisation, so you can drill down and see just the interesting locations.
Dragging and dropping GeoJSON data is a way to get more information into a single Power BI visualisation instead of jumping between multiple different visualisations, because when you’re looking at a map you want to stick with that as the visualisation, he points out. “Today a Power BI visual can only connect to a single data set; you can join tables but that only works if the data is already aligned. If you wanted to compare two contrasting data sets, like seeing your own customer data against say the national census data, one way is to drag and drop the data onto the map.”
Catch up on our Azure Maps developer webinar on our YouTube channel here
The Azure Maps team is keen to make it easier to work with more complex data sets, Brundritt says. “We want the map to be the canvas for multiple layers of information in the way that best makes sense to users. We’re going to explore more to see how else we can make it easier for customers to bring in their own data sets and do visual analysis of them.”
Microsoft Azure Maps resources:
The Grey Matter mapping team are specialists in Azure, licensing, and maps. Contact them directly to discuss your use case and get set up to start visualising your data on Azure Maps: +44 (0)1364 655 133 or email: email@example.com
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Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things in between.
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