Bing Maps adds Cognitive Services for building business tools
Blog|by Mary Branscombe|19 September 2017
The new Bing Maps v8 control launched last year with new map styles and new visualisations. Now it’s getting more map views and five new services, four of them new APIs previewed in the Cognitive Services Labs, with documentation already on GitHub.
The v8 control added Streetside imagery that developers could use for the first time, but it dropped the ‘birds-eye’ oblique aerial images that let you look behind buildings. That’s handy for finding delivery entrances or checking the angle of roofs for solar installations, for example, so it’s coming back, with much more recent imagery for all the map views, which will get frequent updates. You can also create your own custom map styles that show and hide different element, choosing colours to match your business brand, at no extra cost, using the same styling template you use for maps on Windows 10.
The v8 control already lets you import spatial data as GeoJSON as well as KML; new GeoXML modules (that are currently in the experimental branch for the Bing Maps control and will be production ready in the next few months) simplify importing and exporting GPX (GPS Exchange Format), GeoRSS and KMZ (compressed KML). You will be able to drag and drop spatial data in any of these formats, including KML, onto a map and they’ll be rendered in the correct locations. Or you can show all the assets on a map in their current location and export than in one of these formats.
Truck routing and travel planning
The Project Johannesburg truck routing API creates routes for drivers with longer, higher or heavier vehicles, or trucks carrying restricted cargo (anything flammable can’t go through tunnels and some chemical loads are forbidden in watershed areas to avoid contamination). Tight turns and low bridges are a problem for large trucks that can get stuck or even cause damage, but if you’re planning a commercial delivery route you also need to take steep slopes, weight limits, cross winds and the slower speed limits for commercial vehicles into account. The API covers all that, and as useful for caravan and RV drivers as for trucks and lorries; it’s also something other online map services don’t offer.
If you need to calculate an efficient route that takes in several collections and deliveries, Project Abu Dhabi is a distance matrix API that can work the problem out for you. It also shows a chart of travel times based on traffic predictions for the next seven days at 15 minute intervals – making it easy to see if it’s better to start earlier or leave later to miss heavy traffic.
Project Nanjing uses that same predictive traffic information to show ‘isochrones’ on the map; the area you can drive to – or reach by transit or even on foot – within a set time. That’s much more useful than a simple distance radius that ignores the impact of main roads versus twisting country lanes on how fast you can go; if there’s a river but no bridge in the ten mile radius you draw, some of those destinations are going to take rather longer to get to. This is obviously useful for home buyers who want to pick where to live to get a reasonable commute time at the specific time they’ll want to travel – or to see if they have more choice if they travel earlier or later in the day. But you could also use it to choose the area where you’ll offer one-hour service guarantees, or to help you pick the best business location for covering existing customers.
Project Wollongong will also help you score how attractive a neighbourhood is – for a home or a business, or even when booking a hotel for a trip – based on the criteria that matter to you. You can see an overall score, plus individual scores for different amenities you can reach within a set travel time (driving, walking or by transit), from restaurants to parks to doctor’s offices, so you can build apps that let users set their own priorities for what makes a location compelling.
Build your own logistics
If you’re looking for a fast way to put a vehicle logistics system together based on Bing Maps, Project Hurghada (home of the Bing Maps team in Egypt) is a quick-start, open source asset tracking system for small and medium teams that will be published on GitHub soon. You get mobile apps for iOS, Android and Windows phones (built in Apache Cordova) plus a web app (built in Angular) to set up the backend on your Azure tenant, using Azure Functions and analytics. Putting it on your own Azure subscription gives you control, so you can scale it up or down to suit the number of vehicles and drivers you want to track.
Geofencing lets you track vehicles entering and leaving a specific area, so you can send email and mobile notifications – telling a customer that the service technician will be with them in 15 minutes, or that the delivery they’re waiting has left the warehouse. Trip detection is also built in; this uses an Azure Functions trigger that monitors the driver’s phone for travel speed, and can tell the difference between stopping at a red light and starting a whole new trip, so you can accurately track mileage and travel times.
The project code includes APIs you can use to extend the solution, including a chatbot users can ask about the location of a specific vehicle. The default reply includes latitude and longitude, a map and the general location, but you can customise the chatbot with your own information.
Project Hurghada currently supports authentication from work accounts, and that will be extended to personal email accounts when the code is released on GitHub.
If you haven’t already started, now is a good time to begin moving your geospatial apps to the Bing Maps v8 control; the v7 control dates back to 2010 and will be retired on 20 June 2017, along with the SOAP Web Services. The HTML5 canvas in the new control renders map data ten times faster, as well as bringing this ever-increasing set of smart services you can use in your geo apps.
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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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