Spatial Data to Help Car Radios Track the Big Game

SpatialPoint's database technology will help motorists keep their radios locked on the big game.

It's a football fan's nightmare—you are on the road, listening to your favorite team line up for the play that will bring the Super Bowl trophy to your hometown. And then … static. The radio station you are listening to is out of range.

For those of you about to scream, remain calm. SpatialPoint has a plan. Leveraging the spatial data capabilities of Microsoft's SQL Server 2008, Virtual Earth and other Microsoft technologies, the company is launching a free Web site called Follow the Game that will allow users to plot a course and then relays what stations along the route they have chosen will carry the game.

Follow the Game will be active starting Jan. 15, though a temporary landing page has been set up in the interim.

"When you are driving around, especially on a trip, and you want to listen to something like the Super Bowl, you don't know exactly where it is playing—is it on AM, is it on FM?—so you are hunting around for it," said SpatialPoint's CEO Alex Machinis. "What we decided to do is build this site … and it allows people to put in where they are starting from and where they are going, and it figures out what stations are carrying the game at what time along the trip."

SpatialPoint specializes in helping customers build and deploy applications such as a store locator that relies on spatial data. This time though, the company is bringing the technology to bear in a different way.

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It all begins with data provided by the Federal Communications Commission.

"The FCC has these files that say this is where the radio stations cover," Machinis said. "That's all spatial data, and that's put into SQL Server 2008, and what we are able to do is as you are figuring out the route that you are traveling, we can tell which stations the route goes through. Then what happens is the maps are rendered using Microsoft's Virtual Earth technology … [and the] Web site takes all the input and marshals everything so all these calculations can be made, and then it presents it to the user."

The company uses SQL Server to perform intersect queries to determine where a route intersects the various radio station coverage boundaries, he said.

The native support for spatial data is among the key features of SQL Server 2008 that Microsoft is touting.

The enhancements include new data types—Geography for "round-earth" geospatial support and Geometry "flat-earth" geospatial and other spatial support—as well as spatial Index support for both and numerous spatial methods to support standard operations such as buffer, intersection and union.

The Geometry data type and the supporting methods are designed to support the Open GeoSpatial Consortium Simple Features for SQL Specification, Version 1.1, which is the industry standard for spatial databases.

"SQL Server 2005 did not support the necessary infrastructure to allow spatial to be implemented," said Ed Katibah, spatial program manager for SQL Server at Microsoft. "The primary improvement to SQL Server 2008 [that] allowed spatial to be implemented was support for Large UDTs [user-defined data types]. In SQL Server 2005, UDTs were limited to 8K worth of data. SQL Server 2008 expands this to 2GB."

With its new features, SQL Server 2008 will actually be playing catch-up with its competitors when it comes to spatial data. However, as a challenge to Oracle, the leader in terms of revenue in the database market, Microsoft officials have said they are going a different route than Oracle it did with its 11g database, where the company charged extra for Enterprise Edition customers to get an option called Oracle Spatial 11g that provides additional features to support high-end GIS and LBS applications. Instead, Microsoft has chosen to forgo that and rely on their partners to build spatial applications, officials said.

At SpatialPoint, Machinis said he expects SQL Server 2008's spatial capabilities to enhance his company's Atlas technology, which allows users to visualize complex datasets on top of the Virtual Earth Platform.

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"There are a couple of ways that SQL Server 2008's spatial enhancements" augment Atlas, he said. "First, it serves as a new data source, which makes it easy for data of various types to all be stored in a single, central location. Second, it allows some queries to be performed by the database that otherwise would need to be performed by Atlas. Depending on the scenario, this may improve performance."

Although he is not sure how many hits to expect, Machinis said the company is prepared for hundreds of thousands per day.

"We're doing it as a practical matter to show off the technology, and it actually does solve a problem," he said.

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