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Semantic Web and Google Maps July 1, 2011

Posted by 3561martinr in Summer 2011 1st Session.

This post provides an explanation of the Semantic Web and a possible application of the technology. It begins with a brief description of the components of the Semantic Web and then follows with a description of how it might be applied to the Google Maps application.

 Semantic Web technology is an approach to create and link data sets together in a machine readable format throughout the web. To achieve this, the data is described using RDF to create data triples each consisting of a subject, predicate, and object. The data must also be classified into data hierarchies and other relationships using ontology standards such as OWL. From this point, the various triples are stored in databases called triplestores. Queries can then be written against one or more triples in the triplestores using SPARQL to produce result sets useful in building dynamic web pages. Rules of inference can also be used to generate additional relationships between linked data increasing the power and flexibility of the Semantic Web.

 An application I use often is Google Maps. Knowing that Google uses the Semantic Web and judging from the amount of additional information that often appears when I select a route, the Semantic Web is likely already being leveraged by Google Maps. For example, when I search between two points in Google Maps, I see a traffic icon which, when clicked, enables me to look at current traffic conditions, view photos, access webcams, or display labels associated with the chosen route. There is even a list of tags relevant to the area I could select for different topics which would pull in even more relevant data.

 Even with all of the Semantic Web capability that is probably being used, there is still much opportunity to incorporate more data. For example, when traveling less familiar routes, it could be helpful to not only see a route’s traffic conditions, but its safety conditions as well. Safety conditions could be based on current traffic or weather conditions or maybe the accident history of the route. In my neighborhood for example, there is a five mile stretch of road which claims one of the highest car to deer collision rates in the state, as reported by a local insurance agency, making it less safe. Another concern is that certain intersections have unusually high numbers of collisions. If this data was made available to the Semantic Web, it could be pulled in and labels could be placed along the route in high risk areas alerting drivers unfamiliar with the area. Furthermore, the application could generate not only the shortest or fastest route, but it could use this data to generate the statistically safest route given a variety of current conditions. I would definitely find this type of information beneficial and hope to see it incorporated in the future.




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