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August 12th, 2009
11:08 AM ET

Mapping the world, one street at a time

By Jeremy Bradley

(CNN) - Between GPS devices on your car's dashboard and digital maps of almost any locale in the world on your smartphone or laptop, it's hard to get lost these days.

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Each orange Tele Atlas mapping van has six cameras, two side-sweeping lasers and a GPS on its roof. "]

We may take these 21st-century services for granted. But someone still needs to do the actual legwork of mapping these places and making sure the information is accurate.

Meet the people at Tele Atlas, the company that provides so-called "base maps" to such high-profile clients as Google, MapQuest and RIM, the maker of the BlackBerry. Tele Atlas also provides digital-mapping services for its corporate owner, the portable-navigation company TomTom.

You can't say the company isn't ambitious.

"Our ultimate goal would be to map the entire world," says Pat McDevitt, vice president of engineering at Tele Atlas, which is based in the Netherlands and has its U.S. headquarters in Lebanon, New Hampshire.

Base maps are the raw data - highways, streets, stop lights and exit signs - that navigation companies use as a starting point before adding their own applications.

Most of the industrialized world has been base-mapped already. But Tele Atlas is constantly updating pre-existing maps to include new roads, traffic signals and buildings.

Tele Atlas gets this information by combining satellite imagery, local, state and federal maps and most importantly, putting the rubber to the road in its Mobile Mapping Vans.

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