Corrections or additions?
This article by Douglas Dixon was prepared for the July 18, 2001
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Manifest Technology: Getting There, with TravRoute CoPilot
by Douglas Dixon
It’s a beautiful summer day in Princeton, and the top
is down on Alain Kornhauser’s white Mercedes convertible. We’re ready
to take a ride from Herrontown Road to Hopewell, but not sure how
to get there. No problem: Kornhauser is founder and CEO of ALK
Inc., and he has brought along the new version of his TravRoute
Pocket CoPilot GPS navigation product. "I’ve put a 117,000 miles
on this car testing CoPilot," he says.
The Pocket CoPilot software is installed on Kornhauser’s Casio
PocketPC handheld, along with a database of all the local streets
throughout New Jersey and into parts of the adjoining states. The
PocketPC handheld is now clipped to his dashboard, and connected to
a small disk-shaped GPS (Global Positioning System) receiver about
three inches in diameter mounted near the windshield. Total cost to
a consumer: Under $800, including $400 to $500 for the handheld PC
and $300 for the CoPilot software and the GPS.
To tell CoPilot our destination, Alain taps a button on the handheld’s
screen to bring up a form, and then enters the "NJ" state
abbreviation by tapping on a small keyboard area at the bottom of
the display. He then taps in the first letters of "Hopewell,"
and CoPilot searches its database and displays the matching towns
in the state, so he only needs to tap once more to select it. Finally
he enters the destination street address.
This is the magic of CoPilot: it figures out the trip routing
and updates the route on the fly as you go. There’s no separate
of planning a route on the Web or on a desktop computer, and then
downloading it to the handheld. You just enter your destination,
uses the GPS system to find your current location, and it figures
out the route itself. "This is our interest," says Kornhauser,
"not planning your summer vacation on the desktop, but in-vehicle
route guidance with dynamic feedback, providing suggestions as you
So we’re heading to Hopewell to try out CoPilot. When we get in the
car, Kornhauser unclips his handheld from his belt, plugs in the GPS
unit, and slips it into the mount on his dashboard. In less than a
minute, CoPilot has sorted though the signals from several different
GPS satellites orbiting above us, and was displaying our current
As we head out of the parking lot, CoPilot advises us of the first
turn on our route ahead. The instructions: "Turn left on
Road," are displayed in large letters on the handheld’s screen,
along with an arrow to help show them at a glance. CoPilot also speaks
the instructions out loud, so you do not even need to look at the
But Kornhauser is not interested in following instructions; he has
other plans for this trip, so he turns right instead. Within five
seconds, CoPilot alerts us that we’ve gone the wrong way. Instead
of just complaining as we continue on, it is willing to accommodate
us, and pauses five seconds while it recomputes the route. Before
we reach the end of the block, it has an alternate suggestion for
us, "Turn left at Mt. Lucas Road."
This makes sense, and can get us back to the original route, but
turns right instead. CoPilot alerts us again, and then once again
recomputes a route for us. This time it suggests making a U-turn,
since there is no good turn immediately ahead. We drive merrily on,
and CoPilot continues to track our position and recompute the route.
It continues to suggest a U-turn, but since we are ignoring it, it
stops speaking the directions out loud in order not to nag at us.
As we get closer to the end of Mt. Lucas, CoPilot has a new
"Turn right on Ewing Street." This time, Kornhauser follows
its advice, and we’re headed to Hopewell again, on a different route.
Kornhauser and the TravRoute team have spent a lot of effort
the interface for this new 2.0 version of Pocket CoPilot. "We
have removed features that are too hard to use," says Kornhauser.
Pocket CoPilot is about on-the-fly in-vehicle navigation, and not
just pre-planned travel itineraries or mapping, or showing your
position as a dot on an overhead map. "Nobody knows how to read
maps anyway," says Kornhauser, "and you can’t find your place
on the small screen." Even more, "It’s just not safe; you
don’t want people reading maps while driving a car." You also
do not want to be distracted by pushing buttons to reprogram your
route as you drive. With CoPilot, you just enter the destination,
and you are done. "It improves safety," says Kornhauser.
warns of upcoming turns. You do not need to touch anything, or read
As we drive, Pocket CoPilot displays information about the next turn
in large letters, filling almost the entire screen of the handheld.
It also shows the mileage to the next turn, and the total remaining
mileage for the trip. At the bottom of the screen, it displays the
name of the road we are currently traveling on (a feature that could
make a product all by itself), and a meter showing the GPS signal
strength. The informational text is short and to the point, "Turn
right" or "Turn sharp right" or "Bear right."
It even warns when the name of the road changes ahead.
As we get within 7/10ths of a mile of the next intersection, CoPilot
speaks the instructions, and the display changes to pop up a map of
the upcoming turn. "It’s like the freeway overhead signs of the
ramp configuration," says Kornhauser. "It automatically zooms,
and is easy to read at a glance." The map shows the layout of
the intersection with an overlay of your current position, but is
not cluttered with the names of all the streets. "We get killed
on that in some reviews," says Kornhauser, "but you do not
want to be reading a map." Instead, Pocket CoPilot offers an
"Passenger" display, with an overhead map view and the ability
to tap on streets to see their names.
We’re driving along Cherry Valley Road now, and Kornhauser slows at
an intersection as he notices a driver inching out from a side street
while distracted by chatting on a cell phone. Meanwhile, CoPilot is
quietly updating our mileage until the next turn further ahead at
Mount Rose. Kornhauser soon decides that he’s in the mood for a longer
trip, and pulls over to the side of the road. He slides his handheld
off the dashboard, taps on the "Favorites" icon, and selects
"Miami, FL" from the list of destinations that he has
This is a longer trip, and Pocket CoPilot needs to do some serious
thinking. But within a minute it is done. "Turn left on Great
Road," it advises, "1253 miles to go." Kornhauser taps
the screen to review our itinerary, and then we were off again. Once
again, he turns in a different direction, and once again CoPilot
the route. The computation was as quick as before, since it only
to change the local portion of the longer route to Miami.
While the Pocket CoPilot database installed in Kornhauser’s PocketPC
had local street information only for the New Jersey region, the
also included all major cities, roads, and interstates for the entire
continental United States. As a result, CoPilot could navigate us
over local roads to the interstates, and from there to Miami or any
other general location in the U.S.
The TravRoute database for the entire continental United States is
around 2.3 gigabytes, which fits easily on a laptop, and can be even
further compressed under Windows. The local database we are using
for New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, part of Long Island, and up
to Greenwich, Connecticut is around 80 MB (million bytes). This is
too large to fit into the built-in memory of a PocketPC handheld,
which is typically specified as 16 or 32 MB (million bits), or only
2 or 4 MB. Kornhauser suggests using 128 MB flash memory cards that
can be inserted in the handheld to expand its memory. These are now
priced at around $1 per MB, so, on a long trip, you can bring along
several cards with different regions stored on them.
The Pocket CoPilot product includes a desktop application to download
selected portions of the full database. On a laptop, you can insert
the flash card in a PC card/PCMCIA adaptor, and download an entire
region in a few minutes. You select the region with the CoPilot
software by just drawing a rectangle over a map of the country, or
by selecting a city and a 50 mile radius around it, or by specifying
a trip route and including an area around the roads and stops. The
software shows the total size of the database for the selected region,
so you can fine-tune the selection to include a larger region for
a side trip, or exclude areas where you are just passing through.
"It’s a big country," says Kornhauser, "with almost 7
million miles of roads. We can take you door to door, down to a gnat’s
eyelash." The TravRoute database includes over 250,000 cites and
towns, 2 million points of interest in more than 40 categories, and
15,000 highway exits and services. Each road segment can have up to
155 associated attributes, including street names and address ranges,
as well as one-way streets and turn restrictions in over 100 metro
ALK has 15 people dedicated to maintaining and updating its database,
drawing on data sources including the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S.
Postal Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey. It also maintains
contact with many of the 3,000 counties in the U.S. to update new
roads and other changes.
ALK also receives corrections and updates from its customers, both
commercial and consumer. "The software makes it easy to report
problems," says Kornhauser. "It can log information, and
choose to share with us." ALK receives "more than a
of these customer updates a day.
"I was always a routes from A to B kind of guy," says
"originally from Mars and beyond, doing optimal astronomic
He was born in France, and his parents emigrated to Pittsburgh when
he was age seven. He met his future wife, Katherine, at Penn State,
and graduated in the Class of 1966 with a degree in aerospace
"I was a Sputnik kid," he says. "It had enormous
especially in the public schools, where they decided maybe science
and math were important after all."
"It was a gung ho time," he says, "almost like the dot
com excitement, but with enormously more substance. It was great to
be part of it." Out of 250 freshman who entered the program, only
26 graduated. "I wanted to be a professor," he says, "so
I needed a Ph.D.," and so he came to Princeton. He received his
Ph.D. from Princeton with the class of 1971, and he is currently a
professor of civil engineering and operations research.
"The aerospace market collapsed in 1970," he says, "so
we applied routing to people movers in cities." In the early ’70s
he and his students developed interactive graphical tools for
personal rapid transit systems and computing levels of service.
Then in 1975, New Jersey Governor Florio was looking for help with
the bankrupt railroad system in the northeast. "He called up,
and I happened to take the call," says Kornhauser. Over that
Kornhauser and his students developed a database of the railroad
and developed a final system plan, with traffic flow and economic
analysis. He worked with colleagues at MIT and Harvard, and ended
up testifying on the Conrail plan in Washington. "I’ve been 20
plus years working with the railroads," he says.
Out of this consulting work, Kornhauser started ALK Associates (named
for Alain L. Kornhauser) in 1979 (www.alk.com). "Doing railroad
traffic analysis was proprietary stuff," says Kornhauser, "and
advising a board of directors is not an academic activity."
Kornhauser’s wife, Katherine Kornhauser, has been president of ALK
from the beginning. She had grown up in Ewing, where her parents
at the General Motors Fisher Body plant. With her bachelor’s and
degrees from Penn State, she was a mathematical statistician at
Testing Service until 1979, when she and Alain co-founded their firm.
They have three grown children, a son who is designing server hardware
for Compaq, and two daughters, one an artist in northern Maine and
the other on the varsity women’s ice hockey team at Princeton.
During the academic year Alain spends "a few hours a week"
at ALK. "I provide the leadership for the kind of place this is,
making it a fun place to work." But, he says, "Princeton is
my number one priority." He teaches courses in transportation
planning and interactive computer graphics for real-time decision
systems. He also is part of a team of professors from engineering,
psychology, and philosophy teaching a multi-disciplinary course in
ALK Associates first worked with transportation customers like the
Union Pacific railroad and the Ohio River Company barge system to
design systems to track and optimize the utilization of mobile assets.
"You need to anticipate where they are going to be needed, to
forecast the future," says Kornhauser.
ALK Associates was renamed ALK Technologies Inc. this February and
now has 120 employees in three general divisions: the Decision Systems
division for business consulting and fleet optimization tools for
transportation clients; the commercial PC*MILER product line for
industry routing, mileage, and mapping; and the TravRoute division
for consumer navigation and mapping products.
In the mid-’80s, "we decided we should have products," says
Kornhauser. "The trucking industry needed to compute distances
and routes in a common way between shipper and carrier." This
led to ALK’s PC*MILER product line, which is used by more than 15,000
motor carriers, shippers, and logistics companies throughout the world
(www.pcmiler.com). Now on version 15, the product line includes
mileage, and mapping software for North American, European, and
highways, and additional versions for Street-Level, Rail, and
Materials, and additional tools for graphical mapping, tax reporting,
and risk assessment.
"We’re the official guys," says Kornhauser. In 1998 ALK won
a five-year contract with the U.S. Department of Defense (competing
against Rand McNally, among others) as the worldwide standard distance
calculation data and software provider for DoD’s Defense Table of
Official Distances (DTOD). All North American carriers for the DoD
are bound by DTOD mileage for payment and audit purposes, and the
system has been extended to European goods movements as well.
In 1995 ALK expanded from commercial to consumer products with its
TravRoute Door-to-Door brand of desktop mapping software
The commercial products computed mileage between five-digit zip codes,
but the consumer products went door-to-door, down to a street address.
"We were first with the database on one CD," says Kornhauser,
"and we sold over a half million copies." But Microsoft
the market with its Streets product, "sold at CompUSA with an
instant rebate," says Kornhauser, "for a net cost of
So ALK withdrew from retail sales three years ago, although they still
update the product.
The latest release, Door-to-Door 2000, is available in two versions.
Door-to-Door 2000 Deluxe ($29) is used to plan trips with door-to-door
directions. Door-to-Door 2000 Pro ($99) is used to organize travel
itineraries with multiple stops, and generates turn-by-turn directions
and maps, complete with mileage and drive time estimates.
But Kornhauser was interested in "going in the vehicle, so you
can know where you are every second." The CoPilot products,
in 1997, combined the TravRoute software and database with a GPS
on a laptop that could travel in a car. "It’s great in a RV,"
says Kornhauser, "but pretty geeky." A laptop is really not
a convenient tool in a car, and "the small laptops have flopped
in the U.S. market."
But the introduction of the PocketPC platform in the last year offered
the right balance of capabilities and features. "It’s somewhat
durable, with a color display and a touch screen," says
"It has one-button instant on, and a price point around $500."
Plus, the PocketPC has enough processing power to do the calculations,
unlike the Palm platform, which was designed as a simple portable
organizer. "You want your PDA to be a Personal Decision Assistant,
not just a Data Assistant," he says. On the PocketPC, CoPilot
is continually tracking the GPS signals, correlating and matching
its location to the map database, updating the display, and
recomputing the routing as needed.
The CoPilot products include CoPilot 2001 for laptops ($399), and
Pocket CoPilot for the PocketPC ($299 bundled with a GPS receiver).
They have received rave reviews from PC magazines and Popular
and have won multiple prestigious awards from the Software &
Industry Association and at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).
sold tens of thousands of copies," says Kornhauser, "and it’s
just the beginning."
Kornhauser is looking to the future as part of his research activities
at Princeton. He is co-director, of the Center for N.J. Transportation
Information & Decision Engineering (TIDE, www.njtide.org).
Research grew out of World War II," he says. "It has to do
with the big problems, Stalinesque five-year plans, military
These are enormously challenging. We have great difficulty in
things, and have seen only moderate success."
TIDE is focused on the individual, "tools for the average
says Kornhauser, "making everyday decisions about everyday things.
Providing a little help with many trivial decisions can become
TIDE is working toward a future with real-time information about
on New Jersey highways and roads, and the condition of the railroads,
and the location of all the Jersey Transit buses. "If we can
out how to make it so people will use it," says Kornhauser,
can improve lots of people’s lives."
The TIDE website makes an analogy to weather reporting, stating:
many ways, what the TIDE Center is attempting to do is similar to
what has been done in the meteorology industry in recent years (e.g.,
companies like AccuWeather and the Weather Channel). That is, start
with a publicly-provided surveillance system (NOAA satellites in the
case of meteorology, GPS satellites and loop detectors in the case
of transportation), supplement it with additional surveillance
and computer systems (local Doppler radar in the case of meteorology,
video image processing and probe vehicles in the case of
use the resulting data to make forecasts of future conditions, develop
tools to help people make better decisions in light of these
and finally distribute these tools and this information either
to the public or to a news agency."
"This is still five years away," says Kornhauser. "You
could be warned about a recent accident, and have real-time traffic
information about other roads and alternate routes, parallel tracks.
If you could just turn away from congestion, and rely on a system
like this to route you around it, that would pay for the system the
first time you used it."
"We can see how to do this in transportation," he says,
maybe we can take it to other contexts, maybe nutrition, or
The TravRoute Pocket CoPilot product is a good start in that
Driving away from the ALK offices on familiar roads, I found I already
missed the positive feedback that I was on the right road going in
the right direction. "Computing routes has been my business for
over 30 years," says Kornhauser. "I want CoPilot to help you.
It gives advice, it’s suggestive."
"I wish my boyfriend were as flexible as Pocket CoPilot,"
says a user testimonial on the TravRoute website. "I love how
it just gives you new directions if you miss the turn instead of
— Douglas Dixon
Princeton 08540. Alain and Katherine Kornhauser, founders.
If you are traveling this summer, you can use a Palm
or PocketPC handheld as a convenient portable device for accessing
maps and directions. You can take several different approaches,
on your needs and desired sophistication and cost:
city, you can download map images from the Web, and use free image
viewers like FireViewer (www.firepad.com) to scroll and zoom through
them. You can also use free aggregator services like AvantGo
to select and download images from MapQuest. However, map image files
can use up lots of storage.
of a map, you can download a map database, and use software to view
regions at different levels of detail. The free Vindigo city guide
(www.vindigo.com) includes maps of New York City. Microsoft Pocket
Streets, bundled with PocketPC handhelds, can download portions of
maps, display points of interest, and search for places or addresses.
On the Palm platform, you can use the Rand McNally StreetFinder City
Centers software ($9.99) to download detailed maps of 35 major U.S.
cities, or StreetFinder Deluxe ($29) to select and download your own
map regions and route maps (www.randmcnally.com). Rand McNally also
recently announced the Road Atlas 16 MB expansion card ($39) for the
Palm handheld. It contains map information for the 48 contiguous
States, including 12,000 cities and 640,000 miles of highways and
Similarly, DeLorme offers the Solos map and route direction software
for the Palm ($49, www.delorme.com). Solos interfaces to other DeLorme
products to calculate travel directions and download maps. The DeLorme
products include AAA Map’n’Go and Street Atlas USA for street maps
and listings, Topo USA for topographic maps, and XMap Business for
small business routing. On wireless-enabled handhelds, Solos can also
access maps from the DeLorme website for a yearly subscription fee
to a GPS receiver to display your current position on a map and
real-time directions along your pre-defined itinerary. Products for
the Palm include the DeLorme Earthmate GPS receiver ($159) Rand
StreetFinder GPS ($199 with software), and NAVMAN Handmap
goes beyond mapping or route display to recompute your route on the
fly. Instead of following a pre-planned itinerary, you can turn off
the path to avoid congestion or to just to explore, and be confident
that CoPilot can adjust and guide you back where you need to go. The
Pharos StreetNav product ($249), also for PocketPC, is another product
that can recompute a new route from your current location
However, it requires a separate operation to do so, instead of
the route automatically.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.