Outdoor tech: maps
Australian mapping company Hema Maps produces some of the most accurate, informative and beautifully presented maps available. To gather all the data required to achieve this, Hema travels every road and track in Australia.
ANY OUTDOOR ADVENTURER who’s laid eyes on a colourful and informative Hema map will no doubt appreciate the work that has gone into its creation. After all, a Hema map offers so much more than just a reference to your location or a guide to your destination. It’s a beautifully presented work of art, with fantastic design that almost comes to life as you pore over its lines, imagining the journey that lies ahead.
Setting a Hema product apart from lesser maps is the additional information it provides, such as the story of the area it covers, recommendations on places to visit, information on services and facilities, the inclusion of spectacular photography and, of course, accurate lines depicting roads, tracks and waterways, and precisely plotted symbols indicating the exact locations of anything from towns and landmarks to station homesteads and park entrances.
What you might not appreciate, however, is the method by which Hema Maps creates its products, whether they’re printed on paper or delivered electronically through a Hema Navigator or software on your phone or tablet.
To gather all of the required data, Hema literally drives every road and track in Australia to ensure its maps provide the most accurate and up to date information possible.
Hema MD Rob Boegheim snaps a pic that will make its way on to one of the company’s interactive electronic mapping products.
The Right Rig
The Hema field teams need a capable and reliable off-road vehicle to achieve this, and the latest in a long line of vehicles the company refers to as Map Patrols is a heavily modified Toyota 79 Series Double Cab LandCruiser.
Rob Boegheim, Hema’s Managing Director and son of Hema Maps founders Henry and Margaret Boegheim, explains: “We’ve been setting up Map Patrols since the first one in 1996 when we first started getting out with a GPS and a laptop and doing what we do. We sat down with this one and asked: what do we need this vehicle to do, where do we need it to go, what kind of equipment do we need to carry, what kind of fuel, people, gear and mapping gear?”
The LandCruiser ticked many boxes – powerful engine, strong driveline, good payload, dual-cab body, bush-proven design and Australia-wide parts and service back-up – but it wasn’t perfect. Hema had the rear track of the vehicle widened to match the front track, endowing the vehicle with greater stability (important when carrying heavy loads), and the chassis was extended by 200mm for improved weight distribution. An ARB Old Man Emu GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass) upgrade and top-spec BP-51 suspension system was also fitted so the vehicle could comfortably and safely carry a heavier-than-standard payload.
Like most outdoor adventurers, the Hema team is obsessed with keeping weight to a minimum, even in the case of this four-wheel drive behemoth. “We look at the GVM right from the outset,” says Rob. “We make a huge list of everything that we’re going to possibly put on this vehicle and make sure that, before we put it on, that we’re going to be able to make our GVM at the end of it. It’s critical to manage the weight in a vehicle like this because that adds to the safety and reliability of the vehicle out there. The less weight the less stress on the vehicle, and the further down a track or a mud hole it can get, because it’s not overburdened with all the stuff that isn’t needed.”
And Hema sends this vehicle further down tracks and mud holes than most other vehicles will ever travel. “We ask the mapping teams to push the boundaries on where they go,” says Rob. “We want them to go down roads that we’ve never been down before, go and find out where tracks take us, and sometimes that means getting into difficult technical situations or getting stuck, and you need the ability to get out.”
Hema employed the services of Global Sat to ensure the Map Patrol would be able to provide the electrical power necessary to run all the mapping and equipment in a reliable manner.
Sitting behind a protective shroud on the ARB roof rack is the all-important GPS antenna. Signals from the antenna are processed by a Differential GPS (DGPS), which is mounted in a roof console. The DGPS provides half-metre accuracy, ensuring that Hema’s products are as precise as possible.
Even remote campsites are included in Hema’s mapping products.
Location information from the GPS is then fed into the passenger-facing touchscreen computer, so the passenger can then tag information to each plot or point. If that point is a caravan park, for example, information could include the address, type and number of sites, cabin accommodation, contact details and facilities available.
Below the laptop sits an iPad that’s preloaded with detailed information such as satellite imagery, topographic maps and Hema’s regional maps. This can be used for cross-referencing, while a second rear-mounted iPad is used to track the trip for posting into the Hema Explorer cloud, for purposes such as uploading info on conditions for other travellers to see.
The centre console houses a satphone handset and a detachable satphone dock, as well as a 3G mobile phone cradle and iPhone, while the glovebox houses an RDX storage device and a multi-format SD card reader. On the driver’s side of the roof console is a UHF transceiver, and there’s a windscreen-mounted Hema Navigator.
The cabin is littered with switches for lights, fuel tanks, batteries, trailer brakes, audio streaming, inverters and more, while gauges cover the usual things as well as boost, EGT (exhaust gas temperature), voltage and amperage of main and auxiliary systems.
The cabin power system incorporates a Redarc 300W pure sine wave inverter, RDX power supply, four 240V outlets, and super-neat fuse blocks and circuit breakers. There are a number of USB and 12V outlets in the cabin.
For safety, there’s a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) in case there’s an issue with the satphones, a SPOT tracker for daily check-ins with the office, and two fire extinguishers – by the passenger seat and in the rear canopy.
The LandCruiser’s Metalink canopy is essentially split into two main areas: the driver’s side houses all the business stuff, while the passenger side provides access to water and kitchen facilities. While there’s a dual-battery set-up under the bonnet of the Cruiser, the canopy is home to its own Redarc battery management system with two 150A Lithium batteries. Power management components include a 1000W pure sine wave inverter, 240V outlets, master switch and circuit breakers, various lighting systems, numerous 12V power outlets, solar input, Canon battery chargers, handheld UHF chargers, RDX data storage and more.
On the kitchen side of the canopy there’s a 75L water tank, an 85L Engel fridge, dual-fuel stove, washing tub, extendable table and drawers. The toolbox on this side houses the ARB air compressor and associated equipment, as well as additional recovery gear. Oh, and you’ll also find tool kits, spare parts and tyre repair kits in the canopy area.
The rear of the canopy is home to two spare tyres, between which there’s a ladder to access the rack up top. The Cruiser runs Cooper ST Maxx tyres. “We’ve been running Cooper tyres ever since I started mapping in 1996,” says Rob, “and these new ST Maxx tyres are just phenomenal; I’m starting to forget the last time I changed a tyre…”
With so much high-tech equipment on board, ensuring the Cruiser and its occupants are protected is paramount, which is why it’s fitted with an ARB bull bar, side rails and side steps, as well as a Warn Zeon 12,000lb winch and ARB underbody protection system. “When the Map Patrol team is out there, it’s their safety and productivity that’s paramount when dealing with difficult terrain, and that’s where ARB comes in,” says Rob. “So that’s why, for the last 20 years, we’ve chosen ARB to properly equip our vehicles, to protect our people and bring them home safely.
“We’re a pretty close-knit team at Hema and whenever any of our guys go out on map patrol we want to make sure that they’ve got the right equipment, they’re supported and they’ve got the right comms gear. We’ve got 24/7 satellite tracking on the vehicle and we’re ready to swing into action at any point to support them out there.”
So how does all the GPS equipment in the LC79 Map Patrol acquire the relevant data?
“In mapping there are three basic building blocks of content to collect,” explains Rob Boegheim. “There are points, lines and areas.
“The field work is all about capturing the lines, the tracks, the roads and the points of interest – a homestead, a campsite, a gate – the road or track itself and anything attached to that road or track.
“All of the contextual stuff – the creeks, the topography, the imagery, the railway lines, the national parks – all that, we can source through other data sources back in the office. Our primary focus has always been the road and track information that the majority of four-wheel drivers are interacting with.
“The whole focus of the Map Patrol is to make sure all those roads and tracks and the points that relate to that are in the right spot, because that’s the driver’s reference point, on that road or track.
“So, number one, the road or track that they’re actually driving on has got to be on the map to start with. Traditionally you can use aerial photography or satellite imagery for Australia, but because the continent’s so vast that’s always been hugely expensive, and there’s still nothing like getting out here and interacting with the track or terrain and checking it first-hand.
“It’s very much ground-truthing. We use the half-metre accurate GPS because people are using this mapping data now with all of our mapping products; you don’t need that accuracy for a printed product where the width of a millimeter on a map could be hundreds of metres or half a kilometre on the ground, but as soon as you’re getting into a full-blown navigation system, where you’re doing voice guidance, then everything’s got to be in the right spot.
“Most other mapping companies, particularly street mapping companies, would say ‘it’s all outback, it’s dirt road, take all that off the map because it’s not relevant’. But for us, that’s exactly the kind of information we need to highlight and bring to the front.
“Our goal has always been to map every public accessible road or track and put that on a map, and take out all the other noise that just creates confusion.”
This article was originally published in the March-April 2016 issue of AG Outdoor.