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Azure Location Based Services Hits the Preview Stage

Microsoft this week previewed Azure Location Based Services, a new set of services with APIs for developers that lets applications tap geographical information.

The APIs available with Azure Location Based Services provide access to five REST-based services, including Render, Routing, Search, Time Zones and Traffic. There's also a JavaScript control, called "Azure Map Control," that lets developers add their own data to vector- and raster-graphics map images.

The service is aimed at "developers, enterprises and ISVs [independent software vendors]" that are creating "location aware apps," as well as "IoT [Internet of Things], mobility, logistics and asset tracking solutions," according to an Azure announcement.

The Five Services
The Render service is used to draw vector graphics-based maps of locations, which display in an application or in a Web page. These maps permit the user to zoom in or zoom out. The preview supports 200 regions around the world in 35 languages.

The Routing service provides directions between map points. It can calculate the fastest or least congested routes to take. It even provides estimates for commercial trucks, based on "height, weight, the number of axels and hazardous material contents," according to the announcement. Users can also get routing suggestions based on the destination arrival times they specify. For electric cars, the service can estimate "the most energy efficient route."

The Search service shows addresses, landmarks and points of interest on a map in response to queries. It also has a "reverse geocoding" capability for finding other addresses based on a location.

The Time Zone Service shows the time zone or the time for a location. The Traffic Service displays traffic-flow patterns around the world on a map. Microsoft partnered with TomTom to provide access to traffic information for "55 regions around the world," showing "real-time issues happening on the road."

Availability
The Azure Location Based Services preview is currently being tested by various companies, but Microsoft is planning commercial release in "early December," according to an announcement by Sam George, director of Azure IoT.

The companies currently testing the service include "TomTom, Cubic Telecom, Fathym and ICONIQ," along with BrightBox, Cubic Transportation, Delphi and Otonomo, according to the announcement. It's being used to rank the effectiveness of mobile phone charging stations, show weather conditions on truck routes and support electric vehicle diagnostics, among other uses.

The preview of Azure Location Based Services isn't necessarily free to use. The pricing page explained that 250,000 transactions per month are free, but just for the Render service. As for any other services that might get used (such as Routing, Search, Time Zones and Traffic), 25,000 total transactions are free per month. Users of Azure Location Based Services currently get billed at a rate of "$0.50 per 1,000 transactions."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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