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Last Updated: Friday, 9 May, 2003, 09:22 GMT 10:22 UK
Digital maps tell the time
Close-up of digital map
The system combines street maps with time and walking data

If you have ever wondered if you had enough time to stroll to the park on your lunch break, then the answer could lie in a system developed by researchers in Dublin.

A team at Media Lab Europe has created a program that gives maps a sense of time.

The system combines digital maps with information about walking speeds and time constraints.

"Say that you have to be at the train station at 3 o'clock. The software draws a bubble around you showing everywhere that you could walk to and still get to your destination on time," said researcher Brendan Donovan.

The software was developed by the Media Lab team to overcome the shortcoming of normal maps to give you an idea of how long it would take you to get anywhere.

Free to roam

To use the program, you first need to select where you want to go on a PC or handheld computer.

Then you add your walking speed and the amount of time you have, and the program does the rest.

Media Lab Europe's Brendan Donovan
You could click on various locations on the map and see what times the trains were running or see information about restaurants
Brendan Donovan, Media Labs Europe

The end result is a bubble diagram showing how far you can roam and still get to your destination in time.

"The bubble is not a perfect circle as the software is taking account of actual street patterns and the physical features of the city," explained Mr Donovan.

"If you are heading in a direction that has to cross a river, you can't get as far as if you were walking straight down a street."

Mr Donovan says the system could become even more interactive if it were combined with information about a city.

"You could click on various locations on the map and see what times the trains were running or see information about restaurants etc."

"You could also create a number of layers so if you were only interested in places to eat, it would declutter the map for you and make it easier for you to make a decision," he told the BBC programme Go Digital.

The system could soon be making its way out of the research labs and into the High Street.

The researchers say it could be used in kiosks at hotels or tourist information centres by visitors trying to work how much they can squeeze into their day.

The software could also be adapted for use on handheld computers that you can carry around. Combined with a GPS system, it could then tell you exactly where you are and track you as you walk through a city.

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