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Digital Maps to hold the future of smart cities, autonomous cars, and much more


Cartography is painstaking and challenging work. Years ago, mankind decided to challenge the sea and explore the unknown world and thus begun the work of mapping the world and it is still in progress. Flattening the earth onto a two-dimensional surface is regarded as a monumental decision in cartography. Today’s cartographers are not challenging the sea but are stationed behind monitors. However, their roles have become more crucial than ever.

We have entered the age of automation. Today, everything is connected to the internet, and vehicles by themselves transport passengers to their destination. Doing so, they need to locate every object in the way, know every lamppost, every turn, and tunnel, which means autonomous vehicles demand a huge amount of data to transport passengers from point A to point B without causing any harm to them. In short, we need a 3D map more than ever and more accurate than ever.

Digital maps and driverless cars

The maps that we use daily are not good enough for this task as they are created with GPS and aerial photography. Although they are sufficient for people to drive around the unknown neighborhood, it is not suitable for autonomous vehicles as GPS is accurate to about five meters and that will not keep the autonomous car out of trouble.

According to Allied Market Research, the global digital map market is projected to reach $3.67 billion by 2023, growing at a CAGR of 12.6% from 2017 to 2023. The ruthless competition between market players to accurately map the world and increasing demand from autonomous vehicle companies have boosted the market growth. Today, Google Maps dominated by its billion users. However, even Google aims to improve digital mapping and make it ideal for driverless cars.

Also read: A Tale of Smart Cities: How Geospatial Solutions Contribute to Urban Security

Recently, Google added a satellite layer to Google Photos that enables a user to see your path through the world using the location history-powered timeline feature. Not only you can see where your pictures were taken, but the map view could also show your exact traveled route. However, Google ensured that this information is completely private and visible to the only user.

In fact, Jen Fitzpatrick, Vice President of engineering and product management for Google Geo product area, recently stated the future of digital maps is beyond driving. In the last fifteen years, Google Maps has transformed what we think about maps and how we make our way in the world. However, Jen Fitzpatrick believes that Google Maps is more than a driving app and holds more potential.

Digital maps to help navigate smart cities

Every industry, every sector is riding the wave of digitization. Increasing urbanization and the number of cities have questioned everyone how to manage environmental resources, mitigate problems of pollution, and how to make societies more accessible. While modern cities are moving toward sustainability and inclusivity, the cartography must get an update of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Recently, Azure Maps and Azure Digital Twins invested to help smart cities navigate the complexities of smart infrastructure solutions. Around a year ago, Azure Maps has announced its portfolio of mapping, traffic, and geospatial services. In addition, the company has announced another service for companies that enables them to unlock special intelligence through modeling of the relationship between devices, people, and the environment they live in. The services would empower companies to unlock special intelligence, location-based services, and geographic enrichment.

Advancements in mapping through AI and IoT

Thousands of cartographers spend tens of thousands of hours to perfect digital maps by adding data on the ground and reviewing public satellite images. With the help of AI, digital mapping can be done in a short period while improving accuracy and detail.

With the help of computer vision, roads and buildings could be generated straight from satellite imagery and then converted into usable data. A few months ago, a Boston-based team of engineers had released a novel map with AI that included RapiD editor, which is an improved version of OpenStreetMap (OSM) editing tool. The editor uses AI to make the process faster by proposing AI-generated roads to cartographers and allows them to add map data to OSM.

Also read: Using artificial intelligence to enrich digital maps

Apart from this, digital mapping has several challenges to tackle. The biggest challenge is importing readily available authoritative data sets. Several government agencies already have map data available for free. However, it has to be transformed to OSM tagging standards and the duplicate data must be conflated to make it error-free. As of today, more than 1,200 people and organizations use RapiD editor and more and more companies are opting for solutions that are powered by AI.

Future of digital maps and importance in advanced technologies

In the future, autonomous vehicles are the most important end-user of digital maps. Thus, the current digital maps must be updated and improved. In the future, digital maps must dynamically reflect and understand the environment. Moreover, with help of AI and Machine Learning algorithms, it would become easier to find patterns in generated data. For autonomous vehicles to run smoother on the road, we need powerful computing to create maps that offer more accurate data and detailed information regarding every corner, street, road, and lamp-post, than we currently possess.

It is clear that the future of digital mapping lies with AI and IoT devices. What’s more, developers are improving 3D mapping for autonomous vehicles and moving toward “living maps”. The aim of living maps is to constantly update the map in real-time and build maps on data collected by radar, video, and LiDAR, rather than satellite imagery. Apart from this, the developments in sensor technology have opened new doors of opportunities for improving digital maps. Companies and even startups have been working to integrate smart sensors into cars and planes to create accurate maps.

Digital mapping ultimately holds the progress of the future. Every novel technology that we develop and aim to launch in the future completely depends on accurate mapping of the world. Satellite images and GPS are not enough, and the developers and researchers across the globe are working continuously to improve current digital mapping technology to make it smarter, better, and more accurate.

Also read: How humans will compliment AI to increase safety of autonomous cars

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