Roundup: Mapping Tech Evolves, Adding Third Dimension and Pedestrian POV

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Mapping is one of those foundational “meat and potatoes” topics in Street Fight’s repertoire that buttresses local commerce. But despite its longstanding positioning at the center of that world, and its “mature” status, it still somehow continues to show rapid transformation and innovation cycles. 

Local search and mapping are also more important than ever. As businesses reopen, they’ll have to communicate dynamic business details such as mask policies and other variables. These details will have to be a core component of the local search and mapping experiences — at least for businesses that do it right. 

To define the current state and future trajectory of mapping, we’ve rounded up top industry voices and thought leaders. This is part of Street Fight’s new monthly ritual in which we tap our community to provide insights on each month’s editorial theme.  

Continuing here in Part II, below are the insights we were able to gather from the community.

Expert Roundup: How is Mapping Innovation Playing Out? Part I

Phillip Zakas, Senior Director of Strategy, Foursquare, on Mapping Design & UX

The immediate “Future of Mapping” is going to be about map design and UX. More specifically, we are likely to see a shift from the vehicle to the pedestrian experiential viewpoint that will dramatically improve map design and UX. Google and Apple recently released map updates that mark the beginnings of this shift: live data about shops and restaurants, realistic road widths, the inclusion of walking paths, and the locations of street signs help us orient ourselves from the sidewalk. With the addition of new datasets and changes to the traditional bird’s-eye-view map presentation, we could soon have maps that could dramatically improve the pedestrian experience — from not only ease-of-navigation and safety perspectives, but also from an enjoyment perspective.

Here’s the simple reason why the pedestrian experience is so critical to the future of mapping: many consumers use mapping apps to navigate city or town streets as a pedestrian. But many mapping apps don’t have features or capabilities that truly meet pedestrian needs. For example, you might walk past a residence or storefront 2-3 times before realizing you’ve reached your destination. But what if your app could show you what the front door of the building you were searching for looks like so that you don’t miss it?

New types of location data will be instrumental in activating visual cues and user experiences that reflect our everyday walking experiences. Precise location data coupled with rich attributes (including pictures, reviews, and recommendations) can help pedestrians get where they need to go, discover new places, and much more. Mapping apps powered with this kind of data will soon offer pedestrians features such as:

  • Highlighting the destination building and best entranceway in my navigation view as I’m approaching it
  • Suggesting walkable routes optimized for scenery, minimizing time in NY humidity, running, fewest hills, or for discovering something new about my neighborhood
  • Showing sidewalk traffic levels

Of course, you can expect that Google will continue to launch pedestrian UX features in their mapping products, but other mapping apps can compete by sourcing pedestrian-friendly location data from many alternative APIs.

Dan Hight, VP, Data Partnerships, NextNav, on the Rise of 3D Mapping

For decades, we’ve known maps to be flat and 2D, with satellite-based GPS as the de facto location-based technology powering our mobile navigation. But if you’ve spent any amount of time working with GPS or location data, you know that the system is insufficient for how it is being used today — and how it will be used in the future. Despite more than 80% of the U.S. population living in urban areas, GPS and many of today’s maps don’t differentiate position based on the vertical dimension.

Your location on the tenth floor of a building appears the same as if you were on the ground floor. As consumers demand better experiences, augmented reality becomes part of our everyday lives, and drones start delivering our products, there is a need for geolocation data, mapping, and rendering solutions that are all 3D to unlock this

Mapping — and the data that it requires — is at a watershed moment. While there are more 3D maps being developed, without the right geolocation data to fill these maps, they are otherwise empty shells. A simple way to explain this: imagine the blue dot (your location) on any map you use. With 3D geolocation, that blue dot will better reflect your positioning in our real world, based on longitude, latitude, and altitude. Now your location on the tenth floor looks very different than if you were on the ground floor. This breakthrough is changing the way businesses operate and the experiences consumers now expect. At NextNav, over the past year we rolled out our Pinnacle vertical location service in more than 4,400 cities across the United States.

Industries like public safety have been asking for this technology for years, and it’s now a reality. In retail, this will power more engaging in-store experiences – especially in multistory buildings and malls – enhanced by geofencing and our mobile devices. For autonomous vehicles and drones, three-dimensional mapping with accurate 3D data will be critical for reliable positioning in urban areas, both on the roads and in the sky.

When it comes to augmented reality and gaming, there are endless possibilities to create more immersive playgrounds around our three-dimensional world, leveraging urban landscapes in new ways. We have already seen
gaming engines such as Unity and Unreal fueling these new types of location-based experiences and digital twins. As the technology of cameras, wearables, and other hardware is fused together with more accurate location data, new experiences will be unlocked to match growing consumer expectations. And this is just the beginning.

The future of mapping is happening now, but accurate 3D geolocation built into mapping is needed to create new opportunities and experiences that were never thought possible. It’s an exciting time in mapping, and there’s much more to come.

Mike Boland, Street Fight Contributing Editor, on Mapping’s Intersection with Emerging Tech 

We continue to see the collision of mapping and emerging tech. Fittingly for such a visual-oriented medium, the tech that’s being introduced to mapping is visual in nature. For example, the smartphone camera is being utilized to appeal to the Snapchat generation and to develop visually intuitive mapping interfaces. 

Examples have been paraded out at the last three big developer conferences — Google I/O, Snap’s Partner Summit, and Apple’s WWDC — offering a glimpse into the near future of mapping. Starting with Google, its Live View feature can now be launched directly from the map interface to explore surroundings in a more visually intuitive way.

This means users can activate Live View directly from the map to see graphical overlays that reveal information about storefronts in view. These overlays can include standard listings from Google My Business, including business name, hours of operation, reviews, photos, and busyness rating.

Moving on to Snap, it announced a new mapping framework called “layers” at its recent Partner Summit. Think of this as different data sets in the map that you can toggle on and off, depending on your interests. Layers will develop around things like fast food or coffee.

But the next likely play will be to distribute layers on a broader scale through APIs. This would let Snapchat scale up the creation of layers by crowdsourcing it to various startups. That would also broaden the use cases including map-discoverable Local Lenses — the geo-located version of its signature AR lenses.

Lastly, Apple at its recent WWDC conference followed Google’s lead with 3D mapping, à la Live View. Specifically, Apple Maps can now activate 3D navigation in urban areas through an upheld smartphone. This can be more intuitive than looking down at a 2D map and mentally translating it to 3D space.

As this develops — again, like Live View — it could add informational overlays for storefronts, making it a local discovery tool. Altogether, mapping is at the brink of an inflection point. As we all emerge from Covid-hybernation, we’ll have better tools to navigate the world in visually intuitive ways that tap into the power of our cameras.