I spent part of a recent day driving around Boston in a
TeleAtlas minivan outfitted with two
on-board computers, 1,000GB of storage (half of it for
backup) and, on top of the van, two lasers, six cameras and
a GPS antenna. The lasers track geographic data like height
and slope of roads and the surroundings, and these are
combined with the pictures and existing TeleAtlas data to
create digital maps in full 3-D.
The driver follows routes set up for him by the company and
downloaded ahead of time, and other than making sure that the
van is following the route, the cameras and laser do the rest
of the work.
This van is one of about 50 TeleAtlas runs globally that is
driving around locations, primarily in the U.S. and Europe,
taking pictures about every 8 meters of entire buildings and
feeding them into the hard drive. My driver, Christopher
Errizo, has done about 60,000 miles in this van since February,
starting in Louisville, Ky. Depending on weather and light
conditions, he can go from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m., and pull in
about 20GB of data a day.
On the Road to Mapping Maturity
The question is, why are TeleAtlas, and its rival
Navteq, the other big database for
digital mapping information, going 3-D?
It’s a sign that technology is advancing. Even some
high-end cell phones can now handle 3-D images and other
content. “As networks get more robust, you can download
video,” notes Darren Koenig, director of wireless,
Internet and telecom at TeleAtlas, in a recent interview.
So far, though, the Hewlett-Packard iPAQ 310 Travel Companion is the only
product in the U.S. to offer the TeleAtlas 3-D feature on a
handheld—it bought TeleAtlas’ 3-D Landmarks for about
400 landmarks in the U.S. and Canada, an offering it introduced in September.
In Europe, Sony’s PlayStation Portable Go!Explore uses
TeleAtlas’ 3-D landmarks and includes the nascent
TeleAtlas 3-D maps of cities like Berlin and London. MioMap, a
European maker of portable navigation devices, offers these
maps on its new C620 models. Jack Gold, president of J. Gold
Associates, a technology consultancy in Northborough, Mass., says that data
in three dimensions is better for the human eye, but compares
3-D mapping to 3-D interface Windows Aero, in Microsoft
“Has that made people run out and go buy Vista
machines? For most people the answer has been no,” Gold
says. He says adding 3-D was a way to stay relevant for
TeleAtlas and Navteq, both of which are being acquired
(TeleAtlas by GPS maker TomTom , and Navteq by the
world’s biggest cell phone maker, Nokia ).
Rich Gibson, coauthor of Mapping Hacks and Google
Maps Hacks, agrees that the most obvious reason for
these companies to add 3-D was also trivial: “because
But he says that maps are a kind of story, and 3-D
“lets you create richer stories. You can say more about
reality when you have more data.”
For now, he says that 3-D maps are just a baby step toward
developing more useful maps. “It’s the scaffold,
the framework upon which the things we do in life can
rest,” he says. When 3-D will become really important is
when sensor networks develop over time. That will make it
possible to enhance 3-D maps with any variety of features, in
Advertising Spots on Map Makers’ Agenda
3-D is just one of the things on the agenda for mapping
companies. For instance, TeleAtlas is pushing to develop more
content in 2008, working not only on expanding its maps but
also on adding travel-related videos, or overlay features such
as Wi-Fi hotspots in given areas, or places to buy biodiesel
fuel in the U.S., to name two existing ones.
TeleAtlas is also experimenting with putting brands on its
maps—already more than 100 companies, like
McDonald’s, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and Exxon,
get special logos for their locations. These could eventually
lead to new kinds of advertising.
But, like 3-D maps, for now these are experiments in
potential location-based services, rather than full-fledged
Editor’s note: This story includes one corrected sentence. To read more, see CIO.com’s corrections page.