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Opening Up To 3D Mapping: Collaborative, Crowdsourced Approach to Map Data Gaining Speed

Finding your way in the urban jungle of a sprawling city is probably one of the most challenging tasks a motorist has to tackle. The days of folded paper maps may long be over, but electronic maps and automated navigation systems have yet to satisfy the modern navigator's wishlist.

* What does 3456 Main St. actually look like?

* Where is the nearest parking to the entrance?

* Is it available and what is the cost?

* What other parking options do I have?

* How do I get my end destination once I leave my car?

Maps and map data are at the center of any navigation system. Going beyond typical geodetic data, one of the hottest trends in navigation is 3D design, which gives the the driver a realistic three-dimensional view of current surroundings such as buildings, monuments, bridges, tunnels and more. This greatly helps identify destination and waypoints, avoiding missed turns thanks to directions like "If possible, make a legal U-turn."

However, 3D mapping is only as good as the data it displays. And, keeping constantly-changing  navigation data current is one of -- if not the most challenging -- data problems. Even cloud services providers that deliver instantaneous updates to the connected car on demand have not solved the data problem yet.  

Someone still has to collect relevant information and translate it into data records for the navigation systems to consume. This includes static data such as streets, buildings and more, as well as increasingly temporary events like construction sites, public events and accidents. With data rapidly increasing, the cost of collecting, classifying, storing and providing this data is also constantly on the rise. As a result, map updates, real-time traffic information  and location-based services (LBS) from car makers and service providers are selling at a significant premium.

Long before cell phones, drivers used citizen's band radios to share road and traffic information to other drivers with transmitters within reach. Radio stations still rely on listeners in their cars to call in real-time traffic and accident updates via their cell phones. From that perspective, crowdsourcing of traffic information is not an entirely new concept. Mapping data has just begun to benefit from a more collaborative, crowdsourced approach.

OpenStreetMap (OSM, www.openstreetmap.org) is an open source, collaborative project to create a free map of the world. Inspired by the success of Wikipedia, it debuted in the United Kingdom in 2004 and includes a combination of satellite images and human updates to survey and document the world. Driven by the restrictions of proprietary map data, the lack of map information in many areas of the world and the advent of inexpensive portable satellite navigation devices, the collaborative project is now hosting the world’s largest free mapping information database. More than one million registered users are contributing to the project's database. An open REST API lets applications access the database for navigation and other purposes.

OpenStreetMap uses the Open Database License (ODbL), which is a share-alike license that allows anyone to use and share OSM as long as all of the data one person or company puts into it is made available to all OSM users.

OpenStreetMap-map

OSM is very much like Linux, which was created by Linus Torvalds out of the desire to run a UNIX-like system on inexpensive PC hardware. Linux quickly gained the support of many individual developers around the globe who tirelessly added new features and ported applications to the system. However,  not until commercial entities started contributing code did the system move from its niche position into the limelight of mainstream computing. As the Linux Foundation's annual report on "Who Writes Linux" documents, the majority of the Linux developers today are employees of companies who are working on Linux as their daytime job.

Will we see something similar happen to OSM? In my opinion yes. OSM has already gained the support of companies such as Automotive Navigation Data (AND), which donated entire road data sets of the Netherlands and trunk road data for China and India to the project. AND offers a road database that connects more than 200 countries in the world, including fully attributed navigation maps of Western Europe.

Just as IBM realized that the real value it offers is in integrated business applications, not the operating system stack, carmakers and suppliers will realize road map data is merely a foundation for value-added services, offering no real differentiating value to their customers.  

GPS, sensors and cameras installed in modern cars can accelerate collection and maintenance of map data. While the early OSM pioneers had to more or less manually collect information via portable GPS system, a digital camera and a notebook computer, this process can essentially be fully automated with today’s in-vehicle systems. GPS provides position data, pictures from multiple cameras can be distilled into 3D views, and speed and other information collected from vehicle sensors can be used for calibration and correction.

At the Linux Foundation's Automotive Linux Summit on October 24 and 25 in Edinburgh/UK you will have the opportunity to hear from worldwide recognized 3D navigation expert Marek Strassenburg-Kleciak. In his keynote, Marek will provide insight into OSM and its new 3D data collection efforts. He will analyze how sensors in modern cars and mobile phones can be utilized to support 3D data collection.

And, of course, we’ll have more keynotes and presentations on Linux and open source for the automotive industry. Click here to view the full schedule.

I am looking forward to meeting you there!

 

 

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