Mapping the World, One Centimeter At a Time

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From stone tablets to atlases, cartographic innovations have long been an underappreciated foundation of geopolitics and everyday life. The basis of the Second World War was not only the search for roads, but also the use of maps. Propaganda maps were used to influence popular opinion and mobilize the military. Instagrammers and TikTokers use them to access the hottest restaurant. In its latest reincarnation, high-fidelity maps could change the future of navigation, logistics and spatial data collection.

Leading the way is a little-known Japanese startup, Dynamic Map Platform Co. or DMP. Backed by government-backed funds(1), the company has multibillion-dollar mandates to support next-generation industries and includes large domestic conglomerates such as Toyota Motor Corp. among its shareholders.

DMP designs and produces a set of high-resolution and 3D maps that are much more accurate than the standard maps we know: the ones on the iPhone, in apps like Waze, and in car navigation systems that use GPS. Its data can also be used for precision drone flights.

Data collection is very important. Mobileye, owned by Intel Corp., depends on participating manufacturers’ car information (which they collect automatically and anonymously). The Japanese corporate strategy allows for ownership and high precision. The data is accurate – distances and locations in centimeters. Other mapping systems that target the Geodetic System are generally approximate and rely heavily on sensors. It’s really annoying when Google Maps throws you off in dense areas or when it sends you in all directions and doesn’t recognize turns.

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Also, buying data from others, such as car manufacturers, can create privacy and storage issues. Or third party information becomes unavailable. Self-generated information is generally more secure.

Creating these maps is a huge technological undertaking. Using the Global Navigation Satellite System, or GNSS, pinpoints locations. Vehicles with sensors and cameras then collect and generate point cloud data, or a cluster of points, where each has a set of Cartesian coordinates (think X-axis and Y-axis). A map system brings it all together and brings the information together. It captures everything, including signs painted on roads, structures, curbs, lane junctions and edges, before drivers even arrive on site.

It may seem like too much deep technology and a lot of unnecessary information, but mapping and data collection are increasingly becoming the center of navigation and safety technologies. Software-centric vehicles and autonomous driving systems were all the rage at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, one of the biggest events on the tech calendar. They fueled the boom in automotive technology and advanced vehicles. These maps are integrated into drones, windshields and cockpits, allowing passengers to get to their destinations seamlessly. China’s rapidly expanding market for such cars is expected to grow by 2025. will grow to 960 billion yuan ($141 billion). A team at the Radio Navigation Laboratory at the University of Texas in the US is using signals from Elon Musk’s SpaceX satellite Starlink to develop navigation technology that is independent of GPS, Russian, Chinese and European geopolitics.

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High resolution and accurate maps will eventually allow people to visually immerse themselves in a distant place. Analysts and scientists are increasingly using satellite imagery and other geo-location data to see what’s happening thousands of miles away. Hedge funds also use it to monitor activity in factories and warehouses. In recent months, open-source intelligence has helped track troop movements in Ukraine. 3D mapping systems like DMP will eventually allow logistics companies to deliver packages through windows, use 3D maps of buildings and streets, and navigate warehouses as the population ages. It will also allow electric vehicles to be more efficient with accurate information about gradients, lanes and chargers. Today’s cartography is even more powerful than it was decades ago.

To date, DMP has data on more than 30,000 kilometers (18,641 miles) of highways and expressways in Japan, about 640,000 kilometers in the United States, and more than 300,000 kilometers in Europe. in 2018 it acquired Ushr Inc., which at the time counted GM Ventures and EnerTech Capital as investors. The two companies, together with one of the Japanese government funds, JOIN, supported 100 million. USD for expansion of high-definition coverage in North America. Meanwhile, last year DMP and JOIN allocated about 90 million. USD to expand beyond North America and Japan. It has already signed up car manufacturers and hopes to become a key tool for logistics and infrastructure providers. General Motors Co.’s Cadillac models, including the CT6, XT6 and Hummer, known for their semi-autonomous systems, have installed these maps

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As geopolitical tensions ease, mobility innovations grow, and people travel more and more, maps are critical. Crucially, data accuracy – and increasingly ownership – will be important and will underpin further cartographic progress.

More from Bloomberg Opinion:

• The US could defend Taiwan against China – at a high cost: Tobin Harshaw

• Afraid of driverless cars? China has the answer: Anjani Trivedi

• Tesla may be out of the running: Gary Smith

(1) Japan Overseas Infrastructure Investment Corporation for Transport and Urban Development, or JOIN, and Innovation Network Corporation of Japan, or INCJ

This column does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Anjani Trivedi is a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion. It covers industries including politics and companies in the machinery, automotive, electric vehicle and battery sectors across the Asia Pacific region. She was previously a columnist for the Wall Street Journal’s Heard on the Street magazine and the paper’s finance and markets reporter. Before that, she worked as an investment banker in New York and London

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