Mapping the World, One Centimeter At a Time

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From stone tablets to atlases, cartographic innovations have long been an underappreciated mainstay in geopolitics and everyday life. In addition to wayfinding, the use of maps dates back to World War II. Propaganda maps were used to influence popular opinion and mobilize troops. Instagrammers and TikTok-ers use them to visit the hottest restaurants. In their latest incarnation, high-precision maps stand to transform the future of navigation, logistics and spatial data-gathering.

At the forefront is a little-known Japanese start-up — Dynamic Map Platform Company, or DMP. The firm, backed by government-backed funds, (1) has multibillion-dollar orders to support next-generation industries, and counts major domestic conglomerates such as Toyota Motor Corporation among its shareholders.

DMP is creating and creating a set of high-definition and three-dimensional maps that are far more accurate than standard maps as we know them: on iPhones, applications like Waze and in-car navigation systems that use GPS. . Its data can also be used for precise drone flights.

Data collection is key. The likes of Mobileye, owned by Intel Corporation, rely on crowdsourced information from participating manufacturers’ cars (they collect it automatically and anonymously). The Japanese firm’s strategy allows for ownership and high precision. Data is accurate — distances and locations to within centimeters. Other mapping systems, rooted in the world geodetic system, are approximate and rely heavily on sensors. It’s very annoying when Google Maps gets thrown in dense areas, or when it sends you in all sorts of directions and doesn’t recognize U-turns.

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In addition, sourcing data from others – such as car manufacturers – risks ongoing privacy and storage issues. Or, those details become unavailable from third parties. Self-generated information is more secure.

Creating these maps is a massive, technical endeavor. Accurate locations are determined using the Global Navigation Satellite System, or GNSS. Then, vehicles equipped with sensors and cameras collect and generate point-cloud data — or a set of points, where each has a set of Cartesian coordinates (think X-axis and Y-axis). The mapping system collects all this and integrates the information. It picks up everything, including signs painted on roads, structures, curbs, lane linkages and verges, even before the driver reaches a location.

It may seem like a lot of deep-tech and a lot of redundant information, but mapping and data collection are increasingly at the heart of navigation and safety technology. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, one of the biggest tech events on the calendar, software-centric vehicles and autonomous-driving systems were all the rage. They have taken a leap in auto-tech and intelligent vehicles. These maps are integrated into drones, windshields and cockpits, seamlessly guiding passengers to their destinations. In China, the rapidly expanding market for such cars is expected to grow to 960 billion yuan ($141 billion) by 2025. In the US, a team from the University of Texas’ Radionavigation Lab is using signals from Elon Musk’s SpaceX’s Starlink satellite. A navigation technology that is free from the geopolitics of GPS, Russia, China and Europe.

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High-definition and precision maps will eventually allow people to visually immerse themselves in a remote location. More and more, analysts and academics are using satellite imagery and other geospatial data to see what’s happening thousands of miles away. Hedge funds also use it to track activity in factories and warehouses. In recent months, open-source intelligence has helped track troop movements in Ukraine. Three-dimensional mapping systems such as DMPs will eventually allow logistics firms to deliver packages through windows, using 3D building and street maps, and navigating through warehouses. It will also allow electric vehicles to be more efficient with accurate information on gradients, lanes and chargers. Today’s cartography is even more powerful than it was decades ago.

So far, DMP has data on 30,000 km (18,641 mi) of highways and motorways in Japan, about 640,000 km in the US, and over 300,000 km in Europe. In 2018, it acquired Ushr Inc. acquired GM Ventures and EnerTech Capital as investors at the time. Together, the two firms supported a $100 million expansion of high-definition coverage in North America, with JOIN one of the Japanese government’s funds. Meanwhile, last year, DMP and JOIN invested nearly $90 million to expand beyond North America and Japan. It has already signed up automakers and is expected 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 increase, mobility innovations increase and people travel more, maps are all the more important. Importantly, data accuracy – and increasingly, its ownership – matters and underpins further cartographic progress.

More from Bloomberg Opinion:

• US May Protect Taiwan From China – At Big Cost: Tobin Hershaw

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

• Tesla may take itself 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 opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Anjani Trivedi is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. She covers industries including policies and firms in the machinery, automobile, electric vehicle and battery sectors in Asia Pacific. Previously, he was a columnist for the Wall Street Journal’s Heard on the Street and a finance and markets reporter for the paper. Before that, he was an investment banker in New York and London

More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com/opinion

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