As an editor, the best part of my job is the reality that can I pick up
the phone and talk to just about anybody in our business, with the
possible exception of Google, who remains notably inaccessible.
In the last two weeks, I have made a few "house calls" to the good
folks at Microsoft and Yahoo, and also visited with the less familiar
but equally friendly InfoSpace and Planet 9 Studios. Excuse my
exuberance, but these companies are leaking innovation.
Sometimes my job requires me to ferret out the inconsistencies
products and the accompanying marketing spin. But at other times, it's
enough to keep up with the progress, take a drink from the fire hose
and press on. Take Planet 9 Studios
for example. The company provides virtual city models with remarkable
realism (See Figure 1 below of Las
Vegas). The imagery is lifelike in appearance and even knowing how they
did it, you wonder about the work that it took to render the images to
such clarity. And if you must know how they did it
airborne radar, LiDAR, and aerial photography integrated into a common,
geo-referenced database, along with many other sources. The company's
president, David Colleen, touts the defense industry as the company's
key market (Blue Force tracking [technology that helps tell U.S.
military units where friendly forces are located - See Figure 2 below],
port security and situational awareness). The company also works with
those in the entertainment, gaming, and TV news business. To me, it's
just another data point indicating where location technology is going.
Most impressive however, is the vision Colleen has for in-vehicle
navigation. Forget that the TomTom Navigator, a portable in-vehicle
system, can tilt the view of the roadway to give you a "quasi-3D"
visual of direction and location. Planet 9's eScene
(Figure 3) can render the view to show you the building facades so that
you can see if you are in the right location. It is this kind of
innovation that has yet to make it into the consumer or commercial
application markets. But you can see it coming.
Figure 1 (Click for Larger Image)
Figure 2 (Click for Larger Image)
Figure 3 (Click for Larger Image)
Colleen also believes that "3D models will be used as an interface to
data." You need to let that one sink in a bit. Our reference has always
been 2D maps. And for those with a high degree of geographic literacy,
3D is a logical step for data visualization of geospatial or associated
aspatial data. But if, for some reason, you are cartographically
challenged, only a "real" picture will do, or at least a 3D model with
extreme authenticity. The difference between the rendered Planet 9
models and Microsoft's Live Local maps with Pictometry's off nadir
aerial imagery is the ability of the Planet 9 models to tilt, pan, zoom
and query the models for richer attribution. In the case of a military
application, the user can ascertain the location and movement of
troops, weather, or determine the contents of a building with an
"x-ray-type" view. The scene is not static but a "live" representation
is on the mobile handset. The company is supplying its content of local
information (movies, bars, restaurants) to cellular carriers to enhance
the mobile search experience. The company uses Microsoft's MapPoint
Location Server for its location-based search engine so the results of
a search can be either text or maps or both. Maps on phones are nothing
new. InfoSpace's main goal is to enhance the mobile experience by
getting information to the phone with minimal clicks. As with many LBS
applications, the map is the interface. InfoSpace is one of those
companies in the "supply chain" of location-based information services.
(More on that later.)
Yahoo, Microsoft, Google
Let's sidetrack to those with a slightly different view. Take
Yahoo!, by CEO Terry Semel's own admission, is an entertainment
company. So why are they in the mapping business? I'll come back to
that. Now, Microsoft. What got Gates jazzed about the Virtual Earth? It
wasn't that is was simply cool software because Bill loves cool stuff.
It was a way to deliver information through a unique interface.
Microsoft, of course, straddles the fence between a software and
entertainment company and I'm not sure they've determined which way
they will lean in the future.
Google? Founders Larry Page and Serge Brin believe that Google is an
"information technology" company. What better way to deliver a textual
search than with a picture. How often during your Google search do you
hit the "Images" link as well? Why not add a "Map" link too? If I ever
want you to find me using Google, then I might opt to reveal my
location. But not yet.
Do you see the trend? Taken together, software + information +
entertainment = "infotainment". Add a geospatial context: location +
search + context = "infotainmaps." The companies mentioned above
represent the front lines in location technology innovation and
information delivery, i.e. search. They are providing the backbone and
the "second to last mile" to the consumer, whether it is for individual
or commercial use. The true last mile will be driven by the
carriers, cellular companies that put handset in hands and information
that reaches eyes and ears. The battle lies at the interface. If
Colleen is correct, his realistic 3D models, in addition to other forms
of map innovation, represent a catalyst to mass adoption and
understanding. Are you ready for the infotainmaps?