Mapping the World, One Centimeter At a Time


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 formed the basis of World War II. Propaganda cards were used to influence public opinion and mobilize troops. Instagrammers and TikTokers use them to access the hottest restaurants. In their latest incarnation, high-precision maps are changing the future of navigation, logistics and spatial data collection.

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

DMP is creating and building a suite of high-resolution, three-dimensional maps that are much more accurate than the standard maps we know: the ones on iPhones, apps like Waze, and in-car navigation systems that use GPS. Its data can also be used for precision drones.

Data collection is key. Intel Corp. Proprietary Mobileye approvals depend on crowdsourced data from participating manufacturers’ vehicles (which they collect automatically and anonymously). The Japanese firm’s strategy allows for ownership and high precision. The data is accurate – distances and locations within centimeters. Other mapping systems deployed in the Global Geodetic System are predictive and rely more heavily on sensors. It’s very annoying when Google Maps throws you off in busy areas or sends you in different directions and doesn’t recognize a turn.

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In addition, receiving data from others, such as car manufacturers, can lead to privacy and storage issues. Otherwise, third party information will be unavailable. Self-generated information is more secure.

Creating these maps is a massive, technological effort. Precise 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 group of points, each with a set of Cartesian coordinates (think X-axis and Y-axis). A mapping system ties it all together and aggregates information. It picks up everything, including markings on roads, structures, curbs, lanes and curbs, even before drivers reach a destination.

It may seem like deep technology and a lot of junk, but mapping and data collection are increasingly at the center of navigation and safety technologies. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, one of the biggest tech events on the calendar, software-driven cars and autonomous driving systems were huge hits. They have a boom in auto-tech and smart cars. These maps can be integrated into drones, windshields and cockpits to easily guide passengers to their destinations. China’s rapidly expanding market for such vehicles is expected to grow to 960 billion yuan ($141 billion) by 2025. In the US, a team at the Radionavigation Laboratory at the University of Texas is using signals from Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink satellite. GPS, a navigation technology free from the geopolitics of Russia, China and Europe.

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Maps with high precision and accuracy will finally allow people to visually immerse themselves in distant places. Increasingly, analysts and academics are using satellite images and other geolocation 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 services have helped track troop movements in Ukraine. 3D mapping systems like DMP will eventually allow logistics firms to deliver packages through windows and walk through warehouses as society ages using 3D buildings and street maps. It also allows electric vehicles to be more efficient with accurate information on gradients, lanes and chargers. Today’s cartography is more powerful than decades ago.

So far, DMP has data on more than 30,000 kilometers (18,641 miles) of highways in Japan, nearly 640,000 kilometers in the United States, and more than 300,000 kilometers in Europe. In 2018, it acquired Ushr Inc., which counted GM Ventures and EnerTech Capital as investors at the time. Together, the two firms have secured $100 million to expand high-definition coverage in North America and support JOIN, one of the Japanese government funds. Meanwhile, last year, DMP and JOIN spent about $90 million to expand beyond North America and Japan. It has already signed up automakers and hopes to become a key tool for logistics and infrastructure providers. General Motors’ Cadillac models, including the CT6, XT6, and Hummer, known for their semi-autonomous systems, have installed these cards.

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As geopolitical tensions increase, mobility innovations increase, and people travel more, maps are essential. Most importantly, data accuracy – and increasingly its ownership – is critical and underpins further cartographic advances.

More from Bloomberg:

• US Can Protect Taiwan From China — At Great Cost: Tobin Harshaw

• Are you afraid of driverless cars? The answer is in China: Anjani Trivedi

• Tesla itself may be out of the running: Gary Smith

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

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

Anjani Trivedi is a Bloomberg opinion columnist. It covers industries including policies and firms in the machinery, automotive, electric vehicle and battery sectors in the Asia-Pacific region. Previously, he was a columnist for the Wall Street Journal’s Heard on the Street and the paper’s finance and markets correspondent. Prior to that, he was an investment banker in New York and London

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