The future of maps will be 3D!

Nokia (the cellphone company) and its mapping division, Navteq, are developing a rival to Google’s Street View.  What is interesting, from both a technology and marketing perspective, is that Navteq’s version promises full three-dimensional virtual models as opposed to the Google 2D version of models.

Google’s Street View is a collection of 2D panoramic photos snapped on many of the world’s streets (you may recall the furor that arose in many locations when the Google Street View cars rolled past).  The photos were then stitched together, but navigating through Google Street View means hopping between 2D panoramas a few meters apart.  Nokia, by contrast, will offer full 3D rendering of buildings based on a street-level version of laser radar or lidar.  The 3D models will be built with a lidar data set called Journey View to be collected by a fleet of Navteq street-imaging cars (one wonders if these cars will also be attacked by locals).  Software that accurately pins panoramic photographs onto these models will then decorate the 3D cityscape.  Users will be able to move smoothly through the 3D models almost as if they were in a photorealistic driving game.

From a marketing perspective, a 3D version of Street View for consumers could help drive some next-generation apps – perhaps replacing current efforts at mobile wikis, which require people to use the camera on their smart phone.  A 3D version could help people identify their location and their destination.  Creating unique dimensional signage or facades would generate more impact than a 2D version.  Digital signage would be replaced by cutouts and shaped signage – a flashback to olden days when, for example, a shoe store had a big cut out of a shoe to identify location.

Humans are pattern recognition animals – they gravitate towards identifiable landmarks and associate scale with distance – more so than any other creature.  What that means is that it pays to have the tallest building, because people use that as a reference point for everything else.  2D versions of maps, for example, negate this, which drives people to rely on signage and address, more than visual cues.

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