Mapping the World, One Centimeter At a Time


From steles to atlases, cartographic innovations have long been an underappreciated pillar of geopolitics and everyday life. In addition to wayfinding, the use of maps was fundamental to World War II. Propaganda maps were used to influence public opinion and mobilize the military. Instagrammers and TikTokers use them to get to the hottest restaurants. In their latest reincarnation, high-resolution maps will transform the future of navigation, logistics, and spatial data collection.

At the forefront is little-known Japanese startup Dynamic Map Platform Co., or DMP for short. Backed by government support funds, the company (1) has a multi-billion dollar mandate to support next-generation industries, and its shareholders include large domestic conglomerates such as Toyota Motor Corporation.

DMP is creating and building a set of high-definition 3D maps that are more accurate than the standard maps we know: maps on the iPhone, apps like Waze, and car navigation systems that use GPS. Its data could also be used for precise drone flights.

Data collection is key. Companies such as Intel Corp.’s Mobileye rely on crowdsourced information on participating manufacturers’ cars (they collect the information automatically and anonymously). The Japanese company’s strategy allows for ownership and high precision. The data is precise – distances and positions are within centimeters. Other map systems routed in the world geodetic system tend to be approximate and rely heavily on sensors. It’s very irritating when Google Maps gets thrown around in dense areas, or when it sends you in various directions and doesn’t recognize U-turns.

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In addition, obtaining data from others (such as car manufacturers) may encounter privacy and storage issues. Alternatively, details from third parties become unavailable. Self-generated information is often more secure.

Creating these maps is a massive technical endeavor. Using the Global Navigation Satellite System, or GNSS, the exact location can be determined. Vehicles equipped with sensors and cameras then collect and generate point cloud data—or a set of points, each of which has a set of Cartesian coordinates (think X and Y axes). A map system brings all of this together and consolidates the information. It collects everything, including signs drawn on roads, structures, curbs, lane junctions and edges, even before drivers reach their destination.

This may seem like too much deep tech and a lot of unnecessary information, but maps and data collection are increasingly central to navigation and safety tech. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, one of the biggest tech events on the calendar, software-centric cars and self-driving systems are all the rage. They fueled the boom in automotive technology and smart cars. These maps are integrated into the drone, windshield and cockpit, taking passengers seamlessly to their destination. In China, the 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 Radio Navigation Laboratory at the University of Texas is using signals from Elon Musk’s SpaceX’s Starlink satellites to create a navigation technology that is immune to GPS, Russian, Chinese and European geopolitics.

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High-definition, accurate maps will eventually make people visually immersive. A growing number of analysts and academics are using reams of satellite imagery 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 has helped track troop movements in Ukraine. As society ages, 3D mapping systems like DMP will eventually allow logistics companies to deliver packages through windows, use 3D building and street maps, and navigate warehouses. It will also make EVs more efficient with precise information about grades, lanes and chargers. Cartography is more powerful today than it was decades ago.

To date, DMP has data on more than 30,000 kilometers (18,641 miles) of highways and highways 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 counted GM Ventures and EnerTech Capital as investors at the time. The two companies, together with JOIN, one of the Japanese government funds, are contributing $100 million to expand HD coverage in North America. Meanwhile, last year, DMP and JOIN invested about $90 million in expanding beyond North America and Japan. It has already signed up automakers and hopes to become a key tool for logistics and infrastructure providers.GM’s Cadillac models, including the CT6, XT6 and Hummer, known for their semi-autonomous driving systems, have the maps installed

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With geopolitical tensions rising, mobile innovations on the rise, and people traveling more, maps have become almost essential. Crucially, data precision—and increasingly data ownership—will matter and underpin further advances in cartography.

More views from Bloomberg:

• US can defend Taiwan from China – at great cost: Tobin Harshaw

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

• Tesla may push itself out: Gary Smith

(1) Japan Transportation and Urban Development Overseas Infrastructure Investment Corporation (JOIN) and Japan Innovation Network Corporation (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. She covers sectors such as policy and companies in the machinery, automotive, electric vehicle and battery industries in the Asia-Pacific region. Previously, she was a columnist and financial and markets reporter for The Wall Street Journal.Before that, she was an investment banker in New York and London

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