jump to navigation

The future of road maps April 13, 2010

Posted by bogdanovits in Uncategorized.
add a comment

The transformation of navigation systems into maps

Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary
Earth Sciences Doctorate School

Paradigm change in cartography
Cartographic paradigm is changing. A few years ago, when the computer-aided cartography started, nobody could imagine the future of the digital cartography. Many cartographers refused innovation and thought digital cartography had no future.
In a short time, in about fifteen years, it turned out that the cartography found its way with new technologies.
We remember the time when everybody thought, that computers are machines that assist in the production of the map, which would be always a paper based, analog product. On the other hand, as early as 1981 there was a project using a paper-based map with a gyroscope as navigation system. This foreshadowed the future needs of the accelerating way of life. At that time the role of computers’ in the map production wasn’t more than that of a pencil at drawing.
Later, with the spreading of the computing technologies, the expectations from the computer aided products exaggerated, and now common users expect mathematically impossible correctness and perfection from maps made with computers. But computers are made by man.
Computer aided technologies quickly found their way. Today, as we know, digital maps can be used in much more ways than it was thought before. The development of Web cartography and GIS helped the evolution of desktop digital cartography. But these technologies are mainly used indoor.
In the meantime, the growing number of cars and the rapid development of road network led to the necessity of a device, which would help people in the traffic. The spreading GPS usage helped in the invention of a device using a new type of cartographical product and this was the vehicle navigation system.
If we try to compare this digital approach to mapping products with the traditional mapping products, I would say, navigation systems are going to be the future road maps, city maps or tourist maps in one.
Lately the new navigation systems try to provide all the information requested from traditional maps. Digital technology gives much more possibilities in finding objects, points of interests (POI), landmarks or any self-marked geographical points. The technology is developing so fast, that the navigation systems are the first to integrate and connect more information systems, such as Web, GPS, mobile networks and other communication systems, in order to provide all sort of information to navigating user.
Dead end street for navigation systems
Mass produced devices for this purpose have serious disadvantages. The display screens are usually small and the visible information at a certain moment is limited.
In my opinion, the other problem of present navigation systems is that the maps used in the devices provide mainly a visual database, because the screens are so small that there isn’t enough space for cartographical designed information. On such a small display you can’t talk about spatial data’s, even if all the visualized information are georeferred, because the user can’t see any “neighborhood”, so can’t create a cognitive space from the information provided.
The presentation as a visual database would be no problem if the devices’ displays would be big enough to give the opportunity of seeing and analyzing a more extensive  geographical region.  Of course, in this case the user would be the “cartographer”, who would produce the useful information from the visual data’s.  As we can see this possibility leads to another problem, that is how can a user be a cartographer?
In short terms, the present form of navigation systems is working. But in the future we need other solutions, visualization of navigational information in the geographical space.
The solution: back to maps
The solution is now on its way. The new technologies like UMPC, Tablet PC, are still expensive, while other new innovations like the e-paper, two-three years ago an unimaginable device, are now in an exploding market development. These “screens”, I mark them like this, because these devices are too smart to be just screens, are going to give the solution for the visualization of data on the road.
If the future of the navigation system is going to expand in this way, the present usage of visual databases is going to change into cartographically designed information. This development leads back to what is the meaning of the map.
The navigation systems are like graphs, where the crossing points are the meeting points of roads and support additional information in some relational database. Basically, the main idea behind the function of the navigation systems is that every point has coordinates and some added information. To get along with a navigation system, we do not need any geographical knowledge because the device is turning back you the right direction, gives you “orders” what to do in order to get to your destination.
This is not a new invention. The ancient Romans had such databases’ called itineraries. These itineraries were basically descriptions of routes, which we would call today databases. Based on these itineraries the Romans tried to translate the information into a specific kind of map, which had only one purpose, to help the user navigating. In this way the user had a visualization of the cognitive map of the author. One famous transcription of such itineraries is the “Tabula Peutingeriana”. Studying it, I found, that its way of visualization is much like a graph, with straight lines and no real geographical reference, but giving correct distances from one settlement to the other, giving no “georeferred” coordinates.
The idea of modern navigation systems is not new, but information technologies give us more possibilities and the navigation systems provide various information in larger quantity to help their users. More than this, the users using Web2.0 technologies can adapt mapping and informational environment to their own needs and can share their information with others.