RoadRunner: Instant Maps
Steve Coast
Jan 14, 2022
Maps

RoadRunner: Instant Maps

Steve Coast
Vice President of Community
Jan 14, 20222 min read
RoadRunner: Instant Maps
I’d like to show you something we’ve been working on for some time: RoadRunner.
This is the third in a series, here are the first and second posts.

Today, digital maps take a vast amount of work to produce and maintain. Fundamentally this is because the model almost all digital maps share is that of a vast database – an artifact – that must be maintained, ultimately, by human beings. It’s a little like spinning a plate on a stick; it requires continual work to keep the plate spinning and balanced so that it doesn’t fall off. A modern map is like billions of little spinning plates that all have to balance correctly.
RoadRunner in New York City
RoadRunner in New York City.



What if there was a different way to do it?


What if we could build a process where you press a button and make a map instead? This process could take in huge amounts of the latest data and process it into a map. Then tomorrow, it could do it again. By throwing away yesterday's automatically created map, we no longer need the vast maintenance infrastructure and can just create a fresh new map every day. We would sidestep a large amount of conflation problems (merging maps) if we were clever.

The data that makes the map could come from GPS, cameras on cars, other maps, satellite imagery and so on. In fact, these could all be variables that go into map creation itself: I might want to push a button and make a map using satellite and cameras. You might want to press a button and make one using GPS and other maps.

This is exactly what we’ve done with RoadRunner, an early look at what automatic map making could look like.
RoadRunner in Denver, Colorado.
RoadRunner in Denver, Colorado.


RoadRunner uses vast amounts of GPS trace data to completely automatically make a road network. It automatically finds one-way streets and road classes too (motorway, major road, minor road and so on). Today, RoadRunner also pulls in street names from OpenStreetMap. You can look around at the map here and also download a PBF of the generated data.

RoadRunner is by no means perfect. It’s a glimpse at what is possible, and we’d love to hear what you could build with it. Please get in touch with us here.
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