Geospatial World Forum: Three reasons why now's the right time for collaborative mapmaking
Matthew Beedham·May 09, 2023

Geospatial World Forum: Three reasons why now's the right time for collaborative mapmaking

Matthew Beedham
May 09, 2023 · 6 min read
Why now's the right time for collaborative mapmaking | TomTom Newsroom

Last week, TomTom’s VP of Product for Maps, Willem Strijbosch, took to the stage as part of a panel at Geospatial World Forum to discuss a new, open model for map data and how the Overture Maps Foundation will work to make it a reality. But why do we need a new model for mapmaking and geospatial data? Why do we need the Overture Foundation in the first place?

Geospatial World Forum took place in May 2023, Rotterdam, The Netherlands. It hosted prominent geospatial industry speakers from all over the world.

During the panel, at Geospatial World Forum, Strijbosch gave three reasons why the mapping and location tech world needs something like the Overture Maps Foundation. He explained the driving forces that encouraged the project’s founding members – Meta, Amazon, Microsoft and TomTom – to come together and lay the groundwork for a new data landscape in geospatial industries.

The panel also included Jan Erik Solem, who is Chair of the Overture Maps Foundation and Engineering director of Maps at Meta; Ingrid Vanden Berghe, the Administrator-General at the National Geospatial Institute of Belgium; and Nick Land, Business Development Manager at ESRI in the United Kingdom.The Geospatial World Forum panel: A new model for open map data through public-private partnership. Panelists, from left to right: Nick Land, ESRI UK; Jan Erik Solem, Chair Overture Maps Foundation and Engineering Director Maps at Meta; Willem Strijbosch, VP Product for Maps at TomTom; Ingrid Vanden Berghe, Administrator General at the National Geospatial Institute of Belgium; and Sanjay Kumar, CEO of Geospatial World, India.

Reason 1: Exponential growth in uses for location data

The first reason and driving force behind Overture, Strijbosch says, is the increasing demand for all sorts of location-data powered things, from the very niche to incredibly advanced.

There are obvious use cases like navigation, but location tech goes far beyond this today. Think about everything from fitness tracking apps to self-driving vehicles, from insurtech to social media — nowadays location and geospatial data is used in a vast but often underestimated array of use cases.

In terms of numbers, the location-based services industry is expected to grow 20% between 2022 and 2028, to be valued at over $66 billion.

Where it will go in the future and what the use cases for location data will be over the next decade are impossible to predict. But we can be sure that there are going to be a lot — many that we can’t even imagine.

What’s more, those use cases will help further fuel the future of mapmaking and location-based tech.“The best maps are the ones made with lots of users giving feedback used broadly across many use cases,” Jan Erik Solem said.

Reason 2: An explosion of location and geospatial data

Alongside the growth in uses for location data, we’ve also witnessed an explosion in geospatial data generation. Sensor-derived observations (SDOs), in particular, are creating a mountain of data that can be used to keep maps up to date. But we need a platform that can make the best use of it all.

“Creating knowledge starts with data, good data,” Nick Land said. “The aim of Overture is to improve the fundamental data.”

The world is detailed, dynamic and ever-changing. You can make a map using data from the past 24 hours, and within a day it’ll already be outdated. We need a constant stream of good data from lots of sources. SDOs are shaping up to be one of those sources.

SDOs are geospatial observations about the world gathered by some form of sensor: it could be an on-vehicle camera or radar. Couple this with GPS trace lines and floating car data, and you can start to develop very detailed knowledge about the state of the world.

More than 90% of new vehicles come equipped with these kinds of sensors, and that’s creating a massive wave of data suited to mapping or location tech — a wave that’s only getting bigger.

Willem Strijbosh, TomTom's VP Product for Maps, talking at the Geospatial World Forum panel.

Reason 3: A platform to use and share open data

During the panel, Strijbosch also spoke highly of the open mapping projects and communities, like OpenStreetMap, and drew attention to the importance of openness and collaboration in the future of mapping.

“The third reason is open data — which has slowly, steadily and surely improved a lot over the past couple of decades,” he said. “At TomTom, we are very supportive and impressed by how OpenStreetMap has grown over the past 20 years. It’s a core part of why Overture is happening. Because OpenStreetMap has reached a level that is so good.”

There are also things, like the European Open Data act and OSM, which are encouraging more open and transparent forums for data sharing. They’re also laying the groundwork for data sharing between private and public organizations, especially data of high public interest.

The issue with this is that organizations all store, manage and share their location data in different ways. When governments or private organizations use open data, they often must invest time and resources into standardizing and making the data refer to one base map.

What’s more, open data projects like OSM, while incredibly detailed and robust, aren’t always designed with commercial uses in mind. OSM has achieved what it has through a community editing model and open licensing. It means anyone can add to it and anyone can use its data, so long as they follow the guidelines. However, those guidelines don’t allow for automation or mass edits, things that commercial mapping and location-tech relies on.

During the talk, the panelists exchanged questions and solutions for how platforms like Overture will help nurture a growing and increasingly important geospatial industry.

OpenStreetMap and other open projects shouldn’t change what they’re doing. They’re great at what they do and are doing something tremendously valuable for the world. “To that we owe a great debt,” Strijbosch says. However, Overture adds a layer, another opportunity, to make open data more suitable for enterprise use, in coexistence with OSM. It also creates a platform for corporations to share data they want to share for the good of everyone else.

A changing landscape of the location data market

The complex world of geospatial data is long overdue for some simplification, or at least some standardization.

As Strijbosch says, there’s a world of new use cases that are demanding more location data, more accuracy and less latency. There are masses of sensor data and observations waiting to be fed into maps or processed into useful knowledge. And there’s a world of open communities and open map data that commercial enterprises struggle to contribute to and license from.

To make use of this data and bring all these things together, the world needs a new way of doing things, a new platform: enter the Overture Maps Foundation.

We need a different model of mapmaking, where there is an open common reference that everyone can add on to. Because there’s so much data, no one is going to do it alone as a single company.

Willem Strijbosch

VP Product for Maps, TomTom
The Overture Maps Foundation is doing a few key things: standardizing map data and building open data sets. The outcome of this will be interoperability and a common reference point for those building with the project's geospatial data.  The aim is to nurture collaboration, to create an environment where no location data is wasted because it’s stuck in one system that’s hard to work with. To create an ecosystem where everyone can benefit from a unified approach to location-based tech.So, what does the Overture Maps Foundation mean for the future of location-tech? After the panel, Strijbosch said:“Over the next decade or so, I see that the majority of maps displayed in apps and on the web will include Overture basemap data, most of the searches that require location data will refer to an Overture data and that the majority of cars, for navigation and ADAS, will include an Overture basemap. It’ll be the most useful and powerful foundation for any technology built on location data. It [Overture] will be the most useful and powerful foundation for any technology built on location data.”
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