Viewpoint: Maps are the unsung hero of modern tech
Matthew Beedham·Oct 31, 2023

Viewpoint: Maps are the unsung hero of modern tech

Matthew Beedham
Oct 31, 2023 · 4 min read
Maps are the unsung hero of modern tech | TomTom Newsroom

This is the first installment of Viewpoint, a new column that comes to you directly from a TomTom’er, or someone who we think has a viewpoint worth sharing. In this edition, our resident writer-at-large muses on how important maps are in modern tech.

Maps have been important for millennia. Humans have been recording details about the world in maps for centuries. We were making maps before we made books, even before we had recognizable languages.

Maps have helped us find food, navigate the oceans, discover the world, orient ourselves for religious worship, and encourage social and political change.

Today, we use maps to solve all kinds of problems and power all kinds of tech. It goes without saying, maps are incredibly useful — even if we don’t always see them hard at work, they’re there, in the background, doing the heavy lifting.

Digital maps help us understand the world and move through it at a speed that would have been unimaginable 100 years ago and is incomparable to paper maps.

How fast, how easy, and how far we can move through and understand the world is heavily related to the map’s detail, accuracy, and freshness. The better all these things, the better we can understand the world and the easier we can move through it.

Over the years digital maps have helped us develop tech that keeps the world turning: the car you drive, the package you ordered, the busy road you avoided, the coffee shop you visited before work, that date you went on and the photos you tag and post on social media — all these things rely on deeply embedded maps to work at their best.

Digital maps have helped us understand the world in new and novel ways. But there’s always going to be an opportunity to do more.

Rethinking how maps are made to make them even more powerful

When you see what digital maps are capable of, it’s easy to start dreaming of what could be possible. But imagine a map of sci-fi and fantasy, the kind of map that’s updated so quickly, and is so fresh and accurate, that magic seems like the most logical explanation for its inner workings.

While the idea might sound too good to be true, Corinne Vigreux, TomTom’s Co-founder and CMO tells me it’s exactly what the company is dreaming of and sees in its future.

“Years ago, we started dreaming of mapping the world in real time, we wanted to know what’s happening on the roads, in the world, as it happens. If we know that, we can give the best information to our customers,” Vigreux explains.

Indeed, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all had that information, as it’s happening — as bridges close, as roads flood, as speed limits change! This is exactly what TomTom is doing with its new map, TomTom Orbis Maps.

The tech that’s going into this map is out of this world, Corinne says. The map is built on mapmaking techniques honed over the past three decades, customer feedback, AI, machine learning, creative problem-solving, sensor derived observations, super sources, masses of open data, and a new, innovative industry standard.

“The map is hyper-detailed, incredibly fresh, accurate, and easier than ever to work with,” she adds. “And the new standard, is helping more organizations use, develop and build with maps, so that they can unlock untapped potential in their business and solidify maps as backbones of their tech.”

We’ve seen how maps have been dutifully doing their job helping fleets deliver payloads and packages, drivers navigate busy cities, town planners build better infrastructure to reduce emissions and more. TomTom and its partners know how important maps are, but most other people don’t stop to think about how maps are so important, how they are a backbone of modern tech.

Maybe it’s because maps have been around for so long, we think we’ve got everything we’re ever going to get out of them. Or maybe we expect the great new Thing to come from a totally new technology so maps never cross our minds.

With its new map, TomTom is laying the groundwork for a new kind of map, one that begins to border on science fiction, one that will help us move the more with unimaginable ease and speed. We should see this moment as a new opportunity to think about what’s possible with truly great maps and let our imagination run wild. Maps might be the hidden, secret sauce of many a modern technology now, but in the future that could change.

Maybe in 100 years we’ll look back and wonder how we ever managed with maps that aren’t real-time, and maybe maps won’t be an unsung hero anymore.

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