Some of the world’s leading tech brands are devoting themselves to what may seem like a basic task: mapping the physical world. “When we look at the most valuable and/or impactful technology companies in the world, they are working on mapping, reading, and understanding the physical world through sensors and computer vision,” Ryan Mullins, CEO and founder of Aglet, tells Wunderman Thompson Intelligence, pointing to tech giants such as Tesla, Instagram, Apple, and Snapchat.

Meta, Microsoft, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Dutch mapping company TomTom joined forces in December 2022 to develop interoperable open map data. Called the Overture Maps Foundation, the partnership aims to power new map products through openly available datasets that can be used and reused across applications and businesses.

A 3D maps of San Francisco, a digitally rendered blue sky behind the 3D city layout.
HERE Technologies

At CES 2023, BMW showcased the UniMap by Here Technologies automated mapping technology, which will allow users to generate their own digital maps and location tools.

Newer brands are also zeroing in on this burgeoning sector. Unveiled at CES 2023, Loovic’s wearable navigation device is designed to be worn around the neck so that users don’t have to look at their phone screen for directions, and can bolster spatial awareness for the visually impaired. Another innovation launched at CES 2023, Ashirase introduced a device that attaches to shoes and uses a combination of voice assistance (through a connected phone) and haptic indicators to direct the wearer.

Why the focus on maps? “The real revolution isn’t simply mapping but a new opportunity for UI and how we will interface with the internet,” Mullins explains. “Mappings and computer vision are the start of a new spatial internet where reality is a first-person experience of movement and participation in a world.”

He adds that he positions mapping “as the latest phase of internet evolution,” which is moving digital engagement “from pages and scrolling to places and movement.” The significance of Web3, then, is much bigger than just blockchain and crypto—it is in creating “a spatial, place-based internet. It’s not only pages and people but reality itself that is made machine-readable.”

The Intelligence take

Mapping physical reality is the first step towards a future where the digital and physical worlds are truly integrated—one where “reality is machine readable and algorithms are applied to project graphics, navigation, digital goods, directions, and other general data onto the physical world,” says Mullins. It also has interesting applications for future metaverse activations: imagine a wearable that could track a user’s movement through the physical world and replicate that for their avatar in the virtual world.

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