Living in the Future with GPS

November 19th, 2009 by Paul Sobczak


Last week Cabinet magazine released PDF’s of their archives to subscribers (you can also purchase individual ones) and I took advantage starting with the first issue. I was intrigued by an article titled: The encryption wars , An interview with Eben Moglen. Written in 2000, besides touching on the topic of  cartography, of which I am fond, it predicts, that people would one day be walking around with GPS enabled devices and great (crowd sourced) maps will come from it.

Do you think ten years from now we’ll see
maps published showing the version of the
United States that’s being released now,
with these abrupt transitions from crystal
clarity to fog?

Mapmaking is a very interesting subject in
general, because when everybody in the
country is carrying GPS equipment, one
kind of mapmaking that will be absolutely
possible consists of the whole structure of
what we think of as free data. That is to say,
people voluntarily walking around with GPSequipped
cell phones donating the stream
of their information to a mapping database
which will be a very accurate map of everywhere
all the time.
Have you heard of any project like this

I’m not aware of any. But you can see that
it will happen. Data streams will exist, and
there will be a kind of decentralized geographic
information service structure. But
like a lot of free-software activity, this will
self-organize as people perceive the need
or the possibility. It won’t organize ahead
of that perception. In our movement, we
get accustomed to the idea that what people
think is neat or needed, they’ll do. As the
net makes various kinds of collaborations
possible that have never been possible
before, people will do things collaboratively
in new ways. Part of what I’m trying to do
myself is to understand the political
economy of a world full of that kind of
content sharing.

JTbarclay wrote on the forum the other day, about just that, user created maps enabled by GPS.

Now I’m using Waze and loving it. The biggest difference is that waze is a full on crowd sourced navigation app with the ability to report road hazards, traffic, and speed traps.

Crowd sourced because the whole map is generated by people driving around. It started out in Israel where a couple hundred thousand users completely mapped out the entire countries roads just by doing their daily driving. However, the US version started with the census bureau’s free maps as a base.

As you drive around your car become pacman and you gobble up dots on unconfirmed roads. Adding new roads is pretty easy. The online editing map is pretty cool. I just drove through a new neighbor hood near my house, and then went online and added the roads on top of the route I drove. After about a week it showed up on my phone and I drove over it again to eat the “cookie points” and confirmed the road was there.

The navigation part is still pretty weak, but it learns fast. I wouldn’t rely on it to get me somewhere I’d never been, but the developers even say it’s meant to assist you in driving a route you regularly drive such as your commute to work. It’s really good at showing heavy traffic, and alerting you to it. When I’ve gotten stuck, it automatically notices I’m going slower than the speed limit and updates the map. It’s a shame that more people aren’t using it.

Oh, and it’s FREE, for iphone, android, and windows phones.

Pretty neat if you ask me, next crowd sourced augmented reality.

I’m not sure if those mis-information maps have ever been released and analyzed, does anybody know?


In the same issue someone also talks about Buffon’s Needle Problem which is worth reading about.


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