Is the Future Open?

Given the amazing success of OpenStreetMap in creating a free map of the world, you’d think it is a foregone conclusion that “open” is the future of mapping. Yet, the vast majority of the emerging augmented reality (AR) and autonomy maps are proprietary. In the AR space the proprietary aspect is further compounded by the dominance of massively vertically integrated players like Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Snap and Niantic. With the exception of Facebook’s acquisition/integration of Mapillary the competing AR maps are all built on proprietary data. The question is will the future stay proprietary or will we see a similar trajectory to 2D maps where “open” wins the day?

Haven’t We Been Here Before

Knowledge Concentration

The “gang of six” not only have the concentration of compute resources, but also hundreds of engineers to solve the challenging photogrammetry, localization, devops and myriad other technical challenges that arise in the creation of 3D worlds. Compute and talent both have considerable overhead costs associated with them, which make creating an open alternative challenging.

Vertical Integration

“The only prevailing counter force that blows in favor of the web is that the real world is really big and really messy,” he said. “Even a $2 trillion market cap company (Apple) isn’t big enough to manage everything that’s going on in the real world. We’re going to need some way for this mess to be constantly evolving and adapting, and the web is the way to do that. So I’m kind of curious to see how those two forces play out when it comes to AR.”

In Matt’s assessment my bias reads “the web” as open crowdsourcing outside of the walled gardens provided the big AR providers. While I feel certain that “crowdsourcing” will definitely play a key role; whether that is open or closed remains to be seen. Today I’d lean towards that crowdsourcing being proprietary. Niantic is already using their Ingress users to crowdsource the scanning of “points of interest” (POIs) for Pokemon Go. Facebook, Snap, Apple and Google all have huge communities of users collecting GPS tagged photos and videos — the raw photogrammetry ingredients for creating 3D worlds. They all have the components for leveraging their own proprietary crowds to make 3D worlds. So, how can a complimentary “open” community flourish?

Building an Open Future

We think a very similar opportunity is waiting for the next generation of maps. A shared 3D world we craft and curate together. Potentially an even bigger community of gamers, photographers, videographers, VFX-ers and mappers. We don’t think the current proprietary approaches are bad — quite the opposite. They are a logical path to follow and there aren’t fully baked alternatives. That said if the community emerges there is a wonderful opportunity to create another symbiotic relationship that further evolves the structure for collaborative mapping. Our team still has work to do, but hope to add contributions to the cause this Fall. Looking forward to the feedback and seeing new geographies mapped in 3D.



We are building a multi-source 3D map of the globe one image at a time.

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We are building a multi-source 3D map of the globe one image at a time.