Last November, right after raising $164 million in funding, mapping company Mapbox announced the acquisition of a Minsk-based artificial intelligence mapping startup named Mapdata. The company also shared a number of initiatives for the future of the company. The most important are listed here.
First, Mapbox plans to open a new office in Minsk, a city that has been growing rapidly over the last few years as a tech hub. In fact, Mapbox has been working together already with engineers from Mapdata over the last 1.5 years. Apart from a new Minsk office, Mapbox will also use the funding for growing its team in China, focusing on transportation.
Second, Mapdata will help Mapbox build its next big product, an SDK that will let developers build augmented reality-based maps into their apps that will work by way of the front-facing cameras on people’s devices. Areas of interest will be deep learning, computer vision, and self-driving vehicles to complement Mapbox’ larger investments in autonomous driving and growing presence within the automotive sector. This new SDK will result in an expanded user base for Mapbox. Though the company already collects anonymized aggregated telemetry data from 200 million users, more users of the SDK means more data for Mapbox. This will place Mapbox ahead of competitors in the autonomous vehicle navigation market.
Third, Mapbox explicitly intends to innovate navigation apps by incorporating augmented reality technology. In recent blog post on the company’s website, CEO Eric Gundersen explained that instead of 2D maps, drivers should see “an augmented reality, with directions showing up in front of where they need to turn.” Instead of expansive hardware, he expects phones will be the heads-up displays of the future. At this point in time, it is not yet clear how this all will work out for Mapbox. What is interesting though, is how Mapbox is taking location technology one level further: mapping technology itself is no longer an endpoint, but a building block for other technology applied in automotive and gaming – two areas for Mapbox has created and continues to create SDK’s.
A recently published World Exploration demo shows how all of these technologies come together: A person using a mobile phone searches for a location nearby (Union Square Park in San Francisco). The app continues to project the route in 3D hologram-style and shows the walking on the display, using augmented reality technology and the mobile phone’s camera. Instead of consulting a map, you get to see the route presented on top of a physical 3D world view rather than a 2D mapped representation. What´s different is that you need to hold the phone upwards and keep doing so as you walk, as the camera functions as a separate “eye” to create the 3D view to project the AR routing information on. The visual results are quite impressive.