Exploring Local
Mike Dobson of TeleMapics on Local Search and All Things Geospatial

Addresses, Technology and the Map Wars

May 15th, 2017 by admin

In my daily reading it is rare that I do not discover several new articles about Autonomous Vehicles (AV/), Highly Automated Vehicles (HAV) and who is winning the battle for market domination. While I find the competition fascinating, I, also, find myself wondering more and more about the state of infrastructure that may be necessary to support these ventures.

Because of my background and interest, the considerations often lead me to pondering how spatial databases will inform the Operational Design Domains within this brave new world. My belief is that we are early in the development of the technologies that will help move us to an extensive rollout of AVs, but other pundits indicate that fleets of these vehicles will be deployed and fully operational in various markets with a three to five year range. I agree that such as rollout could happen, but have found myself repeatedly considering how the limitations of today’s spatial databases might impede both the geographical footprint and successful implementation of this initiative.

While the identities of the presumed major suppliers of map/spatial databases intended to support the requirements of AVs are well known, it seems as if new players are jumping into the game with great haste. For example, Reuters recently reported that “Mobileye sees income from maps before self-driving cars launch.” While Mobile eye has shown that it has top-notch engineers, I am not sure that their team or the management of Intel their new owner understand the complexities of image-based crowdsourcing on data currentness, coverage and comprehensiveness, specifically as it applies to the creation and maintenance of spatial databases designed to be used to help manage the operation of AV/HAV.

When reading articles on how modern techniques, such as deep learning, neural nets and other AI-related research are being applied to the building of the attributes in spatial databases I, often, wonder how effective these developments will be in terms of collecting and assessing common geographic attributes, especially those that cannot be sensed, or imaged from the roadways that limit the exploration of vehicles. While it is easy to conceptualize a spatial database as a map showing the precise geometry of a transportation network, building a spatial database that reflects the total spatial environment within which an AV/HAV must be controlled as it operates is an extremely difficult task. Consider the simple example of addresses and addressing systems. Using the United States as an example we note that the principal address currently used to direct navigation systems has been the mailing or postal address. For decades the navigation industry been trying to use mailing addresses as a form of location-address in mapping and navigation systems, often with unfortunate results.

Of the approximately 150 million mail delivery points (addresses) in the U.S, nearly 40 million are rural deliveries and the majority of these have mail delivered to a box in a row of mailboxes not co-located with the residences involved. Imaging the mailbox likely would reveal little information about the location-address of recipient’s home or business. Postal address for businesses nestled inside a building are another headache for imaging and one whose error factor increases based on the volume and geometry of the building, as well as the number and location of entrances, courtyards and internal island-buildings.

Another interesting addressing problem is how the postal address, once correctly associated with a property, is converted to and assigned to a specific geographic location. Some prefer to linearly interpolate mailing address location based on address ranges associated with a block face, which often results In a vague approximation of the location. Another approach uses the centroid of the property parcel linked to the address to identify its location. An alternative method is to geocode the center of the rooftop of the selected main building using an rectified, ortho-image of the relevant property. Another method geocodes the address of the property to the street centerline, generally perpendicular to the building. In other words, the location of an address seems to be a matter of perspective gated by the amount and types of data describing the location available to the decision maker. While each type of process has benefits for specific applications (e.g. parcels and real estate, street center lines for navigation) each method potentially creates a unique location address for the same element.

Of equal importance, in today’s world, there is a need for numerous location addresses to represent various aspects of an individual property (e.g. driveway, mail box, parking spaces, drone delivery, E911 access). And “No” What3Words is not the solution. How to solve this issue seems tp be generating some interesting work and complex patents.

The reason for this brief digression on the creation of location addresses is that if you map the same address using a variety of data sources you will find its locations varies, sometimes by major distances. Of course, other mapping transgressions such as the use of inappropriate reference ellipsoids/systems also contribute to the incorrect location of the same coordinate across the map space. Ouch, those method errors really mount up – as does confounding.

Addresses are used in navigation for both farcasting and nearcasting. When a driver starts a journey and desires to create a route to a destination (farcasting) a spatial database containing the specifics of the distant destination must exist in order for the system to look ahead (farther than the sensing system can “see”) and calculate a path to that location. The nearcasting task is concerned with the details of “What’s around me?” It is here that the terms “coverage” and “comprehensiveness,” as applied to spatial databases, raise their ugly heads. If the map base does not include the required specific details on the destination or my locale (coverage) or it includes the area but does not include data on the desired level of detail (comprehensiveness) then the system cannot navigate the user with any certainty. I suspect that Mobileye will soon become familiar with these potential thorns of map coverage.

If Mobileye (and companies like them) intend to build map coverages based on vehicular crowdsourcing (floating car data) they will need to have some idea of what data elements and coverages can be created by the vehicles equipped with their sensing systems. In addition, they will need to understand what geographies will likely not be recorded by their sensors, due to spatially limited deployment. Within the operational geographies the Company will need to know what spatial data elements can be reliably sensed, as well as the data that their sensors might be completely unable to capture. Once this is done, they can focus on where they might find alternative sources for the data unavailable to them from their platform. If this is the case, the same navigation problems that we have today that result from mixing uncontrolled data sources will continue in the future, regardless of the sophistication of the sensors, support software and further processing.

It appears that Mobileye is planning on supplying the data they collect to existing mapping companies, such as HERE. It may be that this “cooperation” is a sign that Mobileye has considered the mapping problem and decided that it does not want to try and provide a comprehensive spatial database for AV/HAV purposes. Mobileye may be surprised on how little value the navigation industry will assign the generation/transfer of these data. (As an aside, I purposefully used the term “these” and not “their” in the previous sentence.)

On the other hand, one would assume that in respect to problems such as addresses and addressing existing mapping companies should have significant advantages over most of the newcomers to the mapping arena. The existing companies have been forced to learn what data compilation really means in terms of building spatial data base and it is likely that the newer companies have not yet learned all of the difficulties involved in compiling and maintaining spatial databases. Building spatial databases over a number of years usually sensitizes one to development issues that are unique to spatial data sets, such as data that are difficult to classify, map, augment, and update. Unfortunately, some of the existing mapping companies seem have not learned the lessons that might have given them a strategic lead in the future map wars.


I think that the future is amazingly bright for those interested in mapping and that we are witnessing the dawn of a new era in mapping research. Although there are numerous, difficult problems facing those who want to create a viable, market-leading, map (spatial) database for AV/HAV use, it will happen. Of course, there is a potential “fly” in the ointment. In a future where vehicles are spatially aware, it seems to me that all vehicles will need to rely on the same, unified spatial database. Vehicles communicating with each other that rely on different spatial databases will likely be incompatible and unsafe due to contradictory instructions based on differing views of geography. Remember, maps are representations of reality – not reality itself. This is my way of agreeing with Lewis Carroll that we must eventually, in terms of AV/HAV, use the world as its own “map.” What fun that will be – and what an interesting challenge.

Or, as Tolkien might have put it
“One Map to Rule them all,
One Map to Find them
One Map to Bring them all and in Geography Bind them.”

Until next time.

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Posted in Authority and mapping, autonomous vehicles, crowdsourced map data, Data Sources, Geo-patents, HERE Maps, map compilation, map updating, Mapping, multiple representations of spatial data, spatial databases for autonomous vehicles, User Generated Content, Volunteered Geographic Information

One Response

  1. Patrick McDevitt

    Hi Dr. Mike,

    Thought-provoking column, as always. I wonder a couple of things:

    Virtually all businesses ‘want’ to be found – they want customers, vendors and suppliers to accurately locate them. How do we harness this? Most consumers ‘want’ to be found by ambulances and the UPS driver (maybe they don’t want to be found by door-to-door salespeople). How do we harness this?

    Perhaps some farcasting will include the option of routing to an image? When I input an address I get the option to scroll through street view or some other image catalog?

    What role(s) will beacons play in the future? Maybe my mailbox will have a beacon readable by UPS but not by junk mail providers? Maybe that beacon will tie into the navigation database? Yes, we then get into who owns the address (me? The town? USPS?).

    It’s an interesting and ultimately profitable problem to solve if done well.

    Hi, Patrick:

    Thanks for you comment.

    You raise a number of interesting questions that are quite timely.

    Business listings continue to be a major headache for mapping. While acquiring the address is a problem, maintaining it can be more difficult since SMBs go out of business with amazing frequency and notify no one when this happens (often for legal reasons). UPS and FEDex are solving the problem for themselves as drivers record the location of all door fronts they visit.

    While most business owners want traffic, not all of them have the wherewithal or time to figure out how to create and manage an online listing. I know that sounds lame, but I have interviewed owners and this is a common response. Conversely, while they would like someone to manage the process for them, they are unsure that the current cost of such services is worthwhile.

    Not all consumers want their residence mapped, but advanced E911 initiatives are making great progress in mapping the location of rural addresses in order to provide emergency services.

    I agree that addressing is a potential business opportunity and an important need. However, this is not a new problem and many companies seem to have stumbled when trying to resolve the addressing issue.

    Dr. Mike