Google has been sending GPS kits to India that enable locals to make more detailed maps of their area. After the data has been uploaded and then verified against other participant’s data it becomes a part of the map. The process is very reminiscent of what Open Street Map, the community map-building project, has been doing. The biggest difference is that the data (to my knowledge) is owned by Google and is not freely available back to the community like it is with OSM.
This news comes to us via a speech Michael T. Jones (CTO of Google Earth) gave at the Cambridge Conference. Dan Karran transcribed an audio recording in this post. Here’s the most relevant portion of the transcription (there’s more on Dan’s site):
This is Hyderabad, and if you see the dark areas, those correspond to roads in low detail. If you zoom in, you’ll see the roads, and if you expand a little bit, you’ll see both roads and labelled places… there’s graveyards, and some roads and so forth.
Now, everything you see here was created by people in Hyderabad. We have a pilot program running in India. We’ve done about 50 cities now, in their completeness, with driving directions and everything – completely done by having locals use some software we haven’t released publicly to draw their city on top of our photo imagery.
So we’re building a little care package we can send to countries like Togo, and say if you want to have maps of your country, you may not have a national mapping agency of any merit, but if you have some inspired amateurs, you can map out your country. FIll out all the details and then you can do routing and navigation just like in the big countries.
It is interesting to see the continuing inclusion of user-generated content in mapping data. Google made it clear that it was going to pursue this method of getting data very seriously when they began building out Google Earth with user contributed 3D models (Radar post). But Google certainly isn’t the only one taking this approach. GPS manufacturer Tomtom just bought data-provider Tele Atlas, a move that will create millions of map contributors out of its users (Radar post). As-yet-to-be-launched startup Everyscape will be enlisting GPS-empowered photographers to document towns (Radar post). I’ll bet Microsoft is also experimenting with large-scale user contributions and we just aren’t aware of it yet.
How long till we are all contributing to some mapping database every time we go for coffee?