Panamaps: A Multi-Layered Map

A map is valuable for its ability to convey information. Too much and its illeligible; too little and the map isn’t very useful. Layers are used by cartographers to make maps more usable. Layers are easy to turn on and off on digital maps, but it’s difficult to have multiple ones on a physical map. The recently-released Panamaps are able to have three layers on a single map. You can get Panamaps for Chicago and New York City. The layers include neighborhoods, transit and streets.

The maps are very cool and are very solid feeling. As you tilt the map you see a different layer. At certain angles you can see two layers at once. The technology behind the layers is fairly advanced as they explain:

1. Artwork for three views of Manhattan is created and optimized for visual performance. This requires a detailed understanding of typeface, line orientation, color contrast and a host of additional subtle but significant design concerns.


2. The three Images are interlaced by alternating horizontal strips from each. The resulting compound image is calibrated to a specially designed polymer lens substrate. Lenses contain between 60 to 200 micro-lenses per inch, depending on the desired outcome. This is mounted to a backing, die cut and packaged.


3. The underlying technology essentially fools the human eye. By rotating the map, the angle of viewing is changed and one of the resulting three layers can be viewed.

Panamaps are produced by Urban Mapping, a geo-data company known for its neighborhood and transit data (Radar post). The company sent me a map of each city. I will definitely be taking my Panamap with me around Manhattan when I am there for Web 2.0 Expo. Neighborhoods, streets, and transit are the most sensible layers for a city map, but what would really get me excited would be the ability to create Panamaps for any set of layers – perhaps your favorite Platial or Google MyMap of a city. Ian White, the CEO, didn’t think the economics of this idea would work, but I think that there could be a real market for this.

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  • Isn’t this just an argument for the ultimate superiority of digital maps? Physical maps only have convenience and high resolution to offer, something that digital displays will eventually achieve. At that point, digital maps with their endless display possibilities will surely be the definitive maps for everyday use.

  • ian

    my god–think about the techno-elitism/centrism of that comment for a moment…you make it sound like convenience is overrated. And the promise of OLEDs, E-ink and other ‘neo-paper’ technologies are great, but i don’t know if that means we should repurpose our lives today on hope for tomorrow. it’s going to take a generational shift for people to seriously embrace new modes of behavior. the kindle is great, but adoption is (obviously) early. TV, mobile phones, PCs…all these technologies take years or more reach the mainstream. it’s easy for any of us to claim that print as a medium is ‘over,’ but the fact is it will endure for quite some time.

    [Ed. I get a bit tired of the techno-prognostications that fall like raindrops in silicon valley. sometimes thinking about the present has merit, too.]

  • Ian – I’ve used maps with overlays (those old cellophane types in books) since forever. They are very limited. As for overrating convenience, well the only map I consistently used and kept with me when I was younger was the A-Z London Map. But on my last trip to London, the iPhone was adequate (slow) but it had the advantage of finding my location.

    You may argue this is techno-elitism, but I see this as natural as moving from slide rules to calculators to pocket computers.

    The digital world is always going to offer more information at a higher density than physical maps, and we are already seeing far more useful, customized overlays appearing. The trend in usefulness has already migrated in that direction and I don’t see anything stopping that trend.

  • ian

    agreed, (in theory), but to date the digital map is not ubiquitous. this may (or hopefully, will) be the case over time, but for the foreseeable future, print is where it’s at. and i’m talking broad markets-mainstream consumers, not us (i’m among the techno-elite as well!). and a trend is two data points ;)

  • Ian, I think what will make the big move to digital maps is some feature that has high utility for the user, but cannot be done for the general audience. This might include the Google business overlays (I use the Starbucks/coffee one constantly), person locators (using cellphone GPS) – a feature I could have really used in London last week coordinating a meeting, or data overlays that are relevant to some aspect of my work or life. These highly specific overlays (mashups) cannot be encompassed by mass market printed maps and represent their ultimate demise, although before then, we will have soft, flexible, high rez displays that will be able to mimic printed maps of today, but with infinitely more usefulness. But, as you say, that is still a few years away…

  • Ronald B. White

    Your discussion on “layered maps” is the three dimension map system I had built in July of 1977 which became world famous to secret site selection teams but was never photographed. Once, the chair of Daiwa House Industry of Japan and his aide tried to get into my map room with their cameras. Later, this same man called me from Tokyo to ask if he could send his real estate experts to see my map system. A year later, the Chair of Daiwa House invited me to the grand opening of the Daiwa House of Dallas. When being shown their new offices, one room was dark. When the lights were turned on, I saw all of the maps from my three dimension map room–photographic memory. The only person who wanted me to build that map room for him was Roger Staubach who had seen the map room on two previous occasions. Roger would not return my current calls because I did not built for him my map room having committed to start a real estate development company. Have started our web page at http:headquartersrelocationcenters. Invite questions because my team is restoring the Dallas headquarters relocation program using GIS.