Creating the ultimate smart map with a new map data initiative launched by Linux Foundation

Think about it: maps are fundamental to human evolution, exploration, and innovation.

Ever since the first maps were drawn in the 5th and 6th centuries BCE, we’ve used them to guide us across land, ocean, space (and one day perhaps even the Earth’s interior ).

And today, map data is large and vast; the modern world depends on it not only for navigation, but also for local search, routing, logistics, data visualization and other emerging innovations, including autonomous driving.

Yet finding and maintaining up-to-date, high-quality, fine-grained map data from often disparate sources is expensive, difficult, and time-consuming. Data can be inconsistent, vulnerable to error, and based on unique conventions and vocabularies (making it difficult to combine). And often, existing open map data lacks the solid foundation on which new products and services can be built.

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To help usher in the next era of map building – especially with the dawn of the metaversethe rise of augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) and the many other platforms and worlds not yet conceived — the Linux Foundation today announced the creation of the Overture Maps Foundation.

Funded by Amazon Web Services (AWS), Meta, Microsoft and TomTom, the effort will develop interoperable map data on an open source methodology. It will be open to all communities with a common interest in creating open map data and strengthening map services around the world.

“We’re at a place where maps and map data can be built together by a community — and it needs to be,” Mike Dolan, SVP and GM of Projects at the Linux Foundation, told VentureBeat. “No company can really do everything. We must work together.

Democratizing map data for the future

The goal of the Overture Maps Foundation is to create reliable, easy-to-use, and interoperable open map data, according to the Linux Foundation. Members will combine resources to create complete, accurate and up-to-date data as the physical world changes.

The project aims to complement existing open geospatial data and integrate with existing open map data from projects such as OpenStreetMap and city planning departments, as well as new map data provided by members and built using computer vision and AI/ML techniques.

Overture will provide:

  • Collaborative map creation: Data will be integrated from multiple sources, including Overture members, civic organizations, and open data sources.
  • Global Entity Repository: Overture will simplify interoperability with a system that links entities from different datasets to the same entities in the real world.
  • Quality assurance process: Data will be validated for map errors, breakage and vandalism to ensure map data can be used in production systems.
  • Structured Data Schema: Overture will define and promote the adoption of a common, structured and documented data schema to create an easy-to-use map data ecosystem.

“There is a demand for data of exceptional quality, data that is updated very regularly,” Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, told VentureBeat. “By collaborating on that, we will be able to provide that.”

However, he stressed, “Overture will not be a mapping service. You’re not going to log in and ask how to get from point A to point B.

Dolan, for his part, noted that the project follows the growing trend of “democratizing data” so that it can be updated, modified and reused.

“It’s the continued evolution we’ve seen in software source code sharing,” he said, along with the rise of open standards and participatory models. “It’s open to everyone, and everyone can contribute back.”

A giant steering wheel of participants

As Dolan pointed out, industry leaders have been having conversations about the complexities of mapping since around 2016.

“It’s just incredibly hard to build,” he said, “and it only gets harder.”

Thousands of engineers who have spent decades working on mapping have struggled to collect and maintain accurate quality data, he said.

“Without reliable, modern maps, they simply can’t build other products, services, and capabilities,” Dolan said.

The availability of open map data can enable developers and map makers to build next-generation location-based apps, Zemlin said. Then there are the societal benefits: rich map data can support research entities and government agencies such as the US Geological Survey.

“Building high-fidelity mapping requires a giant flywheel of participants consuming and delivering accurate, high-fidelity data,” he said. “That’s the power of what we do.”

Endless possibilities with open map data

Overture plans to release its first datasets in the first half of 2023. Initially, this release will include core layers such as buildings, roads, and administrative information, according to Zemlin. The project will then steadily improve the coverage, resolution and accuracy of existing data, as well as introducing new layers such as geographies, administrative boundaries, border routing and eventually 3D building data.

And now what?

It’s really a matter of where the community decides to take it, Dolan said. The open community can address features, functions, and capabilities that haven’t even been considered or anticipated yet.

“Where is it going? I’m not entirely sure,” Dolan said. “We have a very good starting point. I think it can only get better. These open data projects are not going backwards.

And, the uses and benefits of the project for the evolving metaverse are dramatic, said Jan Erik Solem, director of map engineering at Meta. In the not-too-distant future, mapping services will power augmented reality applications that merge the digital and physical worlds to deliver immersive social, gaming, education, and productivity experiences.

“Immersive experiences, which understand and blend into your physical surroundings, are essential for the embodied internet of the future,” Solem said. “By providing interoperable open map data, Overture provides the foundation for an open metaverse built by creators, developers, and businesses.”

Mike Harrell, vice president of engineering for TomTom’s new mapping platform, described the implications of the project in no small terms: “Overture’s open and interoperable basemap is fundamental to bringing the world together to create the smartest map on the planet.”

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