For an industry that makes its living identifying people and objects at a particular point in space, the geolocation industry — made up of applications providers, mapping companies and device manufacturers — has been very slow to make the move from two dimensions (2D) to three dimensions (3D). There is no excuse for this, as the ability to locate in 3D is fully tested and operable. What explains the holdup and what is being done to meet the growing need for 3D solutions?
Industry participants recognize the inevitable move towards 3D but give four main reasons for the delay:
- There is a lack of awareness about some of the robust, scalable solutions that are available for deployment today
- Businesses continue to make money from 2D applications
- The investment required for 3D applications is too high
- The eco-system for 3D applications is not fully developed
It seems that applications using location data simply rely on whatever information is made available through devices, mostly driven by GPS. There are more specific location technologies that offer fully tested, citywide vertical location solutions.
Despite years of deployments and generating effective use cases in two dimensions, the industry must do a better job of keeping up with technology advancements, especially those most likely to benefit from 3D location, and articles like this help!
But why is there a lag in the industry to move to a 3D world?
The explanation for the lag in moving to 3D is that the geolocation industry is still making money from 2D applications and, as the old saying goes, “If it’s not broken don’t fix it.”
While it’s true that many non-mission critical applications are getting along fine using 2D and will for the foreseeable future, the need for 3D is now. At a basic level, traffic directions don’t really require a 3D layout of the topography of your daily commute, although I could argue the traffic use case would benefit from knowing whether traffic on a map is on an overpass or ground level roadway. Certainly rideshare companies could benefit from communicating to their customers what level in a parking garage or airport they are on.
Other use cases are demanding more sophisticated 3D technology. One of the initial drivers for high-accuracy 3D (and indoor) location has been the needs of the public safety community. When lives are at stake, first responders require the most specific possible location accuracy in order to quickly find emergency callers and others needing help.
Beginning in April 2021, Emergency Communications Centers (911 call centers) will receive vertical location of emergency callers from wireless carriers. Computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems are exploring how best to incorporate this information and direct first responders to the 911 caller’s 3D or floor-level location.
The benefit is obvious, as emergency callers cannot always provide their exact location to the 911 operator, so technology fills the gap. Other industries ranging from mining to healthcare to enterprise security similarly are also demonstrating demand for 3D applications, and we are seeing moves to meet this demand, but there is a long way to go.
Another reason for the relatively slow development of 3D applications is the investment required. Even with a demonstrable demand across several industries, many players in the geospatial industry aren’t willing to invest funds to pioneer new solutions.
For every big player like Samsung or Apple, who have committed to developing state-of-the-art 3D sensors in their devices, there are many small players who must instead follow the market and adopt white-label solutions that don’t require as much upfront investment.
While it’s true that some 3D technologies can require significant investment and a committed strategy on the part of geospatial industry players, locating devices in 3D is possible today and there is a huge potential to serve new markets and improve business and consumer applications.
The 3D eco-system
As the market for commercial applications reaches a tipping point where 3D is not just a curiosity but is becoming a must-have for many consumers and businesses, the industry ecosystem must step up and deliver all parts of the solution. The mapping industry presents an interesting use case in this regard.
Digital maps have been in use for years, since the advent of the first fleet tracking devices in the 1980s, which led to the widespread use of consumer car tracking systems, and then onto Waze and other Smartphone-based mapping applications. Even these maps, which are huge advancements over their predecessors, do not fully reflect the 3D world we live in, and generally do not include accurate maps of the indoor environments in which we spend most of our time.
The next step in mapping is the digitization of entire buildings and other structures to create accurate 3D representations. However, even pioneers in this space aren’t fully utilizing 3D technology throughout their product roadmap, and, until there is a fully developed 3D ecosystem, it’s difficult for a company to go ahead alone.
As one leading company explained to us, without a consistent protocol for the use of 3D data and its conversion into 3D maps, they can’t justify converting their entire production from 2D, so they instead create 3D maps as one-offs where needed. They haven’t yet seen the critical mass in the industry required to go full 3D, and they are still working with, and making money from, 2D partners.
They are preparing for the time when the industry is fully 3D, which they believe will come soon.
A 3D world
Stepping back and taking a broader view of where we are, I think we are witnessing an industry in transition. With the deployment of city-wide, scalable location solutions that incorporate location data from a variety of sources, the initial building blocks are in place for the move to a fully 3D world.
Pioneering companies are going after growing demand (and in some cases creating that demand), even with limited resources, and seeding an ecosystem for others to build upon. I would in fact challenge the industry to produce a use case that would not benefit from improved location and 3D awareness — from the daily commute through complex freeway systems to shoppers navigating a multi-story mall to find a specific retailer, to protecting workers running large hotels, and more, the applications are endless and promise to multiply as users realize the benefits of 3D technology.
It is only a matter of time until the location industry will fully embrace the fact that the world indeed is not flat.