Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab, covering transportation and technology. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
A biweekly tour of the ever-expanding cartographic landscape.
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Orient yourself: When the streets belong to robots
This week, Ford announced plans to dispatch self-driving vehicles to deliver Domino’s and Postmates across Miami-Dade County. I covered the news, but didn’t delve too deeply into something Mayor Carlos A. Giménez said when I asked him why he was keen on the inviting in the new technology.
“Ford is going to map all of Miami-Dade County,” he said. “So when AVs become a reality, fully, then we’ll be one of the first communities to get them.”
Right now, most self-driving vehicles rely on maps—ultra-precise, three-dimensional renderings of the road environment, capable of constant updates drawn from the car’s sensor system. There is no single, ideal approach for creating such a map, as both the Financial Times and Bloomberg reported last week. So carmakers like Ford, General Motors, and Tesla are vying with tech giants like Alphabet, Apple, and Uber to build it. The high cost of 3-D mapping is likely to mean just a couple of these players (helped by smaller tech companies they’ve invested in) will eventually dominate.
Less obvious is how cities will benefit. A high-definition map of Miami could certainly help Ford sooner deploy robotic vehicles en masse, bringing cities closer to either a crash-free utopia or gridlocked hellscape, depending on who you listen to. Officials might need some of that map data to make informed decisions to keep demand for AVs from clogging up streets. But, given how companies like Uber and Lyft have engaged on this front, the private sector may not want to share it.
Giménez acknowledged that it could take a fight to get Ford to open up its data, even though he’s opened the roads to Ford. John Kwant, Ford’s vice president for City Solutions, told me he’s amenable to sharing some types of data. He also said he felt encouraged by another recent announcement: Last week, the National Association of City Transportation Officials launched SharedStreets, a free, third-party repository for cities and companies to merge street maps and share mobility data.
SharedStreets could eventually work to support autonomous vehicles, a NACTO representative told me. In the near term, it promises cities a lot more leverage to get the maps they need.
Compass points: Beyond Parkland
Fourteen students and three faculty were killed by a shooter armed with an AR-15 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14. This latest school shooting—the deadliest since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012—has brought a fresh wave of grief and outrage over the country’s gun laws. But the debate over serious reform has long been intractable.
This time, though, seems different. The teenaged survivors of the Parkland shooting have turned into powerful overnight activists, organizing protests and school walk-outs, speaking out before the president and the GOP-led Congress, and raising millions to tighten gun restrictions and keep schools and neighborhoods safe. They’ve gained support from youth reformers around the country, who are using their native online languages—including Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat—to get behind the cause.
Above, behold a screenshot (taken by Quartz) of Snapchat’s Snap Map feature, which plotted user photos and videos of gun reform demonstrations at high schools, middle schools, and college campuses around the country last week. Snap Map has “proven to be a valuable, honest, and raw lens into modern life, where tragedies like school shootings ... have been documented in real time by regular people as the events unfold,” my Quartz colleague Mike Murphy wrote. Long live the Snap.
Drones for good: a “quadcopter” will chart radioactive contamination at Fukushima. ♦ Bright lights, divided cities: striking maps of neighborhood income disparities. ♦ Controversial model: a researcher believes predictive mapping could help prevent violence against civilians in Syria. ♦ Don’t ask: an ex-director of the U.S. Census Bureau warns gravely against adding a question about citizenship. ♦ Shitty news: a playful “poop map” of San Francisco has become a micro-flashpoint in partisan politics. ♦ Something’s off: the FCC’s new broadband map doesn’t match reality. ♦ Conflict zones: a new atlas shows where urban sprawl threatens biodiversity. (One map is shown above.) ♦ Digital archaeology: Lidar technology reveals a “lost” Aztec city with as many buildings as Manhattan.
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