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.
Fully self-driving vehicles that can operate anywhere, anytime, may still be decades away. But if you’ve jumped into a new model of nearly any sedan lately, you know that “connected” vehicles are already here. With rearview cameras, side-mirror sensors, and Bluetooth hookups, cars are communicating with their drivers and surroundings.
Some of these “smart” cars are helping build the maps that will eventually guide even “smarter” future generations. That was my takeaway from the HERE Technologies tent at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show this week. There, the Netherlands-based mapping company showed off the features of its HD Live Map, which will come equipped in some new BMW and Daimler models as soon as this year.
The company is striving towards the, um, mildly ambitious goal of creating the most accurate map of reality itself, starting with (but not limited to) roads. HD Live is supposed to give even partially autonomous cars an uninterrupted view of the surfaces they’re driving on, with lane configurations, road width, street signage, and other features mapped at a resolution of 20 centimeters per pixel. Other vehicles equipped with the system will be able to transmit alerts about road blockages and traffic incidents in real time to others in the fleet.
The map is supposed to be capable of “healing itself”: The vehicles will transmit trails of travel data up to the cloud, some of which will be sent back to HERE (via the car’s manufacturer) and fed back into the map. That way, if a road network shifts in some fashion (a street closure or new turn lane, for example) the map will reflect those changes by learning how other drivers handle them. “That loop becomes very important to smoothing things out,” said Sanjay Sood, HERE’s vice president of highly automated driving, at a public event Tuesday afternoon. As the map better mirrors reality over time, the cars that rely on it might also better drive themselves.
Couldn’t a bad actor figure out a lot about a driver based on all that trip data flowing back and forth? Helmuth Ritzer, the vice president of connected vehicle services, said that a hack resulting in the discovery of an individual driver’s identity would be pretty unlikely, given the layers of aggregation, scrambling, and anonymization that the vehicle data goes through before it lands on the map. Drivers would also opt in to different features of HERE’s mapping and navigation services that require vehicle tracking. “In the future, you’ll see more fine-grained levels of consent than what we see currently,” Ritzer said. “There needs to be a more transparent relationship between consumers and providers.”
HERE’s worst location data nightmare isn’t a hack, both VPs said. It’s not having enough information to actually live up to the map’s claim of being a “one-to-one” reflection of the world, so that someone goes flying off the side of the road. That would be quite the reality check.
The geography of a shutdown
It’s the third week of the U.S. government’s partial shutdown. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers aren’t getting paid, federal contractors are at a stand-still, national parks are getting trashed, and essential public benefits, such as food and housing subsidies, could soon dry up for people who rely on them.
Some parts of the county are feeling these impacts worse than others. WalletHub ranked the hardest-hit states on a mix of metrics, including their share of federal jobs, federal contract dollars per capita, families receiving food stamps, and proximity to national parks. Washington, D.C. came in first, unsurprisingly. Largely due to their sizable federal workforces, New Mexico, Maryland, Hawaii, and Alaska were next. The least hit states included Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, New Hampshire, and Minnesota. Read more and interact with the map here.
Here’s another way to look at the crisis: The latest real estate report by the General Services Administration, the largest public real estate organization in the U.S., includes a map of its 50f million square feet of leased office and warehouse space. In terms of real estate that houses federal workers, more than 700 metro areas across the U.S. are continuing to feel the pain. Read Bloomberg’s coverage here.
Map of the heart: a poet tracks the end of her marriage on Google Maps. (New York Times) ♦ Expert terrain: meet the man behind the world’s best ski maps. (Outside) ♦ Ground intelligence: the geographic footprint of the U.S. military. (Smithsonian) ♦ Believe it or not: a digital archive of historical “persuasive maps.” (CityLab) ♦ Modern redlining: the neighborhoods packed with federal housing benefits recipients. (CityLab) ♦ Data durability: a defense of paper maps. (The Guardian) ♦ Slowly, quietly: Apple Maps is still improving. (Tom’s Guide)