Case study

Next-Gen Open Map Format for Multiple Platforms

We helped implement a viable concept map that’s light enough for mobile and powerful enough for automotive

Key features

  • Create customized map layers 

    Create customized map layers 

  • Obtain timely over-the-air map updates

    Obtain timely over-the-air map updates

  • Easily render 2D and 3D web maps

    Easily render 2D and 3D web maps

Location-based services (LBS)
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Team size:
4 members
January 2018 – present

Big Data / protobuf / RDD / Scala / Spark

About the client

Our client, headquartered in the Netherlands, is a leader in the global market for geolocation services and solutions. Their products have been successfully applied in the automotive, mobile, transportation and logistics, telecommunications, retail, marketing, and other spheres. Their portfolio includes multi-format cartographic data solutions, live traffic information systems, software development tools for in-vehicle and mobile navigation solutions, and a proprietary collaborative geolocation platform.

Providing cloud-based infrastructure and access to dynamic map data, our client also delivers B2B solutions widely used in eCommerce, search systems, and even social networking. The company’s innovations have found satisfied consumers in almost 200 countries worldwide.

Next-Gen Open Map Format for Multiple Platforms

Our client came with the challenge

Due to the proliferation of the mobile internet, cloud technologies, and Internet of Things devices, navigation has seen disruptive change over the last decade. Our client has been one of the top innovators in this field. Their most recent product is a cooperative location-centric ecosystem. Its key capabilities include storing and exchanging actionable map content. It also includes tools for processing cartographic data, compiling custom maps, developing location-based solutions, and rendering maps.

The platform is still in active development and offers maps optimized for visualization and location analysis. But this platform doesn’t include maps that are compact enough for mobile devices, are easily updatable even with spotty connectivity, and can seamlessly switch between online and offline modes. Our client came up with a concept for a next-generation map format that could potentially become an advantageous substitute for their entire map line. Having been closely involved in the development of our client’s platform and multiple automotive programs since 2015, Intellias is now providing technical talent to broaden our client’s research and development capabilities for this new map concept.

Intellias has developed the solution

We formed an engineering team with 50/50 capacity distribution between Intellias and our client. We then set about this proof-of-concept project by analyzing the pros and cons of our client’s existing map formats. We needed to find the right format to serve as the basis for the concept map. In the process, we learned that Navigation Data Standard (NDS) maps were too bulky and incapable of streaming while MapBox Vector Tiles (MVT) maps lacked 3D rendering capabilities and required too much space for mobile use. Consequently, the team decided to base the solution on our client’s proprietary map format. This format had none of the deficiencies of NDS and MVT maps and, for the most part, satisfied the requirements for the new map concept.

The selected source format, however, lacked a formal specification. So our next challenge was overcoming this. Our engineers formalized the data schema and the layers of the source format. Once in production, this will allow platform users to develop their own specific layers and put them on top of the basemap layer. For instance, tourism app developers could insert a custom layer with geolocation- and time-aware points of interest (cafes, coffee shops, restaurants, etc.) above the basemap.

Our next task was migrating the compilation of the source map format to the new platform’s compilation framework. As a result, the new map can be compiled on the platform stack and use platform-provided geodata as its input. We also added support for incremental map updates that allow us to publish the latest urban and road infrastructure changes to individual map tiles instead of the whole map.

Further, we focused our efforts on developing a universal platform tool that automatically generates language-agnostic encoders and decoders of location data for custom map layers. This tool is based on Google Protocol Buffers and supports a variety of languages including Java, Scala, C++, Python, and JavaScript.

Ultimately, Intellias engineers developed a proof-of-concept mobile navigation app for routing to free parking spaces in urban areas. The app was designed to demonstrate to our client’s leadership the utility of the concept map for commercial use cases. Above the platform-built basemap, the app routes a car to the closest parking space. The route is dynamically modified based on parking availability. Information on free parking spaces comes from the platform’s volatile layer. This volatile layer obtains data from vehicles whose onboard sensors (lidar, cameras) detect free parking spots while maneuvering around the parking lot.

We’ve achieved great results together

This project is currently on hold. Our demo to the client’s leadership was well received and has improved the concept map’s potential of going into full-scale development As for the development efforts involved, Intellias estimates from 1.5 to 2 person-years. Our client’s product management, sales, and marketing teams are now studying the market feasibility of this new product, which includes performing market analysis and studying the competition and anticipated consumer groups.

We also conducted several brainstorming sessions with our client’s rendering team. As a result, we outlined a technical vision for the platform’s existing visualization library to support the rendering of concept maps. Additionally, Intellias implemented a layer containing simplified pre-compiled geometry data to significantly boost concept map rendering performance.

Once in production, the solution is anticipated to bring these benefits to consumers:

  • A powerful open map format that could plausibly become the next navigation industry standard
  • A new platform that might trigger the appearance of an entirely new sub-ecosystem, including open-source tools and rendering tools
  • Universal, compact, and easily rendered maps for real-time and offline use cases that are ready for all devices including cars, portables, wearables, and drones
  • Timely, cost-effective map updates requiring minimum internet traffic thanks to per-tile modification

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