The Evolution of Maps: From Clay Tablets to Digital Apps
Remember when unfolding a map in the car meant blocking half the windshield or taking over the passenger seat? How about printing directions from online software or updating your car’s manufacture-installed GPS system at the dealership? Today, the data we use to understand spaces around us appears in the palm of our hands.
The primal desire to understand our place in the context of the whole world isn’t new. However, building maps with digital data and reading them on electronic devices is groundbreaking in a historical context. The modern idea of connected mapping describes the process of synthesizing a range of signals and data sources to guide people through their environments in real-time.
At their core, maps are a combination of illustrations and visual markers used as navigational tools. Add layers of real-time spatial data to the mix and these traditional maps, regardless of format, become connected maps. Built and designed to bring data, people, and spaces together, connected maps use location-specific information to help people find their way around, whether they’re traversing a city, an interstate, or today’s larger and more complex indoor spaces. Data changes how we use maps, but not why.
Once Upon a Time, Before the Internet
Surprisingly, one of the world’s oldest known maps actually resembles an early iPhone. The Babylonian Map of the World, a clay tablet dating back to 700-500 B.C., shows a person-centered among regions, rivers, and an ocean. This first “You Are Here” marker suggests our ancestors used maps 3,000 years ago for the same reason we do today: to discover how to connect with our surroundings based on our current location.
With limited knowledge of the world, ancient maps were more artistic than functional. The Romans claimed their empire on endless, but not particularly accurate, scrolls. By the dawn of the Renaissance, maps had become actual navigational tools. The introduction of a reliable compass increased accuracy as map makers added directional lines sailors trusted would guide them to their intended port. Fast forward to 2020, scrolls and charts become cell phones and digital signage; the compass gives way to Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and Indoor Positioning Systems (IPS).
GPS, IPS, and POIs Galore
Whether on paper or a screen, maps are visual representations of the complex data supplied via GPS and IPS. And just as the compass improved ancient paper maps, digital maps are more useful as GPS and IPS technology advances.
GPS helps us explore neighborhoods and cities; IPS makes it easier to navigate inside commercial facilities that feel like cities, such as expansive airports. American Airlines CEO Doug Parker’s recently commented, “Having big hubs is going to be as important as ever, no matter what might happen with demand.”
Maps are increasingly a feature of our daily lives; we constantly rely on GPS to find our way to, or around, new places. Even if we already know how to find a location, we use navigation apps to show us the fastest route to our destination. The same behavior is true for navigating indoors. As people spend time within large, complex indoor spaces, they need greater visibility and more wayfinding options. As commercial properties become more like mix-use developments with lodging, retail, dining, entertainment, and even transformation, indoor mapping is essential to making built spaces more discoverable and functional.
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