Mobile Mapping

Mar 11, 2022

For most of our history mapping processes have been considered slow and challenging. Mapping traditionally has been a very challenging task that requires a lot of groundwork and precision, and historically we haven’t had proper tools for it for a long time. So, it wasn’t uncommon for a map to have wrong measurements, forget details or be completely inaccurate, to begin with.

When handled as a solo project and without modern technology mapping is a very demanding activity. It forces a user to constantly measure every step they make, compare it to their past position, verify all the data with a compass and other similar tools and repeat this process over and over again until an area is completely surveyed; and that’s assuming the area is small, to begin with. After all, we have maps of the entire world now, which means that trying to approach mapping and cartography in this manner is quite simply no longer viable.

Thankfully technology has changed the way we see and approach the world, and things have considerably changed in the mapping industry as well. So instead of the traditional pen and paper method, we just describe try to picture this out: Mobile systems that are capable of not only surveying an area on their own but can also record every single last detail of spatial data on their own and build a map on their own based on said information. It might sound fantastical compared to past methods, but it’s real and it’s already being used all over the world.

What we just described is mobile mapping, and it is one of the most promising and impressive developments in the world of mapping. So today we’ll be taking a closer look at these systems to try and explain how they work, what functions can they fulfill, what impact are they having on our modern world and what is mobile mapping in the first place. This is all you need to know about mobile mapping and its practical applications.

What is mobile mapping?

The first thing we need to properly define is what is a mobile mapping system. Before we suggested some uses for these systems but that still doesn’t exactly offer an explanation of what these systems are and how are they defined.

Mobile mapping as a whole refers to the collection of geospatial data using mapping sensors on moving platforms. In short, if a mobile system is gathering spatial data that is an example of mobile mapping, and a practical application of the technology we will be discussing today.

Mobile mapping offers a simple solution to the most pressing issue traditional mapping presented: The sheer abundance of data. Every single element in a map has a positional value relative to other elements on the environment and the individual handling the map creation. In practice, this meant that a proper map would require either constant measuring of every single important element in the area or to forgo accuracy for a more minimalistic approach that simply acted as a guideline for travel.

Mobile mapping technology on the other hand can record information for every single element in the area the platform traverses and can build an accurate representation of the area both in 2D or 3D based on this information. This means that it’s in every way a superior alternative to most mapping techniques.

To understand how these incredible feats are possible we’ll need to take a closer look at what a mobile platform is in the context of mobile mapping. A platform is at the end of the day any moving element that is equipped with the right sensors to gather geospatial data efficiently. In this context cars, planes, boats, drones, and even humans have all been used as platforms depending on the circumstances of each location.

These platforms are then equipped with the corresponding sensors to gather spatial information and a dedicated processing unit that runs the required mobile mapping software to transform the raw data into a format that makes sense to our eyes. While this general principle of mapping remains consistent regardless of the manufacturer of the platform or the software used, the main difference lies in the sensor technology used.

Sensory input has been traditionally a challenge that robotics and autonomous systems have had to face to allow for accurate and safe movement, and that means that there are many methods available for mobile mapping platforms to analyze and obtain information out of their surroundings. A mobile mapping platform can obtain geospatial data from a LiDAR sensor which measures depth based on the time it takes light to travel from the sender to an object and back to the sender (Time of Flight), relying instead on radar waves that similarly bounce from close objects, use traditional or stereoscopic cameras to provide a detailed feed of their surroundings or even use GPS in a GPS mobile mapping array.

Regardless of the method mobile mapping systems obtain relevant geospatial information in real-time and this efficiency is what makes them the premier choice when it comes to modern mapping. Mobile mapping might not always be perfect and specialists might need to finetune a resulting map after the fact, but they are incredibly practical and offer results that are generally unmatched and far more appealing than the manual alternatives to mapping.

Applications of mobile mapping systems

Right now we understand that mobile mapping systems allow us to create and visualize accurate digital representations of physical spaces in record time, but what are the practical applications of these systems and what impact can they have in our daily lives?

The first area where mobile mapping makes an impact is of course architecture and urban planning. Mobile mapping can save teams hours of work when it comes to building plans and other blueprints they need to create and record in a project. However, they are also important due to the unique opportunity they bring to oversee and analyze architectural work beyond mere sight. A mobile mapping platform can obtain precise information of a building that is already in construction and detect irregularities when compared to the original plans, and can also be used in real-time to survey the work area too.

Mobile mapping also has many applications when it comes to street data collection as well as surveillance and security. While cameras have traditionally fulfilled this role they lack the precise information that mapping technologies can offer. Mobile mapping can not only keep check of the flow of traffic but also measure the speed of a given vehicle so it’s already pulling double duty compared to traditional cameras. Similarly, since mapping technology understands the concept of depth mapping software can have a better grasp of irregularities in their surroundings like an invader trying to trespass on a property.

Benefits

While the benefits mobile mapping offers are countless and it’s easy to see why it’s such a favored system in the industry, they can also be summed up in 4 main areas for the sake of simplicity and easier understanding:

  • Safety: While safety is not a topic, we detailed too closely it’s nonetheless a key consideration when it comes to the benefits these systems provide. By using drones or other remote-controlled platforms it is possible to gather detailed information of delicate or dangerous locations such as caves, derelict buildings, or beyond. In short human operators don’t need to put themselves at risk, and this is one of the most important benefits of mobile mapping.
  • Speed: Mobile mapping is at least 40 times faster than traditional survey methods that rely on tripods and other tools, and even faster than less technological-intensive alternatives.
  • Efficiency: Mobile mapping is not only faster but also less demanding on your team. A single mobile mapping platform can scan areas faster than the alternatives with a reduced team, which means you’ll be able to undertake more simultaneous projects without affecting your results.
  • Flexibility: Mobile mapping systems come in many shapes and sizes, and this means that not only you can choose which technologies are better suited to your needs, but also the needs of your clients. This means that simpler scanning tools can be used to provide cheaper alternatives to your client base and likewise more detailed sensors can be equipped for those tasks that demand utmost precision. Ultimately, you’ll have a lot of control over how to handle your mobile mapping systems.

How to protect the data

Mobile mapping systems collect data constantly and this means that in urban settings you’ll be gathering a lot of sensitive visual information like faces, bodies, and license plates. These elements are considered “personally identifiable information” and under most circumstances would require explicit consent from every individual for its use; a feat that just isn’t doable at such a scale.

So, to avoid potential issues and protect your data as well as the privacy of any potential pedestrians it is recommended to anonymize the data as part of the collection and processing procedure. Anonymized data is not considered personal information, which means you’ll be able to use all of your data freely without breaking any laws.