Technological Evolutions in Mapmaking

For thousands of years, people have used maps to better understand the world and their place within it. Maps have been used for trade, for conquest, or for placing a particular culture at the center of things.

The earliest known example of a world map comes from ancient Babylon, circa 600BC.

Here, the map maker depicts the world as a disk surrounded by ocean (the encircling ring), with the Euphrates River running down the center, splitting Babylon in two. Polygons and circles identify the Euphrates, Babylon, and its neighboring cities. The map lacks detail and granularity, demonstrating the challenges of representing an entire world on a small two-dimensional surface. (Read more about this map here.)

Perhaps not surprisingly, today’s map makers employ geometry to indicate locations of interest. For example, here is the AirMap view of Babylon (present-day Iraq), which shows some striking similarities with the ancient map:

Here, the “world” is again surrounded by water. We can trace the Euphrates river down the middle of the map, and we have placed polygons and circles on the map to indicate places where drones should not fly because of nearby airfields and military bases. Again, there are limitations with this 2D map. Until you zoom in…

This begins to demonstrate a technological revolution in cartography. For the first time in history, we can essentially have a 1-to-1 scale map down the finest details! Not as a visual depiction of the world, but rather as a virtual world with locations and features stored in a geospatial database. And this new world map doesn’t need to be in two dimensions, but can easily be captured in 3 dimensions down to the smallest hill or home. In other words, map makers are no longer limited by the size of our paper or clay tablet, but by the power of our cloud servers.

AirMap is partnering with drone manufacturers to deliver this virtual world to drones. Coupling geolocation with geospatial mapping and feature identification, AirMap is facilitating safe drone operation via powerful new capabilities like temporary flight restrictions and 3D geofencing.

While traditional 2D maps have remained remarkably consistent for thousands of years, our new virtual world promises a flying leap into the future.

This article originally appeared on the AirMap Logbook. Author Jason Melbourne is a Data Wizard at AirMap, developing scalable data solutions for drone airspace management.

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