Mapping the world in 3D will let us paint streets with augmented reality


If you believe tech optimists, 10 years from now self-driving cars will be ubiquitous, drones will deliver our parcels, and robots will bring us our groceries. And one day soon, our cities will be painted with augmented reality that feels as if it belongs to the street corner where it was placed.

Whether or not any of that comes to pass, one piece of the puzzle will be crucial to this future: ultra-precise location technology. GPS and the wandering blue dot on smartphone mapping apps are useful for a human navigating an unfamiliar city, but that just won’t cut it for machines. They will need to know where things are down to the centimeter.

London-based startup Scape reckons that’s what it can provide. The firm’s visual positioning service uses GPS and multiple camera images to work out exactly where you are within two or three seconds, according to cofounder Edward Miller. It has collected over two billion street images to precisely 3D-map more than 100 cities around the world, including London, San Francisco, Paris, Moscow, and Tokyo. Some of the data was collected by employees cycling around the cities with cameras attached to their bicycles, but Scape’s platform can process images from any source.

Scape

In use, Scape’s algorithms extract “points of interest” (like street signs, storefronts, or lampposts) from any image in order to compare it with the billions already in its database. Its system then uses triangulation to deduce the angle and distance from which the object was observed, returning its precise location to the end user. This kind of accuracy will anchor AR to the world better than is possible with GPS or other technologies—making it far more impressive and versatile.

“Scape is about taking this to the next level. It’s about expanding this capability out to an entire living, breathing city,” Miller says.

Scape

There are some exciting applications of AR already, mostly within the entertainment world: just a few days ago Snapchat celebrated the launch of…



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