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December 8th, 2015
Will virtual reality take over as the ultimate form of a map?

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Some truly incredible and immersive virtual reality experiences are reaching the masses this year. The advent of realistic and believable environments has the near-term possibility of allowing us to experience and navigate our planet in new ways.

Think of yourself wading through the shoreline or a coastal city or flying through a national park. This kind of awe-inspiring experience has been the subject of movies for some time, and soon you may strap on goggles and be able to experience the same thing under your own direction.

With such a major shift in how we can explore our world, it begs some comparison to the radical shift that digital maps and real-time location information have had on the paper map. Will we see another such supplanting of the prior platform, with our first choice being to dive deep into a digital reality?

Easier Orientation

Much has been said of the intuitive nature of a 3D model versus a 2D map. It’s still the exception to have a 3D map navigation experience rather than the rule, but with all the 3D data capture that has been ongoing, the data is just awaiting the right experience.

It’s easier to get your bearings in a 3D map and to retain the key landmarks for wayfinding when you experience the model for real. The fact that full immersion is required for virtual reality may present some limitation on its utility, however, a 2D presentation of your virtual reality navigation experience could do wonders for finding your way.

Transporting Information

The immersive experience of virtual reality offers a profound sense of power and control over your environment. With interactive experiences that bring the streets and parks right up to your face, you’re able to dive in and wander and try interactions that aren’t possible in any other way.

The freedom of experience can unlock a new understanding of our environments, particularly with all the new high-resolution capture technologies that can provide unprecedented detail. With very high-resolution data capture that is mostly automated, such as with unmanned aircraft systems, the refresh is also so much easier. This combination of high-resolution and near real-time capture capability is a lot of what empowers this next-generation immersive map.

All in Augmentation

The virtual reality platform is a precursor to augmented reality, where we add another level of interactivity that places information resources within our grasp in our real environment. The detailed 3D model of virtual reality is an important first step to augmentation because to be believable there must be a close correlation and tight tolerance.

Getting to the ability to augment our surroundings with touch and explore simplicity is the Holy Grail of virtual reality. Early head-mounted immersive displays and sensor gloves have been the vision for some time as have caves and other large projection experience. What’s truly set to help this next wave take off is less expensive virtual reality capture cameras and high-end headsets at a mass-market consumer price.

The buzz this holiday season is around having your own personal drone that’s quite capable of unlocking everyone’s inner aerial photographer. This wave of data capture for the masses might just soon be followed by the headset to wander the world that we capture and augment. Certainly, the map is getting a lot more interesting and interactive, and tomorrow’s maps will convey a lot more information and orientation than has ever been possible in the past.

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