By Sarah Karlen
Society is experiencing profound change in both business models and user experience. Location-based services and real-time location systems are essential components of many, if not most, innovative new services and products. On the evening of April 17, 2018, four leading minds in location-based services gathered to discuss the future of the field. Expertly guided by moderator Kevin Collins, Managing Director of Webscale Services at Accenture, the conversation flowed from augmented reality games to innovations in ridesharing, self-driving cars, city planning, and data visualization.
Vinay Shet, Director of Product at Lyft, opened by describing data and the various levels of data as the driving force behind location-based services.
“The top level is the points of interest, meaning the exact geo codes of businesses. These are the places people care about”
“There are four major areas—the very bottom is layer is political boundaries, such as country, state, county, and zip code,” Shet explained. “The next level up is orientation, meaning when you look at a map and you want to know which way north, and which way is south. A level up is where it gets interesting; this is the road networks, the actual road geometry, all of the attributes of the road. The top level is the points of interest, meaning the exact geo codes of businesses. These are the places people care about.”
Bersabel Tadesse, Director of Product at Mapbox, added that, “Every layer is always going to be important. When you think of a company like Snap for example, they not only use the base map, but they are able to take their personal data that is specific to their business and integrate that into their maps to increase engagement and revenue. That being said, you need every layer to make that work.”
“Who owns this data though? Is it one person, or many people? What role does the government play in this? Should one person own all of this data, or do we want a heterogeneous environment?” Collins followed.
Chief Evangelist at IndoorAtlas, Vilat Keomounngkhoun, explained that the government—being the ones who originally funded GPS services—is the only group that has the sort of money and authority to allow for this type of technology.
“This collection of ground truth and who owns that ground truth is going to be one of the great challenges of AI in the next decade,” Mark Johnson, CEO of Descartes Labs, added.
Johnson’s unique experience with location-based services is different from most in the Silicon Valley. While many think of these services as the basis for mobile applications like Lyft, Yelp, or Google Maps, Johnson and Descartes Labs focus on what is called data refining. The ground truth of this sort of service affects not just people in their day to day lives, but also how energy and resources might be used now and in the future.
There are limits to these services, however, and they are directly related to the data that is put into them. For many advanced technologies, like augmented reality and autonomous vehicles, hyper-precision is needed to make the technology good or marketable.
“I would like to differentiate between the unstructured data versus structured data,” Shet said. “Unstructured data is satellite imagery, or street level imagery, and to some extent raw GPS location data. The structured data deals with the semantics, such as road network and building geometry footprint. Typically, the unstructured data is what leads you to create the data on top, which can be application specific.”
How data is shared will be dictated by people and for what purpose they want to use their location data. Data collection will be done according to what a company, government, or agency wants to accomplish with that location data. Whether it is to improve your day, your life, or to save lives, location data sharing, like all data sharing, is about choice. This means, as Johnson explained, that the notion of privacy is going to have to change in the modern world.
Watch the full conversation on Churchill Club’s YouTube channel.