June 13, 2024
AWS, Meta, Microsoft-backed Overture Maps Foundation releases first 'open map' dataset


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Overture Maps Foundation (OMF) is a cooperative effort founded in December 2022 by Amazon Web Services (AWS), Meta, Microsoft and TomTom to provide high-quality geolocation data and mapping for use in the various companies’ apps and other enterprises, too. This allows them to break free of Google Maps’ API charges and also to create a new dataset that they can control, rivaling the volunteer, crowdsourced OpenStreetMap, from which they have drawn some of their underlying map data.

Today, the foundation is releasing its first global map dataset, called “Overture 2023-07-26-alpha.0.” The debut includes four unique map layers:

Places of Interest (POIs) with nearly 60 million locations. This is “a major, previously unavailable open dataset, mapping everything from big businesses to pop-up street markets worldwide,” said OMF executive director Marc Prioleau in an email to VentureBeat.

A Buildings layer with more than 750 million building footprints.

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A Transportation Network layer which includes a “worldwide road network” sourced from OpenStreetMap but upgraded with new features to allow the addition of speed limits and traffic rules.

A Geopolitical Boundaries layer showing borders and political jurisdictions, with translation support for 40-plus languages.

OMF says the data has undergone a rigorous series of quality checks and been validated, and is now available for free public download on OMF’s website under an Open Data Commons Open Database license (ODbL) or CDLA Permissive v2.0 license, depending on the layer. This allows the data to be used for commercial purposes by map builders or location service providers. The foundation is seeking public feedback on Github and at data@overturemaps.org.

Prioleau called it “a significant step in establishing a comprehensive, market-grade open map dataset for our constantly changing world.”

A new mapping alliance shows power of collaboration

Since its founding a year ago, OMF has grown to include more than a dozen mapping, geospatial and technology companies. New members of the collaboration include ESRI, Cyient, InfraMappa, Nomoko, Precisely, PTV Group, SafeGraph, Sanborn and Sparkgeo. The OMF is still seeking new members through its onboarding process.

But why would all these companies partner with one another — especially since some are rivals in certain sectors — to create a shared mapping resource?

Because the challenge of maintaining a consistently updated, highly detailed world map is too great for any one company or organization, according to Priloleau. “The costs and complexities of collecting and maintaining global map data [are] well beyond the capability of any single entity,” he wrote to VentureBeat via email.

Prioleau said the collaboration was especially critical in the Places map layer, as it was “built through contributions from Meta and Microsoft, demonstrating the power of collaboration. The ultimate goal for places data is a complete dataset of places in the world with an efficient feedback cycle that can update this dataset as the places in the world change.”

Maintaining the most consistently updated, best world map

By and large, most people expect the physical, built world to remain largely static. But in practice, that’s hardly the case, and accurate digital maps need to reflect that dynamism if they are to be reliable.

“Approximately 20-25% of businesses turn over every year; old businesses close and new ones open daily,” Prioleau said. “In the COVID years, this number was likely much higher. The key to building an updated places dataset is the constant refreshing of the data through real-time signals.”

Prioleau outlined how OMF aims to keep up with this ever-evolving landscape: with user-generated reporting.

“Overture’s underlying quality philosophy is that map data quality improves as map services built on this data are deployed to more users who, in turn, provide feedback on the accuracy and completeness of the data,” he said. “While the absolute number of users is important, so is the variety of use cases. A social media site will use map data for different use cases than a logistics application or a local search application. By establishing a broad base of users, we believe that we can build the best map.”

Where the map leads…

Going forward, OMF plans to continue updating its map and also to add a new dataset: the Global Entity Reference System or GERS.

This is a way to identify buildings and static infrastructure features, like segments of roads, beyond the address-level layer or latitude-longitude coordinates. Essentially, it is similar to a mobile device universal user identification (UUID), according to Prioleau.

No timeline has been given for the addition of a GERS ID to the OMF map, but Prioleau argued that once this information does begin to appear on the map, it will enable a whole new class of applications and experiences for end users of the companies involved.

For example, a company could “combine information about a restaurant (opening hours, credit cards accepted, etc.) with social media content (reviews, ratings) and footfall information that shows the level of activity,” he said. “The GERS ID is the link ensuring that all those types of data refer to the same business. It eliminates ambiguity that can happen when trying to refer to a place on the map.”

The alliance and its products are new, so it remains to be seen how well the project holds up over time, but it’s clearly off to a strong and ambitious start on its journey to creating a new, commercial-grade guide to our world.

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