What are Smart Maps?

August 15, 2016 Gordon Plunkett

Have you heard about smart maps? Static maps are so twentieth century. Smart maps are where it’s at today. So, how do you make a smart map and what do you want your smart map to do? Read this blog post to find out what a smart map is and how developing your own smart map can help you and your users.

Everyone knows about using hard copy maps where you could find places, see the shapes and locations of land and water, get an idea of where you’re located in the world and get a notion of where you’re going if you’re travelling. Nowadays, everything is smart — you have smart-phones, smart cars, smart televisions, smart homes and even smart vacuum cleaners. But what about smart maps?

Dog lovers adore their dogs. Dogs do lots of interesting things and make excellent companions. Dogs are endearing and useful, but, let’s face it, our canine friends are not really that smart. However, your mobile phone is considered smart. What’s the difference? Other than the obvious dissimilarity that one is biological and the other is technological, why do we humans consider phones as smart but dogs as not so smart? Well, some of the reasons may be that phones do what they’re told to do, they can take in lots of information and make some sense of it and they easily interoperate with humans and other phones.

In the mapping world, what moves a static map into the category of a smart (or intelligent) map and why would you want a smart map? First of all, smart maps need to be easily accessible, copiously functional, easily understood and visually pleasing. They need to be straightforwardly controlled, and there needs to be plenty of spatial information available to create the smart map of the user’s choice for situational understanding and decision-making.

Also, the smart map needs to be able to calculate and display results. These calculations can be driving directions, distances, buffers, proximities, densities or a host of other spatially related calculations. More complex calculations can include regression analysis, pattern recognition, image classification or spatial joins. The results of these calculations can be displayed as part of the map or they can be displayed for the user as charts or diagrams that accompany the map.

Some examples of smart maps (a.k.a. smart apps) that are available today include: Business Analyst, Assessment Analyst, Crime AnalystSpatial Analyst, Geostatistical Analyst and Network Analyst.

Generally, static maps are two dimensional in that there is an x and y direction, frequently using latitude and longitude coordinates. Smart maps often take this to the next level with 3D maps that are displayed in the direction pointing directly below a particular location (nadir) or perspective views that the user can easily control and manipulate. Some smart maps are now available in 4D as time sequences of the 3D space. 4D maps are complex to analyze and display, but they can provide a wealth of information to the user.

Note that smart maps are different from smart mapping. Esri’s smart mapping is software that allows users to quickly and easily make maps that are visually pleasing and useful. Smart mapping includes functionality that helps symbolize the data, provides ‘smart’ map defaults and offers data-driven workflows to the ArcGIS Online and the Portal for ArcGIS map viewer.

Esri is taking the concept of smart maps to the next level with the announcement of Insights for ArcGIS. Insights is a revolutionary step in the development of GIS. It allows users to apply interactive analysis to spatial data for deeper understanding of what’s going on. Insights allows data integration from multiple sources. It’s performance-optimized and provides interactive analysis and intuitive visual display of the results.

So, what do smart maps have to do with web GIS and SDI? Well, many smart maps are delivered over the Internet into a web browser. Current computing capability is such that 3D map renderings can be done on the fly in laptops, tablets and phones. Web GIS is becoming the platform of choice for the development and use of smart maps.

Are smart maps for you? With smart maps becoming increasingly popular, you should look at your various applications and your user community to see how smart maps can help you and your organization get additional, improved results from your GIS investment and provide you with competitive advantage.

About the Author

Gordon Plunkett

Gordon Plunkett is the Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) Director at Esri Canada. He has more than 30 years of experience in GIS and Remote Sensing in both the public and private sectors. He currently sits as a member of the Community Map of Canada Steering Committee, GeoAlliance Canada Interim Board of Directors, the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Technical Committee, the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) Committee on Geomatics, the University of Laval Convergence Network Advisory Committee and the Advisory Board to the Carleton University Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre. During his career, Gordon has worked on projects in more than 20 countries and has contributed to numerous scientific conferences and publications. At Esri Canada, he is responsible for developing and supporting the company’s SDI vision, initiatives and outreach, including producing content for the SDI blog.

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