How Can Blockchain Improve Digital Maps?
How Can Blockchain Improve Digital Maps?
September 25, 2020
How Can Blockchain Improve Digital Maps?
How Can Blockchain Improve Digital Maps?
September 25, 2020

Digital maps (digital mapping) are the maps that give accurate representations of a particular area, detailing major road arteries and other points of interest, as the technology allows the calculation of distances from one place to another.

Although digital mapping can be found in a variety of computer applications, the main use of these maps is with the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite network, used in standard automotive navigation systems.

Before we go further, let’s see some of the few advantages of digital maps:

  • They can be downloaded for free: Digital maps are not sold in physical shops but instead they are available online and can be downloaded for free.
  • Storage requires digital space: Digital maps do not require physical space for storage. They are stored in digital format and therefore require digital space.
  • Digital maps must be accessed online: Digital maps cannot be accessed anywhere else besides online. One requires an internet connection to access them online.
  • Shows all features including time and the actual building: Digital maps do not depend on symbols to represent features. Instead, they show the actual features and the time.
  • They can be easily updated: Digital maps are mostly real-time representations of an area and can be updated easily because the changes will be updated automatically.
  • It is dynamic: Digital maps are dynamic which means one can choose to view the previous versions of the represented area, unlike paper maps.
  • Digital maps can represent all features at the same time: Digital maps can be used to represent all features of a given area at the same time. They allow filtering for specific features but can also show the entire area.
  • Digital maps are not limited to any area: Digital maps are not limited to show only a specific area based on scale. They can be widened to show the entire area.
  • May not require special skills since it shows the real-life object: Interpreting digital maps is easier than paper maps since the features are real representations of real-world objects.
  • Good at showing area overlays from various angles: Digital maps do not only show 2D representations of an area. They can be used to show the 3D angle of the area and also show the area overlays.
  • Cannot be used to show changes in landforms because it is always up to date: Digital maps are always up to date and may therefore not be ideal for use to show changes in landforms.

If you have ever taken a road trip or tried to find a business you have never been to before, then you know how valuable interactive, real-time mapping software can be. Current systems basically use GPS to locate your position on Earth and map it to the interactive database of roads and locations that can then be displayed on your mobile device. The system clearly works well and has been steadily improving.

Also, there are a few drawbacks. For one, despite being effectively real-time, the speed that the map can track you and load information about your route will be limited by the many moving parts of the network, which can lead to a variable experience. Ans, due to limitations on how precise the system can be, it can erroneously place you in the wrong location or on the wrong road, leading to confusion. 

We can say that the interactive maps are generally generated by teams who take out special vehicles to chart areas and update the data. This is costly and time-consuming, as it is an ever ongoing process with updates to road construction and local business changes being a constant.

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This is why, only huge companies like Google can offer these services, as they have the capital to uphold the system. Talking about Google, most users are aware that the current models generally track and store the location data of those using their products, which many see as a direct violation of privacy. Unfortunately, using these helpful products means accepting that a third party could potentially know where you are and have been, at any time.

Now, how can blockchain improve digital maps? Let’s discuss in detail!

With blockchain technology, it should be possible to address all of these issues and create a fast, reliable global mapping system that also is completely private for end users.

By leveraging the power of decentralized technology, as well as other powerful network protocols, a new type of internet-based map can be created. Having all the data hosted on a blockchain can potentially improve latency significantly, as DApps can cross-reference information from your device along with sensor and blockchain data, meaningless information transmission as well as less processing. 

Because of the trustless verification systems used in decentralized ledgers, users can have good faith that these apps have accurate, up to date information that essentially cannot be tampered with. Also, there is no central authority to process and publish the data, as the entire system can move and respond to changing conditions in near real-time.

How can we use Blockchain for Mapping?

  • Supply-Chain Management: Using blockchain, there is the potential to track where everything came from. For example, IBM has developed blockchain technology for some food use-cases. Consumers will be able to see exactly where their food came from and how it got to their table, ultimately increasing transparency, ensuring safety, and perhaps even gaining an awareness of the carbon footprint of their diet.
  • IoT: IoT is a combination of software, electronics, and a network that facilitates an exchange of data and interaction between objects and mechanisms. In the case of sensors, the application of blockchain will make historical readings nearly impossible to tamper with. The use of smart contracts will mean faster interaction between devices, eg. smartphone to bikeshare
  • Property Rights: As property rights and titles tend to be susceptible to fraud and dispute, having publicly-accessible and distributed ledgers can make many processes more efficient. It would also be useful for documenting damage, repairs, or improvements to the home, with no way of backdating the data once it is entered.
  • Spatial Verification: In general, blockchain can be used for spatial verification, confirming that people are where they say they are, and when they are there. Furthermore, the proof-of-location (PoL) protocol can use smart contracts to automatically do some validation for geographic data of objects. Crowdsourced mapping, such as on OpenStreetMap is often problematic, especially with a lack of permanent IDs and is subject to vandalism.

Challenges for Mapping with Blockchain

One of the main challenges of blockchain is that it requires a high level of trust between the parties. In the case of some organizations, valid participation is awarded by getting paid a small number of tokens, which becomes more valuable as time goes on.

Some mapping data by nature is fluid and even subjective, and cannot simply just be “verified” or “rejected”. It will definitely be interesting to see if blockchain can be used while still granting fluidity and still accounting for the mapping needs of everybody.

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There also is an ongoing discussion of how we can use blockchain but still satisfy the right to be forgotten, as many of the suggested solutions would sacrifice many of the fundamental benefits of blockchain.

Blockchain-Based Mapping Hopes to Replace GPS. Can it be Trusted?

Blockchain is also backing a new mode of mapping. Crypto-cartographers hope to use it for spatial verification by confirming that things are where they say they are when they claim to be there. For example, you could know precisely when an Amazon delivery drone drops a package on your doorstep, at which point the charge would post to your account. No more unscrupulous delivery drivers and no more contested charges for packages lost in transit. Or when opening a new bank account, you could virtually confirm your permanent address by physically being there during a particular verification period, rather than providing copies of your utility bills.

Projects on Blockchain Maps

While new projects are popping up, there are already a few major players defining this space. Some of the most popular projects being developed now are FOAM, XYO, and Hyperion.

FOAM

For starters, a project called FOAM is one example of how the issue of a decentralized mapping system could be addressed. FOAM utilizes the Ethereum blockchain and a service called geohash in order to make network addresses that correspond to real-world locations. The system is referred to as Proof of Location (PoL) and involves the use of radio transmitters, called Anchors, to act as nodes for the network. Operators must stake some FOAM tokens in order to participate, however they are also rewarded for successful contributions. These nodes then connect to each other and form “zones,” which basically define an area on the surface of the earth. 

Once the basic grid is established, users can then create “Points of Interest” (PoI) which get mapped to the network by being attributed to a specific address on the blockchain. By staking tokens, different users can vote on the validity of a given PoI, with the winning side receiving all staked tokens as a reward, and the losing side losing all. This incentivizes honesty, as a PoI like a landmark or coffee shop is either there or it isn’t, hence false claims could be quickly voted out of the network.

The system requires sufficient infrastructure of Anchors to be in place and while there is an economic incentive to run one, there is a long way to go to cover the earth. Also since the system runs on Ethereum, it is subject to the limitations of that network’s bandwidth and speed, though these are admittedly set to improve.

XYO

Users can capture real-world location data with special sensors called “Sentinels.” Simply by deploying these sentinels, users can begin earning XYO immediately. When sentinels communicate with each other in “the wild”, by being in close proximity, then further rewards can be earned. This incentivizes users to deploy as many sentinels as possible, which of course works to expand the network and the quality of the location data. It should also be noted that any smartphone can also be turned into a sentinel by downloading the project’s app.

There are other ways users can get involved and earn rewards as well, such as by becoming “Archivists” or “Diviners.” These are basically the layers of the network that record information to the blockchain and run queries against that data. With all these parts working together, a constantly evolving, real-time map of the world is being recorded on an immutable ledger. One possible stumbling block could be getting enough Sentinels deployed, as they act as a key cornerstone of the system. That being said, they are fairly inexpensive and again, any mobile device can also be used.

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Hyperion

Hyperion, an open blockchain-based mapping architecture based on Hyperion Digital Location Right (HDLR), has announced the official launch of its mapping technology. Hyperion aims to fundamentally disrupt existing mapping systems by providing the infrastructure to support a completely decentralized, self-governing global map that users anywhere can contribute to, edit or utilize for their own needs, and share the economic value.

Dr. Isaac Zhang, the founder of Hyperion, said:

“In the smartphone age, everyone has access to incredibly detailed maps right in the palm of your hand. However, the way we develop and maintain these maps has hardly changed for centuries – we still rely on centrally controlled, top-down information systems. In an era where information is becoming increasingly decentralized and community-led, we believe this is incredibly anachronistic. Hyperion changes that by shifting control of our mapping infrastructure from a centrally held model to a decentralized, democratized model that leverages the fundamental strengths of blockchain technology.”

The Hyperion ecosystem addresses a number of key pain points in mapping development. First, the cost of developing and maintaining detailed, up-to-date maps using a top-down model is hugely expensive and inefficient, requiring mapping companies or governments to dispatch staff to gather information locally. Second, this model makes it difficult to ensure that maps are accurate or up-to-date since resources will be allocated to maintaining different parts of the map at different times. Third, the current mapping infrastructure is controlled by governments or private companies, creating barriers for other users to access or utilize these maps.

This model has three layers. The user-level layer, an app called “Titan,” provides location information services as well as a wallet for the native HYN token, which users can use to provide their own PoIs to be verified. Beneath this layer is a “Proof of Hybrid” (PoH) system, which is basically a two-tier network that has both a Proof of Work (PoW) layer, called Map3 and a Proof-of-Stake (PoS) layer, called Atlas. Map3 is where location data is stored, verified, and distributed; the Atlas layer is where map asset transactions and validation takes place on the blockchain. The system is designed to be censorship-resistant and fault-tolerant.

Users on Titan can stake their HYN tokens to support the Map3 layer, which will earn them passive rewards for participating in the functioning of a node. Furthermore, these tokens can then be re-staked on the Atlas layer, which further aids the network and adds more opportunities for user rewards. Using Atlas’s proof-of-stake consensus mechanism, the top 88 block production nodes will be selected to receive block rewards. 

Conclusion

One or multiple forms of blockchain powered map will eventually become the new standard.

Thus, blockchain is going to play a huge role in the future, not just in how we use our money or our data, but even in how we are able to navigate our world.


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Ishita Bora

Ishita Bora is a Senior Content Creator at Digital Notice Media Labs with an experience of 1 year. She has completed her Master's Degree in Language and Linguistics in 2019 from Gauhati University, India. Her interest lies in blockchain technology and cryptocurrency space, as she loves writing about blockchain and other blockchain-related articles. Currently, she is working on blockchain-based news, reviews, featured articles, and guides.
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