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In the 21st century, when the physical world is changing faster than at any point in history, a static map is not as useful as it once was. The digital world is reflective of this change as we move towards maps that act more like a living, evolving organism than a set-in-stone diagram.
At HERE, a group of bright minds has been working on a new, promising concept that seeks to make the modern map more alive than ever before: 3D transit. This transit layer would show transit vehicles moving around a city in real-time on the map in 3D.
I spoke to Software Engineer Mei Dong and Lead Architect Jens Unger to find out more about this project.
Mei says, “We want to bring some life to our maps and to give people a new experience - one that matches real life. With this in mind we came up with a new transit layer where transit vehicles move along in real-time and, if you click on a station, it will show you which transit vehicles go via this stop.”
To avoid information overload, it would be possible to filter transit information and area size.
Jens says, “We would only show transit within a certain radius; it would be overkill for the API to show all transit data at once and would be of no use to the reader. You would be able to filter by transport mode as well.”
In tandem with the 3D transit layer, they’ve also came up with a transit alarm which can tell you when you need to prepare to get on or off a transit vehicle.
Mei says, “For example, it can tell you when it’s time to leave home. It means you can relax, read a book or watch TV and when the time comes, you can be told when to go. Our prototype knows how long it takes for you to reach the departure stop and will consider it when calculating the time for the alert.”
Another idea that they still need to flesh out is the ability to show underground transit. Currently, they believe this might be done by showing semi-transparent 3D trains, half out of the roads as if they were driving through the ground. However, this still needs some work because it would only work in cities where the subway broadly follows the same path as the main roads.
It is important to stress that this is just a concept and not something that HERE will be releasing anytime soon. There are various issues that would need to be sorted out, especially how to get accurate information in many cities around the world. For the transit apps of today, it’s usually enough to know where stops are and how far away the next bus or train is. But for this new visualisation to work, it would be essential to know exactly which turns buses take on their routes.
Despite this, Jens says, “We’ve identified the major cities, New York, Chicago, Berlin, so for those cities we could definitely polish the data and it could be made available for a transit layer of this nature.”
After positive responses to the initial concept, Mei and Jens are keen to develop a prototype to gauge further reaction.
Jens says, “If we make a prototype and everybody says ‘wow, amazing’ then we can leverage this to show it should be developed further.”
If you can’t stand waiting for a train or bus then this form of visualisation could alleviate your pain considerably. It’s not enough to know how many minutes you need to wait at a bus stop. If I could see the bus moving towards me, on the other hand, I reckon I’d feel far more relaxed.
Jens and Mei will be available to show how this prototype works and to answer your questions in a live session on Periscope on Friday June 19 at 3:30pm Berlin time. Make sure you follow us on Twitter and Periscope to know when we're live.
We will keep you posted on any future developments of the 3D transit layer. In the meantime, what do you think of the concept?