Map of the Future Revealed

An incredible three-dimensional map made from 700 million individual points of light is the latest step in a geography revolution unfolding on the south coast.

Ordnance Survey has been trialling the use of incredibly accurate lasers to create a spectacularly detailed map that could change the way the national mapping agency works and transform the way we think of maps forever.

The trials have been carried out in Bournemouth, with the town centre captured in startling detail. Experts say the technology could revolutionise the future of personal navigation, tourism and the planning process as well as aiding architects, and the emergency and security services.

Glen Hart, Head of Research at Ordnance Survey, comments: “Three-dimensional maps in themselves aren’t new, but what we’ve achieved in Bournemouth is a level of accuracy and detail that’s never been done before. This technology could change the way we map the country, but also have a massive impact on things like personal navigation.”

The map was created as part of a trial spanning three years, with every square metre of Bournemouth captured using a combination of land-based and aerial survey with high-accuracy lasers. “We started by collecting the terrain, then vegetation before adding individual buildings, the road network and aerial imagery.

“Given the level of detail that we’ve achieved, I think Bournemouth can confidently lay claim to being the best mapped place on the planet.”

Ordnance Survey maintains the master map of Britain through a combination of GPS ground survey and high-quality aerial photography. It makes on average 5,000 changes a day to that database, which is relied on by government and business, but it remains a two-dimensional representation, with quality three-dimensional mapping remaining the cartographic holy grail.

If maps like the one created of Bournemouth are produced for the entire country the ramifications could be far reaching. Hart continues: “Imagine the emergency services being able to accurately visualise the scene of an incident before arriving. They would have foreknowledge of points of access, be able to see any obstructions and know the size and shape of any buildings involved. This technology could have a genuine impact on people’s lives.” 

The mapping agency has also been in consultation with businesses that want to view buildings in 3D and calculate heat loss from individual floors and walls in order to improve energy efficiency and drive down carbon emissions.

Ordnance Survey says that it will be continuing with trials to help perfect the technology, but expects detailed mapping in three dimensions to be a reality within the next five years.

The best way to experience the technology is to see the finished model on YouTube: