In the next big version of Google Maps, we might see something akin to a kind of “urban operating system.”
This is what Urban Engines, a Lost Altos, California-based two-year old startup that Google has acquired, is envisioning. Within Urban Engines, there are four co-founders that are former Google engineers. Deal terms weren’t made available to the public.
If this vision ends up being implemented into something like Google Maps, marketers’ and retailers’ view of the world could very well be transformed from a generally static environment of specific data points, to one that is full as and flowing, just like the Internet.
Those who had observed the acquisition described Urban Engines as a “location analytics” firm, but really, this doesn’t really describe its intentions. This is indicated in the blog post announcing the acquisition:
“One fundamental challenge is how to piece together a high-fidelity, real-time ‘pulse’ at a city-wide scale, from[…] anonymized, aggregated space/time data (e.g, location and timestamps). For us [computer science] geeks, space/time data is a new ‘data type’ with exciting new scaling and algorithmic challenges. Over the past few years, we created Warp — a powerful, new space/time engine that stitches together millions of commuters and vehicles with special algorithms and cloud power.”
As noted in another company post, this space/time data consists of the movement of “each car, bus, bike, parcel, delivery service, and/or person [that] navigates busy city streets”:
“Unlike previous maps that merely account for space, e.g., the distance between San Francisco to LA, Urban Engines’ Space/Time engine factors in time, addressing how any given object moves through a system and within a timeframe, and with real-world context, like weather, events, and daily traffic fluctuations.”
In this case, let’s imagine a Google maps that not only maps space and the ability to estimate the time to travel that space, but every dynamic dimensions of moving through the real world.
It would appear that toe flow of the world’s traffic appears to be chaotic, but Urban Engines aims to predict the movement of those intersecting layers of chaos, ranging from people, cars, weather, scheduled events, traffic jams and beyond.
Right now, according to Urban Engines, their engine has been used to optimize delivery routes. Although Google Maps already calculates various routes and time required, with Urban Engines’ map tool, it may end up resembling predictive analysis that has been married to a network optimization tool.
With all this added to something like Google Maps, it isn’t hard to imagine that location-based targeting will similarly track the same dynamic data feed.
Urban Engines has coined a very cool name for this kind of space/time mapping – The Internet of Moving Things.