GIS, GPS, and self-driving cars

The King County Department of Information Technology recently participated in “Vendor Day” at Seattle City Hall with the City of Seattle’s Department of Information Technology. Folks from all sorts of businesses circulated in the room, and many dropped by our table to see if there were some products or services we might be interested in.

A businesswoman passed our table and exclaimed, “Oh, GIS! Is that related to GPS? I couldn’t live without my GPS.” This led into an interesting discussion…one I’ve had many times with family and friends.

GIS and GPS are two very different things, but as I explained to my new acquaintance, there wouldn’t be GPS without GIS. In GIS, we create and maintain the information about streets and routes upon which navigation devices and software utterly depend.

Think of the leap it took to go from folded paper maps that you might have bought at a gas station, to the map you see in your GPS. How did it get there? And, what enables the GPS to create a route for you to follow to your destination? The answer, my friends, is GIS.

This article from the New York Times is a fascinating look at how GIS and IT professionals are building the digital maps that self-driving cars will reference as they move us from point to point: Building a Road Map for the Self-Driving Car.

A view from the digital map referenced in the article. (Ford via The New York Times)

Dennis Higgins is the Client Services Manager in the King County GIS Center.

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