Why Did Hivemapper Design and Build a Dashcam?

Hivemapper’s dedicated dashcam ensures consistent, accurate, and trustworthy mapping data, prioritizing quality.

We are often asked, “Why can’t I use my iPhone or Android phone to collect data for the map?” and, “Why did Hivemapper design and build its own dashcam?” This wasn’t an easy decision for us to make. But after attempting to use iPhone and Android devices to collect map imagery, we ultimately decided that while it sounds good to say “use your iPhone/Android to map” in a tweet, in reality it’s a flawed approach that doesn’t scale over an extended period of time and creates lower quality data.
Customers care about high-quality and trustworthy data with high levels of coverage that is updated frequently. While contributors want an easy and passive experience — a set it and forget it experience. Finally, from a mapping network perspective, it’s critically important that contributors don’t churn, so that you have a stable and consistent set of contributors. With this in mind, let’s dive into the rationale that led us to design and build the Hivemapper Dashcam and Dashcam S.

1. Customers love consistent imagery

We always start with the customer’s needs. Map customers love standardized street-level imagery, since they often feed the imagery to machine-learning algorithms to detect objects (signs, lane markings, etc.). If we allowed contributors to use their own iPhone/Android, we would be dealing with endless image variations, which customers dislike because it increases the amount of work they need to do in order to use the imagery.

2. Customers really like accurate maps

It turns out that customers also really like accurate maps. The GPS in your phone just isn’t accurate enough for high-quality mapping. You’ve likely experienced this when using Google Maps / Waze. Your phone will sometimes think you’re driving on a nearby service road when in fact you’re on the highway. For reliable mapping, this is unworkable.
We are continuously working to improve the positional accuracy of the imagery as we develop future firmware releases and new dashcam models.

3. Customers need to trust the data

The GPS in your phone can be easily spoofed. As a map, it’s critical that we be able trust the collected data. Without trust, things break down quickly. We have built multiple layers of location-verification security into the dashcam, and may add more over time.

4. Set it and forget it experience for contributors

Most people use their iPhone/Android while driving. If they mount their phone properly in order to map, they can’t listen to music or easily take calls while driving. Their phone becomes a hostage to mapping, and they quickly give up. With Hivemapper’s dashcam, you can mount it and forget about it. Not only is this ideal for contributors, but it reduces contributor churn from a network perspective, helping it maintain a stable and consistent set of contributors in each region over an extended period of time.

5. Able to map in extreme weather conditions

If you’ve ever left your phone near your dashboard on a hot summer day in Arizona, you know that it can quickly overheat and automatically turn itself off. The dashcam is designed to withstand very hot summer days as it keeps doing its thing.

6. Leverage to reduce mapping costs (on our timeline)

Reducing the cost to map in order to increase the freshness of map coverage is core to what Hivemapper is building. Developing our own dashcam gives us more flexibility to do onboard object detection (signs, lanes, construction, etc.) as we control how much compute each dashcam will have. The last thing we want to do is pay huge cloud computing bills, which would make the data more expensive for map customers and reduce our ability to update the map frequently. With purpose-built dashcams, we set the roadmap and timeline for executing onboard map processing. This allows us to dramatically reduce mapping costs and to deliver more value to customers for less.

7. Exterior-mounted dashcams produce higher quality data

Exterior-mounted dashcams produce high-quality imagery and positional accuracy. Mounting an iPhone or Android phone outside of your vehicle is not for the faint of heart, to put it gently.

8. The Play Store Risk

We are building the world’s most up-to-date global map, and it’s no secret that one of Google’s crown jewels is Google Maps. The expansion of our mapping network and growth of our map is something Google would probably not be thrilled about. And they would likely do something to protect their investment in Google Maps.
If we primarily collected data via an Android app, Google could begin to nefariously delay update approvals of our Android app on the Play Store, or worse yet, remove it from the Play Store entirely. 
To be clear, this is not the primary reason we built the Hivemapper Dashcam — it’s a low probability scenario. But by independently building a dashcam, we eliminate this long-term risk to the project and the businesses that depend on it.

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