Wearable Cartography – Portable Mapping System

Caitlin Dempsey


Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have developed a portal mapping system that transmits remotely a digital map of the wearer’s environment.  The concept behind the technology is known as simultaneous localization and mapping or SLAM and previously had only been applied to mapping by robots. The device was conceived as a way to help first responders and emergency management personnel assess and understand the spatial component of an emergency situation.  By enabling emergency responders the ability to generate real-time maps as they explore a location, the remote transmission of the spatial layout of a building can help external commanders the ability to better manage emergency situations.

The device is outfitted with several technological sensors to help map the physical environment.  A GPS unit tracks the physical location of the wearer.  The LiDAR rangefinder measures the return of light pulses in a 270° arc as part of the Automatic Mapping System.  Gyroscopes on the device measure the tilt of the rangefinder to adjust the map readings.  The accelerometers measure the speed of the person wearing the device.  An barometer measures changes in air pressure which is used to adjust for when a firefighter or law enforcement person changes floors. Lastly, the device contains a camera that captures a comparative image of the environment.  Software captures 200 types of visual features from imagery involving patterns, topography, and three dimensional entities.  The information extracted from the imagery is compared against the sensor data to ensure the digital map is correct.

The prototype also comes with a button the user can depress to mark areas of interest.  Researchers anticipate that later versions of the device will allow for text and voice annotations for areas of interest.

The device is worn on the chest and is about the size of an iPad with a backpack carrying the additional components.

Maurice Fallon, researcher from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, wears the portable mapping device.
Maurice Fallon, researcher from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, wears the portable mapping device.

The researchers tested the device by having a graduate student wandered the halls of a building on MIT’s campus while they sat in a nearby conference room.  A video demonstrating the device’s real-time mapping:


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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.

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1 thought on “Wearable Cartography – Portable Mapping System”

  1. The new point of beginning for land surveys is orbiting the earth at 5,000 miles an hour 12 ½ thousand miles up in the stratosphere and has been there for a very long time. That’s correct and I suppose I owe my fellow professional land surveyors an apology for my participation in the changes we have been going through the last 20 years (see the POB cover article attached). The fact of the matter is the PLS’s of this country have had our exclusive provenances invaded by all manor of non-surveyor professionals and others. In the state of Florida it is not “Professional Land Surveyors” it’s “Land Surveyors & Mappers” just how the aerial mapping guys of the world got included in professional land surveying by my state’s professional board is a big question to me. Now professional engineers are allowed to sign off on elevation certificates. However what’s coming next will change the profession for ever.

    GPS, Mobile Lidar and other technologies are doing the land surveyors job of collecting field data at rates that are truly amazing (and that’s coming from someone who has been involved in this technology for more than 2 decades). A Mobile Lidar device can collect more point data in 30 minutes than a bus load of land surveyors could collect in a month using optical instruments. The optical surveying equipment manufactures have been scrambling to try to maintain their position in this industry for more than 10 years. My fear is that they too are about to be overrun by technology. And the survey data want2bes are giving away imitation survey data and calling it real property line information.

    The question for the profession is can we or do we even want to be part of this revolution? Judging for the response I have had to your POB article from some of the PLS’s in my markets the answer is “not as long as I am alive”. Taking into consideration the lack of political power land surveyor’s posses within their own state’s professional licensing boards; is there any will for you guys to get involved in keeping our profession in the field data collecting processes?

    John W. Veatch
    239 282 9170

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