Like so much, technology has changed maps. For centuries, paper maps have been used. Actually, the oldest maps are cave paintings, dating back to 16,000 BC. The first maps done using surveying techniques have been found on clay tablets from the ancient Babylon. Virtually every civilisation has used maps in different forms. It would take some time before maps on paper appeared. Cartography, the art of making maps, has changed completely due to digital maps. For centuries maps were drawn by hand, based on information from land surveys. But with the help of computers, satellite images and GPS, cartography has become much easier.


Paper maps are still being printed but electronic maps, or more exactly digital maps, are taking over. Digital maps are made up of zeroes and ones. The numbers represent mapping information which can be interpreted by mapping software. The first digital maps were like the paper maps, but they included more information. And it was much easier to update a digital map than maps printed on paper. But after a while mapping software got bot more sophisticated and cheaper. With the introduction of GPS, digital maps have moved far further than just being an improved version of a paper map.

Maps printed on papers may be old-fashioned but they are lightweight and can be folded into a small flat bundle. Also digital maps are often printed, it is much easier to walk around carrying a sheet of paper than a PC. Digital maps have a number of advantages compared with maps printed on paper. Digital maps can be made much more accurate than paper maps. They can be distributed much cheaper and faster. In urban areas, roads can change frequently. If you have an auto-atlas, you would have to buy a new version in order to have up to date maps. With digital maps, you just download the latest updates, and your maps are up to date.

Of course, digital maps by themselves are not useful, you need software which transforms the digital data into a useful format. Both mapping software and hardware used to be expensive but with the success of GPS, prices have fallen drastically.

Digital maps can be divided into two groups, static maps and smart maps. Static maps are not much different from paper maps, except for that they are electronic. You can view view or print them. Smart maps contain not just the map but also additional information. This information can be used by software, generating reports in moments that earlier could have taken days.