A Czech company with roots at FI MU creates maps for NASA and airlines.
Author: Martina Fojtů for em.muni.cz
A graduate of the Faculty of Informatics at MU, Petr Přidal founded a company that supplies map materials and applications worldwide.
Enthusiasm for the field and a drive to start new projects is a combination that can take one quite far. It prompted this graduate of the Faculty of Informatics to start his own company, which now supplies map materials and applications to NASA, Siemens or Amazon.
Already at high school he had known he would become a computer scientist. At that time, he was programming and, thanks to what he had learned at school, he was able to dive even deeper. "I remember using the public transport at night. People around me were coming from a party and I was reading the manual for the Solaris operating system there", says Přidal.
In computer science, he has always liked its multidisciplinarity and how that opens different problems one can move between. Přidal already had a small number of customers in high school, and while at the University, for example, he helped the Brno observatory with a computer program that moved telescopes to point at specific stars. The turning point for his future career, however, was a project at the Moravian Regional Library, where still a student, he worked as a network administrator.
A little luck with a project
A project he participated in focused on maps where he had to solve one big problem: There were a lot of old documents all over the libraries that showed what the world looked like a few years ago, or even centuries ago. But at a time when we were all used to finding information in texts using Ctrl+F in a few seconds, almost no one wanted to rummage through the documents for days and hours. He adds that he had to come up with a system to find what was needed in digitized documents, as well as where a specific map was available.
"It does not seem so, but there is a lot of interesting math behind maps. People have the impression that a specific place on Earth can be easily defined in terms of longitude and latitude, but this is not entirely true. For example, America moves 2.5 centimeters away from Europe every year, so in a few decades we are meters away. We have to enter all this into digital maps", he mentions one of the obstacles.
His work for the library lead to the project staremapy.cz and also a diploma thesis, which further stimulated his interest in cartography. Already as a doctoral student, he traveled the world, where the Swiss noticed him at a conference in Bern, having the impression that his invention in the Czech Republic could also solve their problems with old maps. And so it was. Although he had to pass a distrustful commitee at the famous ETH Zurich University, he eventually received a contract and thus a definitive confirmation that he could make money with his invention.
An own successful company
Today's product, which he creates together with more than two dozen colleagues from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and other countries, is branded as MapTiler. It uses geographical data from various free sources. The data come from satellite and aireal maps or municipal and state maps, plus some personal maps. The result is a product that competes with Google Maps because, unlike them, it works offline and does not store data about their users.
Thanks to this, the American space agency NASA, giants Siemens and Amazon bought maps from the company, and the German daily Berliner Morgenpost, for example, monitored the occurrence of coronavirus in the country thanks to them, in an application used by over six million users a day in this tool alone.
"Today, our maps are viewed by an estimated 250 million people a month, which is 25 times more than the population of the Czech Republic. I still find it unbelievable that we have built a global business”, says Přidal, who brings together customers from Japan, the United States and African countries, and shakes his head.
You use his product, for example, on long journeys by plane, when you check the airplane´s location. Also, for example, the already mentioned NASA uses the maps as a basis for its advanced maps, by further supplying, for example, data on the Earth's magnetism and other measurements.
All this explains why the Brno native started a business years ago. "Personally, I have a vision, which also became the company vision, to help people solve their problems. Informatics provides many useful tools. The measure of success for me is not how much money I made, but how many people we helped", he says passionately.
Today, other people might be able to imitate him. Although it may seems that the current technological boom, constantly generating new technical solutions and improvements, must stop one day, Přidal does not see it that way at all. There will always be opportunities, you just need to have an eye for them.