Time Map system, Peter Liu What's different about the Time Map system is that it worries about time first, and specific directions second. (Photo: MapBox)

Let's say you're visiting an unfamiliar city for the first time, just dropped off your stuff at the hotel, and are eager to grab something to eat before meeting a friend. If you were to type "restaurants" into something like Google Maps, you would likely receive a slew of options presented in ascending order from geographically closest to farthest away.

While this traditional method of presenting points of interest is helpful, the more useful, and consequentially the most important, piece of data nearly all of us are interested in is how much time it will take to go from A to B. Just because something is geographically closest, doesn't necessarily mean it's necessarily the fastest option. All sorts of variables like street grids, congestion or natural features can make a nearby site a chore to get to quickly.

"Time is the only metric that can take into account how we really travel," writes Charlie Davies for Directions Magazine. "A mile could take five or 50 minutes, but traveling for a minute will always be the same. When filtering search results by time, customers can immediately know which suggestions are the most desirable."

Designer and software engineer Peter Liu has considered this preference for time-based travel and turned it into a clever new mapping system called Time Map that initially removes the physical world and places queried destinations within concentric units of time. Once you choose one that fits your schedule based on walking, biking or car, the map shifts to the familiar grid of streets and buildings and provides you with turn-by-turn directions.

Once you choose your destination based on time, Lieu's map shifts to provide you with traditional turn-by-turn directions. Choose your destination based on time and Liu's map shifts to provide you with traditional turn-by-turn directions. (Photo: MapBox)

By removing literal geography, we now have a map that more closely reflects the way we think about our environment: a cluster of restaurants "five minutes that way" versus "ten minutes the other," he explains. "We can watch our surroundings literally expand and contract with different means of travel. And only after choosing a destination do we think about roads, turns, and the specifics of how to get there."

While you can try out a live prototype of Time Map right now, the ultimate goal, according to Liu, is to incorporate the technology into either current mapping software or as a standalone app.

Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.

New map design relies on time, then streets
Software engineer Peter Liu has developed a dynamic mapping system that better reflects how we think about our environment.