3D seems silly and scientific, passé and cutting edge at the same time. It calls to mind the cardboard glasses with one red and one green lens that first enabled moviegoers at the Ambassador Hotel Theatre in Los Angeles on Sept. 27, 1922, to see images “come right off the theatre screen,” and continues with today’s ultra-everything video games, 3D television and (still more) 3D movies. Now, after decades in the entertainment business, however, 3D is also pursuing a real day job—mapping.

Apple set the software world abuzz in June when it unveiled the next generation of its mobile operating system, iOS 6, and its own digital maps service, replacing the Google Maps that have been a preinstalled feature on iPhones from the beginning. Both Google Earth and now Apple utilize 3D imagery to bring flat maps to life, instantly changing the familiar colored lines and symbols of one-dimensional maps into more “realistic” views of the road or the landscape ahead, as seen from the ground or from the air.

Users can tilt maps, pan views, zoom in and out, or even fly over major metropolitan areas, checking out the sights and scenery from above. Apple, in fact, calls its new aerial perspective feature “Flyover.”

It is perhaps not surprising, though, that opinions are mixed and enthusiasm muted concerning whether 3D will find a leading role in the trucking industry’s mission-critical routing and navigation business or play a lesser or even behind-the-scenes part. Sure, it looks exciting, the thinking goes, but can 3D really deliver value in a business as demanding as trucking?

“We try to be adaptive and to keep at the forefront of new developments,” notes Dan Titus, vice president, business development-North America, enterprise solutions for ALK Technologies, “and, of course, any preinstalled mapping and navigation application might be a potential competitor. When you are talking about 3D, however, it looks like much more of a consumer play… at least today. From a driver perspective, when was the last time you really needed to see a 3D view of where you were headed? We’ve had no requests at all that I know of.”

Besides the no-pressing-need obstacle to adding 3D capabilities to maps for use by commercial fleets, there are other issues as well. They include distracted driving as it impacts driver safety, and various technical problems like processing speed and data storage on mobile devices. What’s more, today’s industry-specific routing and navigation tools are already extremely sophisticated in their own right, delivering appropriate information on an as-needed basis.

Still, mapping and routing is at a very dynamic and changing period in its development, one with plenty of new jobs to tackle—maybe even for 3D.

“The product that is the safest and the most accurate, that saves companies money and is accepted and used by drivers is [the best routing and navigation solution],” says Rick Turek, former CTO and co-founder of Maptuit, and now vice president of engineering for Telogis, which recently acquired the company. “Drivers are not supposed to be watching a navigation screen while they are going down the road. A very quick glance is all that should be required, or all-audio input [so they never have to look away].

“I would not be surprised to see regulations limiting what information is presented to the driver and when,” he adds. Neither would others.

“Information for drivers will probably have to be managed according to whether the vehicle is moving,” says Mason Meadows, director of product development for Rand McNally. “Not actually showing drivers complex maneuvers ahead, but just giving them verbal warnings is probably better. We already have a ‘Safe Mode’ where we suppress some data to simplify the driving experience. [Going forward] we will be sensible and work to make sure driver information is simplified and easy to use.”

“Distracted driving is a huge issue,” agrees Titus. “The importance of driver safety can’t be overemphasized. From an ALK perspective, driver safety has always been a core assumption. We don’t want information overload [in the cab]. We’ve added text-to-speech technology to try to keep communication to a minimum. The question is, ‘What information do you need to provide to a driver and when?’ You don’t even want to say too much or to provide information at inappropriate times.”