Geovation Hub Opens in Edinburgh

We welcome the announcement by Scotland’s Digital Economy Minister, Kate Forbes, that Geovation Scotland will be established in Edinburgh as an accelerator for geospatial start-ups.

This is an exciting collaboration between Registers of Scotland and Ordnance Survey that will harness a model successfully piloted in London but with a unique Scottish flavour. The hub will promote open innovation, provide start-up companies with support and access to public datasets, while harnessing the opportunities of working alongside the Scottish tech and geospatial communities.

Bruce Gittings, Chair of the Association for Geographic Information in Scotland, said “We have strongly supported the creation of a Geovation Hub in Edinburgh. Scotland has a dynamic geospatial sector but Geovation will add further vigour by growing new ideas and small companies, employing graduates and giving further exciting opportunities to existing players in the field.”

This hub will be based close to the the university and we see it as an important collaboration for developing our students and graduates, and encouraging them to set up their own business.  There are already a number of companies setup by our graduates, the most recent being EarthWave.

EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Review : Prof. Alison Heppenstall, University of Leeds and Alan Turing Institute : 1st Mar

“Bringing the Social City to the Smart City”

For a joint EEO-AGI and Hutton Club Seminar Series, we welcomed Professor Alison Heppenstall, a Professor of GeoComputation at the University of Leeds and an ESRC-Turing fellow. Alison guided us through her new research into the methodology and implementation of big data in understanding human behaviour and its impacts, and how this can be used to create smarter, healthier cities.

By 2050, the UN predicts that 70% of the population will be living in urban areas. In Africa, cities are expanding faster than the infrastructure can be built. It is easy to see that cities will play a crucial role in our future. So, how can big data help? The goal of Alison’s research is to understand the impacts of human behaviour. Particularly, how behaviour changes spatially and temporally, and how it is affected by disruptions.

Our phones monitor our activity 24/7, and with the increased use of smartwatches, our steps, heart rate and location are routinely tracked – even our sleep. Combined with the strong computational power and ability to store huge amounts of data, we can now progress from an aggregate-level analysis to individual. By bringing cities and big data together, we can plan for a smarter, healthier future of our cities and people living in them. Piecing together the who, where and why can reveal the secrets of cities: pollution and crime hotspots, who is being exposed? Where are the popular economic hotspots? How can we develop active cities to encourage healthy citizens? We must look into social data for patterns and clusters across time and space. However, geographers are notorious for handing space-time badly…

Dynamic data assimilation is the process of adding real-time data to predictors and recalibrating to understand the potential decisions (and consequences) of humans. In this process, we can unearth patterns we would not usually see. However, due to the mass of data, we are new to manipulating it and using it to its full potential. But data wrangling from disciplines such as epidemiology can introduce new perspectives on human behaviour, and as we want to see behind the expected patterns (not people going to work at 9 am and returning at 5 pm), we need to think outside the box.

Straight-line flow maps and Bézier curves are all data visualisation techniques. The homogenisation of data can also allow us to identify patterns on national scales. A strong point throughout Alison’s seminar was the importance of good data visualisation, reinforced by the wide range of techniques presented to display her data. However, the bias presented by data visualisation, such as choosing what is or isn’t shown can significantly affect how patterns are found – but Alison says using a suite of data visualisation techniques can help avoid this. Other means of cluster-identification, such as K-means, DBSCAN and degree-node identify clusters or groups and popular routes for reaching places – but what if these groups are more spatially dependent than we realise? What is the spatial context?

 

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Figure 1 Left: Straight-line flow map; right: Bézier curves of train travel.

 

Recent research of Alison’s from a Chinese city, Shenzhan, shows that people actively changed their behaviour when a new metro line was built, as two new clusters formed. Can we use big data to predict short-term changes in behaviour to disruptions – such as, how will Londoners change their behaviour with the new Elizabeth line?

 

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Figure 2 (a) before the metro station was built;
(b) after the metro station was built with two new clusters.

 

A glaring issue, nonetheless, is present: ethics. The UK has strict safeguarding of our data, and there are several training courses required before you can have access. But is anonymity of data enough? Monitoring where people go, their race or gender and other “anonymous” characteristics other than name or address are still hugely revealing. This raises the question of who can have access to this data, and how much should they be allowed to do with it?

Despite this, machine learning combined with big data gives a unique opportunity to adapt and manipulate social data to reveal unknown patterns in human behaviour on a spatial and temporal scale. With the aim of building better agent-based models, we can add parameters or rules derived from machine learning analyses to provide solutions to help our cities become smarter.

Harriet Branson, MSc Geographical Information Science

EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Review : Elliot Hartley, Garsdale Design : 1st Feb

“Geodesign and Smarter Planning” – Elliot Hartley (Garsdale Design)

For a joint EEO-AGI and Hutton Club Seminar series we welcomed Elliot Hartley the Managing Director of Garsdale Design, an expert in 3D urban modelling and geodesign, to guide us through his personal journey and experiences in the need for implementation of geodesign for smarter planning.

Elliot Hartley eloquently set the scene  the scene, “humans are in a pickle”. According to recent UN reports, 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 68% by 2050. As urbanisation continues, sustainable development necessitates how do we successfully plan urban growth to ensure the benefits of urbanisation are fully shared and inclusive for all? The possible solution? Geodesign.

Geodesign utilises the geovisualisation and geoanalytical aspects of GIS and combines it with planning and design practices to  create design proposals set within a geographic context. At the foundation of geodesign is an iterative workflow that uses stakeholder input and collaboration, spatial modelling and analysis, and model simulations within a geographical context. This enables a comprehensive final design and is a useful tool for enabling effective decision making. Elliot Hartley describes it as, “ A holistic approach to the design process that includes responsive & iterative, analysis in real-time”.  This is a powerful tool that can evaluate the performance of a series of different designs to find the most optimal outcome (profit, environmental impact, social impact, etc.)  by evaluating and compromising with all stakeholders. This is due to its unique ability to  provide more informed design decisions based on geographic visualisation represented in a 3D model.

However, there are obstacles to adopting this holistic approach. Elliot Hartley outlined that most professionals at all stages of a typical design process, from the city surveyors to architects, are “trapped within their professional cell”. For example, architects and urban planners whilst understanding that it is vital to undertake research and incorporate geographic context  in their designs, still  do not typically use GIS. This is likely due to the number of GIS programmes and platforms to attempt to learn. Which are often not compatible with one another, making things appear overly complex and time consuming. Or vice-versa, with GIS users not understanding the design process.

The solution Elliot believes is a future that requires greater collaboration  between different organisations and listening to the needs across departments to erode the effects of this “professional cell” and promote learning from others. Only when we “Stop. Collaborate, and listen” will we find solutions that benefit greater society. This was demonstrated with Elliot’s playful nature from which he realised that using the pre-existing Unreal Engine, a suite of tools designed specifically for game developers to design and build games, could be incorporated into the geodesign workflow. Learning and utilising these pre-existing tools and incorporating the Unreal Engine into the workflow enabled the easier production of visually pleasing and accurate 3D models. It is this collaborative and playful practice that Elliot Hartley promotes that not only can be applied to the context of geodesign but any professional practice. Helping to find the solutions to societies  greatest challenges.

“We have the data and we have the methodology, lets begin to do things properly. “ – Elliot Hartley.

Jozef Rusin, MSc Earth Observation and Geoinformation Management

EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Review : Layla Gordon, OS Labs : 18th Jan

This week we were honoured to welcome Layla Gordon, computer scientist and lead of the Ordnance Survey future development team. She focused her talk on the topics of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) here summarized with the term of Geo Immersive Reality (GIR). In recent years, GIR has risen as an important topic for futuristic developments of soft- and hardware. Through strong processing power in standard mobile devices combined with modern location techniques, apps have been designed which enable the user an overlay of web-based information on their reality. The reality has become a mixed reality. Such overlay could be used in multiple scenarios. Layla presented several OS applications, which allowed for instance the overlay of underground pipes on a road, relating to the particular position of the user, or indoor story telling in historical buildings through triangulation via Bluetooth beacons. This use-case could also be helpful for fast orientation in large buildings, like hospitals. According to a survey presented by the speaker, a major amount of hospital staff could benefit from such navigation systems as they are often part-time employees or ‘on loan’ from other hospitals and therefore not familiar with the local geography. In such circumstances, an indoor-navigation application could be a life-saver. Furthermore, Layla showed further developments in combination with holo-lenses, which would allow the use of AR in our daily life. For now, holo-lenses are still too expensive and massive and are therefore not ready for the mass market, but future developments could enable a massive presence of Holograms for multiple purposes. Booking an uber car by clicking on it while it drives by or standing literally in the model of a complex building which has been planned are just a few examples for the immense possibilities of this technology. Education could benefit massively as well from virtual reality, as students could be prompted into an artificial environment with which they could interact and learn. This has been done already by the Ordnance Survey receiving great feedback from their students as Layla showed. Summarizing, this week’s talk was a delightful journey to future technologies, raising the curiosity of the auditorium towards endless possibilities and leaving us all with many questions and thoughts to think about.

Maximilian Bakenhus
MSc Geographical Information Science

 

EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Review : Dr. Graeme Buchanan, RSPB Scotland : 7th Dec

‘Remote Sensing for Conservation’ – Dr Graeme Buchanan (RSPB Scotland)

The longevity of many species that inhabit our world is under threat from anthropogenic effects, such as habitat destruction. To find solutions and help those who are vulnerable, it is essential that we precisely monitor these effects. Remote sensing has proved useful for various applications, and its popularity as a tool to aid conservation action has been ever increasing since the first paper on remote sensing for ecology in 1969. In fact, remote sensing can help fill a gap in conservation monitoring and decrease time needed to monitor, as it was previously carried out on foot.

For a special Christmas event the EEO-AGI and Hutton Club seminar series joined together to introduce Dr Graeme Buchanan from RSPB Scotland who discussed how remote sensing can be used in conservation. He explored this notion with case studies from his new book “Satellite Remote Sensing for Conservation Action: Case Studies from Aquatic and Terrestrial Ecosystems”.

Satellite Remote Sensing for Conservation of East Asia’s Coastal Wetlands

East Asia’s coastal wetlands are areas of great habitat importance for passive waders, such as the spoonbill sandpiper. This species’ population has declined massively over the past few years due to loss of habitat from agriculture and urbanisation. Using Landsat data from the 1990s onwards, a map of mudflats and mudflat loss was produced, which went on to influence conservation action. The tool developed to create these maps will be useful for other study areas.

Lessons Learned from WhaleWatch – Predictions of Whale Migration

High levels of whale mortality are caused from entanglement in fishing kit or collisions with ships. WhaleWatch was developed in order to allow ships to monitor where whales are to reduce the possibility of collisions. ARGOS satellite tag data was used to locate and model krill (the main food source for whales) locations, which would indicate where whales are. The data of whale positions was put online using a user-friendly interface and has subsequently reduced whale collision rates.

Wildfire monitoring with Satellite Remote Sensing to Support Conservation

Fire dependent and fire sensitive ecosystems are found over large areas of Africa, such as in Tanzania and Niger. Data from MODIS was used to investigate what areas were being burned and when. Investment into infrastructure (satellites for Internet access) was required to ensure the data from this study could be made available for those in the affected areas.

Dr Graeme Buchanan rounded off his case studies by exploring common themes and lessons learned from these examples and others in his book. He expressed that collaboration of all stakeholders is key and the importance of data remaining free and accessible for conservation. He explained how better temporal resolution may be favoured over a high spatial resolution for conservation action. The usefulness of remote sensing to aid in conservation monitoring and management is clearly evident, although the ground data to calibrate earth observation data is still a necessity. Remote sensing provides a valuable method for monitoring habitat loss, animal migration and wildfires, among many other conservation applications.

“Satellite Remote Sensing for Conservation Action: Case Studies from Aquatic and Terrestrial Ecosystems” edited by Allison K. Leidner and Graeme M. Buchanan is available now.

Kirsty Hulme, MSc Geographical Information Science

[Next talk – Fri 18th Jan 2019 with Layla Gordon, Research and Innovation Scientist, OSGB/OSLabs – http://www.eeo.ed.ac.uk/seminars ]

EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Review : David Rush and Lesley Gibson, University of Edinburgh : 12th Oct

Remote sensing detection of fires in informal settlements – IRIS-Fire (Improving the Resilience of Informal Settlements against Fire) – Dr David Rush and Dr Lesley Gibson

Remote sensing applications are continually broadening – primarily through improvement of spatial and temporal resolution of satellite data. IRIS-Fire is an interdisciplinary research project, for which remote sensing techniques are pivotal. The project aims to improve the resilience of informal settlements to fire, carried out by an international team based at The University of Edinburgh and Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Dr David Rush, a project engineer and Dr Lesley Gibson, a remote sensing expert delivered an insight into the research the IRIS-Fire project is undertaking.

Informal settlements are growing around the world with the trend of urbanisation. These settlements are densely packed and haphazardly constructed – with narrow pathways between buildings, chaotic electric cables and highly flammable construction materials. These factors make informal settlements extremely vulnerable to fire. IRIS-Fire is currently focused in the City of Cape Town, where 18-33% of the population resides in informal households. The city experiences at least 1 informal settlement fire per day. The Imizamo Yethu fire in 2017 is an extreme example, where the dwellings of 10,000 people were destroyed.

To improve the resilience of informal settlements to fires, the project is attempting to understand the conditions under which fires occur. Dr Lesley Gibson introduced us to the integral use of remote sensing in the identification of fire events in informal settlements. IRIS-Fire aims to produce a monitoring and analysis framework using satellite data. The purpose of this is to detect fire events, subsequently higher resolution imagery can be used to observe the settlement structure before the fire occurred. A Google Earth time series detects the burnt regions by identifying the change in the optical reflectance signal from the ground surface. Optical sensors are currently the focus of the IRIS-Fire project, particularly SPOT and Sentinel-2 blue band, which have a 10m resolution. Synthetic Aperture Radar methods are also being taken into consideration.

In Cape Town, IRIS-fire has found limited detectable spectral change associated with the burning itself. The rebuilding process, however, has a distinct optical spectral character, as a result of the emergency rebuild kits (the metal roofs of these rebuild kits are extremely shiny) provided by the city of Cape Town to households affected by a fire. This increase in reflectance of the shiny roofs is detectable by satellite. Dr Lesley Gibson informed us of the success in detecting regions exposed to fires by this change in optical spectral reflectance. Research is still underway to reduce the influence of noise and false positives, exploring options such as ratio approaches and spatial autocorrelation.

Dr David Rush introduced us to the research taking place to improve understanding of the computational fluid dynamics of fire, both inside individual buildings and across settlements structures. This includes collecting samples from dwellings to understand their flammability and fuel load and surveys on fire history. Experiments are taking place, in which model settlements are being set alight to consider how settlement structures, such as Euclidian distances influence fire risk and the impact of fuel load, size and ventilation. The experiments are being carried out to develop a mapping algorithm to identify critical at-risk areas within informal settlements.

This seminar was a great insight into this innovative interdisciplinary project. Coalescing the knowledge of engineers, social scientists, fire safety scientists and remote sensing specialists, to improve the resilience of informal settlements against fires. The remote sensing portion provides a method for identifying settlements impacted by the fire, allowing for a time series to assess the structure pre-fire. The modelling of fire dynamics by the project engineers is attempting to produce a mitigation/prevention strategy to improve the resilience of the settlements to fire. While still in the research phases, IRIS-Fire is progressing towards producing a generic risk-mapping framework and best practice resilience-based technical guidelines to improve the fire resilience informal settlements. This will be initially applied to the Western Cape with potential to be extrapolated to wider regions with informal settlements.

Sarah Cheesbrough, MSc Earth Observation and Geoinformation Management

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winning Ways: Telling Stories with Maps

Recent Edinburgh Geographical Information Science graduates Livia Jakob and Miles McConville entered the Esri 2018 ‘Storytelling with Maps Contest’ and won 1st and 2nd place in the Culture, History, and Events category.

Story telling with maps is part of the Visual Analytics course, a course from the MSc portfolio offered by the School of GeoSciences led by senior lecturer Dr William Mackaness. As part of this course, a task is set that requires students to tell a story through a mix of media, maps, graphics and sound. The task involves the use of web based mapping tools. The story can be on any topic; the story must be coherent, compelling, interactive, and above all sustain and reward the reader. The task is no different from the challenges of telling of any good story, but with the additional challenge of incorporating geographic dimensions through the use of thematic mapping, timelines and graphics in order to convey physical and human landscapes.

Students are encouraged to submit their work to an Annual International Story Telling competition organised and judged by ESRI (www.esri.com). ESRI, based in California (USA), is an international supplier of GIS software and applications. Students from the MSc in GIS have won prizes in previous years. Livia comes from Switzerland, where she did her degree in Geography and Computer Science at the University of Bern. She is now working for Professor Iain Woodhouse. Miles is Scottish and worked in outdoor education before returning to Edinburgh. After recently completing his MSc in August he has joined the Edinburgh GIS team as a Teaching Assistant.

Pay or Die? – Prison or Cemetery?

Livia’s 1st place Storymap titled “Pay or Die? – Prison or Cemetery?” tells the story of gang culture and perspectives of children and young adults in El Salvador. Below is a mosaic of images from Livia’s story map. The project can be viewed at: https://arcg.is/S5CH

It Took A Fire

Miles’ Storymap was titled “It Took a Fire” and tells the story of the Grenfell tower fire and its links with social inequality in London. Mosaic of images from Miles’ story map. The project can be viewed at: http://p.ctx.ly/r/803s

Hans Rosling taught us the importance of truth in story telling (www.gapminder.org) and demonstrated the capacity of interactive technologies and visualisation techniques to erode ignorance and challenge bigoted views. Story Maps seek to do the same.

EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Review : Leif Isaksen, University of Exeter : 25th May

Over the last years, Archaeologists have identified the importance of sharing the information given the complexity and the amount of our data. The development of web and geospatial technologies has enhanced the capability to publish our information[1]. This does not only imply more original ways of presenting the results from our studies to the public[2]; it also enables archaeologists to work collaboratively through powerful online.

This has been the aim of Leif Isaksen, the speaker of the seminar on the 25th May, who is a professor in Digital Humanities at the University of Exeter and is Project Director of the Pelagios Commons. Leif defines himself as being interested in community exchange. This concern has determined his career towards the unification of his particular interests on the online visualisation and linking of spatial ancient data and his research ambits: Ptolemy’s Geography, the Tabula Peutingeriana and the geographic thought and representation in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Currently he is also an active member of the excavation team in the hilltop enclosure on Cluny Hill in Forres, Moray.

Leif’s talk revolved around the Pelagios Commons project and its focus on linked open geodata in the past-oriented humanities. The ambition of the project is to use the web as a medium for promoting the connection and exchange of online historical resources through the places they refer to amongst its community of users. He also emphasized the fact that its applications are not only restricted to Archaeology or History, as other fields such as poetry and literature also make use of it.

In order to introduce the background of the project, Leif used Herodotus’ Histories as an example and what he called the “semantic miracle”, regarding the identification of places referred in the text. Once this happens, it is necessary to apply the connecting principle to link the words to their location: annotate each string of characters with unique URLs linking to a gazetteer such as Pleiades. However, in this growing digital ecosystem of linked data, a huge variety of resources is available. However, Pelagios as a connecting infrastructure aims to become the toolset that puts all websites and documents about the study place according to the same structure.

Continuing with the same work by Herodotus, the audience was introduced Pelagios Commons’ website as first-time users: automatic identification of location names, color-coding, tagging and the eventual map visualisation. During this explanation, as an archaeologist, the first thing that comes to mind are all the sites whose location remains unknown or uncertain. This is resolved by providing a list of the sources referring to the name, which the user can use to decide if a location has to be assigned. Moreover, the user must confirm if the automatic identifications have been made correctly and can do any modification before the map is created.

Speaking in front of an audience full of GIS students, Leif was clear to note that one of the key points was that all identified places are available as a CSV file for further spatial analysis. Pursuing his interests, he also pointed out Pelagios’ capability to transcribe and annotate on old maps, a feature that has recently been improved so as to display other elements on it. The tools on the website seem to be countless. It is also possible to create emergent networks that connect text annotations together, in which you can apply network analysis. Furthermore, users can collaborate on the same document according to different levels of permissions.

Finally, Leif introduced the latest development of Pelagios Commons project: Peripleo. The website provides the user with a map and a search box. After supplying a word, the map displays the locations associated to the word, which you can click to see more information, and a histogram showing its usage over time. All these features seem exciting and tremendously useful when you want to check quickly the sources and the location of specific elements. As Leif joked, it is a good alternative to Google for historical elements.

After all the technical explanations, Leif addressed the growing scope of the project and engaged us to attend the Linked Pasts IV meeting on December 12-13 in Mainz, Germany. It is exciting to hear how projects like this are trying to engage professionals from all over the world through working groups and development grants. Hopefully this is just the start of the linked open data in humanities!

Guillem Domingo Ribas

(MSc in GIS & Archaeology)

 

The Archaeological Flavouring to ‘Scotland from the Sky’

William Mackaness

18 June 2018

Recently aired on BBC1 Scotland was the three part series, ‘Scotland from the Sky’, presented by Jamie Crawford, who works as a publisher at Historic Environment Scotland, an organisation dedicated to the advancement of heritage, culture, education and environmental protection. One dimension to the series was the role of aircraft in exploring the archaeology of Scotland.

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Looking west along the Gask ridge (Copyright: Kathryn Murphy 2018)

Special amongst the first aviators to comprehend the enourmous potential of aerial archaeology was Osbert G S Crawford. Osbert was a British archaeologist who specialized in the study of prehistoric Britain and became the first archaeological officer of the Ordnance Survey in 1920. He first developed his interpretive mapping skills whilst in the Royal Flying Corps where he was involved in ground and aerial reconnaissance along the Western Front.

 

StrageathRomanFortDetail

The complicated ditch-system of the Strageath Roman fort was first revealed by air photography in 1957 by J K St Joseph. The disturbance to the earth is just as visible today (Copyright: Kathryn Murphy 2018)

Following the end of the war he worked with others (notably the marmalade magnate and archaeologist Alexander Keiller) to gather and conduct his own aerial campaigns including an aerial search for Roman archaeology in the south of Scotland in a de Havilland plane in 1936, piloted at that time by Kenneth St Joseph (also a renowned archaeologist and pilot). As part of the series, the BBC enlisted the services of Dr William Mackaness, School of GeoSciences at The University of Edinburgh. He and his wife Nicola own and fly a de Havilland Tiger moth, based at Scone airfield near Perth. The adventure entailed flying from Perth to Cumbernauld, picking up various archaeology along the Gask ridge and the Antonine wall, whilst being filmed from a helicopter riding shotgun.

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G-BWVT – A 1942 Australian built de Havilland Tiger Moth piloted by William Mackaness

The mission had been variously cancelled due to weather and logistics, but on the appointed summer evening, the sun cast its golden beams across the Scottish landscape, and we gently traveled back in time.

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‘Kaims Castle’ framed in the flying wires of the Tiger moth. The Roman fort is unusual in having a rectilinear rampart defended by curvilinear trenches  (Copyright: Kathryn Murphy 2018).

The Gask ridge refers to a linear set of forts and watch towers, built by the Romans between 70 and 80 AD. Pre-dating the Antonine wall, it extends for 10 miles over land to the north of the River Earn in Perthshire, Scotland. For those wishing to savour the associated imagery and that of the archives of Historic Environment Scotland, there is an accompanying book entitled ‘Scotland From the Sky’ published by Historic Environment Scotland (RRP £25), – available from any reputable bookshop!

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The ridge patterns indicative of the multiple and changing occupancy of Ardoch fort (Copyright: Kathryn Murphy 2018)

Acknowledgement

I am most grateful for use of the copyright images captured by the archaeologist, and graduate of Edinburgh University’s Masters in GIS & Archaeology, Kathryn Murphy, taken on a subsequent flight in June 2018 (kathrynmurphy@hotmail.ca).

 

 

 

Biggest Changes to UK data provision ever contemplated as OS MasterMap becomes free and open

The UK Government made its most important announcement ever today in relation to spatial data provision in the UK when it agreed that “key parts” of the Ordnance Survey’s MasterMap will be made openly available for the public and small-businesses to use.  MasterMap is the definitive detailed base map of the UK and until now has been the  OS’s closely-guarded crown jewels.  Coming remarkably quickly after the UK Government’s enthusiasm to set up a Spatial Data Commission, and a pledge  “to establish how to open up freely the OS MasterMap data to UK-based small businesses in particular” in Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond’s Autumn 2017 Budget, the Government is determined to “drive forward the UK as a world leader in location data, helping to grow the UK’s digital economy by an estimated £11 billion each year.”  The AGI welcomed this new initiative.

Of course, the devil is in the detail: not all of OS MasterMap will be given away for free.  The focus is on land and property, so it is property extents and topographic indentifiers (TOIDs) which form the basis of this announcement.  There is little doubt that a significant driver here is maximising the amount of land available for house-building.  Other datasets that will be made available for free up to a threshold of transactions through OS-managed APIs, effectively restricting free use to small businesses.  These components include Topography Layer (including building heights and functional sites); Greenspace Layer; Highways Network; Water Network Layer; and the Detailed Path Network.

In many ways the announcement is remarkable.  Reducing the cost of MasterMap was seen by many observers as the new Geospatial Data Commission’s most difficult task, yet the announcement comes almost before the Commission has been set-up and certainly before the Commissioners have been appointed.  It will change the way Ordnance Survey does business, taking away at least some of its main source of revenue and making it forever reliant on government funding.  The government has put aside £40 million per annum for the next two years to fill this gap; it remains to be seen how this will be funded in the longer term.  Given this seems to be a significant announcement at the start of the Geospatial Commission’s journey, there is a degree of excitement as to how this will develop over the coming years.  It comes down to economic benefit; if this benefit is proven and the UK economy is richer because of it, then there must be more to come.

Regardless, this development will provide an enormous boost for our students as they go out to work in a world where the costs of spatial data have dropped drastically, and gives genuine opportunities for them to create their own small businesses, based on free and open-source software and free data.  It also challenges those who have promoted the Open Street Map (OSM) project.  This crowd-sourced data generation project was undoubtedly one of the drivers which have led to the freeing-up of the OS MasterMap data, but its modus operandi in the UK is changed overnight.  The OSM project already had to adapt when the Labour Government under Gordon Brown decided in 2010 that OS should give away its small-scale data for the national good.  OSM adapted by increasing its scale to provide a free alternative to the more detailed data maintained by OS.  It will now have to adapt again and may become a niche product without a USP and never seen as definitive.