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GeoWeb developing new directions to a better world through map technology

Galdos Systems and Safe Software among players in an industry helping businesses make better use of information

By Curt Cherewayko

July 27-August 2, 2010 Business in Vancouver

New tools and technologies like Google Earth and the smartphone are allowing consumers to navigate and visualize the world in ways they’ve never been able to before.

But attendees of the July 26 to 30 GeoWeb conference in Vancouver aren’t consumers – they’re map geeks – and, as such, they believe map accessibility and the technology that supports maps have a long way to go.

Companies, government reps and other organizations that have a stake in advancing mapping technology meet annually in Vancouver at GeoWeb to discuss how to make maps a more ubiquitous and useful part of life.

Attendee companies like Vancouver’s Galdos Systems Inc. and Surrey’s Safe Software Inc. are playing an important role in helping businesses and governments better visualize the information that’s relevant to them.

Galdos founder Ron Lake is an industry veteran known for inventing the geographic markup language (GML) that has become the standard for communicating digital-mapping information.

Lake told BIV that even with proper technology standards in place, governments and businesses are not realizing the full potential of new mapping technologies.

“The management of information and how it’s transmitted is undergoing a revolution,” he said. “It’s a slow revolution, but it’s a revolution.”

Part of the problem is the challenge in linking, for example, all the various relevant players and data points together to get a full picture of a city’s infrastructure.

“The idea of the geoweb is to produce an integrated picture of the whole world,” said Lake, “ideally in real time and at every level of scale from your neighbourhood to the globe.”

Indeed, this year’s theme at GeoWeb is how mapping data can be captured in real time.

While providing an accurate reflection of the world is the ultimate goal of companies like Galdos, it’s picking and winning smaller battles.

In a project with Public Safety Canada, Galdos is developing a system that will let the RCMP’s Vancouver-based E Division, the City of Vancouver and the City of Surrey fire department communicate in real time about the state and location of resources needed in emergencies such as earthquakes.

The system will, for example, let Surrey’s emergency response team tell other emergency providers where and how many burn units are available in the area surrounding an earthquake’s ground zero.

Galdos is also helping the U.S.A.’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) develop a tracking system for its aerospace and airport network that will allow the FAA to monitor natural events like a volcanic ash cloud, as well as man-made situations like a crane misplaced at the end of a runway.

If Galdos can help an industry or a geography build a robust mapping database, then eventually all those separate databases could be linked together to create an entire picture.

For example, emergency personnel and airlines could swap spatial information during the emergency response in a natural disaster.

“What we’ll see before we get to that stage is initiatives for information sharing in particular domains – like air traffic control and city planning,” said Lake.

As far as how mapping can help in city planning, Berlin, Germany, presents the best example.

It has visually modelled 450,000 buildings to create an online database that presents a digital picture of nearly the entire city.

City planners use the information in the database to assess how new buildings might affect sunlight in existing structures or how new buildings will affect underground infrastructure.

“I think it’s partly cultural that people don’t really comprehend how integrated everything is,” said Lake.

Google is using technology developed by Safe Software to gather and arrange spatial data in its Google Earth application.

Surrey is using the same software to gather data that allows the city to predict how an oil or chemical spill will travel through its drainage system.

Other cities are using Safe’s software to turn two-dimensional maps into textured three-dimensional maps.

Certain privacy issues are also at play when it comes to the sporadic adoption of new mapping technologies.

“You want as much open data as possible, but at the same time you have to protect people’s privacy,” said Don Murray, Safe’s president. “That’s the yin and yang of this whole open-data thing – you have to be careful.”

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