3M, USGS study ways to deliver maps electronically

3M and the U.S. Geological Survey recently signed a research agreement that eventually could lead to the development of kiosks able to print electronic maps on demand.

Under a 16-month cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) 3M is working with the Rocky Mountain Mapping Center in Lakewood Colo. to study how USGS' more than 56 000 topographic maps - or "quads" - can be reproduced quickly and at a quality that matches the agency's traditional high-quality lithographic maps.

"With the present technology we're not able to get the high-quality quads that match the lithographs " said John Evans a physical scientist at the Office of Data and Information Delivery which is part of USGS' National Mapping Division.

The CRADA includes other Interior Department bureaus that reproduce maps such as the Geologic Division which produces multicolored thematic maps showing for instance coal beds in Pennsylvania. But those maps involve reproducing more than 200 separate colors pushing the print-on-demand technology to its limits Evans said.

Quick Retrieval

USGS officials plan to have a system operational later this year that will print quads to support other federal agencies that may require a quick delivery of maps. For example the Federal Emergency Management Agency responding to an earthquake or hurricane may ask for 1 000 or more maps of the affected area. A print-on-demand system could have maps printed and delivered within 24 hours.

In addition USGS and 3M hope to have a prototype kiosk set up at the Rocky Mountain Mapping Center by March 1997. Tourists anglers and hikers could use the kiosk to choose an area in a national park they wish to visit that day.

USGS plans to survey the public and agency officials to find out if the new maps' quality is sufficient or if the maps need to be improved. "We're doing this to improve customer service " Evans said.

Civilian Applications

"We're testing the waters and trying to determine the commercial viability " said Kent Stewart program development manager for 3M in Washington D.C.

The company plans to apply the print-on-demand technology it developed for the Defense Mapping Agency last year to the USGS effort. It entered into the USGS agreement to expand the use of print-on-demand technology to civilian agencies and the retail market. 3M will apply its Scotchprint software system which has been used in the commercial sector to create billboards and oversize advertisements on city buses to the USGS' computer system at the mapping center in Colorado. USGS currently uses a Sun Microsystems Inc. Sparc workstation and a Hewlett-Packard Co. ink-jet printer. Under the CRADA USGS and 3M will study the use of electrostatic printers which could increase the speed of printing.

The CRADA could be extended so that USGS and 3M could study the following areas: applications that would increase the accuracy of maps where and how to store the electronic data for the maps and how government agencies and the public use the maps.

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