Sperry Marine, NIMA team on ocean chart project

Nautical electronics company Litton Marine Systems Inc. last month began work with the National Imagery and Mapping Agency to develop a commercial computer program that will read and display information from a vital NIMA database housing information on maritime features.

The relationship between the agency and the company - in the form of a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) - is seen by agency officials as one that promotes standardization in the realm of geographic information systems (GIS). Specifically Litton's Sperry Marine division is working on the project.

"NIMA's policy is to promote data format standardization as well as to carry out the national policy of technology transfer " a NIMA spokeswoman said. "The CRADA with Sperry Marine will engender the widespread use of NIMA's Vector Product Format (VPF). VPF is the format used in a wide range of NIMA products."

Among those products is a database known as the Digital Nautical Chart (DNC) that NIMA officials deem as vital for safe ocean navigation. DNC contains information on features such as shorelines water depths and tide levels. The database is one of the many tools NIMA uses to create electronic and paper maps needed by public-policy planners as well as planners of military and intelligence missions.

The software that Sperry Marine is developing under the CRADA will read DNC information from CD-ROM and then output it as a map to an electronic display. But the software is being developed for the commercial marine marketplace - not just for NIMA - and will be based on Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT platform according to agency officials.

Once developed the software will be rolled into Sperry Marine's Voyage Management System product and will be sold to other manufacturers for use in their electronic charting systems.

Sperry Marine officials familiar with the CRADA could not be reached for comment.

NIMA an 11-month-old agency increasingly has been looking for ways to help build momentum for commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products in the arena of GIS rather than relying on vendors to create costly proprietary products.

Industry - through the Open GIS Consortium Inc. which advocates interoperability among computer systems for processing geographic or geospatial information - has been working toward standards that should help stimulate development of more GIS COTS products.

"[NIMA and industry] have proved that COTS technology can be the basis for [NIMA's] next-generation system " said Louis Hecht vice president of the Open GIS Consortium. Hecht said work performed by a geospatial integrated product team has helped offer that proof.

Windows NT support should provide benefits as well industry executives said. Many people involved in GIS are predicting a large migration toward Windows NT.

Dana Paxson federal marketing coordinator at Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. said use of Windows NT would allow more federal workers to access and apply the geographic data that has been collected by federal researchers over the years but that has been available only to users of proprietary or Unix systems.

NIMA's federal customers should benefit from the CRADA. The Sperry Marine system will be installed on a number of Navy vessels and NIMA will get royalties from the Sperry Marine endeavor according to agency officials.

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