GeoResearch signs R&D deal with Census for mapping tech

Mapping vendor GeoResearch Inc. has signed a research and development agreement to help the Census Bureau achieve greater accuracy in its population count, the company announced late last month.

Population information serves as the foundation for creating and redrawing congressional districts, and scores of businesses use nonconfidential census information to market their services and to create products such as maps. But— as new roads and buildings emerge— maps in Census' systems are not always up to date, making it difficult for the bureau to conduct the census and making business difficult for companies that use the data.

The new R&D agreement with GeoResearch— one of four such agreements at Census— will focus on using the company's GeoLink software, which uses the satellite-based Global Positioning System (GPS) to create more accurate maps than would otherwise be possible, said Doug Richardson, president of Bethesda, Md.-based GeoResearch.

The maps will be made in real time as Census workers drive along streets. Satellite receivers in their vehicles will pick up exact GPS coordinates and feed those coordinates into a map-making program.

The result is an electronic map that is created "live" and, based on GPS, is extremely accurate, Richardson said. Moreover, Census workers can add information, such as features and street labels, to the maps as they are made. Observers doubt Census will ever be able to use such a technique to remap the entire nation, but Joel Morrison, chief of Census' Geography Division, said the technique may be useful for giving census-takers better maps to use for collecting information from citizens.

The R&D initiatives at Census are part of a larger, long-range plan to make census data and maps as clean as possible. "As people outside the bureau are doing more with the [data], everybody is asking for more positional accuracy and expecting [the data] to be up to date," Morrison said. "This [agreement] is an experiment to see how efficiently we can collect more accurate positional data. If the experiment is successful, it will be one tool among several that we'll use to [improve accuracy and efficiency of census data beyond the 2000 census]."

"It matters a lot how accurate the position— for instance, the streets— are in the digital database...because that data is used by thousands of other entities," Richardson said. Because all the data comes from the same place— namely, Census— all nagging inaccuracies are shared by all users of the data.

Map publishers buy the raw files from the Census Bureau, process the data and write their own programs to access or display the data or maps, said John Tucky, owner of Cleveland-based custom map maker Digi-Map. "That's why mapping programs may look different but their maps look the same— and have the same errors in the same place," Tucky said.

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