Sharing map data moves closer

In a significant step toward integrating the incompatible and disparate geospatial databases worldwide, a geospatial industry group demonstrated this month how industry standards nearing completion will enable users to tap into numerous databases via the Internet to create a multilayered digital map.

The Open GIS Consortium Inc. (OGC), www.opengis.org, is a nonprofit membership organization addressing the lack of interoperability among systems that process geo-referenced data and between those systems and mainstream computing systems. The consortium showed during its Web Mapping Testbed (WMT) demonstration how it will be possible to access data from map servers located in North America, Europe and Australia to create a map of a hurricane poised to strike Mobile, Ala., for example. The map included features such as the ability to zoom into certain areas and highlight strike probabilities.

The ability to access and integrate geospatial data to make such a map has eluded geospatial technologists for years because much of the mapping data is stored in incompatible software languages and on different platforms. The ability to integrate the data through the use of standards would vastly improve research that depends on maps and cut expenses as governments no longer would have to duplicate collection of the data.The development of universal standards for geospatial data transmission would exponentially increase the use of the information worldwide for numerous functions including national security, environmental management and crime mapping, said Thomas Kalil, special assistant to the president for economic policy for the National Economic Council at the White House.

"The ability to manage and make sense of the information will be the challenge of the 21st century," Kalil said. "Open standards and interoperability are crucial to making a market take off...and there's opportunity to integrate geospatial information and geospatial processing with the World Wide Web."Kalil also called for the technology to become "usable for regular citizens who are constantly dealing with the complexity of federal organizations, not to mention state and local" governments.

The demonstration was conducted at Lockheed Martin Corp. facilities in Gaithersburg, Md., in front of a crowd of more than 300 invited guests, including representatives from the U.S. government, private vendors and international firms, all of whom are OGC participants or sponsors.

Many in the crowd said they were pleased with the progress being made in OGC's mission to develop universal standards for geospatial data information sharing and use. However, a representative from the National Imagery and Mapping Agency said he was disappointed with the bottom-line results.

"OGC specifications is a critical piece of this, and we're looking for [OCG] to provide that sooner, rather than later," said Bill Allder, NIMA's deputy director of systems and technology. He asked OGC to set a definite set of standards for geospatial technology. Kurt Buehler, vice president and chief operating officer at OGC, said the group had made progress in standards development and that they could be in place by December. "It's just a matter of putting our noses to the grindstone and doing it," he said. "We'll push, and if the users pull, we'll get there quicker."

During the demonstration, Jeff Harrison, WMT demonstration manager from the Army Corps of Engineers Topographic Engineering Center (TEC), narrated the two scenarios and outlined the different tools being used, including the GetMap, GetCapabilities and Get FeatureInformation tools that are the foundation of the OGC's new geospatial information model.

The journalist scenario used a 56 kilobits/sec modem and Netscape Communications Corp.'s Navigator to access the needed information. Aside from one crash, it did so flawlessly in about 10 seconds, despite accessing three servers simultaneously in Canada, the Netherlands and the United States. The demonstration illustrated the GetMap requests with different zoom capabilities, coastline and hurricane images, strike probabilities and more all layered on one map.

The second scenario's user had a more advanced viewer/client program and used more advanced geographic information systems and custom software to access the same servers for higher-resolution images.

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