'Vending machines' make custom maps

In the next few months, hikers, travelers and motorists will be able to get detailed, customized maps from "vending machines" at U.S. Geological Survey offices.

Computer kiosks are being installed at USGS information offices that will enable customers to create 3-D maps of any location in the United States.

Customers simply input coordinates, elevations, boundaries or locations, and the computer will search the USGS database for information that meets the specifications. The computer, using Wildflower Productions' Topo! and TrailSmart software products, will then create a customized, detailed map.

USGS will provide the maps, elevation data and geographic names data, and Wildflower will provide the scanning, storing and integrating of data with its map-on-demand software.

"The vending machine concept for serving USGS maps will put these maps at the public's fingertips," said Hedy Rossmeissl, USGS senior program adviser. "Customizable maps are the way of the future."

Users also can search the database for new trails, campsite locations or to visualize elevation changes. The Wildflower software makes it possible for users to customize text, symbols or routes and to create maps that extend across more than one USGS quadrant.

"As a hiker, knowing that I could walk into a USGS office and get the exact map I am looking for without ending up with four different sheets would be unbelievably valuable," said Paul Glauthier, Wildflower founder and chief technology officer.

The program is in its development phase, so topographical maps for geographic areas in high demand will be developed first, according to a USGS spokeswoman.

USGS hopes to have the kiosk systems installed in offices in Menlo Park, Calif.; Reston, Va.; and Denver in the next few months. Printed maps will continue to be produced and made available through the USGS World Wide Web site.

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