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When they were supported on paper, interpretation process used to determine the type of objects by a description graphic language based on colors, half-tones or line types, going along with strategically located texts. Their manual use required the maps to be composed of manageable sheets.

On that cartographic base, visible components, like buildings, roads, closures or crops are certainly obtained, because of their stereoscopic nature or the radar technique used, although terrain modeling can be also obtained through isolines. Indeed, this may also be considered as a reference basis for multiple thematic goals –physical environment, land registry, urban planning, facilities…, having been built by different research techniques, design or territorial analysis (usually using semi-transparent support materials and realigning.)

CAD and GIS systems popularization required digital cartographic support types, digitizing paper support pieces first and using restitution process directly then. For many years, this digitalization process did not make any major changes and sheets were still used. New systems, of course, made this work easier, enhancing more accurate and high-quality results, but work methodology was not affected and no new functionalities were introduced, especially because they were still sophisticated means for… producing paper!

So here we are now, although some features have been improved:

  • Basic mapping has become digitally continuous, being the basis of accurate reference information for other more specialized or sectoral analysis and acquisition processes –GIS do not only provide slides, but also a much more powerful spatial analysis.
  • Distinctly accurate maps are not superposed any more, as they used to be. Mainstreaming processes may automatically keep low accuracy layers from high accuracy layers –some limits are stated, but I personally think that the duplication of efforts arises from competency or coordination weakness. The expanding economic crisis will be indirectly positive in a way mapping expenditure will be rationalized.
  • The model based on line coding is being replaced by object coding-based models. This is a very difficult and low-standardized change.
  • New cheap and efficient geographical information systems have been released, as well as new GIS standards letting you SHARE. Mapping world has traditionally never been incredibly generous –I do still remember when IGN pretended to charge a large amount for one DXF containing municipal boundaries done to scale 100.000!
  • GPS systems are universally used, allowing elements can certainly be geo-referenced without any sophisticated measuring and geodesy process.
  • Valuable possibilities about sharing geographical information on the Internet have been demonstrated.

In spite of these circumstances, territorial information systems are applied today not only in technical offices for plan and project production purposes, they have become a general tool used for a wide range of increasingly sophisticated services and contents, either for institutions and the business world and citizens.

This pressure is causing a crisis in the way territorial information is acquired, in treatment and verification systems, in storage systems and, especially, in publication and information access systems.

In the institutional level, this crisis is focusing on special data infrastructures development, a great step further in order to share geographical information, but it should still be improved until a system of systems’ creation, aimed to guarantee a proper integration and update level ensuring its performance in public and business sectors. These data infrastructures engage in competition with commercial mapping structures like Google Maps or Bing Maps, which are platforms achieving their objective by producing an online virtual version of the current world, extremely useful to make business decisions. They prove so useful that their business model is now changing: the free come-on services are becoming payment services, merely commercial products.

Curiously, Achilles’ heel remains data acquisition either for IDE’s and commercial platforms. In this regard, there is not a big change, and basic mapping may be updated by photo-interpretation techniques.

Keeping this method is beneficial because of the constantly increasing resolution of satellite pictures, its lower costs, the possibility to access high volumes of pictures and the improved sensibility of its sensor spectra.

However, photo-interpretation has still some disadvantages –as its name implies, it is an “interpretation” of reality at one point by one person, better or worse qualified for this purpose. Its operating speed applies to campaigns for a particular number of years. It can only produce visible surface structure data that need to be accurate and verified by subsequent field work –this field work is limited to particular verification aspects only, because of its high cost and inefficiency.

Is there any other alternative?

There are three alternatives:

  1. Re-using digital projects (Geo-transactions), the purpose is treating planning, management, urbanization and construction projects as information resources, so the real world and the virtual world synchronize in an absolutely easier way, although it requires huge efforts according to normalization (CityGML, Urbanismo en Red) and managing this change between professionals and the administration. It allows managing all territorial structures, not only the visible surface ones, so it involves this will certainly be the future system for getting territorial information, sensor-based systems being dedicated to support and verification activities.
  2. Contribution is a product arising from communication, as Information flows in Internet era have dramatically changed. Collaborative work produces such a multiplier effect on the available information that it quickly renders any other mass information collection and distribution techniques obsolete. Exclusively sharing html information websites has moved to sharing geographical and all sorts of information. That is why managing the global population capacity for efficiently generating “reliable” territorial information remains an essential challenge.
  3. The ability of elements to turn visible based on assigning a capability to territorial system objects for recognizing themselves and knowing where they are, either they are static and mobile units, and providing this information when required. This is a decisive factor to develop new information systems (Location Services).

On this basis, a foregone conclusion stands: the way geo-references geometric description of things composing our world is acquired must evolve. Remote sensors and interpretation processes will be still used, but new consideration and representation points of view of our world will involve an in-depth checking on how mapping data are represented, stocked, distributed and used.

The description of the world will be managed by the owners of the objects it is composed of and shared through open services. It will be updated by these same changing processes, affecting the real world either, and it will become the support and backbone on which new points of view of the world will be represented, different views that we cannot still imagine, as augmented reality, virtual reality, location services or intelligent territories are only the beginning.

Ignacio Arnaiz Eguren – Innovation Director – Arnaiz Consultores SL