EDINA GeoForum 2014

EDINA hosts an annual gathering for it’s GeoServices with an aim to connect with users from institutions from around the country.  This years event was held in Edinburgh on the 19th June.  The event went well and there was a buzz around the informatics forum venue.  I don’t really want to provide a summary of the event as there is already a great summary on the Digimap Blog and if this doesn’t provide enough detail, the live blog transcript should (reps to @suchprettyeyes for the live blog – no idea how she can record everything in real-time).

What i would like to do here is to discuss a couple of topics that seemed to surface during the day.

Know your users

Who uses GIS data?  Geographers of course is the obvious answer, but the use of geospatial data is now much wider than just earth and environmental science.  EDINA has recognised this for some time and has worked hard to make it’s service interfaces as intuitive as possible.  In addition, there has been a conscious decision to promote best practice through the interfaces and to use the correct language so that users actually learn about GIS and geospatial terms just by using the services.

Geoservice Personas

Geoservice Personas

Geoforum provides a vital link between the service team and users.  It is our chance to speak to users directly and for users to provide feedback on what they like, what they dont like and what they would like to see in the service.

Turning Data into Information

Some users want to get their hands on the raw data so that they can use it as basedata for their own analysis, others prefer to receive a polished product that will add value to their coursework or research.  EDINA‘s geoservices tries to accomodat such diverse user needs.  The role of many geospatial professionals is to take data and turn it into useful information.


Data and Information

This message was echoed by keynote speaker Peter Gibbs of the UK Met Office.  Peter eloquently demonstrated the vast number of data sources that fed into our weather reports. The meteorologists job was to take this data, analyse it, produce a best case scenario and present this in an easy to understand format accessible to the general public.  The public don’t really care how you created the forecast, they just want to spend less than 2 minutes finding out if they need to take a brolly to work.  This encapsulates much of the geospatial industries role, turning data into usable information which can inform decisions.

 Connected systems and data

Everything is linked. Virtually nothing can be considered in isolation.  This means that many users will be consuming geospatial data from EDINA and combining it with other datasets.  EDINA has recognised this and has started to connect some of its collections in Digimap.  For example, you can create an annotation in one collection and then access it in another.  This allows users to map historic features, or trace geological features and visualise these on modern OS maps. But we are now thinking about taking this further and investigating how to overlay data from one collection in another.  There is a bit of work to be done here but it could open things up.  Why stop at just overlaying EDINA Digimap data in other Digimap collections? Would it be useful to be able to overlay external feeds from organisations such as the Environment Agency or SEPA in Digimap Roam?


The rise of the smartphone seems unstoppable.  Almost everyone has one and we are increasingly accessing web services through our mobiles.  Fieldtrip GB is a free app from EDINA that runs on Android and iPhone and allows users to collect data on their smartphone.  What does it do?

  • good, clear cartography, just as you would expect from EDINA’s geoservices team
  • users can design their own data collection forms that suit their needs.
  • the app is designed to work in “offline” mode meaning you can pre-load maps and dont require a 3G signal to use it in the field
  • exports data to csv, kml and geojson
  • did i mention it is free!

Fieldtrip GB

In addition to Fieldtrip GB, EDINA is working on a GoGeo app which will help people keep up to date with geospatial news and events as well as allowing users to discover data while on the move.

What’s on the horizon?

The geoservices team are constantly updating and upgrading services.  Some of this work is invisible to the user as it is backend stuff. Optimising databases, improving searching and just making sure the services are as fast and reliable as possible.  But there are a number of exciting projects that should offer users new functionality over the next year.  The easiest way to find out more is to flick through Guy McGarva’s forward looking presentation.

GeoBusiness 2014 – review

GeoBusinessA couple of weeks back I attended the first GeoBusiness conference in London.  It was an interesting event and I have been meaning to write up my thoughts on it but keep getting snowed under with last minute jobs.  I have finally managed to clear some time and can report back to you all what happened at the event.

I decided to go to the conference to see what the public and commercial sectors were working on and what they thought should be the current focus for the GI sector.  Neil Ackroyd, the Acting Director General and Chief Executive of the Ordnance Survey opened proceedings by summarising the view of the sector from the main data provider’s perspective.  Condensing his talk to a few key points I would say the OS were focusing on networks (in terms of geographical networks such as rivers, railways and paths) and collaboration.  They are increasingly working directly with organisations to deliver bespoke data that can be used to support large building infrastructure projects, or for events such as the Olympics.  The OS are currently working on hosting data in the cloud, essentially having unstructured data that is accessible to users.  Storing the data as “unstructured� means that you can apply structure as it is accessed and tailor this to the clients needs.  The advantage is that you have one definitive source rather than multiple versions that are subtly different but which al require maintaining.  Neil closed with two take-away thoughts:

  1. Know your market
  2. Simplify things for them

After a short coffee break I attended the Making data Deliverable Strand.  The first talk of the session was given by Paul Hart (Black & Veatch) who discussed the use of GIS visualisations to convey complex information to the public. The examples centred around flood alleviation schemes where different scenarios and their resulting benefits, could be presented in an interactive way.  The use of 3D views that used true colour aerial image back drops allowed non-geo experts to engage with the data.  The output summarised several hundred model scenario runs in an easy to digest way. I did have a couple of issues with the visalisation, the first being the use of red and green which, while intuitive in terms of good/bad,  would not be particularly colour blind friendly.  The visualisation didn’t really convey uncertainty.  Including uncertainty would possibly complicate the visualisation, but the public may incorrectly assume that the flood outlines were accurate rather than the best estimate from modelling.  I questioned Paul about this and he explained that the maps were presented to a closed audience with experts on-hand to explain them.  He agreed that displaying uncertainty on such maps could over-complicate them.

This was followed by another talk focused on visualising data. Lingli Zhu from the National Land Survey of Finland demonstrated the work they had been doing to visualise landscapes using the Unity game engine.   Unity has been used in popular games such as Gut and Glory, but can be easily adapted to produce realistic simulations and can help users visualise environment change.  However, Unity does not allow user to specify a real-world geographic reference frame which means any geographic data has to be shoe-horned into the virtual world.

The second part of the session focused on BIMs.  BIMs (Building Information Modeling) have been the subject of several events over the past couple of years and they seem to make sense, but they seem to span

First up was David Philip, Head of BIM Implementation at the Cabinet Office.  David gave a great overview of BIM implementation with a presentation that was peppered with light humour.  David detailed the “3 tribes� living in the BIM World: CAD users ?GIS users and BIM users.  BIMs should be an open, shareable asset that unites CAD and GIS users. David pointed out the importance of BIMs throughout the life of a building as the cost of building (capex) is much smaller than the cost of running or operating (opex) a building.  Therefore, the BIM is a critical tool in maximising the efficiency of a building throughout its lifecycle and should aim to be an “open shareable asset information system�.


BIM Task Group

David closed by pointing out that we often suffer from “Infobesity� and we should better understand which data we need to retain and which we can get rid of.  Keeping everything is just not a sustainable approach.

The second two presentations in this session provided insight into actually implementing BIMs in the commercial sector.  Peter Folwell (Plowman Craven), Matthew McCarter (London Underground) and Casey Rutland (Arup) gave honest opinions of the highs and lows of working with BIMs.  The consensus from these presentations was to implement a BIM early rather than as an after-thought that ticks a box. Setting up a BIM early will allow the project to reap the benefits in terms of organisation, data flow and cost savings.  Also, 3D scanning seemed to be seemed to be at the heart of the BIM but this should not be seen as a one-off task, regular scanning can help partners visualise the evolution of a project and help identify potential issues.  However, multiple scans need not man multiple BIMs, just add them to the existing BIM.  One aspect that surprised me was the strength of the BIM community on social media.  There seems to be an active community lurking in Twitter that are happy to share best practise and offer general advice.  Just search for hashtags such as : #ukbimcrew / #laserscanning / #pointclouds.  If you want to find out more about BIMs then look at the BIM Task Group website

After lunch I attended the Global Trends session which had a wide range of talks from legal issues surrounding geospatial data, to downstream service opportunities from remote sensing data.  Ingo Baumann discussed the legal constraints surrounding geospatial data, focusing particularly on open data licences and issues around personal data.  One of the key problems is a lack of consistency between countries.  Google has discovered this publically while rolling out StreetView across Europe.  There is no specific geospatial law, but it is coming.  Until then, I will be keeping an eye on useful blogs such as Spatial Law and Policy.

Carla Filotico (SPRL) highlighted the value of remote sensing data and the downstream service opportunities.  The Argi business could benefit hugely from data from new satellites such as Copernicus and it is estimated that this is worth €2.8 billion market in the EU.  For more information on the Copernicus mission and its recent launches of Sentinel satellites, please refer to the ESA website.

The final session I attended was on Survey operations and system integration.  The first talk by Dipaneeta Das was well delivered but I felt it was pitched at the wrong level. Much of the time was spent explaining web mapping but I suspect nearly all of the attendees already knew about the advantages web mapping offers for disseminating information to the public.  The other two talks were really interesting and focused on data acquisition.  John McCreedy (IIC Technology) walked the group through the pros and cons of various survey techniques including Laser Scanning, Lidar and structured light (think Xbox Kinect). One interesting snippet that came out was that often aerial photography captured more detail than other “newer� techniques.  This sentiment was echoed by James Eddy (Bluesky) who continue to collect hi-res aerial photography of the UK and beyond.  You can even collect aerial images at night.  Why you might ask?  Well to capture information about light pollution and to monitor “dark spots� in cities. This information can then feed into spatial analysis on crime and anti-social behaviour helping the police and councils target resources.


Bluesky’s Night Aerial Images – courtesy of Bluesky

The takeaway message from this session was that clients are increasingly specifying technology when commissioning surveys. This may not be wise and it is often better to specify what they expect as a final product and leave decisions on which technology to the experts who will ensure that the most appropriate technology is selected.  I suppose that is, and always has been, the role of the expert in any field.


GeoBusiness 2014 seemed to be a success.  The talks were interesting, the audiences engaged and you could see that there was a whole heap of networking going on.  I will write a more detailed post on how I see this event in terms of the academic sector, but it just remains for me to thank the conference team for putting together a great event.  I am looking forward to GeoBusiness 2015.

GeoBusiness 2014 – a preview

GeoBusiness_smallGeoBusiness 2014 is less than a week away.  This is a new event and I am looking forward to seeing what it will be like.  The organisers have certainly pushed the event, with short magazine inserts listing who is exhibiting and presenting.  GoGeo will be there and i thought i would explain why we are attending and what we hope to get out of the event.

It’s new and it’s big

Pretty self-explanatory, but also significant.  This is a chance to speak to all the major software vendors and find out what enhancements they have in the development.  In addition, there are a host of companies that offer GI service.  I want to see what these are up to and report on what looks innovative and interesting.  These companies collectively employ a significant number of GIS graduates each year.  Many of them are exploiting new and emerging technology such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).  As such, they are really quite dynamic places to be employed as a fresh-faced graduate.


There are a number of interesting workshops being run by companies to highlight what innovative analysis they are doing. There seems to be a clusters of workshops around 3D laser scanning, UAV’s and Business Information Modeling (BIM).  There is also a strand that focuses on professional development.


Content for GoGeo and perhaps even ShareGeo.  So that means news articles, blog posts and so on for  GoGeo.  With ShareGeo it would be great to get some sample data from some companies so that lecturers could use this in their lessons.  I will be looking to convince some of the UAV and scanning companies to give some data with ShareGeo.  If you don’t know what ShareGeo is, it is a repository for open geo-spatial data that enhances teaching, learning and research.

So if you already have a ticket I might see you there. If you don’t have a ticket, there is still time and there are special rates for students (£25 per day if you pre-book).  Students, do your research on the companies attending and speak to people to find out what they do, it is a great opportunity to see the diverse range of jobs that is available in the GI market.

Geobusiness 2014 website



Glasgow – willsnewman (flickr)

Jane Drummond opened the 22nd conference and explained that Pink was the colour of the conference, hence the helpers were wearing Pink T-shirts. This also might explain the pink umbrellas last time GISRUK visited Glasgow.


Mike Worboys keynote gave “A Theoretician’s eye view of GIS Research”. He highlighted the dramatic fall in the proportion of GISRUK papers that covered the theoretical side of GIS. He mused that perhaps we had covered it all; in the end he highlighted several areas where there was still much theory to be discussed, including Geo-Semantics and Geo-Linguistics.

In The Urban Environment session chaired by Peter Halls we saw William Mackaness talk about Spacebook, a system of delivering directions via audio as users encountered various way points on a route. The research found that using Landmarks gave better results than street names in terms of getting someone from A to B.

Phil Bartie, who was a researcher on William Mackness’s paper delved deeper into the issue of Landmarks. He was using images to find out what people identified as landmarks and was analysing them semantically and spatially to distinguish related and unrelated features. His use of Trigrams, or groups of three words may well be a solution to issues with obtaining good search results from EDINA’s place name gazetteer.

Nick Malleson was next talking about using tweets as a proxy for ambient population. Despite the issues with the quality and bias of the Twitter data he found that it still overcame the problems of using census data for city centre population when assessing crime rate. The peaks seen in crime rate for the main shopping and socialising areas disappeared as they were adjusted for the number of people present rather than the number actually living there. Outside of these areas, crime rates were still high in areas where there were social problems as shown by using census data.

The use of Twitter in research continues to raise interesting questions about sampling validity and ethics, this would continue into the second day.


Thursday as the only full day in this years GISRUK program and had 3 parallel sessions.

Spatial Analysis: the best 2 talks being really quite different. Georgios Maniatis discussed error quantification and constraints in environmental sensors.  Georgios’ was looking at sediment movement in rivers, using a local reference frame offered accuracy improvements but added further complications, not least that a significant portion of the signal travel time was through water. Given the small distance from transmitter to receiver, errors could quickly become significant.

The other talk that stood out looked at visualising active spaces of urban utility cyclists. This was given by Seraphim Alvanides on behalf of Godwin Yeboah. Their analysis clearly showed that in certain areas of Newcastle the cycle infrastructure was mis-aligned with where cyclists actually rode. Cyclists used more direct routes to get to work and were more likely to detour on the way home to do shopping or other leisure activities. The fact that the Newcastle Metro which is operated by Deutsche Bahn, do not allow cycles onto their trains. In Continental Europe they seem more amenable to such integration.

Citizen Survey: This session looked really interesting and Neil Harris (Newcastle Uni) kicked off with a very interesting description of a heterogeneous sensor infrastructure which used a schemaless approach.  They had effectively decided to avoid XML and used key value pairs instead.  By using HStore they were able to hook things up with Postgres/PostGIS. The advantage of this approach was that they could integrate new sensors into the D’base easily by just adding key values to the main list. Key values may be seen as old hat by many, but with HStore it gives quite a flexible solution. The work is part of the Science Central project and will effectively pulls together all possible data feeds for the  Science Central to use.

The other presentation of note was by Robin Lovelace (Leeds) who invited discussion around the merits of twitter data in research.  This was not about the ethics around whether users knew what data they were giving-up, but more about the pro’s and con’s of using the data at all.

  • Con – unregulated data, unfocused, loudest voice dominates
  • Pro – diverse, low cost, continuous, responsive

Using Twitter data may raise the following questions

  1. Who made it? – the public
  2. Who owns it? – Twitter

As the discussion progressed it was mentioned that we may be in a golden age for social data, at the moment lots of people are providing information through social media and the social media companies like twitter are allowing us to use the info for free. At some point either the public will realise what info they are providing and seek to limit it, or the government will perhaps do so, and social media companies (who trade on information about users) may restrict access to data or try to charge for it.  Interesting and thought provoking.  If you want to find out more, look at Robin’s presentation and download his code from Twitter to set up a Twitter Listener.

Remote Sensing – I used to do remote sensing so i thought i would go to this session and see what was new. It turns out that it didnt have a huge amount of remote sensing in it, but there was a couple of gems worth mentioning. First is the work that Jonny Huck (University of Lancashire) is doing with sensors.  Jonny presented Map.me at last years GISRUK and it was good to see this being used in other people’s research, but the sensor work took a different direction. Jonny made a low-cost (£400) pollution monitoring kit that also monitored VO2 flux of users. This allowed him to crudely calculate risk of pollution.  It was simple kit using motes , smart phones and some basic gis for visualisation. I found it quite refreshing to see a simple approach taking off the shelf kit and running simple experiments. This will hopefully lead to discussion, refinement and some really insightful science.

The other presentation that i enjoyed introduced Whitebox – a geospatial analysis toolkit created by John Lindsay. This is an open-source GIS package and i was stunned by how many tools it had., over 370 at the last count! Possibly most impressive was the Lidar processing tool which will happily open 16Gb of raw lidar point cloud and allow you to process it. I dont know of another open source package which handles lidar.  John likes to call Whitebox open-access rather than open-source. Whats the difference? Well when you open a module there is a “View Code” button. This will open the code that runs the module so that you can see how it works and what it does.

Whitebox is relatively unknown, but John hopes to push it more and the audience suggested using GitHub rather than google code repository and to work towards OSGeo incubation.  It does look good and i have already downloaded it. Oh, it is a Java app so is easy to get working on any platform.

Plenary – I enjoyed the sessions and found something interesting in each one, but the plenaries were a bit underwhelming. Most conferences use the plenaries to bring everyone together and then get the big cheese’s out to show-off cutting edge research or to inspire the audience. The Thursday plenary didn’t seem to do this.

Friday – i was not able to attend on friday, sorry.

gisrukOverall – the conference was well received and i found some of the talks really interesting.  I would have like to be inspired by a keynote at the plenary and I hope that GISRUK 2015 in Leeds will use the plenary to motivate the group to continue to do great GIS research. Thanks to the  local team for pulling the event together, it is never an easy task.  You even managed to get the weather sorted.