X11 and maps

X11R6.8 is set to be released soon, bringing some welcome technology improvements to X11 along with lots of pretty eye-candy.

Completely unrelatedly, for a while now I’ve been thinking about how to make a free-as-in-freedom map of Edinburgh. Not just the kind of map which you look at, but also a semantic map which computers could process. It would allow route-finding applications – not just finding routes for cars, but also for cyclists who want to avoid busy roads and hills. Another application could tell you where the nearest ATM or pub was. There are hundreds of useful applications, all of which need high-quality semantically-rich maps. But, as far as I can tell, in the UK all of the commonly used maps are derived from Ordnance Survey data which, despite being a sort-of public body, charge royalties for the data.

Now, on one hand, that’s quite reasonable because it takes a lot of effort to make good maps. But, on the other hand, I have a strong feeling that somehow this information ought to be in the public domain. Local people and companies could use this data in all sorts of ways. It ought to be a shared community resource.

So, I’m left wondering how I can use technology to map Edinburgh. Maybe a combination of a digital camera, GPS and a bicycle would be a good way of grabbing useful raw datapoints? Finding existing public domain map data would be a really useful start – satellite images and photos from aircraft. And there was a recent conference about open-source mapping tools. I think I need to do some basic reading about map-making, because quite honestly I don’t know where to start.

3 thoughts on “X11 and maps”

  1. Hi, I remember some time ago that the EdVEC were making a 3D virtual tour of Edinburgh. Not sure what happened to the project but you might be able to borrow some 3D data from them. Then you can right a wave propogation algorithm on the 3D data to find the shortest route between any 2 points!

    http://www.edvec.ed.ac.uk/
    http://www.cs.rpi.edu/research/vision/ken/00913178.pdf

    You could also produce some interesting 3D models that modify the 3D models based on pub density, no. of cycling injurues, tourist density. So then you could use the wave prop to find the shortest route from A to B passing by the most pubs, avoiding steep hills, tourists and accident black spots. Then again you could just go the offy.

  2. An open-source wiki map would be cool, especially if it were easy to update. I think what is needed is two interfaces:

    * “Traditional” GIS system where you can define roads etc., probably working from aerial or satellite images
    * Simple point-marking system where you can “annotate” your current position, or one nearby, from a small mobile device, eg. GPS unit or mobile phone

    Obviously the data needs to then be synchronised with a central server, and then community-moderated in the traditional wiki fashion.

    Let me know if you hear of any projects along these lines…

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