Mapping Britain in 3D

Trying to find more about the new Aerial 3D maps you’ve heard about? You need this page instead: https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/getoutside/3d/

If you were watching BBC Breakfast yesterday morning, you may have seen a feature about OS mapping Britain from the skies and interpreting that data into 3D maps to create a digital twin of our real-life landscape.


Snowdonia as a 3D map

Neither aerial surveying nor 3D are new to OS. We’ve been surveying from the skies since World War I and had our own Flying Unit for fifty years. Our planes can often be spotted in the air as they travel back and forth over an area capturing the data to send back to our head office for processing. We’ve also been working towards the 3D world with digital terrain modelling, available in our OS Terrain 5 product and with simple building heights, available as part of our OS MasterMap Topography Layer.

As potential uses for accurate 3D data grow, so does demand for intelligence behind it. Jon Horgan, our Product Development Consultant, has been working on this. Making the data intelligent so that it can be analysed and interrogated, creating a framework that users can hang their own data onto. Enabling this can create efficiencies – whether it’s a local authority identifying the best spots for a CCTV camera in a city centre with a few clicks of a button, rather than sending a team out to survey the area on foot, or modelling the effects of a disaster such as an oil spill for the emergency services.

Jon’s 3D modelling started by taking our existing aerial imagery and thinking about it in terms of level of detail, rather than the fixed scales we usually identify with mapping. He used the image data to create a Point Cloud, making each pixel in the image into a point. The overall effect looks like a 3D image, but as you zoom in, you can see the individual points rather than the image.


Snowdonia in the Point Cloud

From here, Jon meshed the points, triangulating them and then creates a 3D surface, before adding colour by overlaying the imagery to create the full 3D visual model. From here, Jon adds attributions from our OS MasterMap, so to return to the example on placing a CCTV camera in a city centre, the user can quickly identify more information – such as who owns the building. Another application could be virtual tourism. The model created is for Snowdonia and you could use it to explore the mountain, moving through a real-time environment. From there, it’s just one step further to create an augmented reality, bringing the model to life in front of someone – similar to the Mars model worked on by Layla Gordon at OS.


Snowdonia mesh model


Snowdonia surface model

So what’s next? Jon’s been working on models for a handful of areas around Britain and is making recommendations for how this could be scaled up. It may mean thinking about making changes to how we capture aerial imagery, to ensure the data is optimised for 3D. It could mean exploring interior mapping, where we would need to use beacons rather than GPS to create a seamless experience for someone from exploring the streets of London to stepping inside the Tate Modern. It could well mean acquiring data from other sources to supplement OS data. What is for certain, is that 3D is firmly a part of the future.


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12 Responses

  1. Tim Monckton

    Hi Gemma,
    Is it possible to get a 3D map or maps of specific areas – such as the Wye Valley? Also, would it be possible to highlight the steepest areas leading to water courses – perhaps in red ? This would be very helpful in highlighting those areas at high risk of water and soil erosion.

    Look forwarx to your reply,


    1. Hi Tim,

      We’re not aware of a customisable 3D map product like the one you’re looking for I’m afraid. We don’t produce any 3D mapping like this ourselves – the products available on our website are created by a company called Dorrigo – see https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/shop/brands/dorrigo.html for the range of their products which we sell. We’d recommend you try contacting them to see if they can help you with what you’re looking for.

      Many thanks

    2. We have been using Sentinel 2 satellite imagery and Lidar data to help locate bare, sloping fields that might cause sediment pollution in rural Herefordshire. Environment Officers have struggled to locate high risk fields where soil is likely to run into rivers. We are trialling the use of a combination of high frequency Sentinel satellite imagery and LIDAR data to produce a simple risk-based model. We can now estimate where the risky crops have been grown and where there is potentially a high risk of pollution. Recently we were featured on Countryfile, talking about the use of this data and Drone surveys to monitor river pollution. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0852dd9/countryfile-lincolnshire


    Dear Gemma

    One question – how did Jon find out who owned the building on which the CCTV was mounted?

    Best wishes

    Michael Mire

    1. Hi Michael

      We were suggesting a potential use in the blog – so assuming a local authority may overlay ownership records on OS data to ascertain where to place CCTV. Hope that’s made it clearer.

      Many thanks, Gemma

  3. John

    News story on BBC1 this morning regarding OS 3D maps for phones. Interesting product that seems to have taken above info and now available as App? Looked on your website and couldn’t find any further info on it. Any steers? Regards John

    1. Hi John

      That’ll have been about our OS Maps online service. We’ve recently added an Aerial 3D Layer to help our subscribers to visualise the routes they are planning to explore Great Britain. It joins the existing Explorer and Landranger maps already included in the subscription, along with the ability to plan routes, see others’ routes and print maps off. The 3D is only available in the online service, all the other layers are available in the app too (iOS and Android versions are available). There’s more information here on our website for OS Maps: https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/shop/os-maps-online.html and for the new 3D announcement here: https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/about/news/2017/explore-gb-os-adventure-3d-planning-tool.html

      Thanks, Gemma

  4. Trevor Newbury

    50cm and 1m LiDAR is pretty much complete for the whole of England. I have written code that converts ASCII grid LiDAR data to greyscale PNG and can create a 3D object for importing into programs such as Blender or Unity (once it’s in Unity you can lots all sorts of physical modelling).

    You can also send these 3d Objects to 3d printers and print them off once you add a base layer.

  5. Hi Gemma

    Saw a piece on land mapping on a recent Countryfile on BBC1. We (Silchester Parish Council) own and manage Silchester Common, an area of heathland in NE Hampshire, which is a SSSI, and located alongside Pamber Forest which in turn is managed by the Hants & IoW Wildlife Trust.

    We are very keen to understand and adopt a means of mapping and tracking developments on the Common, being able to reference locations through GPS, etc., on the Common, and would be keen to discuss and explore the possibilities with someone from the OS.

    Can you help please?


    Mike Baldock

  6. yun zhang

    Is it possible to get a 3D map with levels data in specific areas – such as Skelmersdale, UK?
    I am looking forward to hearing from you in the near future.

    1. Hi,
      There are several OS products and service which may cover what you’re looking for:
      If you’re looking for a 3D view, our OS Maps online service (www.os.uk/osmaps) offers a 3D view of the landscape combining aerial imagery and photography (you’ll need to become a subscriber or take out a 7-day free trial to see it)
      We also have contour datasets: OS Terrain 50 is the most accessible of these as it’s free to download and use. See https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/business-and-government/products/terrain-50.html
      If you need more detailed or specific information that these, you’ll likely be best served going to one of our Licensed Partners – see https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/resources/planning-application-maps.html for a list of them and their contact details.

      If that doesn’t fit your query, drop an email to customerservices@os.uk, and we can take a look.

      Thanks, Gemma

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