16
Jun
2011
0

New mapping tool for councils launched

The Homes and Communities Agency has launched a mapping portal that it hopes will help local councils to make better informed decisions when planning new homes and other local services.

SIGnet – the Spatial Intelligence Geographic Network – is a free online GIS resource that brings together our data, as well as that from the Office for National Statistics, local councils themselves, and the Environment Agency, all in a single place.

It’s been launched following testing by 11 local authorities over a 7 month pilot period and displays spatially referenced data – whether that’s a site boundary, local population data, or the location of a specific hospital or school, so that councils can identify relationships between those datasets and make better decisions.

Natalie Wesley, Infrastructure & Development Manager at HCA, told me that early adopters were already seeing the benefits in a range of areas; “Our users are suggesting a range of uses such as sharing community mobile library bus routes, mapping accessibility for rural locations, asset rationalisation, land ownership boundary audits and the identification of opportunities for shared services.

“We think that the action of bringing datasets together from different sources and holding them in a common format is where the power of the system lies.”

Accessible for free to members of the Public Sector Mapping Agreement, SIGnet has been designed to promote data sharing across central and local government. And making it web-based puts spatial analysis within reach of non-specialists and organisations that don’t have the resources to maintain a full geographic information system, although Natalie was keen to point out that all organisations, GIS literate or otherwise, could benefit from it.

Oliver Russell, GIS Project Officer at Hampshire County Council, helped test SIGnet during the pilot phase: “Clearly we already know how many homes we have in the County, or schools, or hospitals; but SIGnet allows us to drill down to individual street level and present data in an easy to use format – such as a map or plan – that anyone can understand. We tested SIGnet and were impressed by its potential not least as an extremely useful tool, but also because it could save us money on buying GIS resource.”

So, SIGnet sounds like an extremely useful resource, particularly for broadening the use of geographic information, and it’s an early example of how the PSMA is helping to tear down boundaries between organisations and encourage greater data sharing and collaboration – both in and outside of an organisation.

Natalie concludes: “Allowing staff to view and present spatial data in a very user friendly way reduces the pressure on a GIS team and makes the data feel owned by all – rather than behind GIS gatekeepers. At the HCA, we’ve found that sharing and increasing access to spatial data inside our own organisation has been as important as making it available to our partners.”

Any PSMA members that want to sign up to use SIGnet should email them at SIGnet@hca.gsx.gov.uk

And if you’re using the service already, or were one of the councils asked to pilot it, let us know what you think.

14
Jun
2011
0

The trouble with sat nav…

You might be surprised to know that one of the most common enquires that comes into our customer service team is around the use of sat navs. Yes, fielding questions about the super useful but oft blamed navigational aid takes up a sizable amount of our time.

Questions range from people wondering whether an in-car sat nav makes a decent walking guide (the answer is no!) to asking for helping setting one up (best to contact the manufacturer) and questioning why a particular route has been chosen (again, best to talk to the manufacturer).

Sat navs have changed how many of us plan journeys.

But of course, we are involved in the sat nav industry, supplying some of the underlying data, and so it’s worth explaining our role in a little more detail.

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13
Jun
2011
0

Drought? What drought?

Today on the blog we have a guest blog from James Squires of Fix the Fells. Over the coming months we will be hearing more from the Fix the Fells team on the vital work that they do to repair and maintain the upland footpaths.

It has been a period of weather extremes on the fells since Easter what with having hot sunny conditions throughout a good part of April and then, in May, experiencing several prolonged spells of wind and rain. This culminated in flash flooding along the Borrowdale valley and 100mph gusts of wind on the fell tops. We even had sleet and wet snow showers there just before the Whit Bank Holiday!

Extreme conditions can play havoc with the best laid plans. Hot  weather makes turfing difficult since the turfs quickly dry out and begin to resemble the legendary British Rail sandwich of old – brown with slightly turned up edges. It is also hard to make the turfs ‘stick’ when it is time to lay them. On the other hand, if you have ever cut a large piece of turf in bone dry conditions and then tried to lift it after several days’ heavy rain, you will know to find a good osteopath first: what was once a manageable piece of sward becomes just the heaviest thing imaginable, but it does batter into place! On the plus side though, severe wet weather gives us the opportunity to see that our fell drains are doing their job and determine if we need to build more.

The Fix the Fells team are working hard to repair the footpaths

The Fix the Fells team are working hard to repair the footpaths

We have finally finished the work left over from last year at Esk Hause and are now leaving the site to re-vegetate for the next few weeks. We shall monitor the progress of the new grass and periodically throw some more seed down. If you are passing, we hope you like what you see and would ask that you stick to the footpath so that the edges have the best chance to re-establish themselves. Do not be concerned either at the bright blue stuff you see at the path edges: it is just a mulch to help the seed get established on the thin upland soils, is made of wood pulp and will rot down in a year or so. What’s more, in spite of its fearsome appearance, it’s completely harmless! Read More

7
Jun
2011
0

Britain has more woodland than previously thought

We all love a good walk or ride in Britain’s beautiful forest and woodlands, but it now seems there could be more of it to enjoy than previously thought.

According to provisional results from the National Forest Inventory, conducted by the Forestry Commission using Ordnance Survey data, there are 2,982,000 hectares of woodland across England, Scotland and Wales. That’s 225,000ha, or 8%, more than the previous estimate for 2010 of 2,757,000ha.

The New Forest

The New Forest

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30
May
2011
0

Meet our Remote Sensing team

 

Last week we heard from the Flying Unit in our Remote Sensing team and this week we’re going to find out what happens to the images the Flying Unit send back to head office. As we capture around 50 000 aerial images of Great Britain every year, we need a team ready and waiting to process that information.

Working at a 3D workstation

Working at a 3D workstation

The Remote Sensing team take the imagery sent through by the Flying Unit and use it to update our large scale topographic database as well as populating products such as Land-Form PROFILE Plus and OS MasterMap Imagery Layer. We actually use the aerial photography to provide three key things:

 • grid coordinates of features on the ground;

 • heights of features and topography; and

 • rectified photography.

 

Remote Sensing are split into sub-teams to manage these tasks. In Aerial Triangulation, simply put, they ‘pin’ the imagery to the National Grid and ensures that it is positionally accurate. Meanwhile Orthorectification use stereo imagery to assess changes in scale across the photography and produce a combined image which is geographically accurate. This becomes the OS MasterMap Imagery Layer and can be overlaid with other elements of OS MasterMap too. Finally, Data Capture use the stereo photography to measure height and location in order to update our topographic database. Imagery is viewed on a monitor using polarised spectacles to view two images virtually simultaneously.


So that was Remote Sensing 101 and you should have a rough idea of what the team do. I caught up with Jon, Peter and Nicholas to get their perspectives on their roles and discover how things have changed during their time in the team.

Jon has spent two periods of time in Remote Sensing and seen a number of changes between those two times. Part of Jon’s role is working on ‘knitting’ images together. If you think that the cameras on the aircraft are taking hundreds and thousands of images, then you need to find a way to stitch those images together to create one vast seamless image of Great Britain. The images need to be joined in a sensible means – you wouldn’t want a join across a feature such as a house or bridge for example. So Jon works with images, creating the joins and avoiding features, cutting around buildings and so on. Jon told me, “It’s known as seam lining and is especially challenging in built-up areas with large numbers of features and tall buildings creating shadows. It’s ideal to be working on somewhere like Norfolk – which is flat and relatively easy to do!”  

Using the glasses to view in 3D

Using the glasses to view in 3D

Watching Jon and his colleagues work, my first observation, was apparently a very common one “doesn’t it strain your eyes working in 3D?” Jon assures me this isn’t the case, it’s more about relaxing your eyes and looking into the distance – much like with those 3D hidden image posters that were popular in the late 1990s.

 

I also wondered whether it had been more challenging for the team to move to our new head office. Jon said, “Now that we all work on PCs, we’re not that different to the rest of the building, so the move was quite simple. We just needed blinds up at the windows to make sure we could complete our screen work without any glare. Before PCs, when we had specialist equipment we needed reinforced floors to hold it all – and they had to be sprung to remove the vibrations from all of the equipment.

 

“We do have a different set up to most of the business as we work from two screens, with one in 3D. But other than the desks, we’re really not that different.”

 

Peter and Nicholas work on stereo plotting – making sure that things are in the right place in the simplest terms. They can be working on a variety of mapping scales ranging from urban sweep to mountain and moorland. They also undertake areas where it would be dangerous or access would be denied to our field surveyors, such as airports, refineries, railways, new motorways and so on.

 

Although my initial thought was that it must be great to have a rural area to check as there’s less change to identify, Peter pointed out that if you have a 5km by 5km area of Ben Nevis, you still have to check every section of it and be able to hunt out the smallest change.

 

Nicholas told me that he has seen many changes during his time in the team – and later this year the editing system will be changing again. “I undertook two months of training outside Remote Sensing before moving into the team. The analogue stereo plotting machines like the A8 and A10 took a long time to set up as you needed to recreate the position of the aircraft as it took each image. The current set up is more of a ‘trick of the brain’ using the dark glasses to create a 3D image on the screen rather than setting equipment up and looking through optics.”

 

Peter remembered the introduction of digital workstations around 2002. The digital photogrammetrical workstation (DPW) allowed for an on-screen display by which you could view imagery in 3D using special glasses. Peter also recalled the changeover to colour photography around five years ago and the switch to digital cameras. These have allowed the flying season to be extended, as he said “There have been many changes in Remote Sensing as it constantly evolves…we are now moving forward with a new system and I’m sure we will move on to greater and better things.”

Having a quick look through the specs that these guys work on, I have great admiration for the level of concentration required on a daily basis. I only wish I could show you the world as they see it – maybe once we have 3D computer screens as standard, I’ll do just that.

27
May
2011
1

New Ordnance Survey RIBA Awards for London map

Last week saw the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), reveal the winners of the RIBA Awards for London 2011. The awards ceremony at the V&A museum also saw three special London awards, with the Chiswick Park Café by Caruso St John taking the region’s top honour as the RIBA London Building of the Year Supported by BLP Insurance. In addition, The Olympic Delivery Authority for the London 2012 Velodrome by Hopkins Architects Partnership LLP won the Design for London Client of the Year Award.

Ordnance Survey was a sponsor for the awards and for the third year running we produced a new Ordnance Survey RIBA Awards for London map which details all the winning schemes across London. The map is mailed to RIBA members and is also available free from the RIBA London office.

The 'front' of the Ordnance Survey RIBA Awards for London 2011 map. The 'back' shows each of the buildings in detail.

The ‘front’ of the Ordnance Survey RIBA Awards for London 2011 map. The ‘back’ shows each of the buildings in detail.

 

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20
May
2011
0

Up in the air

I’m sure most of us have been more than happy with the lovely sunny, dry weather this spring, but how many can say that it’s helped them complete their work too? Personally, I’ve given more than one resentful glance out of the window at the glorious weather – not while writing for the blog of course! – but my colleague John has been embracing it whole heartedly. 

One of the planes our Flying Unit use

One of the planes our Flying Unit use

John is part of the Ordnance Survey Flying Unit. Working as part of our Remote Sensing department, the Flying Unit could be in the skies anytime that weather allows between early March and November.

Five people, some from our field teams and others from head office, work on a rota from our Blackpool airport base during the flying season. The two people on the rota spend around two weeks at a time in Blackpool, flying as often as the weather permits, including weekends.

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18
May
2011
0

Maps for the colour blind now a reality

You might remember that last year I wrote a post about the work Ordnance Survey was doing looking into maps for people with colour blindness, or Colour Vision Deficiency (CVD) as it’s more accurately known.

Rather than creating separate colour schemes for those with various forms of CVD and those without, we were working on a colour palette that would work for everyone. Well a year later and we think we’ve cracked it and are now close to releasing a colour scheme for use with OS VectorMap Local, our customisable digital mapping product.

CVD basically means an inability to see certain colours; often red and green, but also other colours too. It affects approximately one in 12 men and one in 100 women in the UK and can make the colours that have traditionally used for maps virtually indistinguishable.  That’s a sizable minority of the population, all with a problem that is often forgotten or overlooked.

With the default style.

With the default style.

With the CVD style applied.

And with the CVD style applied.

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