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August 2013 News

In this news collection...

Enhance your apps with maps from the new OS OpenSpace SDK for iOS

Last month saw the launch of an exciting new developer tool from Ordnance Survey, with the release of our open source OS OpenSpace software development kit (SDK) for iOS. The OS OpenSpace SDK for iOS is free to use, allowing developers to quickly and easily add detailed Ordnance Survey maps to their apps on iPhone®, iPad® and iPod touch®. The release of the SDK enhances our offering for developers and increases the amount of data, tools and resources that are already freely available such as our popular OS OpenSpace application programming interface (API) and portfolio of OS OpenData products.

The SDK can be used through the range of web services available from Ordnance Survey and enables access to some of the highest-quality mapping data available for Great Britain. This includes overview mapping, street-level mapping features, detailed building property boundaries, accurate road networks and vector-based mid-scale mapping. Furthermore, the SDK enables access to OS Landranger Maps (1 : 50 000 scale), the popular outdoor mapping product which features public rights of way, National Parks, tracks, paths and fields.


Feedback received to date confirms that the SDK is extremely flexible and customisable, allowing developers to easily select which Ordnance Survey products to utilise in their apps. Furthermore, the kit provides a number of additional features benefitting both the developer and the end-user. A zoom feature with native touch gesture recognises tap-and-pinch zoom controls and fully-customisable annotations allow developers to add markers for truly interactive maps. A search feature enables developers to create searchable maps by accessing gazetteer and addressing datasets, plus apps made using the SDK will still function even without a mobile signal.

Finally, the OS OpenSpace SDK enables easy integration from Apple® with a drop-in replacement from Apple MapKit and developers are able to reuse the SDK code to create apps with other datasets, as well as have compatibility with other SDKs.

Importantly, by using the SDK, developers will become part of a community of developers using Ordnance Survey Products with an active user forum. Get started and find more information about the OS OpenSpace SDK.

Ordnance Survey data in Minecraft

This summer, we’ve welcomed a number of interns to Ordnance Survey working across several departments. One intern, who secured a placement in our internal development team – known as ‘Innovation Labs’ – worked on a project to visualise OS OpenData products in Minecraft, which is a video game that is currently popular with many and which allows players to build their own worlds out of 3D cubes. This article summarises how Great Britain can be visualised in three dimensions in Minecraft using OS OpenData, complete with identifiable roads, rivers, urban areas and forests.

The programme was created using Java® to import Ordnance Survey data into Minecraft and has the capacity to produce a Minecraft map of the entirety of Great Britain at a scale of 1 block: 50m2. For speed, an option was added to produce just a single Ordnance Survey grid region, which can be generated in just five minutes. A set of conditions allowed certain features such as roads to be magnified, while others such as empty landscape and forest were marginalised, so that key features can be identified. Lighting can also be generated using the height map to find the lowest point sunlight can reach. An additional file, called ‘Create_World’ generates the map with game information such as where you start, what time it is and weather conditions.

Snowdonia in Minecraft

Creating a 3D map in Minecraft offers a novel approach to viewing OS OpenData with huge potential in education. For example, river systems can be exaggerated to show tributaries and flow direction, offering geography teachers a solution to the annual problem of how to make rivers interesting for their students! In fact GeoCraft, which is one of the winners from the recent GeoVation® environment challenge, won funding to develop an idea that will use Ordnance Survey data through Minecraft. Their idea aims to encourage schoolchildren to work with businesses to improve their environmental performance.

Overall, our intern’s project was a success and showed how OS OpenData can be used in both fun and innovative ways!

New products available through the OS OpenData portal

You may have missed it, so we thought it was timely to remind our community that Ordnance Survey recently refreshed the portfolio of products that are freely available through the OS OpenData portal. Releasing both a new height dataset, as well as making significant updates to one of the backdrop mapping products, here are just a few key points that might whet your appetite.

The portal has been updated with a new version of OS VectorMap® District and a new product - OS Terrain 50 being released; we’ll cover the height dataset first.

OS Terrain 50®

Developers can now access a new fully-maintained analytical height product called OS Terrain 50. The new product, which has a similar resolution to Land-Form PANORAMA®, enables users to access an advanced product with consistently-maintained height content for the whole of Great Britain.

Unlike Land-Form PANORAMA, which was last updated in the 1990s, the new product gives users more confidence in the currency of the data and will be supplied in additional formats, making it far more accessible. It can be easily integrated with OS Vector Map District, which we’ll move on to in just a moment, and will be a welcome addition to the tools used for terrain analysis and 3D visualisation by a wide range of users.

Published in both grid and contour formats, it is expected that OS Terrain 50 will be used primarily as an analytical tool for landscape visualisation and analysis over large areas. For example, interrogating the visual impact of wind turbines or high-level flood risk assessment, transport infrastructure planning, environmental impact assessment (wind farm location, for example), signal propagation (radio, telephone) and security and defence planning

The data is now also available as contours. To order the contours, simply select OS Terrain 50 and choose the ‘Supply format’ as 'ESRI® Shape (Contours)' and tick the box to download the files. The data comes along with a user guide and technical specification, which is a useful supporting document that can be referred to for further information.

OS VectorMap District Version 1.0.

The second refresh to the portfolio sees the addition of OS VectorMap District version 1.0. The product delivers an enhanced user experience over our previous beta version, through the provision of additional formats and styling tools. It has been designed for viewing either as a map on its own or as a contextual backdrop to your own data, enabling you to share information more effectively.

OS VectorMap District version 1.0 is created and maintained from a large-scale database and offers an improved representation of features such as roads, roundabouts and railways. The product is available in both Raster and Vector formats, with the latter format providing users with the ability to customise the map to suit their requirements. The beta version was voted winner in its category at the 2011 British Cartographic Society Awards.

OS Terrain 50 and OS VectorMap District version 1.0 are both freely available under OS OpenData terms and can be downloaded through our online ordering system.

Funding announced for Green Innovation Ventures

In June 2013 we held the GeoVation Camp for our GeoVation Challenge, which called for ideas to help British businesses improve their environmental performance. Forty seven ideas were submitted in this GeoVation Challenge, which ran from March to early May 2013, and tens of teams took part in GeoVation Camp, held at Ordnance Survey’s head office in Southampton over the weekend.

GeoVation News

As well as having the opportunity to develop a prototype venture and develop their pitches, teams were offered support from service designers, geography students and information on Ordnance Survey’s products and services. We also had helpers from the Environment Agency, who were supporting this challenge. The sheer level of energy from the ten teams invited and all the helpers was truly inspiring.


At the end of an exciting weekend, the teams were visited by the judging panel to find out how their ideas were progressing and they also presented a short two-minute ‘pecha kucha’ type pitch to the judges and invited audience. All of the invited teams received feedback and the judges offered advice on how they could take their ideas forward and possible connections. The audience also voted for their favourite idea to win the Community Award of £1,000.

The four successful finalists shared the innovation funding of £101,000 as follows:

GeoVation creates WINNERS

Carbon Prophet will be awarded £29,000. They will use the funding to map soil carbon in the UK using Ordnance Survey data, with a trading portal for carbon offsetting schemes. Soil testing, and the use of Ordnance Survey data, will enable farmers to see the carbon levels in their soil and encourage them to release the value of this - in doing so, mitigating the effects of greenhouse gases by increasing the levels of carbon stored in their soils. Carbon Prophet was also awarded the Community Award of £1,000.

GeoCraft will be awarded £28,000 to develop their idea of encouraging learning through the use of Minecraft. Using Ordnance Survey data, this idea will enable schools and local businesses to work together to stimulate children to think about environmental challenges and ultimately create ideas to solve these. These ideas could potentially then be fed back to local businesses so that they could implement them.

Element Green Recycling will receive £22,000 in funding for The Green Alchemy. This idea will be to help businesses reduce the costs by separating waste. Thirty percent of recycled co-mingled waste is sent to landfill due to contamination. Using mapping to show the location of businesses, local waste carrier services and reprocessing companies, Green Alchemy will help businesses to improve their recycling and separation of waste materials.

Streetkleen Bio Project will receive £21,000 to help develop their idea to provide a practical, innovative solution based around the anaerobic digestion of dog waste to create usable energy (methane). Dog fouling is a major issue for many of our towns and cities, but by using the Streetkleen app, incidents of dog fouling can be photographed and reported. It can then be collected and taken to an anaerobic digester, where methane can be extracted to provide energy.

Real Food Wales App - coming to an event near you?

Wales Coast Path GeoVation Challenge winners, Helen and Nicola Steer, have launched their new iPhone app, Real Food Wales. It aims to help visitors to the area discover local, sustainable and delicious food, with a pilot of the app taking place in Pembrokeshire.

Real Food Wales App

Last year’s GeoVation Challenge called for innovative ideas using geography and technology to help connect communities and visitors along the Wales Coast Path, benefiting those who live and work along the route. Real Food Wales was one of the five ideas we funded. They were awarded £30,000 of innovation funding to develop their idea. They are part of Mapkin, a team of five people who worked together to develop this app.

Real Food Wales is an easy-to-use app, mapping over 150 of the best food businesses in Pembrokeshire, helping users access sustainable and delicious food.

The core feature of Real Food Wales is the interactive map, using OS OpenData and consisting of five zoom levels that allow users to discover the best places to eat out, buy food or have a 'foodie' experience. A unique feature of the app is that it stores an offline map of Pembrokeshire onto the device, meaning that users can still access all of the information even when there is no mobile signal. The map really highlights what an exceptional range of local food businesses are operating in this area.

Other features include:

  • A map or list display of nearby food businesses, with the option of filtering results by places to eat out, places to buy your own and food experiences such as a visit to a brewery.
  • Each food business featured has its own entry with information and directions, plus you can call or email them and visit their website (if available).
  • Social media integration – tweet or post on Facebook® about your finds.
  • Favourites function so you can save the places you love or want to visit at another time.

Real Food Wales is a great example of how GeoVation and our partners are supporting new ventures and how mapping, geography and innovation can help boost businesses and communities.

The team are gearing up to expand the area covered by the app to include places such as Newport, Cardiff, Monmouthshire and Carmarthenshire. They are keen to hear about events where they can get out and promote their app and get feedback. They want to know about unmissable local food – can you recommend a special meal? Do you know of a quirky café? What is the best locally-sourced food in your town? Contact Mapkin via their website.

Introducing Ordnance Survey's Cartographic Design Principles

Ordnance Survey has a rich tradition of producing world-class cartography. Our paper map series are often regarded as the best in the world and are a very recognisable part our brand. Our Cartography production department play a vital role in keeping these products up to date and cartographically-accurate but what many won’t know is that we also have a CartoDesign team within our Product and Innovations Group,who also perform a key role in the organisation.

data.gov.uk mapping

This small team of Cartographic Design Consultants are responsible for upholding excellence in the visual representation of all our products and services. Their work ranges from developing the mapping for data.gov.uk; to creating one-off maps for charity events.

In response to the recent democratisation of map-making, the team have developed a set of cartographic design principles. A flurry of geospatial open data and open-source software means that anyone with a computer and Internet access can now make a map with relative ease; a skill that was previously very niche and largely reserved for just a few large companies. CartoDesign are keen to share their knowledge and expertise to help those who are making maps, but not necessarily from a traditional map-making background. In doing so, the team are drawing on more than 220 years of cartographic knowledge.

The principles were influenced by Dieter Rams’s ten principles of 'good design' and offer a set of guidelines that, if followed, give favourable chance of achieving good cartographic design. They are not rules as such and in cartography there is no distinction between right and wrong but there is a distinction between good design and bad design. It is certainly not our intention to lecture others on what is right or wrong, the purpose of our principles is to offer some useful guidelines that are relevant to map design and in many cases will stimulate better cartography.

They are ‘what works best for us’, but are also intended as a useful guide for anybody making a map, from Ordnance Survey customers to budding neo-cartographers. Each principle is supported by a real example of how we have applied it to one of our own maps. The principles will be published on our new website in the coming months, alongside other helpful tools and resources as we focus on making our products as easy-to-use as possible. In the meantime, we are presenting them to others in our industry at various events this summer, including the International Cartographic Conference 2013 and FOSS4G 2013.

To get a greater insight into the work that CartoDesign do, and the services they deliver, you can read their blog posts on the Ordnance Survey blog and you can see a selection of their maps on the Ordnance Survey Flickr and Pinterest pages. Or get in touch directly by sending the team an email.

Rewarding the art of cartography

Ordnance Survey is a proud member of the British Cartographic Society (BCS) and for many years we have sponsored one of the annual awards. This year we have changed the format to reward innovative uses of OS OpenData. Although the deadline for submissions to this year’s award has passed it will run annually so keep an eye on the BCS website for more information. The winner this year will receive an Apple iPad – rewarding great cartographic design.

OS OpenData Competition Winners and Runners Up

An iPad and five VIP visits to Ordnance Survey were the prizes in a competition that we ran last financial year (the competition closed on 31 March 2012) in which people were asked to discuss how they use OS OpenData in their organisations. Thank you to all 116 people who took part and congratulations to Hayley McConnell, the lucky winner of the iPad.

In her role as GIS analyst at Broadland District Council, Hayley uses OS OpenData to produce maps locating tourist attractions, coffee shops and bike hire for display in the tourist office and to publicise their '‘Tots to Teens’ scheme venues. Of the remaining entries, the most prominent uses of our data were in research and education (23%), publicising walking or cycling routes (15%), environmental issues (11%) and conservation work (11%).

Amongst the other competition entries, we learnt how a user has created a searchable database of routes for his local athletic club. The Web application enables users to search a database of routes added by fellow members of the athletics club, helping them find a route of a suitable distance and difficulty. A number of people used OS OpenData to publicise walking routes in areas such as the Lake District and the Peak District.

Another entry stated how they’re using OS OpenData for research by encouraging their community to collect data on trees. They use the data submitted to communicate the various benefits that trees bring to our local environment. Other examples of where the data is being used for research purposes include to aid analysis of hydrological catchments, to assist in the writing up of an archaeology PhD thesis, and to assist in mapping the inequalities of healthcare provision in Great Britain.

Finally, OS OpenData was commonly used to aid environmental and conservation projects too. The data is being used to display air quality data in London spatially, as well as to monitor geospatial nuclear radiation data for example.

Once again, thank you to everyone who took part and told us about how you use open data in your organisations.

Linked data update for developers

Why and how is Ordnance Survey embracing the linked data opportunity and what does this mean to developers? We thought you would be interested to learn more.

What? - put simply, linked data is all about utilising and exploiting the Web in new ways, by joining related datasets that were not previously linked. The term describes a method of publishing structured datasets, so that they can become interlinked and consequently, become more valuable as a result. Linked data is data structured so that it can easily be exposed, shared and connected using a uniform resource identifier (URI) via the Web.


Why? Across government over the last ten years there’s been a growing realisation to the power of linked data for exposing, sharing, and connecting pieces of data and information using URIs. Ordnance Survey embraced the movement, following the launch of OS OpenData in 2010, which was the opening up of a selection of Ordnance Survey datasets as part of the drive to increase innovation and support the Making Public Data Public initiative.

A combined Ordnance Survey Linked Data dataset combines a selection of the OS OpenData products into one database to support more flexible data access. Since launch, we have used feedback to develop an improved service, making sure it’s easy-to-use and access; adhering to new standards making the data more open.

To date, we have published a number of OS OpenData products as linked data, including the 1:50 000 Scale Gazetteer, Code-Point® Open and the administrative geography for Great Britain taken from Boundary-Lin®e.

Linked Data Examples

What does this mean for Developers?

To help those of you who are just starting out using linked data, we asked our internal development team to create an application linking just two different data sources. They linked Ordnance Survey data with Land Registry® linked data to look up the prices paid for houses in a postcode and display the area on a map. This results in a very basic application, but is an ideal starting point for anyone wanting to have a go at linking data themselves. Check this article out to learn more about the technical steps we took to build this application.

Each of the datasets is accessible as linked data and via a range of APIs. To find more linked data published as part of this initiative, visit data.gov.uk.

And finally, read about some of the events we’ve been to…

It’s been a very busy few months for Ordnance Survey’s Product and Innovation Outreach team, with a number of events taking place, including a GeoVation challenge where £100,000 worth of funding was awarded.

You may have seen us at the following events, but if not – click on the links to read more:

  • Urban Prototyping London – hackathon completed with Imperial College, London.
  • Shoreditch Festival – exhibition and presence at the 'Make and Do' hackathon
  • Le Web – exhibition, speaking to over 1, 000 developers, venture capitalists, chief technology officers and so on.
  • Mobile Monday – SDK demonstration/workshop and panel session covering the importance of location-based services in mobile.
  • Young Rewired State – supporting the festival of code, a developer event for young people aged under 18.

…and what’s coming up?

Currently, we’re scoping out the next GeoVation Challenge, with themes and dates to be confirmed shortly. Before launching any challenge, we run a focus group-type of event called a problem Pow Wow, so we’re busy planning this at present.

In terms of developer outreach, we’ll have a presence at the following upcoming events:


September (or 'Maptember' as many in the geo community have renamed it) we’re involved with:


  • Droidcon – Android developer conference; includes presence at the two-day hackathon.
  • Apps World – leading multi-platform developer conference for the app industry
  • OS OpenData Masterclasses - we’re due to announce details of our next series of OS
  • OpenData Masterclasses soon, so keep your eyes peeled on our website, the blog and social media channels as we’ll be announcing the details here first.

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