The 27th May to 2nd June is National Map Reading Week, created by the Ordnance Survey to promote maps, mapping and all things to do with space! There has been a great selection of coverage across the internet – one of my favourite was a ‘map-folding’ competition featuring the Calder Valley Mountain Rescue Team, setting the bar at 8.16 seconds!
When we say ‘maps’ people are often talking about the paper based product, I would argue that reading a digital map is as an equally important skill. Navigation is always something that has been vital to humans, and now that we travel further than ever before, knowing where we are going is vital!
For on-phone sat nav, Google Maps may be the go-to choice for many and works very well. It certainly works well for me in the car when required! However, for public transport in London in my opinion, you can’t beat CityMapper. It gives you a huge range of flexibility of different methods (walk, bike, public transport) and also gives you costs which is very handy. They also have a good sense of humour, showing how many calories a walk or cycle will use up and how many cupcakes that is!
This is also a nice excuse to mention two other map related things: bed cartography for a) humans and b) cats!
Finally, just to say this is a great time to get out there (with or without a map) and enjoy the scenery!
GISRUK is the annual GIS Research
conference in the UK which showcases the latest in GIS (Geographical
Information Science) and Geomatics Research from the UK and across Europe. I
attended the 4-day conference at Newcastle University and it
was amazing to see the latest developments from across the geospatial
One of the key themes for me that emerged from the conference
was the debate between whether spatial data is ‘special’ or is it data just
another data type, one among many? For many years when GIS was a niche area
requiring specialist skills to use, there was a clear argument that spatial was
special. Now the bar of entry to using spatial data is much lower, through the
use of tools such as Google Earth, Tableau and even ArcGIS Pro, which means
many more people can get the benefit of using spatial data and analysis.
Spatial data is another tool in the toolbox of analysts, which allow us to be
solution architects (solving problems) rather than geo-engineers (tinkering
with projections and file formats). I don’t think we are yet at the point where
using spatial data is as easy as using an Excel table, but we are so much
closer than we were even just 5 or 10 years ago. The traditional desktop GIS
package (ArcGIS / QGIS) is no longer the only way of working with spatial data:
advanced users have more data science orientated solutions such as Python or R,
and non-technical users can get great maps from Tableau. In fact James
Bowles found many organisations in the third sector (charities and
NGOs) use Tableau to do data analysis (including spatial analysis) rather than
using tools like ArcGIS.
Spatial data is becoming more widely accessible, with many
users in the third sector choosing Tableau for their spatial analysis, over
traditional desktop GIS such as ArcGIS or QGIS.
One of the regular features of the GISRUK Conference Series
is a key focus on Early Career Researchers, those students who are currently
studying MScs or PhDs. About 60% of them will go straight to work in industry
after their studies, so this is a great opportunity for them to find out more
about working in industry. Both junior staff and senior consultants came in from
explain what ARUP do and why the students’ skills are vital in industry. One of
the big areas of growth is the combination of remote sensing and machine
learning; these skills are very sort after by industry and there are some very
exciting developments in the earth observation field. Machine learning and AI (artificial
intelligence) are gaining a lot of coverage, both in terms of how and where we
use them, but also from the point of view of ‘how do we use AI ethically?’, and
‘what new questions do we have to think about when we are using AI & ML?’.
One of the keynote speakers, Prof. Renee Sieber
talked about the importance of public participation in what she termed ‘GeoAI’
(AI applied in a geospatial setting) and the fact that the fact that AI is not
unbiased at all; it reflects our societal biases and we need to be careful when
The use of spatial data is fundamental to all of the work
presented at GISRUK, and availability of data is often not as clear cut as it
really should be. In the panel discussion on ‘How will
the opening up of geospatial data help the GIS community?‘ one of
the key elements that was discussed was data infrastructure. The provision of
metadata is often quite important in terms of being able to select suitable
data for specific projects, and if we are to further develop automated data
process (including data selection) then comprehensive metadata is key to much
of this, and currently fairly lacking. Dr Gobe Hobona,
from the Open Geospatial Consortium, demonstrated how the OGC have been
instrumental in developing a range of standards that are key to the interchange
of spatial data between different software and organisations, including the
provision of metadata. Gobe also mentioned the developments of UAVs, both as
tools for spatial data collection but also as transformative decides in
geospatial interoperability, allowing access to more and more varied data
sources. They are also very cool, such as the spectacular swarms of UAVs we saw
at the recent Beijing
UAVs were mentioned across many different themes in the
conference, including for data capture, combination with AI (to identify cracks
in road surfaces) to impact on birdlife in wildlife reserves. They are clearly now
entering a phase where they are part of a wider toolbox, rather than a novelty
in themselves, and so are maturing into a new data source and product. There
was also a very interesting presentation by Kevin Minors on
crowd management, including techniques for modelling the crowd as a whole from
a series of static data points, which has a wide application in highly variable
crowds, such as railway stations.
Overall this was a great conference with a fascinating insight into the cutting edge of research in spatial data and GIS. Next year GISRUK is at UCL and Birkbeck, University of London, April 21st to 24th – see you there!