Data Management

Where It’s At, Geospatial Commission Charts API Route To Map Data Sharing

Forgive the pun, but geospatial is where it’s at. As a real world illustrative example of just how much we can improve the planet via geospatial data exchange, think about all those rocky cliff walks that you’ll be yearning to do once all the international lockdowns and vaccine initiatives are over.

With many cliff-side walks eventually eroding over time and developing dangerous cracks and fissures, Microsoft used its Build developer conference a few years back to showcase an app that encouraged walkers to take pictures at a defined spot on a coastal path and share it to social media using a specific hashtag. The geologists who know about these things could then collate all the images, track for erosion and signs of change and bolster that insight with additional back-up information from walkers. All without the use of a webcam. What a good idea.

Ordnance Survey: UK national mapping agency

This drive to share geospatial information has been similarly championed by the UK’s Geospatial Commission Public Sector Geospatial Agreement, which allows some 5,500 public sector organizations in Britain to have direct and immediate access to Ordnance Survey (the national mapping agency for the UK) and its source of detailed trusted location data via a suite of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). The work here hopes to transform how geospatial data is used to support government policy and underpin public services.

Free at the point of use to UK public bodies, the APIs are available via the Ordnance Survey (OS) Data Hub and provide a new way to access the most up-to-date OS data. The APIs promise to make it quicker and easier for users to work with OS geospatial location data by connecting directly to a range of datasets, as well as supplying the latest product updates.

Organizations outside the UK from the USA and elsewhere can still access these information streams via the same APIs. As private organizations (or overseas public bodies) they would be subject to a UK£1,000 free threshold on premium data (to test the services free), then charged thereafter. All would be able to access the open data, however, at no cost. Since OS OpenData was launched in 2010, OS has seen a lot of international downloads. 

Covid-19: a use case for map-based data visualizations 

The data accessed here is said to help save time and resources allowing users to focus on using accurate geospatial data to underpin location-based data decisions related to supporting public services. Examples include more ‘immersive’ web maps and data visualizations.

“Over the last 10 months we have seen location data play an important role in supporting the public sector’s response to Covid-19. The pandemic has highlighted how vital it is that high quality geospatial data is easily and quickly accessible to all users,” said Chris Chambers, head of the public sector geospatial agreement.

Chambers contends that the APIs on offer here let data-analysts and software professionals working to provide geospatially-aware applications with the data that they need. 

“They deliver quick and easy access to detailed OS data and have been designed to save users’ valuable time. By using the APIs it means that OS is handling the complexities of spatial data management, allowing users to focus on creating even greater value from the data.”

The APIs provide access to a range of OS datasets including OS MasterMap, road network data, addressing information, 1:25 000 leisure mapping, as well as unlimited free access to OS OpenData products.

A perfect storm for the post-pandemic future?

Geospatial data is arguably going to become a more widely used (and indeed shared) type of technology in the immediate future. With the world working to recover from the pandemic, the rise of mobile device ubiquity, the popularization of data abstraction & visualization (so that laypersons can see dataset trends) and the wider trend for entire ‘data exchange marketplaces’ to now develop… this could be something of a perfect storm moment for geospatial data.

Could these kinds of geospatial technologies be used by individuals to help track down litterbugs on London’s public streets (and elsewhere) in order to help clean up our cities and – additionally – to pinpoint zones where pandemic lockdown measures are not being observed appropriately? 

We can only hope so.

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