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23 June, 2004

Mapping the 21st Century

Fairly old news, just found:

According to the Guardian, The Ordnance Survey, the UK's official mapping agency is already the world's leading cartographer (I'd agree), yet it has relatively recently moved into a new league of detail and precision.

Rather than the traditional technique of dividing the UK into 230,000 grid squares on paper map, Britain has now been digitally mapped as one continuous unit; it's the difference between raster (areas containing objects) and vector (the objects themselves and their locations in 3D).
A total of 440 million (and counting - there are 5,000 alterations or additions each day) landscape units have been recorded, each with a 16-digit toid number. These aren't only the topographic units I remember from University (stream meanders, breaks of slope, etc.), but also individual features such as speed bumps.

This goes beyond merely locating items (to within a metre) for presentation on published maps, it includes associated parameters of use to national/local government and the emergency services in more ways than mapping alone. For example, the height of each low bridge is recorded, and a brick building is distinguished from a glass office building.

There's also the temporal aspect: the database is continually updated, so 99.8% of changes can be incorporated within six months. Construction projects can be logged whilst in progress, then resurveyed on completion.

Impressive.

Update 16/07/04: More on the same subject.

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