2006 July 6

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Land Voyage

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Editor's Introduction

This week I follow up on last week's report on GIS and surveying with an interview with a company that claims to have developed a high-accuracy, survey-grade GIS. Plus, my usual roundup of news items from press releases.

Last week's issue featured interviews with surveyors at 14 firms about the relationship between GIS and surveying. If you missed it, please take a look.


Survey-Grade GIS

Last week I interviewed about twenty surveyors on the relationship between surveying and GIS. They all told me that they do not use GIS for data collection—citing habits, lack of training, and concerns about GIS accuracy. National Survey and Engineering, however, claims to have developed a "high accuracy, survey-grade" GIS. According to the company, the system, named "Boundless," unites "GIS, GPS, and CAD drawings in unconnected and arbitrary coordinate systems within a common spatial environment" and "preserves the essential element of distances as measured on the ground while rapidly performing coordinate transformations of points and lines on the fly."

Two surveys transformed to a common grid coordinate system in Boundless, top; and imported into Land Desktop Development, bottom.

I discussed Boundless with Robert Jones, registered land surveyor and project manager at National Survey and Engineering, and Aaron Ford, GIS technical manager at National Survey and Engineering and its parent company, R.A. Smith and Associates. Jones, who designed the technology, will be presenting it at the upcoming ESRI International User Conference in San Diego; Ford is currently developing an enterprise version of the software.

  1. Is your company migrating its surveying operations from CAD to GIS?

    We don't need to migrate. We still do our drafting and our boundary analysis and store our survey information in CAD files and point databases attached to those CAD files, [but] we have a proprietary high accuracy survey-grade GIS that accesses those databases; it simultaneously accesses Trimble Geomatics Office GPS databases. We're able to allow our professionals to continue to work in the environments with which they are familiar. We are able then in the GIS department to create an application that allows them to access the CAD information directly within the GIS at their desktop. Any survey firm in the United States could take our high accuracy GIS and operate upon their CAD files and their point databases and do exactly what we're doing without altering any of their current procedures or methods of drafting.

  2. What part of this GIS goes into the field with the surveyors?

    The field crews operate as any field crews have always operated. We use robotic total stations and GPS, both static and real time kinematic (RTK) and the data comes into the office. There may be post-processing; it may go through Trimble Geomatics Office (TGO). It ultimately ends up for somebody in the survey department who will produce a survey.

    Four separate surveys spatially unified within Boundless on a grid coordinate system that preserves ground distances.

  3. Back at the office, what do you see on the screen?

    You see, for example, a map the state of Wisconsin with many points representing individual surveys that we have done. You can select a number of those points and the GIS automatically goes to the point file databases, accesses the information, and transforms it onto a Wisconsin county coordinate system. Grid distance is for all practical purposes ground distance. That data can then be exported back into a CAD file for further work or uploaded into survey equipment to go back out into the field.

  4. So, you tightly integrated the CAD and the GIS?

    Yes. Most of our surveys are now being tied to within hundredths of a foot to the National Spatial Reference System (NSRS), through the more than 1,000 Continuously Operating Reference Stations (CORS) throughout the United States, because these surveys are now tied to a unified coordinate basis, in this case NAD83 CORS. We have solved the problems that have been presented in the literature as barriers or obstacles to integrating GIS and survey. We've integrated it and we use it every single day.

    Seven surveys spatially unified within Boundless and tied to the National Spatial Reference System (NSRS).

  5. What do you see as the next step?

    GPS virtual reference systems. We are in the process of establishing one here in the state of Wisconsin. There are quite a few currently operating throughout the United States. They literally allow somebody with a dual-frequency GPS rover to step out of their survey vehicle, turn it on, and within 30 seconds have sub-centimeter accuracy within the NSRS. Far faster and far easier than it can be done if you have to post-process to CORS stations.

  6. Do you use your system routinely for surveying?

    We do. Now any surveyor in the United States, using GPS, can tie their survey to the NSRS if they have dual-frequency receivers. It becomes faster and more convenient to do that if you're operating in a virtual reference system. There are virtual reference systems operating in Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Minnesota, Indiana, and Illinois.

  7. How will surveying change?

    High accuracy GPS, as represented by the NSRS, CORS, and Virtual Reference Station (VRS), are going to literally transform surveying and GIS. There is going to be an explosion of high accuracy spatial information collected that will allow surveyors to position their surveys on the surface of the earth within hundredths of a foot in relation to each other. GIS is going to be necessary to manage that high volume of spatial information and make it usable to surveyors. [Using our system, a surveyor in the field can reference points from a previous survey] rather than having to find a cut cross in the sidewalk or a steel pipe that may no longer be there.

  8. In the long run, is it becoming just one big survey for an area rather than a lot of individual ones that need to be referenced to each other?

    Yes, that's exactly right. However, the beauty of what we're doing is that we don't need to disrupt what we have been doing. All surveys can be grand-fathered into the system simply by having GPS visit a site. Currently, in their databases, surveyors have all these drawing CAD files in their own little coordinate worlds and they are unconnected. That is changing here and I'm arguing that it is going to change throughout the whole United States. I think that the change will come rapidly.

    Each dot represents a survey in Boundless.

  9. What other advantages does your system have?

    It will assist in perpetuating boundary lines. The loss of physical monumentation is a constant battle for the surveyor and now, once a survey has been tied to the NSRS, its location has been essentially memorialized. There are no boundaries with this application. As you go from one county to the next, their standards may differ as to how parcels are mapped and they might not line up. The same is the case with on street right-of-way lines or soils. With Boundless, we're really able to bring that in so that we do have a unified base for how this data is collected and maintained and, more importantly, how new data sets are created from it, so that when these surveys are referenced to one another, there is value there.

  10. Is your company going to sell this proprietary code?

    Yes, we will be moving toward making the program available in some form. Now whether that would mean a license agreement or a hosting via our servers or some other means, that's being explored.

  11. Virtual networks and markers are an advantage in rugged terrain or deserts, where placing physical markers is a challenge.


  12. How does your system help you meet legal requirements?

    Legal descriptions and plat surveys are measured on the ground. GPS has to exist in some type of map projection. State plane coordinate systems introduce scale factors, which obviously distort ground measure distances and would distort a legal description. Our system transforms, translates, and rotates surveys onto a map projection, which preserves grid as ground. The Web-based application that we're developing will create on-the-fly its own local projection covering the surveys that are to be integrated. So the program will be able to operate anywhere regardless of whether there is a county coordinate system in use.

News Briefs

Please note: I have culled the following news items from press releases and have not independently verified them.


    1. Topcon Corporation's machine control, GPS, laser, and survey operations in Australia and New Zealand have joined Topcon Positioning Systems (TPS), a developer and manufacturer of positioning equipment. TPS has assumed sales, marketing, and support activities in Australia. The new operation became effective July 1. A TPS software development group is already located in Brisbane.

      TPS directs global product development and production for Topcon's entire range of machine control and GPS systems, as well as sales and support for all Topcon positioning products in North and South America. TPS is a subsidiary of Topcon Corporation, which has its headquarters in Tokyo. The move to integrate Australian operations with TPS follows the business model introduced last year with the restructuring of the Topcon Europe sales organization—which has seen a doubling in Topcon's sales in Europe in less than 12 months.

      Ray O'Connor, TPS president and chief executive officer, directs European business development as chairman of the board of Topcon Europe Positioning. TPS Australia will immediately begin to expand the positioning systems business throughout Australia and New Zealand.

    2. The Milford Fire Department (MFD) has implemented ESRI's ArcGIS software to help manage its 3,500 pre-fire plans and to provide fire trucks with instant, mobile access to emergency data when responding to an event. This new capability assists in decision support, enhances situational awareness, and improves response capabilities. In addition, ArcGIS supports the agency with numerous public safety activities, including planning, preparedness, mitigation, response, incident management, and more.

      Located in Milford, Connecticut, MFD is a full-service agency that handles all aspects of emergency services including fire, emergency medical service, rescue, hazardous materials response, and more. The agency is only one of three New England fire departments with a Class One rating—the highest possible. Nationwide, only 44 out of approximately 43,000 fire departments have earned this distinction.

      As part of the agency's leading fire service delivery efforts, the department has a comprehensive collection of pre-fire plans for the thousands of buildings and land parcels located within its service area. MFD takes advantage of ArcGIS 9 to manage these plans and other data using advanced computing, geoprocessing, and visualization tools. ArcGIS is a scalable framework of integrated geographic information system (GIS) software for building a complete GIS. The open, standards-based technology uses object-oriented programming to provide fast customization along with a highly intuitive interface that is easy to install and deploy.

      As part of its overall GIS platform, MFD takes advantage of software packages from various ESRI business partners. It uses First Look Pro, from The Cad Zone, to organize and access all critical pre-incident planning information. The Omega Group's FireView software provides industry-specific mapping tools to help review existing deployment policies and develop new strategies. The MFD dispatch center is also equipped with CompassCom software for automatic vehicle location and mobile asset tracking.

      The computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system links to mobile, GIS-enabled computers in the fire trucks. When a call comes in to the Milford E-911 center, the CAD system automatically notifies the mobile computers, and existing pre-fire plans are pulled up on screen, along with integrated tabular information, which can be analyzed and visually displayed while en route to an emergency. Data on parcels, buildings, fire hydrants, fire department connections, hazardous materials, and more is available in the mobile computers. In addition, MFD works closely with the city of Milford GIS department, which also uses ESRI GIS technology.

    3. The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) has selected GeoDecisions to develop a GIS Strategic Plan that will provide a guide for planning and budgeting MDT's existing GIS. Additionally, the plan will outline how GIS can be better integrated into existing management systems to support new initiatives, promote enterprise data management, and make information more accessible. GeoDecisions has previously prepared GIS strategic plans for several other departments of transportation—including those of Pennsylvania, Kansas, Ohio, Nebraska, and South Dakota.

    4. Sandy City, Utah, Public Utilities Department (PUD) has selected MWH Soft's ArcGIS-centric InfoWater Suite to replace its existing modeling solution. Utah is among the fastest-growing states in the country, but also the second driest. Sandy City is its fourth largest municipality. Sandy City PUD serves a population of over 100,000 within a 27 square mile area, supporting high summer demand by pumping groundwater from 23 wells to supplement treated surface water from both Little Cottonwood Creek and Deer Creek Reservoir. The City plans to use InfoWater to develop accurate representative hydraulic models for managing and operating its drinking water infrastructure to cope with fast expansion while optimizing capital investment. By automating key planning and design engineering tasks, the Suite helps water utilities conceive and evaluate various scenarios; pinpoint system deficiencies; and determine the most cost-effective improvements they can make to achieve optimum performance and regulatory compliance, meet new security challenges, provide better services, and forge closer ties with their customers.

    5. The Bedfordshire Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships (CDRPs) has selected Cadcorp's Web-based GIS software, GeognoSIS.NET. The CDRPs are a cooperative of statutory bodies, agencies, and organizations that are developing strategies to help reduce crime and anti-social behavior in Bedfordshire, including enabling map-based information sharing and analysis in an initiative known as Sharing Community-Related Information in Bedfordshire Electronically (SCRIBE).

      Developed on GeognoSIS.NET, the CDRPs' new GIS enables information from a wide range of systems and a diverse collection of organizations to be stored and maintained centrally in a secure environment and accessed using a Web browser. These disparate datasets are kept constantly up-to-date, enabling near real-time analysis and viewing over the Internet.

      In the first phase of the project, a purpose-built data analysis work bench was rolled out across the partnerships to users at Bedfordshire County Council, Mid-Bedfordshire District Council, South Bedfordshire District Council, Bedfordshire Community Safety Partnership, Bedfordshire Drug and Alcohol Action Team (B:DAT), Bedfordshire Police, Bedfordshire & Luton Fire and Rescue Service, Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire Ambulance and Paramedic NHS Trust, and Aragon Housing Association.

      Users at these organizations are now able to access, view, query, and analyze a single source of map-based crime, fire, ambulance, and anti-social behavior incident data in order to identify hot-spots, patterns, and trends. This will help them target their finite resources when and where they will be most effective and to generate statistics in order to measure value and performance.

      Through a simple, spatial Web-based application, the general public will also be able to view appropriately filtered and anonymous data in order to better understand the real level of crime within various localities in Bedfordshire. It will also provide facilities for citizens to locate and report incidents of low-level crime and anti-social behavior on the map, with the information being automatically sent to the appropriate agencies for action. During Phase 2 of the project, which is currently live, partner feed-back and requests for enhancements are driving the development of more advanced reporting and analysis tools. In addition, the public interface is undergoing trials, with work flows and business processes being refined to improve response to the Web anti-social behavior incident feed. This work will culminate in the full-scale public launch of the system towards the end of 2006.

    6. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG), a longtime user of ESRI's GIS software, has implemented a Web-based system that promises broad new capabilities and greatly expanded use throughout the government. The new Tokyo Metropolitan Urban Planning GIS is a Web-based system that meets the security requirements of the TMG Local Area Network. The GIS was designed with multiple menus and functions adapted to the various functions and skills of the operators.

      Presently, TMG's Bureau of Urban Development enables all 1,500 bureau staff members to use GIS to view and edit a wide variety of city planning information from their PCs. In the future, TMG anticipates that the GIS will be available to all TMG departments, allowing instant on-line access to more than 30,000 staff members.

      TMG's new GIS product configuration includes ESRI's ArcGIS Server, ArcSDE, ArcIMS, ArcInfo, ArcView, Spatial Analyst, 3D Analyst, and Network Analyst.

    7. ESRI participated in Blue Cascades III, a multiagency emergency preparedness exercise held in Bellevue, Washington, and organized by the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER). Blue Cascades' exercises prepare and examine mitigation, response, restoration, and long-term recovery activities for potential large-scale natural or man-made disasters such as an earthquake, terrorist attack, or tsunami.

      ESRI provided GIS technology, services, and mapping content during the exercise at the incident command center. A large screen was set up for 330 officials from participating agencies to see the exercise scenario unfold during the event. Two screens were used for GIS mapping and support. ESRI tools were used for running earthquake damage models as well as a seawater surge model along the coast. ESRI staff also served on the scenario design committee and helped with event pre-planning and post-event scenario review.

      Blue Cascades III was a two-day event that simulated a magnitude 9 subduction zone earthquake off the coast of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Participants from public and private sector infrastructures discussed emergency response capabilities, including information sharing and collaboration. Participants also assessed the effects the simulated disaster would have on their sectors and the cascading impacts that would occur from lost services and infrastructure. More than 330 representatives from 150 organizations participated in the exercise, which built upon Blue Cascades I held in Portland, Oregon, in June 2002 and Blue Cascades II held in Seattle, Washington, in September 2004. It provided a real-world case study for evaluating mitigation plans and improving response and recovery practices.

      ESRI's ArcGIS Desktop software was used to provide real-time mapping of the simulated disaster and multiple-agency response. GIS provided a technology platform to integrate, manage, and update all types of disparate data. Simulated near real-time data streams for weather, traffic, and automated vehicle location were integrated with event data such as damage assessments, staging areas, evacuation centers, medical facilities, fire, and police. Data was then analyzed, queried, and mapped using GIS. The technology helped provide a common operating picture to give decision support to incident commanders. Federal, state, and local government data sources were managed within the spatial database environment along with satellite imagery and population and demographic data from ESRI's ArcGIS Business Analyst software. ArcGIS StreetMap was used to provide nationwide address matching and street map display.

      After the successful conclusion of the exercise, results were analyzed and assessments were made for areas of success and improvement. A master DVD with spatial data and ArcReader viewer software was supplied to exercise participants. ESRI will continue to partner with PNWER to provide support for other similar regional initiatives.


    1. The GeoServer Project has released version 1.3.2. GeoServer is an open source, standards-based server of geospatial information, connecting spatial databases and files to the variety of clients that make up the "geospatial Web," and allowing user-contributed editing through standard Web-based interfaces. Improvements for this release include an upgrade to GeoTools 2.2.x, and some performance tuning on the toolkit, with users reporting at least a 60-70 percent speed increase against PostGIS. There are also user-contributed fixes to create PDF maps from WMS and to adjust headers to allow caching, which can optimize GeoServer for tiling Web mapping clients, such as Google Maps or OpenLayers. The other big set of improvements were supported by Google, in order to leverage GeoServer's data reading and map producing capabilities to allow anyone to make their existing data available on Google Earth.

      The bulk of the work was to create KML/KMZ output from the open standard WMS protocol, which is compatible with Google's network link. Also funded was a basic SLD creation wizard, so that map styles can be created through the Web administration GUI. With the latest additions, GeoServer becomes an ideal server for Google Earth, especially for connecting with existing spatial databases.

      Geo-Server supports PostGIS, ArcSDE, MySQL, Oracle Spatial, DB2, and Shapefiles and recent improvements with GeoTools 2.2.x pass the majority of the spatial processing back to the database. There is also a KMScore optimization, which has GeoServer render the features as a raster to be used as a Ground Overlay, for situations when there are too many features for Google Earth to efficiently portray. GeoServer is able to handle millions of rows in a geospatial database, and will perform well as long as the map is styled efficiently with the Styled Layer Descriptors (SLD) specification from the OGC.

      GeoServer remains "standard by default," so all layers configured for Google Earth will also be available as standard WMS and WFS. GeoServer's transactional capabilities also allow a community of users to update spatial data, and have it available in a variety of formats.


    1. The 32nd International Symposium on Remote Sensing of the Environment: Sustainable Development Through Global Earth Observations will take place next year, June 25-29, in Costa Rica.

    2. Marathon Data Systems, an ESRI distributor in Greece and Cyprus, is organizing the 21st European Conference for ESRI Users. The Conference, which takes place every year in a different European country, will be held this year at the Hilton Hotel in Athens, Greece on November 6, 7, and 8. The 21st European Conference is expected to host more than 1,500 GIS professionals and business partners from all over Europe.

    3. Syria's General Organization of Remote Sensing will hold its 15th International Symposium and Exhibition On Remote Sensing and Assisting Systems in Damascus, Syria, September 18-21. The Symposium will focus on remote sensing technology and the assisting systems and their active role in such fields as natural resources, environment protection, regional and urban planning, disaster monitoring, climate, telecommunication, and archaeology.

      Papers covering remote sensing technology and its applications as well as the assisting systems that relate to the following topics are invited: innovations in remote sensing techniques; remote sensing applications in geology and subsurface resources applications; agriculture, forests, pastures, and land use yield estimation; regional and urban planning; climate; hydrology; environmental monitoring; natural disasters and early warning systems; archaeology and tourism; remote sensing and GIS integration; Internet GIS; digital photogrammetry; navigation and Global Positioning System; economic and social reflections of remote sensing development; and astronomical studies.

      Abstracts are limited to 500 words and due by July 15 by e-mail at [email protected]. GORS will organize a scientific exhibition in parallel to the symposium.

      The Scientific Committee for the conference consists of: Dr. Eng. Mohamad Rukieh, director general of GORS; Dr. Mazlan Othman, director general of the National Space Agency/ Malaysia; Dr. Ahmad Talebzadeh, president of the Iranian Space Agency; Dr. Mohamad AlKhawli, director of The National Remote Sensing Center/ Lebanon; Dr. Edris Al-Heddani, President of the Royal Center For Remote Sensing/ Morocco; Dr. Rainer Sandau, Head Institute of Space Sensor Technology and Planetary Exploration/ Germany; Dr.Mario Hernandez, Chief Remote Sensing Unit-UNESCO; Dr. Tifonove Vladimir G. Head of Laboratory of Neotectonics and Recent Geodynamics, Geological Institute of the RAS/ Russia; Dr. Haytham Minini, director of Geological studies at GORS; and Dr. Yuniss Eddris, director of agriculture studies at GORS.

    4. Abstracts are now being accepted for paper or poster presentations at the 2007 Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers. This event, to be held April 17- 21 at the Hilton San Francisco hotel, is expected to attract over 5,000 geographers from around the world. It will feature panels of distinguished researchers, over 3,000 scholarly and research presentations, and numerous special events such as a reception for international attendees, an exhibit area for book publishers and geographic technology firms, and a welcome gala, complete with live San Francisco entertainment.

      Field trips and excursions during the meeting will explore the rich cultural and physical geography of the San Francisco Bay Area. You'll get the geographer's take on San Francisco landmarks, culture, physical geography, and history.

    5. At AGI2006 GDC will focus on a new release of its SVG Geo-Statistics product, GeoReveal 2.0—a Web-based geo-statistical reporting solution that delivers interactive statistics. GeoReveal 2.0 can be used in a huge range of situations that relate to communicating information on "What's going up or down and where?" Examples include statistics for crime reduction, census trends in local government or performance information for any business, within public or private sectors. The product will be available in two packages: GeoReveal Studio provides a complete design environment for creating interactive geo statistical presentations and reports from common data formats (Excel, Access, MapInfo and ESRI); GeoReveal Enterprise product adds complete data management and live exploration for large databases like Oracle or SQL Server.

      The company will also feature development plans based on a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) approach using Web Services and the latest Java Development environments for the support of the widest range of IT platforms. The new products will be scaleable to a large numbers of users and deliver new user functionality and enhanced collaborative working. During the remainder of 2006 and the start of 2007, GDC will be introducing new Gazetteer and Metadata Web Services culminating in mid 2007 with the launch of entirely new products for Internet and Intranet mapping applications.

      The Gazetteer Web Services product from GDC provides a set of secure Web services for developers to integrate gazetteering operations into enterprise applications. It is a spatial service that acts as an address enabler for back office applications and public access systems. The product offers an end-to-end solution for distributing and interacting with enterprise gazetteer data in a live capacity. The service is scalable allowing the use of multiple gazetteers or data sources such as NLPG, Ordnance Survey, Royal Mail, and custom business data. It is developed to be a platform-independent, secure channel for distributing live and on demand gazetteer services.

      The Metadata Web Services product from GDC provides a toolkit for collaborative metadata management. The Metadata console offers the ability to create, edit, delete and publish metadata records. The Manager provides an intuitive browser-based user interface incorporating productivity enhancements for record creation. The architecture has been designed to provide low cost extensions or custom metadata schemas to suit a businesses internal requirement for metadata.

  4. OTHER

    1. The Ed Forrest Award, originally established in 1993 to honor outstanding achievement in leadership for the advancement of design/construction automation and last given in 2002, has been revived. Ed Forrest launched A/E/C Automation Newsletter in 1977 as an executive newsletter tracking the nascent design/construction and GIS automation industries. The trade show and conference A|E|C SYSTEMS created the award to honor Mr. Forrest, who was the first recipient of the award shortly before he passed away. Award ownership changed hands over the years as A|E|C SYSTEMS was sold first to Penton Publishing, then to Hanley-Wood Exhibitions, which has now transferred ownership and responsibility for the award to AECnews. In addition to the Ed Forrest Award, the memory of Mr. Forrest is also honored by the GITA Ed Forrest Internship Program, which provides hands-on opportunities for college students in GIS-related fields of study.

      AECnews is the successor to A/E/C Automation Newsletter; the current owner, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher Randall S. Newton, is the fifth editor in the publication's history. AECnews is the oldest continuously published journal dedicated to AEC technology. Now published online, it is also available in printed form as an annual publication for corporate and institutional libraries.

      In addition to Forrest, winners of the Ed Forrest Award are:

      1. 1994: Jim Meadlock, Intergraph;
      2. 1995: David Arnold, Softdesk;
      3. 1996: Barry, Greg, Keith, Ray, and Scott Bentley, Bentley Systems;
      4. 1997: Jack Dangermond, ESRI;
      5. 1998: Joel Orr, Orr Associates;
      6. 1999: Ken Sanders, Gensler Architecture;
      7. 2000: John G. Voeller, Black and Veatch;
      8. 2001: Kristine Fallon, Kristine Fallon Associates;
      9. 2002: Charles L. Miller, posthumous award.

      A committee of previous winners will help select the next industry leader to receive the award. A public presentation is planned for December at a time and place to be announced.

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