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European SDIs at different levels

Kevin Mooney
Kevin Mooney
Secretary General, EuroSDR,
Dept. of Spatial Information Sciences,
The Dublin Institute of Technology

Is EuroSDR, a European Spa- tial Data Research Network, involved in the Infrastructure for Spatial Information in Europe (INSPIRE) initiative?
We are certainly involved. EuroSDR is a network which contains representatives from many mapping agencies in Europe and universities.

Much of the data in INSPIRE is generated by mapping agencies. EuroSDR has become a spatial data interest community which is part of the INSPIRE structure. Our role is to contribute to the development of implementing rules of INSPIRE. We nominated a number of our members to join the working groups and drafting teams that are preparing the implementing rules. To that extent we are very much evolved.

What is your experience in general about the concept of SDI?
Spatial data infrastructures (SDI) in Europe are developing at different levels and in phases. Some countries are very advanced in building their national spatial data infrastructures (NSDI). All the countries are waiting for the INSPIRE SDI to become operational. In my own country Ireland, some development work has been done but they largely follow INSPIRE rules while some countries have quite sophisticated SDIs. One of the biggest problems with spatial data is that we have over 40 countries in Europe and have to address issues like harmonisation of data, interoperability, software and systems and the adoption of standards. We believe that INSPIRE will help the harmonisation and interoperability issues. It will also help the countries to position themselves for new services the public will expect in the future. It is something everybody is happy to be involved in.

You were talking about inter- operability. I presume you are going by ISO/TC211 and OGC specifications.
While we are a liaison member of ISO and member of CEN, a European standard organisation, we have an MoU with OGC. We approach standards in two ways. We have a working group which is chaired by Prof Wolfgang Kresse of Germany and he is a member of the relevant technical committee of ISO. He brings the views of EuroSDR to these committees and he reports back. The second way is more direct, such as in the case of CityGML. We have held a number of workshops on GML because many mapping agencies are moving their databases from cartographic databases to landscape models. These are based on GML. CityGML is an initiative that came from a special interest group in Germany. They developed it to a certain level and we asked them to become part of a EuroSDR project to inform the EuroSDR network about the potential of CityGML and also to hear from the EuroSDR network on what we feel we need in the urban modelling standards. This project works closely with OGC.

Talking about NSDI, people talk about communities and one of the communities NSDI should serve is the general public. Can initiatives like INSPIRE help in that process?
I believe so. There is a second initiative in Europe called GMES – Global Monitoring for Environment and Security. INSPIRE and GMES are closely related and will help to break down barriers to the exchange of information. Licensing and finance are only two of these.

Many are technical and we address the research areas in this regard. Our research agenda and commissions extend from data acquisition, right through specifications and network services. As an example imagine an online tourist application. For example, I want to go on a walking trail between Belgium, Netherlands and Germany and I want to do this over a number of days. I am of a particular age and I want to know how difficult it is. I also want to know all places I can stop on my way. All this information can be made available by the application of data coming from the different mapping agencies if the technical issues can be solved.

Is there a situation where there is a resistance to shar- ing of data?
At EuroSDR level, no. There is a real willingness among European players to share experience and to get solutions that suit everybody. We generate data for EuroSDR projects. There is a willingness to share that data for the profit of research organisations. Sharing of commercial data is not an area where EuroSDR has a view.

So, is this more a commercial issue?
Regarding any data used in EuroSDR project provided to us by a commercial company, we feel we will not be able to give that data out without the company’s permission. Within INSPIRE, there is a principle that data should be available free. But mapping agencies believe there is a cost involved in generating the data so data cannot necessarily be given free. I don’t know how this will eventually be resolved but this is not something that EuroSDR has a strong view on. EuroSDR is more concerned with spatial data research rather than policy issues.

People have been talking about SDI for many years. Do you think initiatives like Google Earth are jumping the gun and mak- ing SDIs redundant?
I don’t think they are making SDIs redundant. We in fact welcome these initiatives. They will raise the awareness of spatial information to a large degree and it will almost become a natural thing to look for spatial information on Google Earth or MS Virtual Earth. But you still have applications where large scale, 3D, quality assured data is needed. And for these applications, SDIs are needed for business, transport, environmental protection, tourism and so on. All these services will require data that are not really available through the global systems.

There seems always to be a shortage of trained manpow- er in this part of the world. Did you face problem?
There are many universities in Europe. There seems to be a trend all over Europe and in Ireland, where young people coming out of secondary schools are moving away from science and engineering streams into business areas as they see, in the past at least, that this is where millionaires came from. And so we find it difficult to get sufficient students for undergraduate courses. In postgraduate courses, we have many students coming from different disciplines into geoinformatics and geomatics from Europe and other parts of the world.

Another area that’s going to be important is to update the skills of qualified people and expose them to new areas. For the last eight years, EuroSDR has been running e-learning distance courses.

These courses are designed to transfer the results of our research to the production domain. We attract many participants for these courses from the mapping agencies of Europe and other international organisations. We have four short term courses every year. Participants receive course material and assignments to carry out. This has led to a continuing network of the students who did the courses and the teachers. This is a big advantage of the e-learning courses.

How are your research proj- ects and courses charted out?
We have about 18 member countries with two delegates each, one from a mapping agency or production organisation and one from a research university. We then decide our research needs for spatial data production for the next five years. We take inputs and the requirements of mapping agencies into account and prepare a research plan, which we review and update every three years. Then, we decide on the number of commissions as part of this research plan and invite experts to join EuroSDR as commission chairmen. Their job is to propose projects that will address the research plan. The projects then begin. The commission chairmen will try and identify leaders and work along with them.

The first thing a project leader will do is to invite participants from around the world. At the same time, he will devise a set of steps for the project and decide on the deliverables and milestones. Then, we gather the data. Very often, mapping agencies volunteer to give data or commercial agencies fly with LiDAR or digital cameras for example. That data is then collected by the project centre and distributed to the project participants.

Participants then follow the instructions of the projects – using their own software, algorithms or systems to work with the data. If we feel it important to organise one or two-day workshops to discuss the experiences of the project and results of the project, we do. In the second phase of the project, after two years when all the data has been processed, we publish the results and we also try and develop an elearning course on the project. Our projects are essentially application oriented. Some times, the research might simply be a series of workshops addressing very specific issues, particularly in relation to SDIs.