If people are aware of the space they are in, they can make better use of that space. Semantic descriptions, enriched with landmark information, give a more human-like navigation
International Cartographic Association
As an old science and art, what are the challenges facing cartography today?
I would call cartography a discipline that deals with the triangle of science, art and technology. It has benefitted from its long tradition and history but at the same time, cartography is also as modern as ever due to the increase in demand for geospatial information and the need to comunicate it effectively. Modern cartography is facing challenges like producing cartographic models in near real time. Another challenge before modern cartographers is putting maps on various kinds of devices like mobile phones. There is a need to use the most efficient presentation model for a particular scenario. Today, there are a range of presentation models available, like 2D, 3D, animation etc. Maps are a very powerful tool of communication where a new trend of personalisation is also emerging.
This also ties in with ubiquitous mapping. Can you explain ubiquitous mapping in more detail?
Ubiquitous mapping refers to anything that is derived from Web mapping or location-based services to get access to and have maps available anytime, anywhere. It is not a vision anymore. It is already a possibility in mobile phones. But, there are more variables to cover, most notably the user. Every user has different needs and interests and the scenario they are in can be modelled. Adopting ubiquitous computing in our domain will significantly impact cartography in the future.
You have talked of cartography as communication. Can you discuss geomedia techniques?
Geomedia techniques are the underpinning technologies used to fulfill the task of communicating spatial information. Any technique, be it map, a 3D model or location-based augmented reality, which is related to location or geo-datum, is a geomedia technique.
How does visualisation fit in?
Visualisation is a method of communication to make use of the geomedia techniques.
Other than visualisation, modern cartography includes non-visualisation techniques and methods as well. For example, a car navigation system is a cartographic task. If someone needs directions while driving on a highway, they would prefer acoustic information to a map. They would prefer may be a small graphical representation of an area. This is a cartographic task whereby spatial information is being communicated in innovative.
So, cartography is no longer only about the visual aspect?
Modern cartography includes all kinds of communication channels. That is why it makes sense to have multimedia packages and acoustic channels to transmit spatial information. Human beings are very visually oriented and even if they have all kinds of acoustic possibilities and options, they would still like to have a map or a small screen device.
In many Asian countries, people are more used to non-visual approach. If they want to go to a particular place, they simply ask for directions…
I will give you the example of wayfinding. If a person wants to find his way from place A to place B, there are various possibilities involved. If a person has to find a place, then no doubt, the easiest way would be to ask someone for directions. But in my view, this process will give what I call distorted mental awareness of space. A person might be able to find way from point A to B but might not be able to find the way back, or take a shortcut. Our research has shown that people are not able to act in space properly if they have a distorted awareness of the space.
On the other hand, research shows that if the person is using a map, that feeds him and allows him to act in space. I call it spatial awareness. If people are aware of the space which they are in, they can make better use of that space. Semantic descriptions, enriched with landmark information, give us a more human-like navigation.
At the same time, we are also trying to analyse things like why human beings tend to act/react differently in different places in terms of navigation. It also relates to a person’s emotional relation to space. We, as humans, have a permanent emotional relation with space. For example, a girl, at night time, would wish to take a certain route because of the comfort factor even if it is not the shortest. We are undertaking an approach known as EmoMap (emotional map), as a layer to Open- StreetMap. Here, our relations to space are being mapped.
The address system in Europe is very organised but in countries like India, addresses are not very well defined. People usually position themselves with their neighbours. Can EmoMap play a role in such a situation?
I agree that such situations need a structured system. Emotional mapping can have its advantages in such a system. For example, if one wants to give directions to an old relative, they can refer to landmarks that existed earlier but no longer exist. The relatives can identify with such landmarks. So if I am connected via social media to a particular group of people, I can use EmoMap in a way that I allow them to get my personalised spatial relations as well. Where the public in general is concerned, I can aggregate that information. Therefore, many people who have the same pattern lead to a particular recommendation. We call this collaborative filtering – search engines use the same technique.
How is cartography transforming with crowdsourcing and volunteered geographic information?
Volunteered geographic information (VGI) is significantly influencing cartography. The biggest project influencing VGI is OpenStreetMap. VGI is becoming such a significant phenomenon that even national mapping organisations (NMOs) from all over the world either already are, or will be influenced by it. The tasks that NMOs have undertaken in the past as an authority will partially be covered by both commercial and volunteered communities. However, VGI data poses many questions – how reliable that data is and the area and context in which we might be able to use them. From the perspective of cartography, it is an interesting development. Currently we are witnessing parallel worlds. There are national authorities that do their work because the government wants them to, commercial companies want to make money by providing information to feed the industry and then there are the volunteers. In the future, I wish these worlds come together in the best sense.
Is ICA recognising such efforts by volunteers?
Yes, very much. ICA is the world authority body for cartography and GI science, both of which are closely inter-woven. For instance, think of SDI, geospatial analysis or geovisualisation – all these are types of activities in cartography and GI science. ICA encompasses all these activities. In terms of reaching out to these new developments, we have very active Commissions. We have assigned some strategic MoUs with organisations like OSGeo with whom we are working very closely under the ICA flag. We have already set up an establishment each in Africa, Asia and Europe. Another one in North America is in the pipeline.
Can you shed some light on cybercartography?
Professor Fraser Taylor, former president of ICA, undertook a big project on Canadian sources which is called cybercartography. The architecture of that project was to bring human sciences, technical sciences and art – the three pillars of cartography I mentioned – together, to build new theories, new methods and new tools to get a better insight into modern cartography methodologies and technologies.
The term cybercartography is becoming more relevant now because the move from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0 is based on semantics. This links to cybercartography. The emerging concept is Web 4.0 which would see the doing away of human-machine interface. We just talked about ubiquitous computing and ubiquitous cartography. The way I see it, the time is not far when we will not even need to carry the device around – there will be semidevices planted everywhere and maybe also implanted in humans.
Panoramic tourist map of resort Sunny Beach, Bulgaria. The map, based on a real 3D digital model of terrain, buildings and facilities, was a winning entry at the 25th International Cartography Conference.
MIT Media Labs has developed “sixth sense technology” based on the theory that most of our communication also involves communicating with hands. Do you see this kind of technology making a presence in cartography?
This kind of technology definately holds big potential in cartography. A mobile device that can be used as a projector would be perfect for cartography. However, a problem is that as a pointer, people might not feel comfortable as being visible in their environment. If someone wants to know about a particular building, they will have to point towards it, which makes them prominent in their environment. However, generally speaking, I see lot of benefits from these new technologies, like projection, for cartography. Wearable computing too may be used as a tool to interact with the space we are in, either for way-finding or information about the awareness of that space. This is definitely the direction in which modern cartography is looking.
While cartography is very much technology driven, there is always an element in the communication process which is not dependent on technology. It is important to make communication processes efficient, accurate, pleasing, comfortable and fitting into the situation. This element is missing in modern cartography products.
One of the missions of ICA is the transfer of new cartographic and geographic technology and knowledge, especially among developing nations. What are ICA’s initiatives in this direction?
We are very keen and active on getting memberships from the developing nations. I have travelled to India, Tunisia and am travelling to other African countries to make them aware about the possibilities and options of getting linked to international organisations. We are also developing and running dedicated outreaching capacity building programmes. Under this, we are conducting 2-3 days’ hands-on workshops on modern cartography and technologies like Web mapping.
We are also working with the open source community and have workshops dedicated to developing countries. Open source software will be able to provide free data. ICA will provide the information to developing countries regarding this data. As ICA’s president, I have started taking some steps in this direction. So far, all our Commissions are entitled to act as they want, individually. We are now putting in place a working group that synchronises the activities of the Commissions to make the most of these activities. ICA encourages countries all over the world to contact us if they are interested in such initiatives, even if they are not members. We would like to reach out with our experts and the skills and knowledge which are with the ICA.