Was the Smart Phone really the last really big innovation with the potential to change our lives? A generation of digital natives growing-up alongside the rapid evolution of services and entertainment on mobiles seems to suggest it was. I used to track the technology and all it’s convergences as our small innovation team at Ordnance Survey awaited a platform that could do justice to our suite of location based games and augmented reality demonstrations.
Apple emerged with the innovation. Nothing new; but just a neat bringing together of current technologies in a different way that made sense to any user.
So is it the wizardry of the solid state technology and the services that run on them that really change our lives?
I always thought so. As an occasional reader of all the Geo journals I get (Geographica, the Royal Geographic Society‘s Geographical Journal and the Bulletins from BCS and the Society of Cartographers) you get used to academic proposals that pique interest but really never get the impact to change the world (or how it’s measured or referenced).
But that changed this lunch time.
I was surprised when a pilot friend of mine phoned to asked me “have you heard about these What3Words” guys?
Slightly taken aback as it normally takes some time (almost centuries) for a new geographical reference system to get the nod from academia, adoption by business and then enter the mainstream to pique the interest of a commercial airline pilot.
“Well yes” I replied. “Our Angel investor has a stake in it, the guy who designed the user interface for SplashMaps is employed by them and they, like SplashMaps, are a co-sponsor of our Geomob gatherings in London”.
“Oh”… he said “Do you know what this means?”
I waited and listened with increasing excitement as I realised that the talks I’d seen and the articles I’d read about this 3 year old business were now being faithfully interpreted into a clear set of benefits that anyone could buy.
Mike’s interesting. Like all investors in SplashMapshe has an eye for potential.
As a pilot with a background in the military he’s well aware that not knowing where you are is a common route to most disasters. The W3W approach to “naming” every 3m square on the planet means the same reference can be made for his craft as it takes off, advances around the world and eventually lines up with a gantry at LHR. Accurately. The idea is brilliantly simple and infinitely extendible to all areas of life where a common meeting point is needed. So what can I do? How about for a start;-
Like most Geo Businesses SplashMapscannot afford to be behind the curve. Already Splashmaps is streets ahead of most with our map interface that lets you choose anywhere in the planet by name, post code and by reference to a viewer map and preview. We can add a What3Words finder to this and people can get even more specific about start, finish and meeting points. Perhaps there’s even demand for a sub-heading in the titles of our map?
Mine would say Refreshed.Butlers.Enveloped
The amazing coverage this “behind the scenes” reference concept gets in the press is testament to the team behind the project and the excellent backers they’ve been able to attract. A reference that will change our lives? I recon so.
In the past two weeks I’ve been looking at plans for Horizon 2020, contributing to the consultation and sounding out experts from across Europe. We have plenty of time to look at it. It will launch only once the budget has been voted for. The earliest we can expect a launch will be at the end of 2014. But consultation is only possible now for 1 month to try and effect it’s construction.
In my experience of this consultation there is plenty for the Commission to work with. Here is my prescription for a successful funding scheme;
1) Make it properly SME friendly. If you’re small you don’t want your best chance of funding to be an enormous integrated project headed by one of the 5 typical system integrators in Europe ( or nearby). Most innovation comes from SMEs and often it comes from their own development. So quicker smaller solo or small group SME schemes please!
2) Some of the recent calls have been so heavily over subscribed that there is merely a 10 or 20% chance of success. This follows a very heavy application process. So please, let’s have a two stage process. A short and simple application, and more rigour demanded at the later stage of the application.
3) Less prescriptive calls. All projects are judged on their ability to advance the state of the art. Almost by definition this rules out the radical and can only accommodate the incremental innovations. Broad areas of societal challenge should be the limit of a call description.
4) More initiatives that encourage bottom-up innovation. The funding from the commission is already creating networks of excellence, but simple event led innovation incubators and networks would bring out much more innovation.
5) Broad trends like volunteer data need to be targeted and encouraged. The networked society is still an under utilised asset in Europe.
6) Initiatives to break the US dominance in social networks and the centralisation that happens to our data over there.
8) Initiatives that scale up the top class innovations from home countries rather than the default of selling out to non-European corporates. See Productiv in the UK. In this way we keep the essential skills and the greater part of the returns within Europe.
9) The EC needs to track the effectivity of these investments more effectively. How many businesses have prospered from post project activity? What contribution to the GDP? Actively engage the project community and use the dialogue to find “what happened next” and use this to quash the cynical.
10) Embrace the crowd funding trends. Why let a small group of experts vote when a large group can vote with their own funds?
These were my 10 for an improved funding structure in Europe. What are yours?
These days I spend quite a lot of time advising on data in Europe.
This week I’m in Brussels again; learning and helping with Cloud based collaborative projects.
Next week I’m back again for more!
On Friday next week I get to meet Marta Nagy-Rothengass, Head of Unit, European Commission DG CONNECT, DATA VALUE CHAIN in London as an expert in the field of Data. She’s seeking my views as an innovative start-up (SplashMaps) doing great things with Open Data and hopefully this will help on shaping R&D priorities of the Horizon 2020 work programme.
And on the 23rd of April I’ll be facilitating the Automotive Council and BIS sponsored event “Meet the Engineer!” innovation event.
On 24th April I will bring sensor technologies to the Automotive world as we explore what data can bring to Low Carbon vehicle technology with Productiv and their Radar club!
…and there should be time to launch a few more SplashMaps along the way!
“SplashMapsTM”; the latest technologies for the REAL outdoors no longer need batteries!
Hampshire based start-up SplashMapsTM begins a world-wide campaign to put stunningly practical maps into the hands of outdoor adventurers. By creating its own state-of-the art maps on waterproof, washable, and wearable fabrics the company makes maps designed for the REAL outdoors. With the latest in high performance fabrics and print technology the maps withstand the extremes of our weather and never need the delicate and frustrating folds you find in traditional paper and laminated maps.
But the novelty does not end there as Managing Director, David Overton, explains.
“Ordnance Survey (OS) have recently released some excellent digital data under their Open Data agreement” he said. “This has allowed us to combine OS data with the OpenStreetMap data to provide a totally new product that we can tailor to any outdoor adventurer’s needs!”.
The OpenStreetMap (OSM) is the Wikipedia of the mapping world, with all the data coming from “the crowd”. With its origins in the UK but now a global phenomenon, mapping enthusiasts are constantly updating the OSM database with highly detailed and increasingly reliable mapping in digital format. “The data we use is in a vector form,” says fellow Director, Arnulf Christl. “This means we can switch on and switch off certain types of content dependent upon the end use of the map. We can change colours and symbols used in the map and so are not restricted to the “normal” look of a paper map. We can even tailor the scale of the map dependent on how far you want to travel in your hobby…”, ever gone off the edge of a map whilst running or cycling? “…and we have developed technology that will allow users to select the point upon which to centre the map.”
As the OpenStreetMap is a truly global phenomenon, the business’ ambitions do not stop at our own shores. “There is a ready market in outdoor adventures and it’s growing fast,” says Overton. “Our research shows that mountain bikers and walkers prefer a scale somewhere between the two scales typically used in paper maps, so for our initial maps in the UK we are going for 1:40 000 and rolling out our first map in the New Forest”. And part of the beauty of this map is that you can always keep it close to hand by stuffing it in a sleeve, up your shorts or tying it around your head as a bandana, or your neck like a scarf.
The company plans to provide maps for each of the 15 national parks of Great Britain by April, by which time the user will be able to select anywhere in the country. Within 2013 the global offering will extend the company’s reach and international interest is already gathering pace.
“Already I am getting mail from enthusiasts in the USA who want to walk some of our great national trails in the UK” says Overton. “In fact we have even been asked to provide the map for the GeoNext conference in Australia”. Martin Von Wyss, the event organiser said he wants the map as the SplashMaps’ use of open and volunteered data “…represents a clever spin on the difficulty of publishing and distributing maps these days.” Indeed the potential for SplashMaps has now been spotted by the World Bank in humanitarian applications in Africa. Mark Iliffe, World Bank Geospatial Innovation Consultant said of the maps, “The paper maps produced just don’t stand-up in that environment, having something like a Splashmap would be fantastic.”
Overton showed SplashMapsTM to the mapping and technology experts at University College London for the recent #geomob gathering. At the event Gary Gale, Director of Places for Nokia, co-founder of WhereCamp EU: “It’s maptastic” and “Nice to see SplashMapsTM as a real tangible thing to hold, even if it is a prototype it’s still impressive”.
SplashMapsTM is being crowd-funded, and is one of the first ideas in the UK to use the Kickstarter platform to raise funds. The process is simple; if you like the idea of a SplashMapsTM, for example, you can make a pledge via the Kickstarter web site (just follow www.splashmaps.co.uk). Each pledge (anything between £1 and £750) gets a reward dependent upon how much is pledged. On the whole, you get a very good deal for making your pledge (thanks, maps, unique maps and invitations to a launch party are some of the rewards). But more importantly you’ll get a rosy glow of pride from supporting a fledgling innovative business and the open and volunteer data eco-systems it supports. If the company is successful in reaching its funding target those that made the pledges reap the rewards and SplashMapsTM gets some useful funds to develop the back-office technology and fund the early print-runs.
“This is a truly innovative project. We’re embracing the wisdom of crowds in both our funding and in our data content. Normally open data is only seen in digital applications. But by creating these maps we are[D1] making the open data ‘Tangible’ in order for people to see the value of the OpenStreetMap and the real benefits Tim Berners-Lee envisaged of open data initiatives at places like the Ordnance Survey,” says Overton. “We are also working to encourage more contributors to the OSM to ensure this valuable resource becomes the best source of consistent mapping across the globe”.
Other quotations from key people in the geo-technology market:
Ed Parsons, the Geospatial Technologist of Google: “Great stuff .. can’t wait to use my SplashMap – Good luck David and Arnulf !!”
Ian Holt, Geospatial Developer Evangelist, Ordnance Survey “Ever thought that your nice walking map is big, awkward, gets soggy in the rain, cannot possibly be folded back into its original shape? Well what you need is a map from the guys at Splashmaps!”
Jennifer Allen, Business Analyst at Nokia “I like maps. And I like when people do clever things with them too.”
SplashMapsTM is a Limited company based in Chandlers Ford Hampshire and was incorporated in November 2012.
David Overton was the Innovation Manager at Ordnance Survey before starting his own consultancy, dbyhundred Ltd in 2009. Since then he has been consulting, project and bid managing on some of the most influential European projects concerning geographic information. Recent successes include winning the Geospatial World Forum award for implementing European spatial data policy with the ESDIN project (a European Spatial Data Infrastructure) and successfully winning a bid for a Euro 14M expansion of this work to create a European Location Framework together involving 30 partners.
Arnulf Christl is a spatial systems architect and has worked around making digital maps for two decades. He is an Open Source advocate and charter member of the Open Source Geospatial Foundation which he co-founded in 2006. Since OSGeo’s inception he helped to shape the organization as a member of the board of directors and was OSGeo’s president in the past four years. Outside this volunteer time he consults to National Mapping Agencies around the world helping them to design, set up and organize map and data services to serve the public interest.
Those that love to Adventure outdoors – They can be the first own the first leisure maps designed for the REAL outdoors!
Those that love Open Data– See the first solid state product based upon this phenomenon! Their support helps us create the tools that make the data ever more accessable and usable.
Those that support the outdoor adventure market – These maps fit in with initiatives and events that get people outdoors and active; SplashMaps is an ideal opportunity to get these initiatives associated with something truly innovative.
Those involved in Volunteer Data – SplashMaps represents a new way to get people engaged in the updates
Since the beginning of this century, INSPIRE has had a grand vision for the pan-European use of geographic information to improve decision making within the environmental sector. But with the initiative reaching its teenage years can we deal with its growing pains? With the ISA (Interoperability Solutions for European Public Administrations) programme proposing an EU Location Framework (EULF) we can expect INSPIREs influence to penetrate both;
deeper – into the realms of local authorities and commercial data providers , and
wider – to serve an increasing number of sectors beyond the Environmental sector where INSPIRE was born.
But what have we learnt from INSPIREs formative years?
Early conflicts: National data providers vs mandated national authorities
I first engaged with INSPIRE in 2001 in Brussels over the EuroDEM (Digital Elevation Model), the first data set to be harmonised across borders and demanded for free. The meetings were tetchy. But those first attempts to provide harmonised data at a “global” level of detail were successful in getting the mapping agencies to work together (prossibly driven more by fear than by commercial gain or altruism). A common data set has now been available for more than 10 years and a free pan-European set is now in place.
Scary and unpopular at the time, who actually asked for this?
It was the collective nation states across Europe. Between us all we decided it made sense to be efficient and try to assure interoperation between our geographic data sets. Success in turning this dream into a programme stemmed from the steely determination of the ECs Joint Research Centre (JRC) team. Their persistence has now resulted in one of the largest legislated pan-European data management activities of all time.
However, characterised by “inclusiveness” the programme has tried to assure that everyone is heard and those that want to take part can take part. Sadly this meant that those with the greatest concerns and strongest vested interests took the biggest roles in shaping the implementation of INSPIRE. An inevitable result was a watered down model that aimed for the highly valued harmonisation, but delivers this slowly and under the burden of caveats that preserved some significant barriers to access.
Lesson 1: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Einstein. –or, don’t let the custodians of the current statusquo overwhelm your programme.
So the issues in the early years of INSPIREs development stemmed from the mandated national authorities attempts to make INSPIRE principles work with their national executive agencies. The barriers multiplied in the complexity of the many and varied ways that governments have chosen to organise their national data assets.
Lesson 2: The providers of data respond badly to enforced cooperation. Lets not make this mistake again!
Future conflicts: The national data initiatives vs the Local Authority data providers
Right now INSPIRE is becoming an enforced set of legislation. The implementation of the policy covering its 3 annexes stretch out to 2020. And as we begin to deal with the more thematic data (land use and cover, statistical units, human health etc. http://inspire.jrc.ec.europa.eu/index.cfm/pageid/2/list/7) INSPIRE approaches a new potential flash-point; that between our National Authorities and our Local Authorities. LAs will be expected, or certainly have the potential, to provide data at the required specification and may want to provide these as compliant services to benefit from the interoperation efficiencies.
In the UK our mixed bag of business models used with the national agencies (like the Ordnance Survey, the Met Office and the Hydrographic Office) have clashed with the ambitions at a local level. Often data is surrendered by LAs under duress and ultimately (in some cases) sold back to them. LAs suffer tight budgets, yet invest in expensive data gathering activities only to watch as the national agencies exploit their trading fund status to profit from this data, passing nothing back to the collection process. Resentment has been strong; a recent flashpoint (now resolved?) was the competing systems of applying unique references to properties and buildings UPRN (by the collective Local Authorities)and TOID systems (by the Ordnance Survey).
In the UK things look more positive now. There is a Location Strategy which adopts INSPIRE principles and, at the national level, services are beginning to emerge that are INSPIRE compliant. The immediate usefulness of such data sets in not always crystal clear (just have a look at the caveats Land Registry have had to place on their INSPIRE index polygons http://www.landregistry.gov.uk/public/guides/public-guide-24#guide-mark-11!), but the potential for ready interoperation grows with each new INSPIRE compliant service.
So can we expect Local Authorities to follow suit and provide data and services to a new set of schemas and through a new set of services? Will they recognise (and be allowed to share in) the resultant benefits of increased efficiency?
Learning from our previous experience (Lessons 1 and 2) we can only expect this to happen if there is “something in it” for them. Critically, can the systems LAs employ for increasingly dynamic, aggregated and networked information be well served by INSPIRE compliance?
If INSPIRE is really going to be both deeper and wider it will need to address the emergent issues in a way that motivates at the local level. Only in this way can INSPIRE assure consistent approaches throughout the hierarchy up to the pan-European level.
Of course the convergence of a proposed EU Location Framework proposed by the JRC and the European Location Framework proposed by the collective of mapping agencies will provide guidelines. But what’s needed is a practical data exchange mechanism that’s deployed at the local authority level and feeds up automatically into the higher nests of services and data at National and Multi-national levels.
So let’s focus now on those that are already engaged in this data exchange. Organisations that are motivated to address the gaps in the model to achieve interoperation. Those that will build INSPIRE compliant services. Those that will provide platforms transforming and adapting data and services to a common schema and allow efficient data exchange between different parties with a minimal overhead of effort. Those that will take on the challenge of integrating static and dynamic data feeds.
And lets really learn from the lessons of INSPIRE and prioritise on those that have cut their own teeth meeting the needs at the local level, rather than those with vested interests at the National level.
The latest prototype of our SplashMap (Maps on fabric for the REAL outdoors) is a great final prototype and only minor tweeks needed before it goes to market.
Currently the prototype (covering the whole of the New Forest) is under test with the Duke of Edinburgh Award, the Triathalon community and Geocahers, Mountain bikers and walkers. See latest trials here. It’s been scrutinised by family and friends of course, but now we’ve run it past experts in graphic design, web design and business consultants.
The map’s been jumped on, stuffed up sleeves, screwed up, rained on, tugged, used to wipe up spills (and later washed)… and that was just at the excellent Southern Entrepreneurs Southampton branch networking event on Tuesday evening! The SplashMap came out of all this with some increadibly encouraging support and a heap of contacts and offers to help us reach the market. I am also confident the product will shake off anything the DOE and Triathaletes can throw at it having tested it many times with my New Force mountain bike friends.
Now that there is a priority date set by the intellectual property office (IPO) on our innovative design, it’s time to show the world!
you want to make an advanced order… Christmas is coming!
you can suggest contacts organising specific events where a bespoke map printed onto fabric will help in navigation and make a practical memento.
Why is dbyhundred involved? We are here to get geographic information into the hands of everybody. In creating this map we have combined the best sources of open geographic data available to demonstrate the value of these initiatives (thank you Ordnance Survey and OpenStreetMap!). We’ve had to create processes for combining sources, refining content and tailoring for specific usages and we have a forward plan to develop and automate new products both physical and on-line and some that bridge the two!