Interactive Mapping Blog

Mapping Solutions News

Mar 6

HSCIC investigation

icon March 6th, 2014 by Earthware

We are continuing to cooperate fully with the HSCIC investigation into the use of data by Earthware UK. We do not intend to make any further comment until the investigation has concluded.

Feb 18

How a Mapping Company Was Born

icon February 18th, 2014 by Neil Osmond

I sometimes get asked ‘How did Earthware begin?’ I like telling the story as it shows that a successful business idea can grow out of a personal technology ‘brain fart’!

Once upon a time I (Neil Osmond) was working in the pharmaceutical industry running a team of analysts in a comfortable well paid job. I had always hankered after doing something ‘entrepreneurial’ but didn’t want to be a freelance Consultant so I had half an eye on launching a product, or solutions, based company.

One day in 2005, I turned on my PC and was met with the ‘blue screen of death’. Being of a rigourous and cautious outlook on life (not!), I had failed to back my PC up for some months. In a fit of panic I rang my most technically qualified friend, Brian Norman. I don’t remember even giving him a choice – I just bundled my dead PC into the car and drove to his house.

While Brian was resurrecting the hard drive he uttered the words, which at the time I had no idea would change my life, “Would you be interested in seeing something I have been mucking around with in my spare time?” To my shame, the voice in my head was saying “Not really!” but not being quite that rude, I actually said “Yes, I would.”

So Brian showed me this amazing thing I had never seen before, Google Earth (you have to know this was way before it was launched to a wider public). He had also screen scraped (we’ll gloss over the legalities of that seeing as it never saw the light of day in the public domain) from the Pearl and Dean website, all the addresses and all the show-times for every cinema in the UK. Bare in mind that this was pre-broadband days, now suddenly by clicking on a few points I could work out what film I would like to see and at which of the local cinema options. I could do this in a few seconds rather than the ten minutes, via three websites, that it would have normally taken me.

This prompted my response (that shows the clear difference between our personalities) of “Are you going to sell this?” to which Brian responded with “No, I am not into all that!” My initial reaction was “Well I think I could sell this!”

So an idea was born and most weeks for about a year we met on a Saturday morning over coffee to work out what the mapping proposition might look like, what markets to target and what would have to be true for us to leave our jobs and strike out on our own. We agreed that we were both passionate about creating cool maps and building a company that clients would love to partner with and people would love to work for ….

… and so a mapping company was born!

Oct 29

Full UK Postcodes Polygons (mostly Open Data)

icon October 29th, 2013 by Giles Collingwood

The Ordnance Survey provides the GB postcode location data as free to use Code-Point® Open which you can read about here and the exact license terms are here.

OS Code-Point Open

Which is great, however, you’ll notice that being the GB dataset, you don’t get any of the BT postcodes that are used in Northern Ireland.

The Land & Property Service of Northern Ireland (LPS) owns the copyright for the Northern Ireland postcode data, and there appears to be several ways to obtain the data and a license to use it:

  1. The LPS have a product called the Central Postcode Directory which you can license from them here, which is £250 for an annual licence and fee for internal business use.
  2. The UK Office for National Statistics also publish the postcode data and grant you a single end user license for the Northern Ireland postcode data but as they say this does not cover commercial use and you need to contact the LPS directly for this as above.
  3. The Ordnance Survey do have the full UK postcodes including Northern Ireland in their licensed product Code-Point® which provides a precise geographical location, to a resolution of 1 metre, for each postcode unit in the United Kingdom. You can license this data for the entire UK, or just a subset. Therefore if you want to license the subset of Northern Ireland for everyone in your company for internal use (for example you were using them on an internal web application) then these can be licensed for 101+ users for £164.32 per annum. If you are using it for less users, then the price scales down to £49.30 for a single user. As Earthware are an Ordnance Survey Licensed Partner, we are able to supply these licenses and the data.

Be aware that data you generate from the Code-Point® postcodes will be considered derived data and most likely fall under the same license terms. For example, if you used the Northern Ireland data to draw out postal code polygons, perhaps by creating a Voronoi Diagram, then to keep using your polygons you need to maintain your OS license every year too. Of course public sector organisations can use this data for free under the Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA).

Our friends at Geolytix have created some beautiful hand edited Postal Sector boundary polygons from the GB based Code-Point® Open, which you can download as open data here. They have also created Postal Sector boundary polygons for Northern Ireland as well, and if you wish to use these then you can license the Ordnance Survey Code-Point® data through us, then you can enjoy full UK polygon coverage.

Oct 21

Beta testing- is your website ready?

icon October 21st, 2013 by Anika

Your brand-spanking new website is finally finished and you’re ready and raring to go-live. How can you be sure it is up to the job until it has been put to the test? The biggest defects, the ones glaring you in the face, have already been sorted out but beta testing is one of the last and most important stages of the development process. This is your site and you want to make sure it looks and functions exactly as you envisioned it would.

The aim of beta testing: break the website

This might seem like a strange aim to have at this point in the process, but it is important to know that your website is indestructible. The aim is to navigate around the site in ways in which a normal user would not, for example, clicking on one particular button repetitively multiple times. Now is the time to uncover any problems.

Here are some questions you should constantly be asking yourself throughout the beta testing process:

  • Functionality: can I do what I need to do (e.g. can I send an email enquiry)?
  • Usability: is it obvious how to do what I want to do?
  • Maneuverability: can I move about the website easily (e.g. do all the links work)?
  • Aesthetics: is everything laid out clearly (e.g is the text place neatly positioned around the images)?
  • Readability: are there any grammatical mistakes or spelling errors?

The testing mind frame

When you have been involved every step of the way throughout the development process, you can become accustomed to the way the website you have developed works. This can include any faults. Beta testing should be approached from many different angles and wearing many different hats.

Think like a new user

Put yourself in the shoes of each of your target users, imagine this is your first visit to the website and slowly walk through the processes they would. If I am looking to achieve a specific target by visiting the website, how easy is it for me to find?

Better yet, find a new user

The best way to look at the website from a new perspective, is to get a new perspective. Watch over someone’s shoulder as they use the website, get them to describe what they think works well and not so well. Even if they cannot describe what needs to be improved, just watching how they use the website may bring the necessary improvements to light.

Approach in different directions

Start at the beginning, maybe the home page and click on anything and everything there is to click on, on every page of the website.

Test in different browsers

You don’t know what browser your client might use and websites behave differently in different browsers. Therefore, you should test thoroughly in as many browsers as possible. We would recommend Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari and Internet Explorer versions 8, 9, and 10.

Internet browsers

Don’t forget your map

If you have made a map, it will need testing too. You are looking to test usability in the same way as you test a website. Can you do everything you need to do?

  • Can you scroll around the map as you would expect to be able to?
  • Can you zoom in and out of the map? Do the tiles load as you would expect them to?
  • If it is a searchable map, enter a postcode or location you know well:
    Are the correct locations generated? Do they appear in the centre of the map?

What happens next?

If you discover any issues, they need to be recorded so they can be fixed. The more detail, the better.

  • Clearly explain what the issue is and explain what you did to get to that point, or to make it happen.
  • Give the URL of the page where it occurred and provide screen shots (especially in the case of an error message). Not sure how to take a screen shot? Here’s how.
  • Diagnostic Information: what internet browser and version were you using?
  • Issues that you think may be likely to appear in all pages (e.g. a ‘Contact us’ link at the foot of the page) only need reporting once.

Send as much of this information to your project manager. This helps us ensure the finished product is exactly what you want it to be.

Want to beta test your website?

If you have any questions or just need some support when beta testing your website, please get in touch.

Sep 27

Make your own Street View

icon September 27th, 2013 by Giles Collingwood

A few weeks ago we dispatched a student intern to walk through Norton Common near Earthware’s office, holding a pole with an iPhone and GoPano lens attached to it. Short of being on fire, he couldn’t have drawn more attention to himself.

GoPano Micro

Google Street View is one of the most incredible innovations in mapping in recent years, but has one major flaw; what happens when you leave the route that Google decided to photograph? At Earthware, we want to improve the Street View experience by making it easy to add in your own custom Street View panoramas when Google’s just don’t go far enough.

The ideal end result was perfect continuity between the real Street View and ours – as you followed the arrows, you’d eventually end up in ours without even necessarily noticing. To demonstrate this, we took a path down Norton Common. The entrance to the path is visible from the street, but you’re unable to go down it in Google Street View. This meant there was a jumping off point we could use to link the two together.

Our intern set out with the trusty iPhone-on-a-pole, with two apps running: Endomondo and GoPano. Endomondo is normally used for keeping track of work-outs, but the feature we were really interested in was being able to record a route taken using GPS, with timestamps at regular intervals. GoPano is the companion app to the lens we were using –a lens and app which records 360 degree video at all times, creating a video which the user can watch at any angle. By lining up the timestamps of the route and video, we could get an accurate location for every frame of the video.

Our original prototype displayed this route on a map, and used the raw video from GoPano on pause to act as our Street View – much like the real thing, you could drag it around to see everything. But without linking into to Google Street View, it just wasn’t enough. We set out to find a better way of doing it.

Google’s Maps API allows you to add in custom panoramas to Street View, so this was clearly the right path to take. The first roadblock was getting images to use. Answer; 3 hours spent exporting 16,000 frames from Adobe Premiere Pro, another 2 hours spent on Google, and 5 minutes to write a VBS script to select the frames we had GPS data for. We had our images!

A still frame from the GoPano video looks like this:

Original frame taken from the GoPano movie

When wrapped around, it projects quite nicely as one 360 degree frame. Sadly, this isn’t the projection Google’s API works with, resulting in a distorted image. Through guesswork, trial and error, and a tiny bit of maths, we attached black bars to the top and bottom of each image, and hoped that would do the trick – it did.

Padding out the GoPano frame to the ratio that Google expects

Next we spent some time getting each individual frame to point in the right direction and to link to each other in the right order in Street View. Once they were all in line and in order we overlaid an arrow on the real Street View panorama outside the common to link to our custom Street View; our mission was complete!

Showing where we connected our series of images on to the Google ones

Of course, it wasn’t without its issues. Through development we’d only ever seen it in Chrome, where it worked perfectly. Briefly looking at it in other browsers shows we’ve got some way to go making it compatible with them… In Firefox and Safari, it appears as a flat image:

Firefox and Safari show this

This appears to be a known issue with Google’s use of WebGL to render custom panoramas, and indeed is deemed a non-issue by Google engineers, so there’s little to be done about it (https://code.google.com/p/gmaps-api-issues/issues/detail?id=2792).

In Internet Explorer 10 on some computers the pan controls are corrupted:

Internet Explorer manages to mess up the pan control (top left)

Again, this is a known issue (https://code.google.com/p/gmaps-api-issues/issues/detail?id=4563).

So, if you’d like to take a look at our custom Street View, and learn about how you can put a student to good use, the demo is available here: http://www.earthware.co.uk/client-stories/StreetView/StreetView.aspx.

Sep 20

GPS tracking using a Trimble device

icon September 20th, 2013 by Giles Collingwood

Earlier this summer we had the chance to cycle around London with an expensive, high-accuracy GPS tracker from Trimble.

Trimble hand held GPS

More recently, we had the chance to do something useful with the data we recorded, the result of which was two separate maps based on the same data, and on the same general principle.

For each map we used three sources of data. The first was the raw data from the GPS unit (after post processing to get the sub metre accuracy), recording just over 850 individual co-ordinates. (Note the airplane showing in Bloomsbury Square was in fact at 8,000 feet rather than landing at the time!)

Route captured using a Trimble GPS, after post processing.

The second was a cleaned up version of the raw data, eliminating most points along straight lines – this gave us a still rather accurate route for only 140 points.

Simple cleaning by removing the intermediate points on the straight sections.

The final source of data was tracking the GPS location using a Google Nexus Android Smartphone, which was decidedly less accurate, and rather more wobbly:

Route captured using a Google nexus Smartphone

The map we created from these routes has the option to switch between these sources, so you can see how accurate the raw data is, how clean the clean data is, and how wobbly the Smartphone data is: http://www.earthware.co.uk/client-stories/StreetView/LondonGPS.aspx

This map also plotted the elevation of the route, using the Google Maps API’s built in Elevation Service. Using the Elevation Service results in a column chart underneath the map, showing a remarkable dip on the east side of Russell Square. Additionally, clicking any column on the column chart will move the map and the Street View panorama to that location on the map, making it easy to see where the highest and lowest points on the route are.

We created a second map without the elevation data, and you can drag the bicycle icon around the route to move the Street View panorama with it. Simply click and drag the icon to any place on the map, and the Street View pane will update, allowing you to see exactly what you would see if you were riding your bike in London. http://www.earthware.co.uk/client-stories/StreetView/LondonGPSNoElev.aspx

Having the opportunity to work on this proof of concept was fantastic. It was amazing to see how much of a difference a professional GPS unit made in comparison to a built in tracker on a phone. Get in touch if you’d like to know more about what we did.

Jul 22

Geocode your photo, video or any collection using metadata

icon July 22nd, 2013 by Giles Collingwood

We’ve just completed an interesting project combining mapping with photos and videos. So if you have a massive digital library of photos that you’ve scanned or taken on a camera without GPS Positioning you can now help your customers search and filter them geographically, using MetaLoc.

So how does MetaLoc work?

MetaLoc scans your files’ metadata and picks out relevant terms which it then searches and refines to give as precise a map position as possible. You can control how accurately this is carried out, what the criteria are for geolocation. If you have specific knowledge for a particular image you can adjust the geolocation manually if required.

MetaLoc would work on any collection of files with metadata and geographical context, not just video or photos i.e. news articles, museum collections.

Where possible (and relevant), the location is found in Wikipedia and important keywords are added to the metadata (including the link to the Wikipedia article).

image

The geocoding results are presented in a mapping interface, allowing easy interaction, language independence and simple integration into your website. MetaLoc does not touch your assets or other aspects of your search system and is completely hosted for you.

MetaLoc automatically geotags the assets in your collection.

If you’d like to know more then please contact colin.mills@skyworks.co.uk or check it out on www.metaloc.com

Jun 24

This year Earthware have been working alongside the TfL Online Team and BAE Systems Detica to create the new Transport for London Journey Planner. As of tomorrow you are able to try it out for yourself!

We have been working on this very exciting project since January, creating the mapping framework that has been used on the new site, using Google Maps. Now that the new Journey Planner has been launched, we thought we’d take the opportunity to tell you about all the cool things we have been doing.

The new TfL website comprises of a responsive design layout, and it has been an interesting and educating experience inserting maps into a site that has been designed, right from the start, for mobile usage. There are 3 widths available to users; single column for mobile devices, 2 columns for medium sized screens such as small slate devices, and three columns for desktops.

There are 3 maps for you to take a look at in this release of the site.

The first shows where you are if you try to plan a journey using your current location as the start point – click on the use my location option in the drop down for starting locations:

Then if you’ve allowed your browser to know your location, it will show a map of where it thinks you are:

The second map shows if you try to plan a journey and use a destination that isn’t exactly recognised, you are provided with a list of options that are possible matches for you to select from. You can see this in the example below where I was planning to go to “Victaria”.

Note the full screen button in the bottom right of all the maps, allowing you to better explore:clip_image006

Once the site knows the start and end point of your journey, it offers you 4 possible routes and times of travel. For each option you can click on the details of each leg, and view that leg on a Google Map.

You can see the third map when you investigate an individual leg of the journey you have planned (by clicking on Show map). For the leg shown below you are able to take either the Circle or District line from the same platform, so both colours are shown on a single polyline, to make sure there are no gaps. Here I planned a trip from St. James’s Park to Bank. See this route for yourself here.

And if you are a pictures person you can now switch to satellite view too!

As there are many modes of public transport in London, it’s worth taking a look at how these are now displayed on the site’s maps too.

River routes have been mapped clearly, by suppressing Google’s in built river ferry routes. Here I planned a trip from London Bridge Pier to Greenwich Pier. See this route for yourself here.

And of course the cable car route! Here I planned a trip from Emirates Greenwich Peninsula to Emirates Royal Docks. See this route for yourself here.

On the DLR Route below you can see it ‘’dog legging’’ through the isle of dogs. Here I planned a trip from Bank to Greenwich Station. See this route for yourself here.

It has been a fantastic experience working with both BAE Systems Detica and TfL on this exciting project. Take a look at the new TfL website today and let us know what you think of the design, responsive layout, and of course, the maps!

Thanks to the recent introduction of Google Map Maker in the UK, should you see any corrections that are required on the underlying Google Maps, go ahead and make a suggestion!

http://google-latlong.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/welcoming-united-kingdom-to-google-map.html

We’re really looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the new TfL Journey Planner maps. If you’ve got questions on these, or any other maps, please get in touch!

Earthware: +44 (0) 845 642 9880

http://www.earthware.co.uk/contact-earthware.aspx

Or email Giles Collingwood: giles@earthware.co.uk

May 30

Google Maps visual refresh and UK road styling

icon May 30th, 2013 by Giles Collingwood

We’re enjoying investigating the forthcoming update to Google Maps, here at Earthware. As part of understanding the consequences of the new look and feel for one of our clients, we noticed that the specific road styling for the UK seems to have been removed.

Here is a picture of the roads around London showing the M25 orbital (click on the image for a larger version):

clip_image002

On the left panel of the image you’ll notice the current Google Maps view that we’re used to seeing with the M25 coloured in blue, the major A roads coloured green, minor A roads in orange, B roads in yellow (when you zoom in far enough) and unclassified roads in white.

The middle panel of the image shows the new look: The motorways are orange and the major A roads are yellow. However, other road types are all uncoloured instead being displayed as a grey line when you are further zoomed out. Although different from what we’re used to seeing, this grey line approach when zoomed out does, we think, make the map more readable.

The right panel of the image still shows the new look map, but we have used the styling wizard to apply colour styling to the roads to make them as close to the old look as possible. We haven’t adjusted the road weighting here so the styled map is coming out with narrower road lines than both the original and the un-styled visual refresh version, which is odd.

If we now add some extra weight to the road line we can fix this:

clip_image004

So we’ve done it, right? Fixed the UK styling?

Not quite, take a closer look at the M25 / M4 junction:

clip_image006

There are two issues here (arrowed in pink):

  1. The motorway slip roads have not been included in the controlled access class we used to style the motorways
  2. There is no way to target the colour of the B roads – here we have highlighted Bath Road at the bottom of the picture which should be yellow.

We have raised a feature request on the Google Maps API issue list here: https://code.google.com/p/gmaps-api-issues/issues/detail?id=5448 and also on our Google Maps for Business portal, so let’s hope these get addressed! (Update – Google have marked the issue as fixed on 6th June 2013, so hopefully that means it is included in the next experimental release)

If you want to try out the demo for yourself which was created using mapstraction, it is available here: http://www.earthware.co.uk/demos/tfl/CZ/GoogleVisualrefresh.html

And here is the styling we used:

[
  {
    "featureType": "road.arterial",
    "elementType": "geometry.stroke",
    "stylers": [
      { "color": "#F8B762" }
    ]
  },
  {
    "featureType": "road.arterial",
    "elementType": "geometry.fill",
    "stylers": [
      { "color": "#FFC243" }
    ]
  },
  {
    "featureType": "road.highway",
    "elementType": "geometry",
    "stylers": [
      { "color": "#95D17B" }
    ]
  },
    {
    "featureType": "road.highway",
    "elementType": "geometry.fill",
    "stylers": [
      { "weight": 3 }
    ]
  },
  {
    "featureType": "road.highway.controlled_access",
    "elementType": "geometry.stroke",
    "stylers": [
      { "color": "#6A76BB" }
    ]
  },
  {
    "featureType": "road.highway.controlled_access",
    "elementType": "geometry.fill",
    "stylers": [
      { "color": "#7786DF" }
    ]
  }
]
Apr 23

The End of the Google Maps JavaScript API v2 Approaches…

icon April 23rd, 2013 by Giles Collingwood

We thought it would be worthwhile sending out a reminder that the deadline for the end of support for the Google Maps JavaScript API v2 is now less than a month away, and is due to take place on 19th May 2013.

If you are concerned about the significant risk of your Google Maps JavaScript API v2 based map being switched off, then do contact us for assistance in migrating up to the latest version of the Google maps JavaScript API.

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