New ways to slice the mapping pie

In a world where you could get only one pizza, albeit one covered with every topping imaginable, you’d be bound to have unhappy customers digging under layers of cheese to remove unwanted ingredients.

In may ways today’s mapping world could be describe in terms of that imaginary land serving only the one pizza, except the customers might be trying to find survey lines buried underneath layers geographical details on elevations, resources, and vegetation instead of searching out unwanted anchovies.

Bringing the world of mapmaking into the 20th century so it can take its place alongside the made to order pizza is the goal of engineering’s surveying engineering division. Professor Mike Chapman explains the problems with the present system.

“Making a map today can take as long as five years and cost in the thousands of dollars. They have to contain as much information as possible in order to serve the needs of the many groups and professions that rely  on  them. But providing so much information makes them difficult to use.

“Keeping the maps current is another problem. They take so long to make they’re often obsolete before they’re printed, and with revisions taking a year or more, an up to date map simply can’t be had.”

Government and the professions are aware of the difficulties, says division chairman Dr. Ed. Krakiwsky, and they’re also aware of the benefits of finding a workable solution.

“When you consider that the maps we have today don’t contain all the information available and realize that we have detailed maps for on a little over a half of the country, the tremendous benefits of an adequate information system for mapmaking become obvious.

As one of only four universities in the nation offering a program in this area, surveying engineering plans to take a leadership role by combining the latest technology available with world class scholars. The establishment in May (Gazette: May 29, 1983) of an endowed professorship for the division provides for a mapping and land information specialist to coordinate the investigation and development of new methods.

The professorship is being funded by the Alberta government who are close to five million dollars in funding.

Furthermore, substantial research grants and contracts are being used to the support this initiative. For example, in 1984 Dr. Graham Lodwack spearheaded the successful acquisition by the division of a $170,000 NSERC major equipment grant used to provide equipment for an image processing and graphics facility. This has enabled the purchase of a VAX II-750 computer and a high resolution Raster Technologies graphics screen.

Dr. Lodwack says such acquisition enable the staff to undertake state of the art research in digital mapping and land data management.

Satellites in space, vast amounts of computing power, and other specialized equipment will allow the sharing of information on computer tape or disk, rather than on hard copy maps. Thus changes can be made with ease and any combination of mapping information provided to suit the user’s needs. The special order map becomes a reality.

Another benefit of computer generated maps and images is that they can be manipulated three dimensionally. Mountains, for example, could be viewed from any angle providing information that might be helpful for logging or recreational purposes.

Some of the technology is already in use, says Dr. Rod Blais, giving a close to home example.

“A contract for computer planning for the use of Mount Allen in the 1988 Olympics was given to a U.S. firm because we didn’t have the expertise at the time.

That’s the kind of special order business he hopes the division will soon develop the expertise for so it can be handled in Canada. That way we won’t have to send out for it.

With arrangements made for the American Landsat satellites to supply information on the earth’s surface, recent equipment donations and acquisitions, and the expected arrival of the new professor in Digital Mapping and Spatial Data Management set for November, Dr. Krakiwsky feels the division, which has recently applied for departmental status, is well on its way to becoming the MIT of surveying engineering.