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Rank and file

By GeoConnexion - 24th September 2014 - 16:12

GeoPDFs have provided the US army with a solution to its Big Data problem – how to make the huge amount of geospatial data the US government owns available to untrained soldiers in an easy-to-use and understandable format. Ray Caputo reportsâ©

Organisations that create and use geospatial information employ professionals who are thoroughly familiar with geospatial software so they can retrieve and use the valuable information stored and managed by these complex applications. However, transferring information to less-skilled end users poses a challenge to these professionals. â©

The US Army’s missions rely heavily on geospatial data, but many of our soldiers do not have the time, training or resources to transform it into serviceable information. For years, we had great geospatial data locked up in Esri, ERDAS, SOCET GXP, MicroStation and other formats and programs, but to get it to the end user, we would then have to remove the geospatial information and create a JPEG or PowerPoint slide from it – a nice visual but not interactive. We would create huge amounts of geospatial file formats, such as shapefile, GEOTIFF, CADRG, ECRG and IMG, but if people couldn’t read them, what good were they? â©

One can write the great American novel but if you give it to an illiterate, what have you done? You’ve given them a doorstop.â©

Fortunately, the US Army Geospatial Center (AGC) has discovered and embraced an innovative means of providing complex, intricate National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and US Geological Survey (USGS) geospatial data in a free, user-friendly format. â©
The GeoPDFâ©

The Geospatial PDF (GeoPDF) format was developed by TerraGo Technologies to allow geospatial professionals to share geo-referenced maps and data with other users who are not geospatial savvy. Accordingly, the army selected the GeoPDF so it could send information to geospatially untrained field personnel, ranging from engineers at the scenes of natural disasters to soldiers on the battlefield. â©

As GeoPDFs are basically PDFs, they are small and nimble. They can be scanned from paper maps or developed from existing electronic map files, and geo-referenced using TerraGo Composer or satellite or aerial imagery. Extensions for GIS programs, such as ArcGIS and GeoMedia, enable geospatial professionals to publish GeoPDFs that contain both raster and vector data, providing scalable displays of the digital map or image with crisp, clear delineation of roads, rivers, contour lines and other features as the end user zooms in for a closer look. Users can also turn data layers on and off to help clarify their analysis of map displays. â©

The AGC has created GeoPDF DVDs for most countries of the world through its partnership with the NGA, which has produced GeoPDFs of most of its standard aeronautical and topographic map sheets. The NGA has been producing, maintaining and replicating some of the GeoPDF country coverages since 2010, disseminating these datasets through the Defense Logistics Agency’s map catalogue. The AGC has also converted into GeoPDFs in-house products, such as the Urban Tactical Planner, Engineering Route Studies, Urban Water Graphics, Country Overviews, BuckEye Mapbooks, Cultural Maps, Historical Photo Analysis reports and its Geospatial Information Library’s non-NGA maps and atlases. â©

The AGC’s Imagery Office, which is the army’s primary point of contact for commercial satellite imagery data sources, has an online imagery distribution system that exports its repository of selected commercial images/products as GeoPDFs, along with a number of other formats. â©

Lastly, AGC’s Common Map Background (CMB) application provides digital map and image data based on a comprehensive digital data library and custom ArcGIS toolset designed to dramatically reduce the time and expense required to acquire, manage and distribute geospatial data.â©
How has the GeoPDF been used in practice?â©

The TerraGoToolbar, a plug-in from TerraGo, is the only requirement to view the full capabilities of a GeoPDF and it allows users without advanced geospatial training to exploit, understand and use valuable geospatial data. The toolbar has an Army Certificate of Networthiness and has loading approval at many other government agencies; it is also on the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) software ‘golden master’ and is loaded on more than 40,000 USACE PCs. â©

The information now available to the non-mapper – from private to general – is beyond what these soldiers ever thought was available. The capabilities that are available to every soldier are numerous. The ability to view geographic coordinates – up to three different ones at one time – is the simplest of these capabilities but also the most used and requested. Others include: GPS integration, so that soldiers can watch themselves drive down the street; linking co-ordinates to Google Maps for a different view and a double check; the selection of embedded object data; the ability to add points, lines, polygons and stamps [markups] with their geospatial contexts to a file as an overlay; access to embedded multimedia and documents with their geospatial contexts; viewing multiple map frames within one document; and the importing and exporting of mark-ups and geospatial data as shapefiles, KML and XML to ArcGIS, Google Earth and other programs. â©

All these capabilities are available but not required to be used. The AGC produces the data for end users to access and then leaves it to them to do with it what they may, however they see fit. Anything the software is capable of doing, someone out there is doing it, but each user can take advantage of whatever tool or tools they want to use or are comfortable using to gain the geospatial advantage they want.â©
Mobility â©

The AGC is continuing to work to ensure that mobile GeoPDF software and apps meet army requirements. It is working with both TerraGo and Avenza, the creator of the iOS and Android PDF Maps apps (, to review and test the apps to see if they meet army requirements. If there is something lacking or something that we suggest needs to be changed, it is up to the company to decide whether to implement the idea or suggestion. â©

If it is something the army feels needs to be done but either company does not want to or cannot implement, we can look to fund the change to the app. For example, the AGC and the NGA co-funded the development of the 3D GeoPDF file format. 3D GeoPDFs provide an easy use way to view complex 3D data in Adobe Reader using the TerraGo Toolbar and the AGC has now created 3D GeoPDFs of the whole country and a few select areas of NGA maps, along with some USGS maps of National Parks and imagery from AGC’s BuckEye programme. â©

The AGC also funded the creation of a free tool called Memento, a plug-in for Adobe Reader or Acrobat that allows users to easily view, navigate, print to scale and geospatially mark up multi-layered geospatial PDF datasets. It also supported the addition of features to the Voyager GIS web-style document search tool, so that it can now read both GeoPDF and LIDAR formats.â©

3D GeoPDF technology funded by AGC, NGA and SOCOM addressed a fundamental Big Data issue faced by the geospatial community: the delivery of complex, location-based content to a wider user community. With 3D GeoPDF files, analysts are now able to aggregate common LIDAR formats, which were traditionally unusable without a sophisticated software application and high-end processor, and raster imagery to the more than one billion people who have Adobe Reader. â©

One can write the great American novel but if you give it to an illiterate, what have you done? You’ve given them a doorstopâ©

Ray Caputo is a geographer at the US Army Corps of Engineers’s Geospatial Center’s terrain analysis branch of the warfighter geospatial support and production directorate

For further information about TerraGo

Read More: Terrestrial Mapping Defence Military

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