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SpatialNews Press Release

Ordnance Survey - The new heart of Britain's mapping


The map of Britain is changing forever. Ordnance Survey, the nation's mapping agency, is harnessing the latest digital technology in a radical new multi-million pound framework for referencing geographical information. It's a trailblazing initiative that will affect all walks of life.

Ordnance Survey's digital map data is already said by independent experts to underpin £100 billion worth of economic activity in Britain.

It helps the police catch criminals, motorists to plan journeys with in-car navigation, and insurance firms to calculate risk. Fire fighters save lives by finding hydrants more quickly, while water companies track burst pipes across their networks, saving time and precious resources.

In the National Health Service alone, digital mapping boosts the 999 response times of ambulances, helps hospital chiefs source extra beds, and supports vital research into the prevalence of diseases.

Now, Ordnance Survey has begun the countdown to a new generation of incredibly detailed mapping based on a common digital framework.

From autumn 2001 a new range of products and services will be available online 24 hours a day and seven days a week, offering unprecedented uses for the era of e-commerce and mobile technology.

The key aim is to make it easier for public bodies and businesses to pick and mix the mapping they need, merge it with their own data, and link it to that of others. The results are expected to include better value for money, more consistent data, and higher quality services across a broad spectrum of British life.

"It is the ease of digital data exchange and association which will bring huge benefits to public services and private businesses," says Vanessa Lawrence, Ordnance Survey's Director General and Chief Executive. "Both sectors are increasingly using computer-based geographical information systems to integrate and analyse data from many sources, so this enhanced flexibility is likely to prove a major boost.

"In the future, you won't even need extra hardware to access digital mapping. People will demand their own choice of mapping through the Internet, mobile telephones and interactive TV."

Ordnance Survey's new, seamless information base, known as the Digital National Framework (DNF), will offer definitive, consistent and maintained referencing of more than two billion man-made and natural landscape features in Britain.

They include everything from forests, roads and rivers down to barns, garden plots, and even postboxes.

Only Ordnance Survey, with mapping detailed enough to show the shapes and outlines of individual buildings and tiny natural features, could attempt such a huge task. Features will be reformatted into self-contained polygons and individually labelled with a 16-digit topographic identifier (TOID), a unique numerical code designed for easy recognition by computers.

A TOID may be seen as a digital hook on which data associated with its feature can be hung. For example, if two organisations hold separate sets of data about the same feature, they could share what they know through a simple exchange of numbers. This could involve anything from property records to environmental data.

"We are making it much easier to attach extra information to features within computerised systems," says Ms Lawrence. "While their positions can be pinpointed accurately on maps using the National Grid or coordinates from the satellite-based Global Positioning System (GPS), we recognise the potential to do much more than is currently possible.

"The DNF will offer every map user exactly what they want - the power to choose specific information and dispense with the rest."

The likely range of uses is already impressive, but it should multiply even further as the DNF is taken up. This is because businesses and public bodies will link their information to the TOIDs. So, together with Ordnance Survey's partners, the following applications are possible:

You've just arrived in an unfamiliar town. GPS technology in your palmtop or mobile phone shows your exact location. You could ask it where the nearest hotel is and how to get there. One click on the map and you could find out the room rates, lunch menu, opening times, and entertainment. Once you've left, you could even email comments to the management.

You could buy or sell a house much quicker through a much faster exchange of property records among solicitors, estate agents and government land officials.

Your business, whatever its size, could map in all relevant customer data to a single point of reference. This could help with processing orders, so cutting costs and administration. Your interactive TV could help you choose the best schools for your children. Pinpointing a school location on a map could reveal data on exam results, projected pupil numbers, and Ofsted reports.

Farmers could link data on the type and yield of a particular crop to a field TOID, easing the burden of paperwork for business and officialdom. They could also 'subdivide' their field management if they want to plant separate crops, using the TOID to link the new records.

Some Ordnance Survey customers are already tasting the future through a trial digital index, the Ordnance Survey National Buildings Dataset (NBDS).

It pinpoints all of Britain's 40 million buildings, including around 15 million without specific postal addresses. Among them are electricity substations, barns, public toilets, gas and oil holders, and non-residential windmills.

The NBDS offers a host of benefits for emergency services, housing associations, utilities, insurers and property management firms. It's uses include statistical analysis, asset management, command and control, pollution analysis, flood risk assessment, and planning.

Once online delivery begins next year, the DNF will be able to supply change-only updates showing where new features have been added or old ones removed. These will keep users' databases permanently in line with those of Ordnance Survey.

Users will also be able to have data delivered according to a particular theme such as roads, railways or water features, further broadening their choice.

And for the first time, the price of Ordnance Survey data will automatically include a licence fee to use it for a specified period. This will cut administration for users.

The roots of the DNF began in the 1970s when Ordnance Survey pioneered the computerisation of large-scale mapping, a process originally seen as an aid to the design and production of paper maps.

Surveyors and aerial photographers gathered a massive amount of data to create a unique master map of Britain, the National Topographic Database (NTD), made up of 230,000 fixed tiles or squares of mapping.

This is a world-renowned resource updated every night, though a huge re-engineering project has still been necessary to help it underpin the DNF. The new version will be capable of handling much more complex positioning data than before, eventually including height information for 3-D mapping.

Making the DNF a reality has involved detailed research among customers to ensure data is offered when they want it and in the way they want it. Existing Ordnance Survey data products will be made consistent with the DNF, while clear paths will be put in place to help customers convert to the new data.

"The DNF will revolutionise the way geographical information is managed and used," says Ms Lawrence. "Ordnance Survey has been the engine room of British mapping for more than 200 years. Our existing products and services are first class, but we recognise that web technology is changing everything. More and more digital information will become available, and the DNF will enable Ordnance Survey to be the content provider of choice for location-based data in the new information economy.

"As we go further into the era of e-commerce, the DNF will provide major benefits to our customers and Great Britain plc as a whole. It is the heart of our business, both now and in the future."

What is the DNF?

A definitive, consistent and maintained base for the referencing of Britain's geographic information.
Merges the National Grid, GPS, detailed topographic information and TOIDs for all features. It will eventually embody height data for 3-D mapping.
Allows easy association of data from Ordnance Survey and its partners.
Links the National Grid to the GPS network.
Introduces polygons to represent both the man-made and natural landscapes.

Key customer benefits of the DNF

Even better quality and more consistent data than currently available.
The power to choose only the data you need from Britain's most authoritative mapping source.
Immediate access through online ordering and delivery, eliminating the need for customers to hold their own data store.
Improved value for money.
Computer-friendly data, more easily associated with customers' own information and that of others.


 Senior Press Officer - Philip Round
 E-mail: pround@ordsvy.gov.uk
 Phone: (+44) 023 8079 2635 

 Press Officer - Terri Sharpe
 E-mail: tsharpe@ordsvy.gov.uk
 Phone: (+44) 023 8079 2568 

 Press Office Assistant - Anne Patrick
 E-mail: apatrick@ordsvy.gov.uk
 Phone: (+44) 023 8079 2251

 Press Office fax: (+44) 023 8079 2031


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