Real road maps

Most mobile users don't have mapping software; GeoPDF gives them geospatial data on the go

ON LOCATION: With a small plug-in, soldiers can use Acrobat Reader to view GeoPDF maps, turn layers on and off, query attributes, display coordinates and create redlines and notes.

DefenseLink Photo by Cpl. Jeremy Colvin

What could be more natural than putting geospatial data into a portable format ' a digital version of the road atlas ' so that it could be easily taken into the field?

A number of companies are taking advantage of the extensibility of PDFs ' a feature introduced in 2003 with version 6.0 of Adobe Systems Acrobat ' to make that possible. And the Army Corps of Engineers, for one, is eagerly using it.

'We now have the ability to get data with a geospatial component to anybody,' said Ray Caputo, a geographer at the Army Corps of Engineers' Topographic Engineering Center. 'They don't need to have elaborate or expensive mapping tools. They can simply use Adobe Reader. That's a revolutionary change in the way we do business. It's completely changing the way we do things.'

The Army uses a commercial product ' Map2PDF from TerraGo Technologies ' to create its GeoPDF files. With Map2PDF, Caputo can export maps he has created in a geographic information systems application to an Acrobat file. Soldiers use Acrobat Reader to view maps, turn layers on and off, query attributes, display coordinates and create redlines and notes. A small, free plug-in from TerraGo is the only requirement for users to view the GeoPDF in Acrobat.

'There are about half a percent or less of the people in the Army who have sophisticated mapping tools and can see the data that the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency creates,' Caputo said. 'So we have about 99.5 percent of the Army that can't see the data. This file format gives us the ability to take [the agency] data and put it in a format that 100 percent of our soldiers can see.'

Caputo said his group is using Map2PDF mostly to create flat raster maps. 'But we are developing maps that have interactive layering schemes that you can turn on and off,' he said. 'You can turn off the transportation, you can turn off the population, you can turn off the contour lines, and flip and play with the layers any way that you want. It's like having a miniature GIS system inside of Adobe Reader.'

Caputo said that in the past several months, his unit has created about 40,000 sheets of GeoPDF files. And he sees others realizing the potential. 'Many people have jumped on the bandwagon,' he said. 'Lots of [Defense Department] agencies, lots of other federal agencies. Lots of agencies around the world.'

Field generation

Another vendor who has jumped into the GeoPDF market is Planet Associates, a provider of infrastructure management software. The company's intelligent infrastructure PDF (iiPDF) is different from TerraGo's product in that it is generated interactively by users in the field in communication, through a Web portal, with a Planet data repository.

When users log in, they can select from any number of predesigned iiPDF templates. When a user runs a template, the template goes to an Oracle or SQL Server repository, which creates a PDF in real time from the database. The results are then delivered to the Web client.

When they design iiPDF templates, system administrators define what data layers are accessible to users and which users can access the template based on roles and privileges.

No training

William Spencer, president and chief executive officer at Planet Associates, said the iiPDF product solves two problems. It speeds delivery of information and eliminates the need for training. 'The most simple training for the ability to access our data [using the Planet IRM software] can be at least four or five hours,' Spencer said. 'We've got customers like the Pentagon and [Homeland Security Department] that need to get the information out to people, but we just can't train everybody.'

Spencer said DOD is using Planet IRM for its Pentagon renovation program. 'The iiPDF for them is really huge,' he said. 'They'll be able to make information available [to contractors], but they won't have to worry about training or them getting into the [Planet IRM] application itself.'

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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