Thursday, February 28, 2013

The New Cartographers

Exploring the boundaries of advanced mapping sciences

ESRI ArcGIS 9 (Photo credit: six steps )
Location-based technologies are revolutionizing how we work and interact with our surroundings. Developers are industriously exploring innovative uses for related areas of data mapping sciences. Some of the advances are truly mind boggling; you don't have to be a tech geek to appreciate them.

Moving ahead through 2013, Designer in Exile will be highlighting a variety of emerging technologies in the information and data visualization realms, particularly as they apply to sustainable design, visual arts, and the rapidly shifting world of new media and journalism. That's a wide spectrum to cover, but we are all about diligently examining the bold new technical changes that are reshaping our world - including a few changes to come within our own set-up and format.

Below are two posts that discuss the utilization of location-based services (LBS) in slightly different contexts. The first is an excerpt via Esri, a geographic software company, from their ArcNews quarterly regarding their newly acquired Geoloqi platform. The other piece is an interview from our sister blog, Home Science, involving a Pennsylvania tech company called Map Decisions that offers useful applications for LBS platforms in relation to stormwater management and environmental fieldwork...

Esri's Geoloqi Acquisition

What could your mobile application do if it knew where it was?

Persistent location awareness has been the Holy Grail of location-based services, particularly now that GPS has become a standard feature on today's mobile phones. Yet, until now, battery life has been a common issue that has prevented a satisfactory user experience.

GIS layers. Image: Wikipedia
Geoloqi has created a patent pending technology that cracks that nut by getting about how to manage the native location tracking capabilities on a smartphone and optimize those services to give the application an awareness of when its user is near a relevant point of interest. Much like ESRI, Geoloqi did not choose to create its own consumer-facing LBS application but instead focused on creating a platform and set of services that can be used by mobile application developers in virtually every industry ESRI serves. Since Esri's acquisition and integration of Geoloqi technology in September of 2012, the company is bringing the power if location-aware mobile applications to ArcGIS Online customers.

Now developers can provide customers with a satisfying experience with the following types of use cases:

  • Targeting customers with geographically and context-aware information.
  • Protecting private digital data when a user is outside an unauthorized area.
  • Computing users' dwell time at places that matter to you and your application.
  • Optimizing customer service by being aware of when to expect a customer to arrive at a site.
  • Allowing field-workers to leave notes and data at places for other field-workers to receive upon arrival at that location.
  • Monitoring field-workers location in real while they are in dangerous areas, and alerting them automatically if they get too close to a danger zone.
  • Bringing public attractions to life by informing tourists about featured locations as they explore your city.

Esri BAO iPhone app.
In addition to a plethora of online resources for research and various professional services, Esri offers an assortment of fascinating free iPhone apps, such as ArcGIS for iPhone, which is a wonderful general resource for map and data enthusiasts, and the Business Analyst Online app (pictured), which is a curiosity arouser filled with location stats mostly geared for commerce and marketing, but likely to pique almost anyone's interest. These tools and more are currently available at the iTunes App Store.

Also, you might like this insightful interview via with Esri President Jack Dangermond on "how GIS is changing how the public sector arrives at decisions, and the power behind spatial data." The report includes a PDF download, if desired.

More info on Geoloqi's services and applications can be found at Esri's main information site is at


Mapping for Cleaner Waters 

A Bethlehem, PA company shows how to set a course for less polluted waters through innovative technology.

It takes a lot of work for cities to provide clean water for their residents. But it's one of the most important challenges we face today. Our choices on maintaining a clean water system and protecting the watershed have a deep impact on the health and productivity of our nation. The mitigation of storm-water runoff is key to this, and the EPA's MS4 initiative, short for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System, charts the way for municipalities to implement solutions.

To help with the effort, a new Pennsylvania company called Map Decisions, which has been accepted into the state's acclaimed Ben Franklin TechVentures Incubator program, has developed an innovative GPS software program for monitoring municipal water systems and assisting with MS4's implementation. Home Science recently spoke with Map Decision's CEO, Christian Birch, a Philadelphia native, for details:

What is Map Decisions, how long have you been together, and what is it that you seek to do or do now?

Map Decisions is a company that I recently formed in the beginning of 2012. I've worked for the last 13 years as an engineering consultant primarily supporting local governments, and I saw a great need in assisting local governments in complying with regulatory requirements - in particular one program from the EPA know as the municipal separate storm sewer program (MS4). It requires municipalities to obtain a permit to operate their storm sewer systems, and there are a lot of regulations that are creating both technical and financial burdens for local governments. We are helping local governments implement the permit. Our mission is to help governments improve their efficiency through innovative solutions.

Map Decisions seems to redefine the term "moving at the speed of government." For generations that meant moving at a snail's pace. There's a lot of room for improvement. We need to inject innovation and technology and bring efficiency within our government.

English: Illustration of a silt fence installa...
Illustration of a silt fence installation detail, from U.S. EPA publication, "Developing Your Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan: A Guide for Construction Sites."  (Image: Wikipedia)
Let's look at this subject a slightly different way, and let's take into consideration the EPA's MS4 mandate. The city of Philadelphia recently implemented a 25 year plan for green infrastructure. And the way we're looking at it is that we don't really have the money, the tax money to pay for the infrastructure renovations that are typically needed in big cities. Revenues have shrunk. So what we're doing through some of these mandates is possibly helping us save money. Do you see the positive aspects of green infrastructure and the EPA's MS4 program? Do you see how enacting some of these measures could really benefit cities and actually save tax money - not just from a burden point of view, but from an environmental and tax saving perspective? Do you see value in that?

Yes. There's long term value there. The goals and objectives of the EPA's program are to protect water quality. All the new regulations and the new methods for protecting water quality at the end of the day will make our communities stronger, they will save tax payers money, but there is an upfront cost.

In the last decade there's been a lot of improvement in terms of best management practices. City, state, county and federal governments are all pushing to have more sustainable design practices and preserving water quality. The engineering communities are required to implement best management practices wherever possible.

And these best management practices are part of the MS4. You have the construction phase of storm-water management, and the post construction phase. Construction phase examples are sediment basins that allow sediment in runoff to settle out so that it doesn't go into streams. Another example would be a silt fence - the 18" high fabric fences around construction sites. These are the best management practices for construction phase. Post-construction examples are rain gardens or vegetative bioswales, or porous pavement.

Those would be the so called "low impact tools" that cities and municipalities are beginning to utilize? Low impact, perhaps, because they don't require the city to dig and build larger sewer systems? It takes some of the burden off the sewer system in general by implementing these types of green tools. Is that right?

Yes, and encouraging infiltration wherever possible. We need to make sure that we're not exchanging water between watersheds and we need to recharge aquifers. In cities like Philadelphia, it's very costly to expand sewer systems. These low impact solutions do two things: it prevents [cities] from having to do costly upgrades to the storm-sewer network, but it also allows them to improve water quality.


Let's focus a bit more on Map Decisions. What tools do you have to offer related to this?
We're developing one now called MS4 Solutions. It's an information management system. There are two basic components to it. It's a cloud based information system that allows the user to log on and have control of the information management system. The very first thing we do is allow our clients to develop a storm-water management system utilizing our software.

The second side to our system is mobile software. There are two mobile utilities that are tied to our information management system. The first is a mobile inspection utility, and the second is a mobile mapping utility. Both of our mobile utilities use location intelligence to help improve efficiency of data collection and aggregation. Some of the data the EPA is asking for can be difficult to ascertain, such as weather data - when was the last rainfall event and what was the volume of rain in the field where you're inspecting. That's nearly impossible to do when you're sitting out there with [just] a clipboard. The inspectors using our software don't have to worry about that. Once they start an inspection the on-board GPS triggers the intelligence built into our system. Things like the weather data, what watershed they're in, what are the receding waters - all of these things are automatically aggregated for the user utilizing the data models behind our software.

In the near future we will be adding additional modules to our platform that will allow customers to utilize mobile inspection and mapping features for other applications, such as roadways, water and wastewater, and building inspections.

This is primarily for monitoring the existing system or for planning and decision making?

Essentially for monitoring. The EPA wants to make sure we're not contaminating our nation's water. They're trying to encourage monitoring to prevent contamination of our waterways.

Interesting stuff, thank you for your time and good luck with your efforts.

Thank you.


Editorial note: The MS4 mandate covers a wide range of public entities to comply with the EPA's requirements, including local governments, municipal authorities, departments of transportation, hospitals and universities. This interview was previously published via Home Science.

For more information on Map Decisions, LLC, visit or email them at or contact by phone at 877-277-5789.

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  1. Cool info and maps! I download the free ArcGis app for Ipad and it is great. I love to travel and always know where I am in the globe. I was able to zoom into Victoria Falls in Africa, where I plan to be soon using ariel imagery with labels. I was even able to visualize the water patterns!

    1. Thanks for the info. I should have mentioned that the Esri apps are also available for the iPad. Happy travels!

  2. These sorts of applications provide great data for a variety of people to use, from hard-nosed capitalist businessmen to devoted revolutionaries and activists. What's more though, is that they open up data to everyday citizens to enjoy and play with. Very exciting stuff. The Sunlight Foundation has a similar mult-purpose geolocation discovery app called Sitegeist that's worth checking out too. Here's the link:

    Bill W.

  3. I'm a bit confused as to exactly what these ArcGIS products do. Some specific examples would have been helpful. And how do these differ from the wide range of impressive online Google map services available mostly without registration or subscription fees?


  4. Very informative reporting. Looking forward to learning more about these emerging technologies the applications of which have very real implications on so many fields of research and reporting.