Autodesk's Liam Speden on how open source can help coordinate our world

Speden explains how the open source community and Autodesk can work together to make sense of the surge in location enabled and spatially aware information.

Autodesk recently announced plans to donate its coordinate system (CS) and map projection technology to the Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo). The software, acquired from Mentor Software will help users to more easily support geographic coordinate conversions and allow accurate and precise geospatial analysis. This planned donation joins other previous Open Source donations by the company, including the web mapping MapGuide and the geospatial data access technology (FDO) software, both donated last year.

PC World Australia speaks with Autodesk Mapguide Product Manager, Liam Speden about the Mentor technology and what the donation means to the open source community, the geospatial community and to Autodesk. He also discusses where he thinks this technology is headed.

What sort of applications does the CS software enable right now?

CS-Map technology currently supports a library of over 3,000 map projections and coordinate systems, and coordinate systems are a fundamental part of any mapping or geospatial application. The CS-Map technology is also currently part of the Autodesk Map 3D and Autodesk MapGuide Enterprise products.

Where do you see CS technology heading?

With so many coordinate systems in existence, customers are continually asking for enhancements. By enabling the open source community to develop and provide these enhancements, customers will benefit from more rapid innovation.

What sort of applications could the technology be used for in the future?

Coordinate systems evolve like the data and applications that use them. For example, GPS (Global Positioning System) uses a 3D coordinate system that evolved from more traditional 2D methods to more accurately reflect the needs and abilities of satellite positioning technology.

In the future, coordinate systems will incorporate additional factors such as time, as this is increasingly a key feature of location based services and social and community networking. This is needed to support searches that answer not only the questions "what and where" but "what, where, and when". A user may be interested in knowing what sporting events are going on in their community in the coming Saturday, whether anyone else nearby is going to be offering a carpool to get there, and possibly who else from their social network is also going to be at the event.

How could social networking sites, and Web 2.0 technologies benefit from this technology?

MapGuide Open Source can absolutely develop Web 2.0 mapping applications. As coordinate systems underpin the accurate definition of location, we see CS-Map as enabling better and broader community participation through the web, such as the San Francisco Urban Forest community map and the crowd-sourcing of data from portable devices like GPS-enabled cameras and cellphones. Online communities and social networking can benefit from members being able to see who or what of specific interest to them is nearby.

(See an Autodesk video about the San Francisco urban forest project here)

How could this software be provided or used as a Web service?

Autodesk is donating the CS-Map technology as an open source project to the Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo). The source code will be available on the OSGeo Web site for anyone to download. People already use the CS-Map technology through web applications built on MapGuide Enterprise, and once released into open source developers will be able to access it through MapGuide Open Source and build it into their own software and applications. As the CS-Map technology is a comprehensive, proven coordinate system library we anticipate the technology will be incorporated into a range of existing open source projects and into new web services and applications.

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