Don Norman: Designing For People

Nielsen Norman Group

Full-scale maps: Cartography dream realized

Cartography dream realized

Cambridge, UK. 1 April 2006. An old dream of cartographers has finally been realized through flat-panel displays and small, portable computational devices. For centuries, cartographers have dreamed of full-scale maps, that is, a map with a scale of 1:1, so that 1 Km. of the map would represent 1 Km. of the world. Implementation difficulties made such a map impractical. But now, scientists at Cambridge University have been able to display the full-scale map on a flat-panel screen, scrolling the map as necessary to cover the territory.

The new technique has already revealed important results: errors in the existing geographical databases. These errors were revealed when geographers in Cambridge compared the full scale map with the terrain and discovered that they didn’t fit precisely: Several structures, including a college building and several roads were determined to be in the incorrect location. “Rather interesting,” said Mr. Carroll, spokesperson for the university, “several college buildings are quite off their correct location.” Unfortunately, initial estimates for moving the buildings and roads to correct these discrepancies are too expensive, so, as Carroll puts it, “we will have to put up with these problems, but we will annotate the map to show where these placement errors occur.”

An unexpected positive finding is that the map serves both types of map-users well: those who like to orient the maps so that North is always up, regardless of their direction of travel, and those who like to orient the map so that it corresponds to the positions of objects in the world. Now, either type of map user can be accommodated, something which was not possible when full-scale maps were only implemented on paper.

When asked what new developments might be expected from the college, Mr. Carroll stated that they were working on full-scale biographies, providing a much more realistic depiction of a person’s life. This would allow a biography, for example, to take place in the same time-scale as the person’s life, increasing the realism dramatically. Full scale renditions of other phenomena are in the works, but Carroll said that confidentiality restrictions prevented discussion until they were fully realized.

Disclosure. Written by me for the RISKS digest. Take special note of the date: April 1. Originally published in RISKS-LIST: RISKS-LIST: Risks-Forum Digest Saturday 1 April 2006 Volume 24 : Issue 22. ACM FORUM ON RISKS TO THE PUBLIC IN COMPUTERS AND RELATED SYSTEMS (comp.risks) Peter G. Neumann, moderator, chmn ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy

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