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The Ordnance Survey have 4 million POIs for you!!!

Date 11th December 2007

A couple of weeks ago we were invited to the Southampton headquarters of the Ordnance Survey to discuss points of interest. Now as the Ordnance Survey are the premier mapping authority for the UK we thought it would be rude not to go... So one cold and damp British morning I braved the M25 rush hour traffic to go and pick Darren up on our way down to Southampton.


Now interestingly when you put in the postcode for the Ordnance Survey office (yes they do have their own postcode not shared with anyone else) you end up at the delivery dock. As I had been there before I knew about that so we headed off to the visitors car park.


The Ordnance Survey are known by most people for the paper maps that we use when we go hiking. For navigation (in the dark ages) we probably used the AA Book of the Road. In today's enlightened age we now use digital maps from Navteq or Tele Atlas. However what you may not know is that all the above are actually based on mapping data produced by the Ordnance Survey.


The guys at the OS don't just get the roads and contours on the maps they also survey buildings and manage addresses. The business group that we were invited to visit are responsible for maintaining the Points of Interest (POI) database for the UK. Which brings me nicely to the point of this article. The OS have millions of Points of Interest in the UK and want to find out if you guys are interested in them...


If you have a SatNav device then the likelihood is that you will be either using Navteq or Tele Atlas maps. Depending on the maps and your SatNav you will have more or less POIs pre-installed on your system. Typically for the UK these will be in the tens of thousands. This may sound like a lot, but when you stop and consider that there are some 2,000,000 companies in the UK then a few tens of thousands doesn't even cover 1% of them.


The Ordnance Survey has over 4,000,000 POIs geocoded with extended information such as address and phone number. These are categorised in three(or four) level hierarchy: Category (10); Sub Category (49); Detailed Category (over 600); (and Branding). These cover all aspects of stationary geographical features from petrol stations and shops to the more esoteric electricity pylons and railway crossings. The OS dataset covers just about everything with the exception of CCTV cameras and (fortunately for us) Speed Cameras. If you are interested in the category structure click here for a PDF document defining them.


We at PocketGPSWorld.com do have one category of POIs that the OS don't have: Doctor Who filming locations. Which goes to prove that this is a massive job that will never be complete because there will always be a special interest group that requires specific location data. Fortunately this is where community sites like ours come to the fore...


Getting back to the point. The OS collects and verifies the POI data using key suppliers such as Thompson, and definitive sources such as Shell, Department of Education etc. These are processed in conjunction with one of the OS partner companies PointX who specialise in location based data products. Up until now this data has only been available to corporates on a commercial basis. Which brings me to the real point of our discussions:



Article by Mike Barrett


Ordnance Survey POIs


Ordnance Survey POIs

OK so this is a picture from Death Valley USA

but it illustrates the article rather well...



Ordnance Survey POIs

We are all used to seeing the POIs on the OS Maps.


Ordnance Survey POIs

This is how it was done in the old days.


Ordnance Survey POIs

Today anywhere a person can go can be surveyed.


Is the Ordnance Survey POI data useful to consumers rather than corporates? And how much is a reasonable cost to access and use it?


This was something that we were not too sure about. For one thing the data would not be free, it is commercial data that has a cost associated with the collection, collation, classification, verification and distribution. Having made the assumption that there will be a charge for the data we then have the issues of the charging model and data protection.


We have a lot of experience with the lack of security on SatNav systems and the abuse of our datasets. It is easy for users to copy data and then sell it on eBay or just sharing it on one of the hundreds of file sharing sites. It is a full time job here trying to keep on top of all these illegal activities. All adding to the cost of creating and distributing these datasets.


Another issue is: Can the SatNav systems handle this many POIs? We already know that TomTom has various limits on the number of POI datasets that can be used. Some Garmin systems are even worse and actually corrupt the device if too many POI categories are added. Then there is the the question of whether the devices can actually process up to 4,000,000 POIs... All this will need to be tested and validated.


So now here is your chance to influence the Ordnance Survey and help them formulate a plan to release this data for use by the general public. We have created a poll in the forum for you to have your say and let the OS know how you might use the POI datasets and how much (if anything) you would be prepared to pay for them. If there is sufficient interest then PocketGPSWorld.com may partner with the OS and offer a Premium POI service on the site.


CLICK HERE to register your views in the poll and let the OS know what you think... Remember your vote counts, and if you don't vote you can't complain!!!


Manufacturers Website


Pocket GPS Contributor

Mike Barrett

Pocket GPS Contributor Website





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