N810 and geo-mapping
My proposal has been selected by Maemo Developer Device programme for Nokia N810 device. This time (I’ve been accepted into 770 and N800 programmes as well) I’d like to concentrate on a bit different things than usual: geo-mapping.
My initial idea was to work on Roadster port to Maemo. Roadster is nice Cairo-based vector geo-mapping software. However, it is not so visible and a bit “unsuitable” for mobile devices as it relies on full-featured SQL server use (MySQL for the moment). It is not that hard to make it working with SQLite, for example, but this is not what I’d like to focus on.
With GPS navigation gearing towards ‘GPS in each smarphone and car’ almost everyone ‘plain Joe’ is capable to record GPS tracks and with some software support be his own map provider. Sure, this requires substantial effort but it doesn’t stop anyone. In many countries the mapping data business requires a state license or permit but non-commercial use of such hand-made information still possible.
Community-based geo-mapping tends to highly vary on Earth region. Number of deciding factors are actually availability of easily accessible software and community. This has certain consequences:
- There are many home-grown map formats. Some come from commercial providers (Garmin, etc), some are ‘mandated’ by governments (e.g., TIGER), some come from traditional GIS systems. Most of them aren’t documented or documentation isn’t open enough to allow free software implementations. More to that, some of used formats aren’t good for embedded devices’ use.
- There are only handful of low-priced mapping editors of good quality. Low-priced also includes free software. To the later we have OpenStreetMap project and couple of other things, one of attractable is GPSMapEdit from Geopainting.com.
- Because of non-uniform popularity of certain products around the globe, there are bunch of maps created in different formats. For OpenStreetMap project the goal is to eventually unite data from different countries in one source and provide uniform access to it. It is an ideal world with an ideal coverage where everyone is using this community-created data and maps.
The latter, however, isn’t what consumers in different countries are actually using, mostly because having world-wide project doesn’t mean everyone would fly to it and happily work on it. Language and communication issues might be key factors here, customs and traditions might be good detractors as well: if someone has his own maps in certain format and is happy with his software why should he change to OpenStreetmap.
Particulary, in former Soviet Union countries there seems to be quite strong and enthusiastic movement around GPSMapEdit editor and corresponding (commercial) mapping software. The project itself has come through certain changes and even the company behind it split off with conflicts among developers and business people but as the editor still evolving and available as shareware (with partially available source code that allows re-use), many people in Russia and CIS countries continue to create and enhance their own maps using GPSMapEdit. Availability of the maps came to the point when for number of regions these ‘amateur’ maps (most of them done by enthusiasts and available on non-commercial base) do provide really viable alternative to commercial offerings.
It is an important point for free software users and developers. Most of those enthusiasts aren’t using free software operating systems on daily base. They quite happy with their Windows Mobile or other closed-source solutions as long as the maps they use could be loaded there. When hardware platforms with geo-mapping possibility (like N810) come it is support for particular map formats what limits them, not software itself. N810 comes with its own mapping software but I doubt it supports non-commercial vector maps and format for it is open. (Could someone clarify it?)
This is where I’d like to take the challenge. GPSMapEdit uses so-called ‘polish format’ (MP) as its source format for map editing. It allows to load, create, edit, and save maps in MP format, in addition to a number of specific binary formats. Using GPSMapEdit and MP format to allow compilation of maps to specific format, suitable for Roadster, I’d like to use existing Russia and CIS countries maps on Maemo platform.
The challenge is enormous:
- I need to port Roadster GUI to Maemo. This is relatively easy to do.
- I need to create a suitable vector-based format to store and use efficiently maps on Maemo platform, with minimal memory requirements and fast access/search of metadata.
- Ideally, I’d like to contribute codec/decoder for this format to GPSMapEdit so that people using it would be able to provide Roadster/Maemo-friendly maps by themselves, as there are a lot of concerns of giving access to MP sources of maps—there were precedents when non-commercial maps were resold without their owners permission. It would be good get them some hand as legal help isn’t always working in this industry, unfortunately.
As you can see, this is whole lot of work but as result this would benefit not only Maemo users. My personal benefit will be in ability to be on free software mapping platform and use maps of my own country, Republic of Belarus. More over, I’ve already got interest from other people who want also to tap into automatic geo-tagging from internet sources as well. Once we’ll get good and stable vector format to effectively process data on small devices, possibilities are countless.
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You’re currently reading “N810 and geo-mapping,” an entry on Emptinary by Alexander Bokovoy
- 10am on 11/12/07