Last year we wrote about some of the privacy concerns being raised with respect to the operation of commercial drones or UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). Despite the many actual and potential beneficial uses of drones in search and rescue, emergency response (for example, Typhoon Haiyan), farming and in retail (Amazon’s Prime Air program), persistent fears about government surveillance and snooping neighbours continue unabated.
Drone. AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
Politico recently reported on a new voluntary code of practice being developed by the Obama administration for owners and operators of commercial drones. Although the FAA in the United States has authority over the operation of drones near airports, there is no national policy covering commercial drone operations and no formal rules governing what type of data can be collected by drones.
With the cost of drones continuing to come down, and the number of small and independent drone operators continuing to rise, technological innovation has once again raced ahead of the legislation governing its use. Given that there are so many commercial and private sector operators either preparing to use or actively using drones, it remains to be seen if a voluntary code of practice will be effective in managing drone use and addressing legitimate privacy concerns or if government regulation is the only solution.
Following on from last week’s post on the National Atlas and changes to the National Map in the USA, The Australian Government has recently announced the National Map Open Data Initiative to provide improved access to publicly available government datasets. A beta version of the National Map website, hosted by NICTA (Australia’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Research Centre of Excellence), is now available and provides map-based access to a variety of Australian spatial data from government agencies including the Bureau of Meteorology, the Bureau of Statistics and data.gov.au. The currently available data themes include:
- Broadband – availability and quality across Australia
- Land – including cover, geology and earthquake hazards
- Transport – roads, railways, foot tracks
- Infrastructure – waste management, wind pumps, mines and wells
- Groundwater – aquifers, salinity
Developed on an open source platform, the National Map site will ultimately be hosted by Geoscience Australia when it goes into full production later on in 2014.
Visitors to the site can load their own data, either as a data file or WMS/WFS service, or download data (supported formats include GeoJSON, KML, KMZ and CSV) subject to the licensing arrangements of the data providers.
One of the most useful sites of the past 15 years for GIS users, in my judgment, has been the National Atlas of the United States. It contains a “map maker” that allows you to create online maps of climate, ecoregions, population, crime, geology, and many other layers, and a “map layers” repository that houses all of the raster and vector data layers that are displayable in the map maker. All of those hundreds of layers are downloadable in standard formats that are easy to use with GIS.
Sadly, the National Atlas is scheduled to disappear on 30 September 2014. According to the transition FAQ, “the National Atlas and The National Map will transition into a combined single source for geospatial and cartographic information. This transformation is projected to streamline access to maps, data and information from the USGS National Geospatial Program (NGP). This action will prioritize our civilian mapping role and consolidate core investments while maintaining top-quality customer service.” Thus, the National Map is scheduled to be the content delivery mechanism for the National Atlas content.
But, data users take note: Not all of the National Atlas content is migrating to the National Map. According to the FAQ’s question of “Will I still be able to find everything from the National Atlas on The National Map web site”, the answer is, “No. Most National Atlas products and services that were primarily intended for a broad public audience as well as thematic data contributions from outside the National Geospatial Program (NGP) will not be available from nationalmap.gov.”
I think this is most unfortunate news. In my opinion, and that of many students and educators that I work with in courses and institutes, and the other data users I have worked with over the years, the National Map is almost as clunky and difficult to use as it was 10 years ago. I use it frequently because it is still one of the richest sources of data, but it is by no means easy to obtain that data. And equally importantly, it serves a different audience than the National Atlas does. Yes, the National Atlas viewer is dated, but it requires little bandwidth, making it accessible to schools and other institutions contending with poor connectivity. How much effort is required just to leave national atlas alone and leave it online, with an understanding that it will not be updated?
In an era where more geospatial data are needed, not less, and improved geographic literacy is increasingly critical to education and society, the disappearance of the National Atlas seems like a giant step backward.