Monthly Archives: June 2015

CODATA Roads Task Group at State of the Map 2015

This post comes from Alex de Sherbinin, chair of our Global Roads TG and Associate Director for Science Applications at the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), an environmental data and analysis center within The Earth Institute at Columbia University.

AdSThe CODATA Global Roads Data Development Task Group was well represented at the State of the Map US 2015 conference in New York City on 6-7 June. State of the Map US represents an annual confab of OpenStreetMap (OSM) mapping enthusiasts, with representatives from 41 countries present. OSM has had impressive growth in coverage and detail in the decade since its launch, and is increasingly being seen as an authoritative data source, much as wikipedia has rivaled traditional encyclopedias for content and currency. When Steve Coast, founder of OSM, joined our workshop in 2007 the promise of OSM was clear, but streets were largely mapped only in urban areas of Europe and the US. Now the map is global, though OSM still lags in some developing regions. Efforts are being made through Missing Maps and Map Give to rectify this situation. But the unfortunate reality is that it seems the best route for growing coverage in low income countries is to experience a natural or humanitarian disaster, since this focuses attention on the huge need for better transportation data in these countries.

State of the Map US 2015 was held at the United Nations building in New York City, June 6-8. Source : (c) yellowbkpk. CC-BY.2.0 license.

There were several signs of the evolution of OSM from a small coterie of mapping enthusiasts to a moving force in the mapping community. One was the conference venue: United Nations headquarters. Another was the corporations represented. A growing ecosystem of companies – Mapzen (a Samsung incubator project), Mapillary, Digital Globe, and Esri – had booths and helped sponsor the meeting, and more importantly, are building services off of OSM. According to one presenter, Google Maps and OSM helped to drop the bottom out of the digital road map market almost overnight, significantly depreciating the value of the data held by companies such as Navtech and TeleAtlas. The emphasis now is on services built on the data. A third sign of OSM’s importance was the high level representation from the US government, including the Chief Technical Officer of the Obama Administration, Meghan Smith, and the Chief Geographer of US Agency for International Development, Carrie Stokes. Department of Transportation and USGS were also represented.


Presentations focused on community efforts to build the map in regions such as Fukushima, Japan, or to QA/QC maps in the US (compared to Tiger line files). There were also plenty of presentation on new “add on” tools for map digitization and services based on OSM. Mapilarity, for example, is enlisting volunteers to use their smart phones to video roads they drive on for upload to their company, where they will be converted to the equivalent of Google Streetview, but without the 360 degree coverage.

Together with Paola Kim-Blanco, I presented a lightning talk on “Validation and Assimilation of OSM Data for the Global Roads Open Access Data Set” and organized a breakout group on the same topic. The main point of our presentation was to make the case for the need for greater validation of the data in terms of spatial accuracy, attribute information, coverage, and completeness, especially in the world’s poorest regions. We illustrated this by showing data for West Africa. In terms of spatial accuracy, the OSM data are generally pretty good – in the range of 30-50m offsets from high resolution Google Earth imagery, which themselves are around 5m from “ground truth” (see Ubukawa et al. 2014). But the coverage varies widely. Comparing data for May 2014 and 2015, we found that the data for Ebola affected countries grew by 250% (or 3.5 times on average) compared to 50% for non-Ebola affected countries, but there are still large gaps in spatial coverage for both. And the greatest growth often occurred in unclassified roads – which means we don’t know if they are cart-tracks or paved primary roads. This reflects the fact that most mappers digitize from high resolution imagery and cannot always distinguish among road classes.

logo_sotmus2015Our breakout session yielded about 20 participants who were interested in this topic, and we hope to generate protocols for validation that might engage members of the OSM community. Once data have been validated, we hope to assimilate them into gROADS. Though choosing when to assimilate data may be a challenge, as growth in the network in the poorer countries still depends heavily on whether there is an organized push to collect data, or in the worst case, a disaster.

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OpenStreetMapUS website

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GYA, CODATA-ECDP and Open Science

Marshall MaThis post comes from Xaiogang (Marshall) Ma, a core member of the CODATA Early Career Data Professionals Group (ECDP).  He was a winner of one of the inaugural World Data System Stewardship Awards at SciDataCon 2014.  Marshall is an Associate Research Scientist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, specialising in Semantic eScience and Data Science.  Check out his RPI Homepage here.

During May 25-29, 2015, the Global Young Academy (GYA) held the 5th International Conference for Young Scientists and its Annual General Meeting at Montebello, Quebec, Canada. I attended the public day of the conference on May 27, as a delegate of the CODATA Early Career Data Professionals Working Group (ECDP).

The GYA was founded in 2010 and its objective is to be the voice of young scientists around the world. Members are chosen for their demonstrated excellence in scientific achievement and commitment to service. Currently there are 200 members from 58 countries, representing all major world regions. Most GYA members attended the conference at Montebello, together with about 40 guests from other institutions, including Prof.  Gordon McBean, president of the International Council for Science and Prof. Howard Alper, former co-chair of IAP: the Global Network of Science Academies.

GYA issued a position statement on Open Science in 2012, which calls for scientific results and data to be made freely available for scientists around the world, and advocates ways forward that will transform scientific research into a truly global endeavour. Dr. Sabina Leonelli from the University of Exeter, UK is one of the lead authors of the position statement, and also a lead of the GYA Open Science Working Group. A major objective of my attendance to the GYA conference was to discuss the future opportunities on collaborations between CODATA-ECDP and GYA. Besides Sabina, I also met Dr. Abdullah Tariq, another lead of the GYA Open Science WG, and several other members of the GYA executive committee.

The discussion was successful. We mentioned the possibility of an interest group in Global Open Science within CODATA, to have a few members join both organizations, to propose sessions on the diversity of conditions under which open data work around the world, perhaps for the next CODATA/RDA meeting in Paris or later meetings of the type, to collaborate around business models for data centers, and to reach out to other organizations and working groups of open data and/or open science, etc.

GYA is such an active group both formed and organized by young people. And I was so happy to see that Open Science is one of the four core activities that GYA is currently promoting. I would recommend ECDP and CODATA members to explore the details of GYA activities on their website and propose future collaborations to promote topics of common interest on open data and open science.GYA-FullWidth