Jordi Estrada: Everyone's a cartographer with a smart phone

When we carry a smart phone, we are drawing maps without even realising it, writes Jordi Estrada

Most of us are more comfortable reading a map than deciphering a spreadsheet. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire
Most of us are more comfortable reading a map than deciphering a spreadsheet. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire

The rise of the smartphone has created vast amounts of data. Every click records our behaviour both as citizen and consumer. But the computer in our pocket is also generating spatial data.

This constant stream of information is added to by the data generated from the growing number of Internet of Things devices we use.

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These huge data sets, when combined with good digital connectivity, are the building blocks of smart cities.

Real-time information can be used to make informed decisions in all walks of life.

For example, if councils know which bins are full, which roads are busy and if any emergency pick ups are required, they can then map out the most efficient routes for their waste lorries.

Google Maps determines how busy roads are by gathering information on the number of mobile signals detected on a particular stretch of road. This enables drivers to take action to avoid traffic jams.

The vast amount of data we generate can be difficult to process and volumes won’t get any smaller. The complexity of getting specific insights from huge swathes of information is like trying to take a sip of water from a fire hose.

Summarising insights from datasets is critical. Most of us are more comfortable reading a map than deciphering a spreadsheet. Geographical information system applications play a key role in processing spatial data into maps we can interact with to make informed decisions.

Moves to make datasets available to the public are being made. There are many benefits to be had from sharing information. Companies can see consumer patterns and trends, allowing them to target their offerings better.

It also encourages citizens to engage with urban planning and local authority initiatives.

Given access to information in a form we understand, such as a map, we are more likely to interact and give informed opinions on what is happening, or indeed should happen, and keep us involved with the development of our towns and cities. Once we start to interact in this way the data will snowball. If local authorities continue to make the information available through open data initiatives, then it’s only a matter of time before the public sees the benefit of it, uses it and keeps adding to it.

Data privacy concerns are increasingly important so it is essential that the right policies are in place to protect us from misuse of data. All data released should be aggregated so as to protect individual identities.

We are all producing cartography without even realising it. Whenever we use a mobile telephone or a wearable device we are helping to create a map. If this is used wisely, our data could improve our experience as customers and our quality of life as citizens.

Jordi Estrada is a GIS analyst at FarrPoint