back to article Legends of the scrawl: Ordnance Survey launches augmented reality tool for maps

More than a decade ago, boffins at the Ordnance Survey began working on augmented reality. Now consumer mobile tech has caught up and the agency has launched an AR tool for the man on the street and the woman in the hills. It was 2006 when Andrew Radburn, a long-standing research scientist at the OS, published his work (PDF) …

  1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "another for utilities companies to visualise underground pipes from over ground"

    Reconciling theory with reality could be a bit of a problem for this.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Well it does take the guess work out of JCB drivers hunting for fiber cables

    2. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

      True, but...

      Utilities companies also use other highly accurate GIS and mapping tools for accurately locating and identifying mains pipes. This is lucky considering that some of them contain high pressure natural gas. Get that wrong and... ** kaboom **

      1. David Harper 1

        Re: True, but...

        And others contain 33 kilovolts of electricity, which is going to really spoil your day if you're on the other end of the pneumatic drill which touches it.

        (Based on a true story from east London about 25 years ago.)

        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: True, but...

          And others contain 33 kilovolts of electricity

          And others contain water under high pressure. Which, when the pipe is cracked, wash away the surrounding clay. The end-state of which is a 107 bus nose-down in a deep hole in Station Rd, New Barnet.

          T'was some years ago though. Well before these newfangled mobile phones thingys (or even GPS) were invented.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: True, but...

            and some contain poo. I don't think I need to explain the perils of poo.

            1. Chemical Bob

              Re: I don't think I need to explain the perils of poo.

              You'd be surprised...

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: True, but...

        Utilities companies also use other highly accurate precise GIS and mapping tools for accurately locating and identifying mains pipes.

        The mapping may be precise. It doesn't necessarily correspond with the reality underground.

    3. Muscleguy Silver badge

      You may recall that very recently the oil pipeline from the refinery to, amongst other things, Auckland international airport in NZ was cut by a digger. Or more accurately at some time in the past a digger scraped the pipe and corrosion did the rest.

      Domestic flights were cancelled (other travel options available) to keep international flights going (no other options). That pipe is a single point of failure in a very narrow part of the country (Auckland is an isthmus). A country prone to earthquakes and Auckland is a still live volcanic zone. A new volcanic cone could erupt anywhere.

  2. ColonelClaw

    "the app also offers extra crucial information like ... local pubs."


    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Yes, I was very pleased to see it being specially designed for full inclusion of the disabled. Those of us who can sniff out a good pub with our natural senses don't always appreciate how unfair that is for the rest of the population.

  3. EddieD


    Much as I love the magic of GPS and associated technology, you'll have my 1:50000 Landranger and 1:25000 Explorer maps and my venerable Silva compass when you prise them from my cold dead hands - probably at the bottom of the Cuillin ridge when I've walked over the edge because a sudden gust of wind blew the map over my face...

    The Ordnance maps are incredible creations - I was taught to read them at school, and I have seen no other maps that allow you to visualise the landscape in your mind quite like they do. One of the best perks of my current job is access to the complete Edina library of OS maps, down to 1:5000 scale (and historic...and geologic...and maritime...)

    I'm glad to see that the OS are moving with the times.

    1. Not also known as SC

      Re: Paper...

      @EddieD I feel like creating several fake accounts to up vote your post, but I'd probably get banned so -----> instead. OS maps - wonderful things.

    2. macjules

      Re: Paper...

      Exactly!. Wonder what happens when you get half way up Scafell pike in the Lake District only to see coverage disappear. IIRC you don't even have to get far out of Keswick before that happens. Landranger maps and a Silva compass are your only friends from there on.

  4. Commswonk

    At First Glance...

    We’d come across augmented reality in other fields...

    sounds like a euphemism for a large cow - pat.

    One in which the dog has just rolled.

  5. Steve 114

    So I can fly around anything on USian 'Google Earth', but as a UK taxpayer I can only get 'signup for 7-day trial' from true-Brit OS. Just-Get-Lost.

    1. tiggity Silver badge

      That's the way of most (initially tax payer funded data in UK)

      Look at how expensive it is to get lat / long, postcode and full address data even though thats mainly from Rotyal Mail (tax payer funded for most of its duration) & Ordnance Survey.

      All very short sighted, as plenty of scope for added value apps / websites etc. if the data was free.

  6. tiggity Silver badge

    Repeat payments

    Back in the day there was an ordnance survey map to download (good detail) OS maps to phone and would be useful when walking - showed you where you were, could pan through map (and once downloaded, offline use,so not an issue if out in zero reception hilly zone).

    .. There was one great big huge screwup - payment.

    Instead of buying maps via some some form of OS "token" (buy tokens via payment method supported by your phone, as used on plenty of big cross platform phone apps e.g. Pokemon Go) it was phone OS specific.

    so, iPhone user purchased a map on their iPhone, great ... however if they later replaced iPhone with android device, no way to get maps they had previously purchased on android device - a new android specific purchase required (or in the actual use case, partners iPhone battery died as GPS was power hungry, app installed on my android, the partnerr logged on with their credentials but no way to get the previously paid for map).

    That experience totally put myself & partner off OS apps, hope they have dealt with that major issue now.

    .. reverted back to paper!

    1. Not also known as SC

      Re: Repeat payments

      The last time I looked you got a code when you bought a map to download a copy to your phone. The code was tied to an account, not a phone. Don't they do this any more?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Repeat payments

        You buy another! new map for your area scratch the silver bit off to reveal a code then enter it into the official OS App.

        Its OK but doesn't actually work as well as the paper option does.

        Alternatives I've used are "UK Atlas" free although i was rather upset when a couple of years ago it was rewritten with Unity and dropped their Layar like AR view.

        For desktop, the venerable Magic Maps from DEFRA can't be beaten.

        What I'd really like is the option to drop my phone into a cardboard like holder and get an arrow pointing to my destination with footpaths and distances displayed over the camera view along with other useful information.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        OS map data is free

        You can download the OS data and maps for free, in multiple scales. On request, they'll also send you the whole lot on DVDs also for free.

        I know, I have them.

        They even give you tiles down to a small enough granularity (sorry - the DVDs are packed away and I cannot remember the scale) that you can see footpaths. Plus the rights to use them commercially.

        1. Phil Endecott

          Re: OS map data is free

          > You can download the OS data and maps for free, in multiple scales

          Not exactly; you can’t get the Landranger and Explorer maps for free.

          What you can get for free includes “Vector Map District”, a 1:25,000 product that is somewhat comparable to Landranger, and “Terrain 50”, which is contour lines. By combining these with footpath data from Open Street Map it’s possible to make something that’s almost as good as the paper maps but considerably cheaper. As it happens this is what I do for a living:

    2. david bates

      Re: Repeat payments

      Backcountry Navigator pulls the OS data from (I think) Bing maps and is excellent. Pay once for the full version and all the maps are free. I think the Free version is time limited.

  7. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Until somebody develops a screen 60 centimetres across that I can fold up and put in my pocket, it's going to remain paper maps for me for most of what I use them for. And actual proper maps as well, not the unprintable route navigation diagrams that Google brainwashes people into thinking are 'maps'.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Until somebody develops a screen 60 centimetres across that I can fold up and put in my pocket, it's going to remain paper maps for me for most of what I use them for."

      Flexible screens may not be all that far away. Or they may be. Technology, eh?

      On the other hand, there are some cleverly designed convertible laptop/tablet designs where the keyboard folds through 180o, or flip phone tech for that matter. I'd be surprised if it was beyond the wit of a good engineer to make a folding screen that incorporated 3 or 4 displays which fold out. Doing it economically might be another matter though. As a final throaway, what about a mapping app that can communicate with other tablets or phones so if out as a group you can all sync up and use multiple devices as one big screen?

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