Talking about place: ARC Linkage Project

July 3, 2011

Research about place

Although place descriptions are ubiquitous in human communication, they are challenging for automatic interpretation. University of Melbourne (Geomatics), ESTA (Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority), DSE Office of Geographic Names are partners with SMA (Public Sector Mapping Authority) and NSW Department of Lands as partners in an ARC Linkage project “Talking about Place”.

The aims are to enhance the functionality of place databases (such as toponym gazetteers or address index files) to support semi-automatic or even automatic interpretation of human place descriptions. The research is novel because it approaches a burning problem (making computers understand people talking about place) by a fundamental approach, instead of tinkering with current practice reducing places to points. It thinks about place and placenames as such, and in a multi-disciplinary way, searching for smarter representations that can deal with various meanings in different contexts and for mechanism to automatically capture these meanings.

Research questions for geographic information science are relevant for practical problems. The Talking about Place research focuses on the spatial communication issues to address them first.

  • Here comes a challenge: if you think that Google Maps means the location problem is solved then line up some distressed emergency callers, unable to clearly articulate their location – e.g., quoting their last known location and listing which landmarks they can see now –a clock ticking down from 150 seconds per incident, 100s of times in a row, knowing that he/she is subject to a coronial inquiry if it goes wrong (example provided by an industry partner).
  • In routing applications the concepts of place can fail significantly: Tourists using satnav devices travelling to a rural tourist related property experience considerable grief in that instead of a relatively easy drive to the property not far from the major highway, they are sent through an additional 40kms of windy rural roads adding 35 minutes to their travel time.
  • People in communities can often know the same feature by multiple different names and vice versa. Many issues arise from non-accurate spatial representations of toponyms.
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About yvonnert

Extensive experience working in government spatial data infrastructure. Over ten years as a bridge maker in emergency services, with strong partnering skills providing leadership for spatial information strategy.

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