Support: Maps That Move And Grow


December 3,
Over the last two decades, computers, satellite images, business needs
and geography have created a new tool for the troops; GIS (Geographic
Information System). The military adopted these systems, which enable much more
geographical information to be displayed on a computer generated map, and
updated, or simply rearranged, quickly and with little effort. The most common
example of a GIS most people work with is the GPS navigation systems commonly
found in automobiles.
The military
has had electronic maps long before they became common in the commercial
sector. But these electronic maps, usually in warplanes or ships, were simple
and showed a very limited amount of information. But as computers, and color
displays, got cheaper, geographers saw the opportunities to cram a lot more
information into the same space. The military caught on to this, as they were
busily developing digital maps of the entire (well, almost) world in order to
make it easier to provide printed maps. But the troops were now taking their
laptops to the combat zone, and large, flat screen, display showed and promptly
got real cheap. Suddenly, the troops were eager to ditch the paper maps
whenever possible, and use an electronic one. These quickly adopted off-the-shelf
GIS technology and adapted it for military use. For troops who needed paper
maps, you could quickly run them off on a cheap color printer. The military map
business was changed forever.
Now the
troops concentrate on things like figuring out how far down the chain-of-command
should people be to allowed to insert a change for the master maps in a combat
zone. This became a big deal when maps began to contain a lot of transitory
information (like battle damage to bridges or roads) that was a lot more useful
if it was very up to date.
analysts began adding interactive elements, like how terrain (natural or
manmade) interfered with mobility, visibility or whatever. As a result of all
this, a map has become a lot more than a map, and there was no end in sight as
troops kept applying their imagination and resourcefulness to the new tool.


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