An Ontology-Based GeoDatabase Interoperability Platform

An Ontology-Based GeoDatabase Interoperability Platform

Serge Boucher (Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium) and Esteban Zimányi (Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-894-9.ch014
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This chapter presents an ontology-based platform enabling automatic translation between a large number of geographical formats and data models. It explains the organizational motivations for developing this system, the technologies used, how its architecture and processing components were developed, what it achieves and where it still needs improvement. Since current off-the-shelf description logic reasoners are unable to process the large ontologies involved in this system, this platform uses a custom mapping algorithm that scales gracefully and still computes the required information to effect translation between supported data formats. The authors believe that the lessons learned during this project and discussed in this chapter will prove especially useful to interoperability practitioners contemplating the use of semantic technologies for enabling large-scale integration across organizational boundaries.
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The client for this interoperability platform is responsible for the evaluation and development of the weapons systems used by one of Europe’s national armies. Historically, the geographical databases used in the various weapon systems deployed by the defense forces were the responsibility of each arm. For example, the Army was solely responsible for procuring the cartographical data used to feed moving map devices installed in tanks and other land attack vehicles. Warships, on the other hand, are equipped not with moving maps but with chartplotters, and the data they used was the responsibility of the Navy. While from a technological perspective both these devices are very similar to each other, (as well as to GPS receivers now present in many cars) for historical reasons they tend to use completely different data formats. The Army and the Navy were thus simultaneously tasked with the development of data sets to accommodate subtly different use cases and physical formats. Predictably, they came up with schemas that had large intersecting areas of expressivity but yet presented many subtle differences that made them completely incompatible. Over the years, this problem was repeated again and again, and today the terabytes of cartographical information critical to the army’s operations are stored in dozens of different formats, with each pair of them exhibiting design differences, some fundamental and some gratuitous, which makes data conversion between them extremely difficult.

The previous paragraph might give the impression that the army managers and executives who allowed such a situation to occur have been incredibly shortsighted. This, however, couldn’t be farther from the truth. As is so often the case in the computer science industry, a long series of sensible decisions has led to a collection of legacy systems that are ill adapted to current and future needs. A little background knowledge on the history of weapon systems helps explain why.

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