In the late ’90s, telecom giant Southwestern Bell Telephone Company (SBC) acquired many “baby Bells,” which brought with them a mishmash of regional maps ranging from Computer-Aided Design diagrams of Chicagoland infrastructure to 100-year-old hand-drawn maps of lines running through West Texas ranch country. In a quest for order and computerized mapping capabilities for its service trucks, SBC turned to TerraGo’s one-time parent company, Layton Graphics, to standardize its maps.
While working toward uniformity, “Sooner or later, somebody asked the logical question: ‘Can we hook up GPS to this?’” said George Demmy, TerraGo’s chief technology officer, who has been with the company since its Layton Graphics origin. “That’s partially what got us into the geospatial side of things.”
As the millennium arrived, TerraGo transformed SBC’s static maps into interactive georeferenced PDF map books with supporting software to allow for measurements and display of coordinates. This helped workers in the field find what they needed more quickly or to point out items on the map to headquarters for correction or update. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and Army Geospatial Center got wind of this capability and adopted Layton Graphics’ GeoPDF tools to make maps easier and quicker for warfighters to create and use.
As a result, Layton Graphics in 2005 spun off its mapping software business as TerraGo, which has for the last decade created tools to facilitate map creation and dissemination.
“Our purpose at TerraGo was then and has always been providing tools for people to better communicate their work, information, data, and insight to the widest possible community,” Demmy said.
The company was at the forefront of the smartphone revolution, helping companies use mobile devices to collect geo-referenced data and receive maps in the field. TerraGo leadership predicts a near future where this process will be as ubiquitous as social media.
“If you think about some of the paradigms of social networking—ease of use, the ability to share what you see and what you understand in a trusted environment of only the people who need to see it—that’s what we’re trying to do [with maps] at TerraGo,” Demmy said.
Communications between headquarters and personnel in the field have only improved as smartphones get smarter. When Apple and Google added location capability to their respective mobile device operating systems in 2007, organizations had options for a growing number of GPS uses in decision-making as well as access to an increasingly smartphone savvy workforce.
TerraGo developed its Edge product to take advantage of emerging location-based smartphone tools, suggesting smartphones—particularly those attached to Bluetooth GPS receivers—were capable of highly accurate geospatial data collection.
“Edge is a distributed, enterprise-managing, group-sourcing application that’s got a server component and uses mobile clients to collect and share information,” Demmy explained.
Data sharing brings TerraGo back to its roots. With Edge, offline mobile devices can gather geo-referenced photos, videos, and notes to be sent to organization headquarters and compiled into maps once connectivity is regained. The maps are returned to the field for use and further updates.
“Talk about democratization of data,” Demmy said. “Where once you had several dozen piles, now you’ve got this OGC (Open Geospatial Consortium) GeoPackage that can actually be consumed through SQLite technology, which is on every smartphone and web browser on the planet. It can be consumed on non-geospatial and geospatial workflows as well. That’s democratization of data in spades.”
Companies now use mobile devices to perform surveys and utility fieldwork, inspect oil and gas pipelines, dispatch emergency services, track transportation and shipping, and much more.
As the smartphones and location-enabled technology continue to proliferate, TerraGo’s products are hardly static. The company’s GeoPDF-oriented software suite is at version 6.7, and Edge recently introduced version 3.6.
“We’re not a GIS company in the sense that we don’t build geographic information systems—we extend them and make them more relevant,” Demmy said. “We don’t create the document workflow software, we extend document workflows and make them more powerful. What we do is connect the person making the map to the person consuming the map, and we create a very intimate relationship between the two. We need location in order to do that job effectively.”