Page last updated at 11:45 GMT, Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Ordnance Survey opens up data

aerial view of Berlin
New service uses Ordnance Survey maps to track people

Data collected by mapping agency Ordnance Survey is to be used to keep track on vulnerable workers and young children.

Locatorz, the firm behind the mobile-phone location service, will be the first commercial company to get its hands on such data.

Users will have to have a GPS-enabled handset for the service to work.

It can only be activated with the consent of the mobile owner and can locate people to within 10 metres.

It works by using a mobile phone's GSM connection, then sending the GPS signal to Locatorz servers which can in turn plot the information onto an Ordnance Survey map and send it to a viewable, secure internet page.

The data is updated on the website every two minutes - although the smartphone application does come with an "off" button too.

It is not a new idea, admits Locatorz chief executive Guy Norgrove, but the advent of smartphones with inbuilt GPS has made it more accessible.

"The technology has been around for many years - the military and the police are already using it. We're aiming this at small/medium businesses, vulnerable workers and parents with small children."

The technology has been around for many years - the military and the police are already using it.
Guy Norgrove, Locatorz

Mr Norgrove suggests that doctors, district nurses, estate agents, social workers, bailiffs and taxi drivers would be among those who would benefit from installing the service as a safety precaution.

Jenny Fawson of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, a charity set up to raise awareness of personal safety, believes such technology can play an role.

"It is important that organisations recognise the responsibility they have for keeping their staff safe," she said.

Users pay a £50 (plus VAT) annual subscription and can only register themselves.

Country walks

It is the first time that Ordnance Survey has given access to its OS OpenSpace dataset to a commercial client.

OpenSpace launched 18 months ago, enabling unprecedented access to Ordnance Survey cartography. It relies on Javascript and is free for non-commercial clients.

"There are limits on the free-to-use version," explains Ian Holt, product manager at OS. "If, for example, you built a 'where's my nearest post box' site, and you had more than 200 people a day looking at it, you'd start to hit limits."

Mr Holt says that the fair-use policy exists to prevent the service from being swamped, but the new commercial version, OS OpenSpace Pro, is designed for high volume use.

By October 2009 almost 2,500 developers had signed up to use the free service. Many regional outdoors activity groups are using OS OpenSpace to provide routes for country walks and bike rides.

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