New Generation GeoPDF Maps: TerraGo Evolves with GIS and Big Data

March 6, 2013  - By

By Art Kalinksi

Three weeks ago I had a chance to visit the offices of TerraGo Technologies in Atlanta. I first used their technology in the early 2000s, when I was the GIS manager for the Atlanta Regional Commission. For those of you that may not remember GIS and mapping before GeoPDF maps, it was a real challenge to provide interactive maps to users outside your organization. A GIS author had to ship the data layers, attribute tables, symbol sets and layouts as a package to a user who had to have compatible GIS software. One then had to hope that the user pointed to each data layer correctly and had a good sense of cartography to create maps that told the story. If the user chose inappropriate lines, colors or symbology, the resultant map could look terrible at best, misleading at worst.

Esri tried to solve the problem with Map Publisher which maintained the author’s cartography, but if any data layers were corrupted or not pointed to correctly, the map failed. GeoPDF maps solved that problem since all the data layers and even the map layout/cartography were preserved as one single PDF file that could be read and interactively queried by anyone using a simple Adobe Acrobat reader. A user could turn layers on or off, zoom in/out and query attributes. TerraGo also added the TerraGo Toolbar that enhanced the map with measurements, geo-locations and the ability to collaborate with others on the same GeoPDF map.

GeoPDF maps and imagery were quite a leap in map publishing capability and soon became ubiquitous with key federal users and a de facto standard for map publishing within the Department of Defense (DOD) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Anyone can download many GeoPDF maps free of charge, including U.S. topo maps from the USGS Store.

For federal and DOD users, the U.S. Army Geospatial Center (AGC) has published more than 200,000 maps of locations around the world. Some samples, including 3D GeoPDF maps, can be viewed by the public. In 2009 TerraGo opened “geospatial PDF” technology to all users. As a result you can create “geospatial PDFs” directly from ArcGIS and other geospatial software and display them with the TerraGo Toolbar. TerraGo, however, retained the enhanced functionality of GeoPDFs, including many new additional features and enhancements.

The term “GeoPDF” refers to map and imagery products created by TerraGo software applications. GeoPDF maps and imagery use a geospatial PDF as the container for maps, imagery, and other data used to deliver an enhanced user experience in TerraGo applications. However, GeoPDF products conform to published specifications, including both the OGC best practice for PDF georegistration as well as Adobe’s proposed geospatial extensions to ISO 32000, making them consumable by applications such as Adobe Acrobat, Adobe Reader, Global Mapper, and others. GeoPDF products often include other advanced PDF features such as layers and object data that can add significant GIS functionality to the file, particularly when used with the TerraGo plugin to Adobe Reader or other TerraGo clients. TerraGo even has the capability to create navigable 3D GeoPDF models. Here is an example of a 3D GeoPDF model of the Bin Laden compound. Click to experience the interactive PDF (requires TerraGo Toolbar.)

bin laden

TerraGo’s geospatial collaboration software and GeoPDF maps and imagery are a powerful solution to produce, access, update and share geospatial information and applications with anyone, anywhere. TerraGo solutions enable enterprises to extend, exchange, collaborate and exploit georeferenced maps, imagery, audio, video, forms and other intelligence in connected or offline environments. I repeat: connected or offline. This is a key GeoPDF capability that cannot be overemphasized.

I learned the hard way during numerous emergency response exercises and events that as the number of responders ramps up, local internet connectivity degrades to the point that it’s difficult to send and receive even simple emails, let alone large data sets such as imagery. GeoPDF technology permits users to collect and assemble large data sets at the early stage of an event, use them and collaborate on the GeoPDF map locally without the need to continually reload the same data from a remote server. Building on this strength, TerraGo developed numerous related products, but the company is evolving in a more fundamental way. According to TerraGo CEO Rick Cobb, the company is moving from a product-centric organization to a workflow solutions company by expanding some of its technology, providing its solutions as APIs and SDKs for integration with high-end systems and using innovative methods to bring its capabilities to remote users even in fringe, disconnected environments.

Part of this evolution included expansion of three technologies:

  • increased emphasis on use of locally connected mobile devices,
  • enhancing the capabilities of “Composer 3D” that integrates 3D data such as LiDAR point clouds with 2D data in the GeoPDF environment, and
  • the acquisition of GeoXray, a “big data” exploitation tool that automates the process of discovering, geospatially visualizing, monitoring and sharing relevant unstructured information from any source.

GeoXray is a web-based software application that allows users to search the Internet and social media sites for content relating to a geographic area and filtering the results by place, time and topic. TerraGo demonstrated interoperability by allowing a user to access GeoXray directly from a GeoPDF map. TerraGo’s Michael Bufkin indicated that the next step in this interoperability will be to cache the GeoXray-discovered content within the GeoPDF map when it is created, thus enabling access to the content directly from the TerraGo Toolbar. Users would then be able to discover GeoXray content even if not connected to the Internet, while using the same tools that they use for map display and collaboration.


It’s hard to fully describe the GeoPDF/GeoXray integration in this short column but picture a sample scenario which was demonstrated for me at GeoINT 2012. A hypothetical analyst needed to determine a probable location of a kidnap victim in a remote country. The analyst first used the general mapping capabilities of the GeoPDF map to identify key geographic locations. Then, using a broad array of “big data” contents such as news, blogs and social media, the analyst was able to narrow his efforts to a few key locations through the discovery and filtering capabilities of GeoXray. Combining and layering the physical geography with mapped locations of relevant GeoXray data, the analyst was able to significantly narrow sites of interest. Further viewing and local collaboration by agents in the field using mobile devices to view and collect additional data could refine the location even more.

This was quite an elegant and robust merging of GIS and “big data” in an easy-to-use application. I look forward to this tool set being a valuable addition for DOD, businesses and any agency that needs fast collaboration in complex environments both domestically and in remote locations.

TerraGo will be an exhibitor at the ESRI Federal Users Conference this week. I’m looking forward to seeing what other new developments exhibitors will be showing at the UC.  Please stop me and say hello.

No Comments on "New Generation GeoPDF Maps: TerraGo Evolves with GIS and Big Data"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

Inbound Links

  1. Europe’s Spring Season for GNSS : GPS World | February 26, 2014