OGC GeoPackage: Enabling the Next Generation of Geospatial Technologies

Contributed by: 
Micah Brachman, PhD, Strategic Alliance Consulting, Inc.

GeoPackage meets the geospatial data requirements of users in multiple domains, including defense and intelligence, emergency management, and outdoor recreation.

An OGC GeoPackage is a portable database for sharing and displaying geospatial data that is optimized for use on mobile mapping systems. GeoPackages may contain raster maps and imagery, vector features, and elevation data, and extensions may be developed to support additional types of geospatial data such as routing networks. This post will discuss how GeoPackage can be used meet the geospatial data requirements of users in multiple domains, including defense and intelligence, emergency management, and outdoor recreation.  

In the defense and intelligence domain, users often must rely on mobile mapping systems that are not connected to a data network. Even in places where a network connection is available it may be slow or unreliable, yet users still expect the “Google Maps” experience when viewing maps and imagery or running analytics. Most internet-based map services such as Google Maps use PNG or JPEG tiles rather than native raster formats such as GeoTIFF or MrSID, which allows maps and imagery to be rendered quickly on the screen and provides a better user experience when panning around the map or zooming to different scales.  GeoPackage is the first OGC standard that specifies how to store and access tiles within a lightweight SQLite database, thus providing a performant, cross-platform solution for viewing imagery and maps when a data network connection is not available. The adoption of OGC GeoPackage enables defense and intelligence users to view maps and imagery in a consistent manner across multiple mapping systems, thus providing the common operating picture needed to successfully complete their missions.

Geospatial data and information play a critical role in the emergency management decision making process. To protect people from hazardous events such as wildfires, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and industrial accidents, emergency managers and first responders must have access to maps showing the terrain, transportation networks, and location of vulnerable populations in hazard-affected areas. In addition to raster tiles, vector features such as roads and building footprints can also be stored in an OGC GeoPackage, and GeoPackage extensions may be developed to support storage of elevation data or 3D building models. The flexibility of the GeoPackage standard allows purpose-built geospatial datasets to be stored within a single file, and in addition these datasets can be easily updated or queried using SQL statements. For example, a specific Geopackage schema containing a road network, building footprints, and a fire perimeter boundary could enable emergency managers to determine safe wildfire evacuation routes on-the-fly using a mobile device, tablet, or laptop computer.  Dynamic data such as the fire perimeter boundary could be collected in the field and shared across a local mesh network as a GeoPackage update, allowing emergency managers to re-assess the safety of evacuation routes based on this new geospatial information.

OGC GeoPackage can also meet the geospatial data requirements of outdoor recreation enthusiasts. Like defense and intelligence users, these users often need access to maps and imagery in areas where a data network connection is unreliable or non-existent.  In addition to storing the maps and imagery needed to perform basic geospatial functions such as determining a location or planning a route, GeoPackage can also give hikers, hunters, mountain bikers, or climbers a mobile platform for documenting and sharing their outdoor adventures with others. Photos, notes, and GPS tracks can be georeferenced to maps and imagery and dynamically added to a GeoPackage that is stored on a mobile device. When a data network is available, this GeoPackage can be uploaded to a web server and shared with other outdoor enthusiasts as an online adventure blog or travel diary. Purpose built GeoPackage schemas could be designed to support this adventure blog use case, or could be designed to support other outdoor activities such as trail maintenance or ecology research.

Outdoor recreation, emergency management, and defense and intelligence are just a small subset of the many user groups that could benefit from adopting the OGC GeoPackage standard. Mobile computing and location-based context awareness are two trends that are currently reshaping the geospatial industry, and OGC GeoPackage is well positioned as a performant, open-source, cross-platform solution that enables the next generation of geospatial technologies.

Micah Brachman is a Geospatial Scientist at Strategic Alliance Consulting, Inc based in the Washington, DC metro area. Micah holds a PhD in Geography from the University of California, Santa Barbara and has 20 years of geospatial expertise in the commercial, government, non-profit, and academic sectors. When he’s not making maps, Micah enjoys hiking, biking, rock climbing, and spending time with family.