Map Boards

If one looks at a typical deployable HQ (like those below from HQ Allied Rapid Reaction Corps at Innsworth) they appear to be the image of modernity, with multimedia displays and computer networks galore.

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HQ ARRC
HQ ARRC
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HQ ARRC
HQ ARRC
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HQ ARRC
HQ ARRC
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HQ ARRC
HQ ARRC
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And yet despite the highest of high tech being available, one area that seems to remain resolutely in the last but one century is the map board.

HQ ARRC 08
HQ ARRC

Maps need to be detailed, have persistence, viewable in all conditions, large scale and very high resolution.

Paper, in these circumstances, is pretty hard to beat.

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Maps
Maps
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Maps
Maps
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Maps
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Maps
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The problem with maps though is that they can only depict relief with contour lines, cannot be zoomed or panned, cannot utilise layers to display spatial data.

I am also intrigued by generational norms, someone walking into a HQ in the next decade is likely to be more familiar with Google Maps than Ordnance Survey Landranger Maps!

And so, progress is coming to the map table in the form of a number of technologies and one unlikely piece of equipment.

The familiar Kindle type e-paper display technology can produce very high resolution, wide viewing angle and high contrast images that require very little power, this is why they are so easy to read in comparison with other display technologies, but zooming and panning is very difficult.

Clipping together multiple flat screen monitors is possible but bezel width, power requirements, a lack of ruggedness and weight means a video wall is also unlikely to replace the simple map.

The holy grail of display technology is the high resolution, high contrast, lower power, full colour, low weight and foldable screen.

Organic Light Emitting Display (OLED) is a rapidly maturing technology but is far from meeting all the requirements, carbon nanotube and a host of other technologies continue being researched.

E-Ink has two main problems, low speed switching and the tendency to ‘ghost’ In e-book readers these are not especially a problem because they are fast enough for text (as opposed to video) and the ghosting artefacts are eliminated by flashing the screen black and clear momentarily before the new text is shown. For maps, these issues are not a problem but the main downside is a lack of colour.

Although E-Ink have recently shown a 32″ full colour  display others are concentrating on point of sale advertising labels and other niche applications.

Colour E-Ink Display
Colour E-Ink Display

The market seems to be moving away from colour e-ink displays. Amazon has recently purchased a company called Liqavista who specialise in reflective colour displays.

Who knows where the market will end up but for now, paper, push pins and string rules.

At a smaller scale and with a focus on data manipulation rather than static map displays there also continues to be some very interesting developments that provide a glimpse into the future.

Similar to the interactive display in the film Minority Report, Microsoft PixelSense, PQ Lab and Ideum are pushing the boundaries of multi touch table and wall sized displays.

It is difficult to describe multi touch tables, even with images, so watch these videos for a good primer.

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All clever stuff that is not the stuff of science fiction, it is here today.

Route recce with multi touch

 

The US Army has been experimenting with large format multi touch displays since the first release of Microsoft Surface (now renamed PixelSense) with the CERDEC hosted Multitouch Mission Command Working Group.  They have been integrating systems like the General Dynamics Tactical Ground Reporting System (TIGR) with multi touch tables where information is transferred between them.

Multi Touch 1
Multi Touch
Multi Touch 1
Multi Touch 1

It has long been recognised that military HQ’s are data rich and information poor, the sheer volume of data, video, imagery and other information is simply overwhelming. Visualising data and especially data that has a geographic context is vitally important now and probably more so in the future as the contemporary operating environment gets ever more congested, cluttered and contested.

The potential of these systems is immense.

As a final look, the US Marine Corps has recently been experimenting with a system called an Augmented Reality Sand Box that uses an overhead projector, a Microsoft Kinect and yes, a box of sand.

Perhaps more of a training tool than planning, but interesting nonetheless

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Read more at Marine Corps Times, click here

Lots of interesting technologies, most of them not quite ready for deployment, but the days of map pins are getting short.

 

 

 

 

 

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Mark
Mark
October 8, 2014 9:55 pm

Great article, but I also noticed that they still sit at 6 foot tables in the old canvas chairs.

El Sid
El Sid
October 8, 2014 10:36 pm

You missed out Surface being used in Spooks, it must be real… It’s a bit of a shame that it’s always been a technology that’s been looking for a killer application, being able to identify beer bottles is a nice trick but it’s not going to justify £k’s of investment in hardware.

That sandbox is fun – and I find it just mindblowing that you can do something like that with open-source software and a few £100’s of COTS electronics.

Observer
Observer
October 8, 2014 11:38 pm

As someone who was involved once in a walkover on a 2 brigade exercise, I’d say no and die laughing. I said walkover, but it was more like tripping a blind man onto the floor and stepping on his face. The OPFOR was trialing a new BMS (Battle Management System) and for some reason or other, their command centre had a power failure. Until it was repaired hours later, my brigade literally walked over them. They couldn’t do a damn thing, all their planning was electronic, their paper maps didn’t have a single symbol on it.

Map contour lines are not really that bad, it just takes a bit of practice, and things like air-photo maps, you have a prismatic viewer for 3-D imaging. You can also “tealt” (?-no idea how to spell it) a map by sealing it in plastic wrap so that the original map won’t get dirtied by grubby paws, this is done very commonly. If you use a mapboard, you’re going to have to do something similar or dirt is going to build up on the screen after a few hundred people poked it with muddy, greasy and sooty fingers.

S O
S O
October 9, 2014 12:40 am

All HQs but the theatre HQ and very much rear HQ s such as port management need to be mobile.

And by mobile I mean evacuate without prior warning in about 30 minutes, set up again in a school or supermarket within minutes as well (including radio emitters 1-2 km away). The vehicles should preferably be small enough to be hidden in garages or at least from a distance civilian-looking trucks (this is NOT outlawed).
Minimum functionality (with little radio emissions) should be maintained during movement, disassembly and reassembly.

All tent and container solutions to the HQ topic are desert warfare BS in my opinion. They’re fantastic targets for Iskander.
This is one of the areas where Western armies would get a badly bloody nose in a peer conflict real quick.

CBRNGuru
CBRNGuru
October 9, 2014 1:11 am

I have been in multiple HQ Set ups and the UK Military still has a fixation for Map boards, why? Two main reasons I always hear, one the Power Failure issue. But if power has gone then everything is down including communicating anything to the outside world, plus these days they have backup systems to kick in straight away. Two, at Formation Level HQ’s you cannot get everyone around a monitor screen during a Commanders briefing. Look at the size of the bird tables in ARRC, you can get ½ the HQ round some of them!
Ah, projector onto a big screen I hear you say, that is countered by there is no room to place a big screen and projectors are always knocked into or pulled off a table by accident. The pièce de résistance is also that J2/J3/J4 etc can have their own Bird table to play with, whereas with a BMS COP on a single screen this cannot be achieved. So don’t expect the bird table to disappear any time soon in a UK Military HQ.

Observer
Observer
October 9, 2014 3:43 am

CBRN, re: backup power supply, not to my knowledge, a mobile CP’s generator is already significantly large, literally pickup truck sized. Not to say you can’t have a backup generator, but you’ll need another vehicle for it.

Deja Vu
Deja Vu
October 9, 2014 6:59 am

Military HQ’s appear to grow like Topsey. Reading this sent me to my David and Charles reprint of the “Field Service Pocket Book (1914)” . Also available as a PDF http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/006520644

A Brigade HQ without any computers consisted of 4 + 23 for example. And they commanded four battalions. It does not give the size of a Corps HQ but given the movement during the withdrawal to the Marne I doubt if it was a fraction of the size of HQ ARRC.

I would have thought that IT would be reducing the size of staffs as they have reduced the size of commercial management.

Obsvr
Obsvr
October 9, 2014 9:02 am

IIIRC at the time of ‘hardening & reducing’ Bde and Div HQs, which involved equipping and staffing them to support effective Main and Step-up operating mode, corps HQ had 10 x 1*, 1×2*, 1×3*. Of course corps HQ operated Main, Step-up and Rear and required 3 signals regts and a corps HQ regt. However, Rear was subsequently significantly broken up to dual role logistic branches as rear area HQs to deal with Soviet desant operations.

Armchair J3/5
Armchair J3/5
October 9, 2014 9:21 am

Your article actually answers your question by accident: the issue in any HQ larger than a BG is the sheer size of the area that needs to be covered by mapping: Even with 1:250,000 mapping (e.g. for a major overseas operation) the bird table needed to provide adequate situational awareness for the Comd and J3 staff can easily be 2-3 metres in each direction. And if you are “fortunate” enough to have access to 1:50,000 mapping, even a BG operation may necessitate a 4×4 [OS-sized] maps array to cover all aspects of logistics, fires, air etc.

The other problem with electronic mapping and projection is that of resolution: if it is projected then you cannot read grid references off it, but the screen sizes of typical Bowman screens deny you any SA.

No one has yet produced an ability to project such arrays in anything other than the huge hangar-like facilities that we have increasingly “fixed” ourselves to. And, if/when they do, we just add to to the paraphernalia needed for a CP, and further limit our mobility: I think it very unlikely that any British Brigades (RM, mechanised or other) at present can demonstrate the ability/agility that they all had even 20 years ago to change location every 24-48 hours or so, leap-frogging Main and Step-Up. That’s what Bowman and increased IT has done for us.

DGOS
DGOS
October 9, 2014 9:37 am

Being facetious (and maybe provoking a good tale from RT!)

If there are no edges to maps does this imply no more battles!

monkey
monkey
October 9, 2014 1:14 pm

@Observer
I think fitting UPS ( Uninterruptable Power Supplies not the delivery vans ) to your OPFOR’s critical systems wouldn’t have gone amiss :-)
An don’t forget the ‘Ouija boards’ on US carriers , if anyone should have a reliable power source its a Nimitz class carrier and even they stick to push magnetized miniatures around.
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f0/US_Navy_081021-N-3610L-290_Lt._Ivan_Borja%2C_a_flight_deck_officer_aboard_the_Nimitz-class_aircraft_carrier_USS_Ronald_Reagan_%28CVN_76%29%2C_demonstrates_how_flight_deck_control_utilizes_the_Ouija_board_to_keep_track_of_aircraft_on_th.jpg/1200px-thumbnail.jpg

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
October 9, 2014 1:27 pm

One example I always think of is for damage control on a ship, there are fancy computer systems to sync all incident boards at the control points together, but still they will maintain at least one hardcopy on a whiteboard in case the system goes down. So all these fancy systems won’t replace maps they will just work alongside them.

Observer
Observer
October 9, 2014 1:53 pm

monkey, nope, I don’t think they should. The longer the opfor has problems, the better it is for me! :)

Jonathan
Jonathan
October 10, 2014 7:41 am

@ Engineer Tom

It’s very much the same in the Emergency departments I have worked in. We had great IT systems for tracking patients but we had a big magnetic white board at the front which mapped the department, patients, staff and tasks to do. When the trust chief exec asked me why did we use it when we had an Great IT, my answer was.

1) The white board never broke or stopped working for random reasons
2) anyone can use a marker pen or magnetic dot, so if the cleaner finishes cleaning a cubical they can change the status on the white board, no IT training needed.
3) It’s quicker to change the status of a white board than a computer
4) i could modify the structure of a white board very quickly

So yes both systems work together not replace the other.

Peter Elliott
October 10, 2014 11:10 am

TD can you add some pictures and description of the latest Electonic Charts used by the RN?

Presumably they have similar issues to deal with. I heard for instance that the electronic chart table for the Astutes had to be upsized from the original design to ensure all the necessary information could be seen at a single glance.

Deja Vu
Deja Vu
October 10, 2014 12:29 pm

Peter

As TD explains Astute did not and for all we know does not use* electronic charts apparently not in the spec.

https://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2012/04/hms-astute-grounding-and-paper-charts/

Presumably that is why submarines are so big, so they can lay a map of the Atlantic out on the navigators table . :-)

* A contact was let in 2010 so they may get one in ??? years time. No press release on line to say it was fitted.

monkey
monkey
October 10, 2014 1:42 pm

A German company Fraunhofer makes a clever piece of kit for just such a use .There is a video at the bottom of the link , multiple users can use the device at the same time, add or upload information via placing a tablet device on the screen , it recognises hand gestures (that could be interesting) and much more.
http://www.iosb.fraunhofer.de/servlet/is/36809/
http://www.iosb.fraunhofer.de/servlet/is/4433/Bild01_Lagetisch.jpg

86thLeinster
86thLeinster
October 11, 2014 10:12 pm

The Irish Defense Forces have just developed in-house a map viewer called GeoViewer. Basically its a tool that allows soldier preparing for exercises or operations in Ireland to view, prepare and print maps up to A3 size. Tools in the application include the ability to draw, measure, print text or symbols on the maps. Aerial imagery is also included in the map database. More tools and geographic information can be added as development continues.

Its not as high tech as some of the solutions above but it sounds adaptable to use on tablets and Surface style interfaces.

Actually just reading back over the article the map database that is used is probably more important than the interface ultimately used.

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November 17, 2015 9:48 pm

[…] I would write a quick update to an older post on map boards. In the 2014 post I described a number of technologies that might one day replace the paper map in […]