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A Super Map for Soldiers or Other Travelers

November 12, 2004 —
Meet the 21st century map.  The military already has it and the rest of us soon will.
Decades worth of detailed, accumulated geographical information is now available to front-line troops in a concentrated, portable, easy-to-use laptop package created by the USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering.
HeraclesMaps can instantly solve life-and-death tactical questions like, "Help us find a route from point A to point B where we cannot be observed (or shot at) by someone at point C."
It can instantly dissect the geography of a city, displaying man-made features such as buildings, the electrical power grid, railway tracks, roads, pathways and much more both in map and photographic form.  After intensive trials over a five-year development period, it is now in use by selected units of the U.S. armed forces in training.
Computer scientist Craig Knoblock of the Viterbi School’s Information Sciences Institute (ISI) led a team that developed the system working with specialist veteran consultants.  
Knoblock says that the main challenge was that information "obtained from various data sources may have different projections, different accuracy levels, and different inconsistencies. The applications that integrate information from various geospatial data sources must be able to overcome these inconsistencies accurately, in real-time and for large regions." HeraclesMaps digests satellite imagery, mapping data, and allows users to access the full range of the data quickly and intuitively through an interface that anticipates questions.
"This material had been distributed on multiple CDs that, essentially only specialists could use," says Knoblock. "HeraclesMaps lets strategic and tactical planners ask their own questions and get their own answers, on the spot, instantly and easily, using a portable laptop computer"
According to Knoblock, HeraclesMaps has many potential civilian applications including an extremely powerful travel planner. The Heracles Project, the parent of HeraclesMaps, uses a variety of powerful tools including artificial intelligence agents to extract and dynamically reconfigure information from diverse sources. Other Heracles applications can potentially add data from online or other sources, so one might access additional databases to highlight, for example, the cheapest fuel available, or all-night restaurants serving a specific cuisine.
Knoblock is a senior project leader at ISI and a research associate professor of computer science.  For his work on such agent-driven information collection and organization systems, Knoblock was this year honored by being elected a fellow of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence, one of only six researchers worldwide so honored in 2004.