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Caliper adds to New England mapping software cluster May 25, 2009

Posted by Bahadir Sahin in English, Haber (News).
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New England has got to be on any high-tech map of the world. But you may not know that many high-tech maps of the world are also made on New England soil.

The region has a cluster of mapping software companies whose global information system (GIS) solutions go well beyond Google Inc.’s (Nasdaq: GOOG) Google Maps. These companies are moving mountains of geographical data that pinpoint locations for everything from terrorist hunting to oil exploration and the 2010 census.

When the U.S. Census Bureau wanted to wean its 40,000 participating local governments from the paper-based mapping system used in 2000, it turned to Newton-based Caliper Corp. The company has been making mapping systems for 22 years, so it was no problem to create a massive, integrated system designed to allow local governments to bring up to date borders, addresses and geographic features, said vice president of software development Mary LaClair.

“In the last census people could make a digital submission, but almost no one did,” she said. “(The census office) would issue blue packets with colored pencils.”

This year, map revision software has gone out even to localities that still use paper maps in their planning departments, said Census Bureau geography division chief Timothy Trainor. Revised local maps have been uploaded into a database that will be downloaded to handheld computers used by census takers.

“Our goal was to be able to give them in effect a variation of a (geographic information system) that would meet our Census Bureau needs for acquiring data from those partners,” he said. “Once we got that data from them we would share back with them the data that we got so that they could see what we did with it at the end of the day.”

Unlike Caliper, Cambridge-based MetaCarta Inc. doesn’t provide actual maps. Instead, the company’s technology works with other mapping software, parsing natural language and unstructured data to plot definite locations.

The technology works with everything from chatter intercepted by intelligence agencies to blog posts or 30-year-old field notes, said Doug Brenhouse, co-founder and vice president of operations and finance.

“If you were to write an article about how you were in Paris last weekend and you had a great time, we would identify that Paris is a place,” Brenhouse said. “Many people might assume it’s France, but it could be Paris, Texas. We disambiguate based on contextual information what you actually meant.”

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