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TOWARD AN ADAPTABLE
             AND INTEROPERABLE
             SPATIAL PROCESSING
               ARCHITECTURE
                          By


                Dr. J. Armando Guevara
                        (c) 1989




aspa 1989
Introduction

A geographic information system (GIS) is composed of a set of building blocks termed
geographic information system procedures (GISP). A GISP is an abstract algorithmic
function of a GIS that allows one to input, process and output describable elements from
a spatial data structure (SDS) and/or spatial data base. Based on this, a GIS can be
defined as a model composed of a set of objects (the spatial data structures) and a set of
operators (the GISP) that perform transformations and/or queries on the spatial objects.

The elements modeled by a GIS are generally imbedded in two-dimensional space and, in
some instances, in two and one-half, and three-dimensional space. In addition to the
elements it manipulates being spatially located, the elements themselves possess a set of
attributes that can be qualitative or quantitatively defined. These attributes can not only
give a description of the spatial elements, but can also become a time component
(changes in time) of the spatial data base. Given this particular nature, GISP must be able
to both query/transform the spatial elements and the attributes associated with those
elements.

GISP are categorized to be the primitive operators of a GIS. In this sense, GISP can be:

        a)   SELECTORS                  -       Capture and select spatial data.
        b)   RECOGNIZERS                -       Structure/search spatial data.
        c)   PROCESSORS                 -       Process spatial data.
        d)   TRANSFORMERS               -       Output spatial data.

Part of the complexity of designing a           GIS and its associated GISP comes from the
multiple target applications that can exist for such a system. To control this complexity
and maintain its genericness, a GIS must suffice answers to the following interoperability
concepts:

        1. Functional interoperability: hardware and OS functional independence.
        2. Data base interoperability: data format independence.
        3. Data structure interoperability: the coexistence of vector, lattice, and raster
           data structures under one data model.
        4. Knowledge interoperability: the utilization of artificial intelligence techniques
           to create data base model usage schemes and create application procedures.
        5. Human interface interoperability: GUI platform independence.
        6. Data transfer interoperability: the ability of a GIS to exist and transfer data
           independent of the hardware platforms.

The above notions, each one, are a complete treaty dealing with digital spatial knowledge,
digital spatial representation, digital spatial data structures, and digital spatial algebra’s. I
emphasize the term digital because I feel that, although human cognition of space can

aspa.doc                                        2
(c) J. Armando Guevara - 1989
give insight into its digital representation, it may not necessarily yield the appropriate
answers needed, for example, to robotic perception.

The manner in which a human finds a path can be drastically different from the way an
algorithm/heuristic will navigate and discriminate a set of geometric objects to find its
way.

As knowledge has been gained on the behavior of spatial algorithms, a functional
categorization emerged (functional breakdown) that has established the basis for
functional interoperability.

Functional interoperability refers to the ability of a GIS to be able to access any data set
(or portion thereof, in a seamless data base) and apply operators without the system losing
track of the data environment and history of the operations performed. Functional
interoperability would allow access to all GISP within one process environment.
Although this has a tremendous power, it is not without its user interface complications.
Further, functional interoperability has implications that at design level force to separate
the functional domain of input, process, and output, into three distinct and separate
functional blocks that “talk to each: via some pre-established or “standard”
communications protocol.

This functional categorization gives way to the basic architecture of a GIS: data input,
data base management, analysis and output. Within each category, different means have
been created to handle the user interface. Menu and command driven functions have
become the main ways of interaction. These functions have a proper protocol to
internally deal with processes. Some are action driven while others are environment
driven.

Action driven functions produce an immediate feedback to the user (e.g., draw a map).
Environment driven functions have a cumulative effect that ends in an action driven
function. Action driven functions are easy to explain and use. Environment driven
functions pose a variety of user interface problems.

A functional interoperable GIS would be mostly environment driven. Such a system
would require knowledge of environment and function tracking procedures. Recognizing
the importance of user interaction with a GIS is the concern of the Human Interface
Interoperability Principle and is key to the life appreciation or depreciation of the system
(how easy or complicated it is to learn and use).


2. GIS Architectural Models

One of the most important concepts introduced in GIS that allows the user to digitally
model spatial relations is that of topology. The various data structures introduced to

aspa.doc                                       3
(c) J. Armando Guevara - 1989
handle geographic data (Morton sequences, Peano curves, quad trees, R-trees, B-trees,
etc.) and their operational data definition (vector, raster, lattice) are mechanisms to bridge
concepts of space and processes to its implementation.

To achieve true interoperability at the functional and the data levels, the design of a
generic GIS system must take into account the integration and management of all data
types (data structures). This would allow a GIS system to handle planimetric data,
surface data and imagery data. Additionally, this notion of spatial interoperability would
hide the physical representation of the model, allowing for multiflexible ways of handling
the model.

The ultimate task of a GIS is to model some aspect of a spatial reality. The model should
include enough information that would allow its user to obtain answers to queries and
infer situations that otherwise would not be possible. Two types of architectures can be
identified:

a) a generic functional model
b) a specific derived model

A generic functional model (GFM) is an architecture made of basic spatial operators that
handle basic spatial primitives like points, lines, areas and surfaces. The model holds
descriptive data about the primitives but does not know about existing relationships. The
model is functionally driven i.e., any further inference about the data aside from primitive
location and basic description is obtained via the spatial operators. The GFM is an open
model that requires only very basic knowledge about the spatial primitives being stored.
Access to this model architecture is done via an internal access programming interface
(API) with a well defined protocol of input and output.

A specific derived model (SDM) is an architecture created by building new constructs
(higher level data types and more complex operators) from established relationships
among the spatial primitives and a linkage is created among compounded spatial
primitives and their descriptive data. The SDM requires a well-understood knowledge of
how the GIS is going to be used and what it is going to model. The SDM in principle
reflects the domain of the target application. The mechanism to enable the SDM is a high
level programming language that implements specific constructs that emulate a “spatial
language”. This spatial language also has its own API.

The relational approach to spatial data handling falls under the GFM category, while the
object oriented approach falls under the SDM. It is important to understand that these
two models are not mutually exclusive, i.e. a GFM can be used to support a SDM.
However, the absence of an underlying GFM in a SDM raises flexibility and performance
issues.



aspa.doc                                      4
(c) J. Armando Guevara - 1989
The GFM has the following characteristics:

1. It comprises a complete taxonomy of spatial operators. This taxonomy is based upon
   the spatial data primitive domains and is aggregated toward more complex domains.
   For example, a line is made of points. Applying operators to these lines and points
   can yield constructs such as path networks or irregular triangular networks. The
   domain of the operators have a basic taxonomy that has at its main nodes in the
   software tree structure input, process and output. Input can then be further categorized
   as digitizing table, scanner, file, etc. Yet the details of the input stream are “hidden”
   from the Input API.
2. It should allow for dynamic relationship construction via spatial operators. The case
   above of points/lines => TIN, or points/splines => COGO. Topology is another
   example of building explicit relationship via operators.
3. Compounding of spatial primitives should be done efficiently without restrictions or
   constraints. The compounding can still yield a more complex GFM.

Internally, the GFM follows a similar structure to that described in the Digital Line Graph
- extended, with the exception that at the lowest level of the model, relationships are not
  explicitly stored.

The SDM has the following characteristics:

1. Relationships between spatial primitives are pre-established in the model based on
   behavioral, procedural, and transactional facts. These facts make the SDM schema,
   the process rules or the application requirements.
2. Mutations on the spatial primitives must be done efficiently via API using high level
   standard languages. Mutations such as aggregation (compounding) and
   disaggregation (uncompounding) can still yield a more complex or simpler SDM.

The SDM would be the basic model for object oriented transactions, user interfaces based
on graphical components and seamless environments where the application must access a
variety of data types across multiple platforms. Both the GFM and the SDM must allow
for the following types of data base queries:

a) Spatial Context: given an unambiguous geometric definition extract from the data
   base, all elements selected by the geometric definition.
b) Spatial Conditional Context: given an unambiguous geometric definition and a
   condition expressed in terms of the stored descriptive data, extract from the data base
   all elements selected by the geometric definition and that suffice the descriptive
   condition given.
c) Descriptive Context: given a descriptive data element, extract for the data base all
   elements that match the one given.
d) Descriptive Conditional Context: given a descriptive data element and a condition
   expressed in terms of the given element, extract from the data base all elements
   selected that suffice the descriptive condition given.
aspa.doc                                     5
(c) J. Armando Guevara - 1989
The conjunction of a GFM and a SDM would give the user the ability to perform spatial
operations at various levels of complexity and integration. GFM and SDM bring the
ability for a GIS to be flexible and application independent.

Finally, both the GFM and the SDM must maintain the data base interoperability concept
(i.e., preserve the notion of a continuous physical space underlying the data model across
multiple platforms).


3 Toward an Adaptable Spatial Processing Architecture

A modern GIS is expected to be able to integrate a different variety of data sources, which
will be used in many ways and also under a wide range of support decision making. The
nature of separate user views of the same data base accompany a series of (sometimes
conflicting) demands to the GIS designer that must somehow be met to guarantee the
usefulness and longevity of the system. In synthesis, a GIS is a multidisciplinary tool that
must allow for interdisciplinary support. Specialized spatial information systems are not
multidisciplinary tools, thus are very restrictive in regards to what can be done with them.

An Adaptable Spatial Processing Architecture (ASPA) is what is needed to meet the
demands of both multidisciplinary and specialized applications. ASPA fundamentals are
based on a GFM that has a set of functional (GISP) primitives clearly defined that allows
the automatic construction of a SDM. ASPA would be an expert monitor based on a high
level language consisting of spatial operators that have definable hierarchical constructs.
These spatial operators can be organized following a programmable schema that would
allow them to generate the SDM. ASPA would work in conjunction with a data base
management system (DBMS). The DBMS would respond to both spatial and nonspatial
operators. The heart of ASPA and the DBMS would be a GFM.

The spatial operators and spatial data structures that ASPA are built upon are based on
the five basic software engineering principles of modularity, encapsulation, localization,
uniformity, and confirmability applied through the concept of abstraction at the design
level of the SDM. Key to ASPA is functional and data interoperability.

The interactions across the GFM and the SDM will be accompanied by rules governing
the interrelations between them. There are two important rules borrowed from the
concept of levels of abstraction. The first concerns resources: each level has resources
which it owns exclusively and which other levels are not permitted to access. The second
involves the hierarchy: lower levels are not aware of the existence of higher levels and,
therefore, may not refer to them in any way. Higher levels may appeal to the external
functions of lower levels to perform tasks and also appeal to them to obtain information
contained in the resources of the lower levels. This abstraction is effectively implemented
and managed via a well defined API.

aspa.doc                                     6
(c) J. Armando Guevara - 1989
In this respect, the lowest level of abstraction is composed of the GFM, a clearly defined
set of spatial operators (selectors, processors, recognizers, transformers) and a DBMS.

A GIS must be data and system (OS, Hardware) independent. Multiple application
targets should be allowed between the GFM, SDM, and any external to the GIS functional
and data source. Similarly, the levels of abstractions induced in the GISP should allow
the GIS to perform identically on different computers with no user intervention when
doing the application targets.

By separating input, process and data, and establishing a clear communication protocol
(API) the GFM and SDM architectures provide for a mechanism to target end-users and
applications that are not purely GIS in nature but require of some kind of spatial
operations.

4. Conclusion

GIS technology has finally taken off in the eyes of the world; but it really is only the
beginning of a great adventure!

As GIS users become more knowledgeable and demanding, the strength and goodness of
a design is truly discovered. The notions of interoperability presented above are very
important issues that need to be covered for a successful design. In my experience along
with the internal algorithmic robustness and data base consistence and integrity,
flexibility and user friendliness (magic words) are today the most relevant points to be
considered from the outcome of what is to be an adaptable spatial processing architecture.

We should avoid making the mistake made during the 70’s when authors entrenched
themselves about whether raster data structures were better than vector structures. None
and both were the answers. As we move toward more sophisticated systems and users,
we must not lose track of the flexibility geographic information systems must have. GIS
are multidisciplinary tools. Fixed schemes will hinder GIS usage.

The GFM and SDM architectural approaches, implemented with spatial operators that
communicate to the input (interface of the application) and output (say cartographic
production) via a well defined API, should provide the most portable, interoperable and
flexible mechanism for spatial tool construction. It is most likely that as GIS evolves, the
nature of spatial data handling will evolve into more everyday type of applications. For
that to happen, new views must be taken into consideration on how we design and build
these spatial tools.




aspa.doc                                      7
(c) J. Armando Guevara - 1989

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Towards and adaptable spatial processing architecture

  • 1. TOWARD AN ADAPTABLE AND INTEROPERABLE SPATIAL PROCESSING ARCHITECTURE By Dr. J. Armando Guevara (c) 1989 aspa 1989
  • 2. Introduction A geographic information system (GIS) is composed of a set of building blocks termed geographic information system procedures (GISP). A GISP is an abstract algorithmic function of a GIS that allows one to input, process and output describable elements from a spatial data structure (SDS) and/or spatial data base. Based on this, a GIS can be defined as a model composed of a set of objects (the spatial data structures) and a set of operators (the GISP) that perform transformations and/or queries on the spatial objects. The elements modeled by a GIS are generally imbedded in two-dimensional space and, in some instances, in two and one-half, and three-dimensional space. In addition to the elements it manipulates being spatially located, the elements themselves possess a set of attributes that can be qualitative or quantitatively defined. These attributes can not only give a description of the spatial elements, but can also become a time component (changes in time) of the spatial data base. Given this particular nature, GISP must be able to both query/transform the spatial elements and the attributes associated with those elements. GISP are categorized to be the primitive operators of a GIS. In this sense, GISP can be: a) SELECTORS - Capture and select spatial data. b) RECOGNIZERS - Structure/search spatial data. c) PROCESSORS - Process spatial data. d) TRANSFORMERS - Output spatial data. Part of the complexity of designing a GIS and its associated GISP comes from the multiple target applications that can exist for such a system. To control this complexity and maintain its genericness, a GIS must suffice answers to the following interoperability concepts: 1. Functional interoperability: hardware and OS functional independence. 2. Data base interoperability: data format independence. 3. Data structure interoperability: the coexistence of vector, lattice, and raster data structures under one data model. 4. Knowledge interoperability: the utilization of artificial intelligence techniques to create data base model usage schemes and create application procedures. 5. Human interface interoperability: GUI platform independence. 6. Data transfer interoperability: the ability of a GIS to exist and transfer data independent of the hardware platforms. The above notions, each one, are a complete treaty dealing with digital spatial knowledge, digital spatial representation, digital spatial data structures, and digital spatial algebra’s. I emphasize the term digital because I feel that, although human cognition of space can aspa.doc 2 (c) J. Armando Guevara - 1989
  • 3. give insight into its digital representation, it may not necessarily yield the appropriate answers needed, for example, to robotic perception. The manner in which a human finds a path can be drastically different from the way an algorithm/heuristic will navigate and discriminate a set of geometric objects to find its way. As knowledge has been gained on the behavior of spatial algorithms, a functional categorization emerged (functional breakdown) that has established the basis for functional interoperability. Functional interoperability refers to the ability of a GIS to be able to access any data set (or portion thereof, in a seamless data base) and apply operators without the system losing track of the data environment and history of the operations performed. Functional interoperability would allow access to all GISP within one process environment. Although this has a tremendous power, it is not without its user interface complications. Further, functional interoperability has implications that at design level force to separate the functional domain of input, process, and output, into three distinct and separate functional blocks that “talk to each: via some pre-established or “standard” communications protocol. This functional categorization gives way to the basic architecture of a GIS: data input, data base management, analysis and output. Within each category, different means have been created to handle the user interface. Menu and command driven functions have become the main ways of interaction. These functions have a proper protocol to internally deal with processes. Some are action driven while others are environment driven. Action driven functions produce an immediate feedback to the user (e.g., draw a map). Environment driven functions have a cumulative effect that ends in an action driven function. Action driven functions are easy to explain and use. Environment driven functions pose a variety of user interface problems. A functional interoperable GIS would be mostly environment driven. Such a system would require knowledge of environment and function tracking procedures. Recognizing the importance of user interaction with a GIS is the concern of the Human Interface Interoperability Principle and is key to the life appreciation or depreciation of the system (how easy or complicated it is to learn and use). 2. GIS Architectural Models One of the most important concepts introduced in GIS that allows the user to digitally model spatial relations is that of topology. The various data structures introduced to aspa.doc 3 (c) J. Armando Guevara - 1989
  • 4. handle geographic data (Morton sequences, Peano curves, quad trees, R-trees, B-trees, etc.) and their operational data definition (vector, raster, lattice) are mechanisms to bridge concepts of space and processes to its implementation. To achieve true interoperability at the functional and the data levels, the design of a generic GIS system must take into account the integration and management of all data types (data structures). This would allow a GIS system to handle planimetric data, surface data and imagery data. Additionally, this notion of spatial interoperability would hide the physical representation of the model, allowing for multiflexible ways of handling the model. The ultimate task of a GIS is to model some aspect of a spatial reality. The model should include enough information that would allow its user to obtain answers to queries and infer situations that otherwise would not be possible. Two types of architectures can be identified: a) a generic functional model b) a specific derived model A generic functional model (GFM) is an architecture made of basic spatial operators that handle basic spatial primitives like points, lines, areas and surfaces. The model holds descriptive data about the primitives but does not know about existing relationships. The model is functionally driven i.e., any further inference about the data aside from primitive location and basic description is obtained via the spatial operators. The GFM is an open model that requires only very basic knowledge about the spatial primitives being stored. Access to this model architecture is done via an internal access programming interface (API) with a well defined protocol of input and output. A specific derived model (SDM) is an architecture created by building new constructs (higher level data types and more complex operators) from established relationships among the spatial primitives and a linkage is created among compounded spatial primitives and their descriptive data. The SDM requires a well-understood knowledge of how the GIS is going to be used and what it is going to model. The SDM in principle reflects the domain of the target application. The mechanism to enable the SDM is a high level programming language that implements specific constructs that emulate a “spatial language”. This spatial language also has its own API. The relational approach to spatial data handling falls under the GFM category, while the object oriented approach falls under the SDM. It is important to understand that these two models are not mutually exclusive, i.e. a GFM can be used to support a SDM. However, the absence of an underlying GFM in a SDM raises flexibility and performance issues. aspa.doc 4 (c) J. Armando Guevara - 1989
  • 5. The GFM has the following characteristics: 1. It comprises a complete taxonomy of spatial operators. This taxonomy is based upon the spatial data primitive domains and is aggregated toward more complex domains. For example, a line is made of points. Applying operators to these lines and points can yield constructs such as path networks or irregular triangular networks. The domain of the operators have a basic taxonomy that has at its main nodes in the software tree structure input, process and output. Input can then be further categorized as digitizing table, scanner, file, etc. Yet the details of the input stream are “hidden” from the Input API. 2. It should allow for dynamic relationship construction via spatial operators. The case above of points/lines => TIN, or points/splines => COGO. Topology is another example of building explicit relationship via operators. 3. Compounding of spatial primitives should be done efficiently without restrictions or constraints. The compounding can still yield a more complex GFM. Internally, the GFM follows a similar structure to that described in the Digital Line Graph - extended, with the exception that at the lowest level of the model, relationships are not explicitly stored. The SDM has the following characteristics: 1. Relationships between spatial primitives are pre-established in the model based on behavioral, procedural, and transactional facts. These facts make the SDM schema, the process rules or the application requirements. 2. Mutations on the spatial primitives must be done efficiently via API using high level standard languages. Mutations such as aggregation (compounding) and disaggregation (uncompounding) can still yield a more complex or simpler SDM. The SDM would be the basic model for object oriented transactions, user interfaces based on graphical components and seamless environments where the application must access a variety of data types across multiple platforms. Both the GFM and the SDM must allow for the following types of data base queries: a) Spatial Context: given an unambiguous geometric definition extract from the data base, all elements selected by the geometric definition. b) Spatial Conditional Context: given an unambiguous geometric definition and a condition expressed in terms of the stored descriptive data, extract from the data base all elements selected by the geometric definition and that suffice the descriptive condition given. c) Descriptive Context: given a descriptive data element, extract for the data base all elements that match the one given. d) Descriptive Conditional Context: given a descriptive data element and a condition expressed in terms of the given element, extract from the data base all elements selected that suffice the descriptive condition given. aspa.doc 5 (c) J. Armando Guevara - 1989
  • 6. The conjunction of a GFM and a SDM would give the user the ability to perform spatial operations at various levels of complexity and integration. GFM and SDM bring the ability for a GIS to be flexible and application independent. Finally, both the GFM and the SDM must maintain the data base interoperability concept (i.e., preserve the notion of a continuous physical space underlying the data model across multiple platforms). 3 Toward an Adaptable Spatial Processing Architecture A modern GIS is expected to be able to integrate a different variety of data sources, which will be used in many ways and also under a wide range of support decision making. The nature of separate user views of the same data base accompany a series of (sometimes conflicting) demands to the GIS designer that must somehow be met to guarantee the usefulness and longevity of the system. In synthesis, a GIS is a multidisciplinary tool that must allow for interdisciplinary support. Specialized spatial information systems are not multidisciplinary tools, thus are very restrictive in regards to what can be done with them. An Adaptable Spatial Processing Architecture (ASPA) is what is needed to meet the demands of both multidisciplinary and specialized applications. ASPA fundamentals are based on a GFM that has a set of functional (GISP) primitives clearly defined that allows the automatic construction of a SDM. ASPA would be an expert monitor based on a high level language consisting of spatial operators that have definable hierarchical constructs. These spatial operators can be organized following a programmable schema that would allow them to generate the SDM. ASPA would work in conjunction with a data base management system (DBMS). The DBMS would respond to both spatial and nonspatial operators. The heart of ASPA and the DBMS would be a GFM. The spatial operators and spatial data structures that ASPA are built upon are based on the five basic software engineering principles of modularity, encapsulation, localization, uniformity, and confirmability applied through the concept of abstraction at the design level of the SDM. Key to ASPA is functional and data interoperability. The interactions across the GFM and the SDM will be accompanied by rules governing the interrelations between them. There are two important rules borrowed from the concept of levels of abstraction. The first concerns resources: each level has resources which it owns exclusively and which other levels are not permitted to access. The second involves the hierarchy: lower levels are not aware of the existence of higher levels and, therefore, may not refer to them in any way. Higher levels may appeal to the external functions of lower levels to perform tasks and also appeal to them to obtain information contained in the resources of the lower levels. This abstraction is effectively implemented and managed via a well defined API. aspa.doc 6 (c) J. Armando Guevara - 1989
  • 7. In this respect, the lowest level of abstraction is composed of the GFM, a clearly defined set of spatial operators (selectors, processors, recognizers, transformers) and a DBMS. A GIS must be data and system (OS, Hardware) independent. Multiple application targets should be allowed between the GFM, SDM, and any external to the GIS functional and data source. Similarly, the levels of abstractions induced in the GISP should allow the GIS to perform identically on different computers with no user intervention when doing the application targets. By separating input, process and data, and establishing a clear communication protocol (API) the GFM and SDM architectures provide for a mechanism to target end-users and applications that are not purely GIS in nature but require of some kind of spatial operations. 4. Conclusion GIS technology has finally taken off in the eyes of the world; but it really is only the beginning of a great adventure! As GIS users become more knowledgeable and demanding, the strength and goodness of a design is truly discovered. The notions of interoperability presented above are very important issues that need to be covered for a successful design. In my experience along with the internal algorithmic robustness and data base consistence and integrity, flexibility and user friendliness (magic words) are today the most relevant points to be considered from the outcome of what is to be an adaptable spatial processing architecture. We should avoid making the mistake made during the 70’s when authors entrenched themselves about whether raster data structures were better than vector structures. None and both were the answers. As we move toward more sophisticated systems and users, we must not lose track of the flexibility geographic information systems must have. GIS are multidisciplinary tools. Fixed schemes will hinder GIS usage. The GFM and SDM architectural approaches, implemented with spatial operators that communicate to the input (interface of the application) and output (say cartographic production) via a well defined API, should provide the most portable, interoperable and flexible mechanism for spatial tool construction. It is most likely that as GIS evolves, the nature of spatial data handling will evolve into more everyday type of applications. For that to happen, new views must be taken into consideration on how we design and build these spatial tools. aspa.doc 7 (c) J. Armando Guevara - 1989