UW Maps

Mapping the Future

Posted on by Margaret Murray. This entry was posted in Engaging Interests. Bookmark the permalink.

Did you know that the University of Washington is one of the world’s leaders in interior mapping? I didn’t, until I spoke with Aaron Cheuvront at the Capital Projects Office. He has been working for over a decade to bring University floor plans into the computer age, and he has cutting edge ideas for how Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping could make all our work lives easier and safer. From finding an office on another part of campus to helping first responders in the event of an emergency, maps are the key to managing UW and Harborview’s 25 million gross square feet of building space. Aaron’s passion helped me to realize that maps can do more than I ever imagined. The following is based on our conversation.

Why do we need interior maps?
Most simply, for finding rooms. As a freshmen, for example, finding your classes is so, so difficult. We have some buildings where the logic of the room numbers isn’t clear, or it’s not even clear which floor you’re on when you enter the building. Or you find the room, and the professor has left a note saying the room has been moved! Where is the new room? Imagine if the student could scan a QR code to find out where the new room was, or use an app on their phone to navigate inside our buildings.

The other reason is so that we can do space inventory and reporting. How much lab space do we have? Classrooms? How does this compare to other institutions of higher learning? Having this information allows us to save time and money by making smart decisions.

What makes UW’s maps special?
In 2001 we became one of the first places in the world to use GIS for interior mapping. GIS is almost always used for big exterior maps: weather mapping, Google maps, flood planes, that sort of thing. We are literally redefining how the software is used–no training exists.

So why use it?
GIS is a technology that visualizes data, and a picture is worth 1,000 words. We used to send people a questionnaire about their offices and rooms, and the information we’d get back was incomplete and inaccurate. But when we show people a picture of their space, they will point out exactly what is wrong. People really take ownership of that visual, down to which way a door swings open. In fact, we used to use colored pencils to draw on floor plans because the visuals are just so important! GIS is the technical version of that, but with much more detail. You’d wear through the paper if you tried to put all the information on one floor plan.

So what data could go on these interior maps?
Everything! The location of smoke detectors, HVAC systems, plumbing, lighting, fire alarms, accessible routes, equipment, ceiling access doors… all that information is stored in manuals that no one looks at. Our goal is to have a centralized map with real-time info so that work doesn’t get duplicated. Right now, it’s easier for Facilities Management to do a field audit than it is to find the information they need about a particular building.

UW Maps

What are you currently working on?
Right now someone from Health Sciences Administration has to walk emergency responders around because it’s a maze over there–that’s bad. We shouldn’t have to put our people in danger. We’re working with UWPD on a prototype for an indoor navigation system.

Where do you see this going in the future?
In the future I would like to see a small dedicated CAD/GIS mapping department that could support all departments and either create maps or integrate existing maps and data into a more consistent, integrated, format. Not to take over data or drafting done for department needs, but to support them with the technology and make data available for everyone who needs it, which would greatly reduce the duplication of effort being done now. We are currently working with mostly temporary funding.

Once you build a critical mass of data, you get all sorts of benefits. We could identify safe paths based on construction zones, lighting, ADA–that’s not possible without putting all that data together. I have no idea what else we could do if we centralized the data, but my goal is to get other people thinking about it.

What is currently available for faculty and staff that they may not know about?
On our showcase website there are floor plans (CADVault link), a floor plan change request system (GIS Floorplans link), and some other information. Future templates and training material will be posted there as well. If there’s enough interest I can start holding regular training sessions in a lab environment.

Anyone is welcome to contact us about a project need that we might be able to help with. For example, we’re working with EH&S to help them redesign their radiation lab survey process based on GIS.


UPDATE: The video and prototype above was developed by Esri Canada in collaboration with Aaron.  Thank you to Esri Canada for donating their time and effort to this endeavor! Further information on the routing app and its development can be obtained from Dr. Brent Hall, Director of Education and Research at Esri Canada (bhall@esri.ca).


aaron cheuvrontAaron Cheuvront has been working at UW for over 10 years. In his spare time, he’s using his mapping expertise to help the Puyallup School District integrate their floor plans, which are maintained by high school students, with GIS for operations use and emergency response. His hope is to design a process that can be repeated with any school district in the state.

12 Thoughts on “Mapping the Future”

On February 11, 2014 at 1:48 pm, Kimberly Mishra said:

As a UW colleague with NO sense of direction, I love to hearing an expert say that, “the logic of the room numbers isn’t clear, or it’s not even clear which floor you’re on when you enter the building.” It is not just me!


On April 9, 2014 at 7:09 am, Dan said:

I’d be interested in the building maintenance/ asset management side of things on this topic. The article alludes to this with the screen shots but does not go into much detail. How is this similar/ different from existing BIM systems and applications?


    On April 9, 2014 at 2:16 pm, Aaron Cheuvront said:

    We are just starting to explore how we can use the system for asset management. While CAD and BIM are traditional tools used for this they are limited by only being able to see a floor or a building at time. Also, the data really does need to be in a data management system and not just stored in a graphics application. This is why CAFM and CMMS systems exists. The challenge is the cost and/or complexity of linking the graphics to the data and producing visuals and analysis tools across the entire inventory.

    This is just my opinion, but using a realistic 3D model to display data is not just overkill, it’s overwhelming. It is better to have a schematic graphic with data attached that conveys the information quickly than a pretty picture of the thing I am already looking at. Of course this is referring to facility management tasks not construction/design. BIM is obviously the right solution for that. When the need arises to locate a piece of equipment, a symbol on a map works just as well, if not better, than a 3D model of the equipment.

    We have recently purchased InVision FM from PenBay Solutions and will be using that for at least some of out asset management needs. http://www.penbaysolutions.com/invision-fm


On April 9, 2014 at 8:26 am, Rhonda Perozzo said:

Aaron… this is really cool! I would love to do this just at my work place. Do you have any insights in how you went about doing this… any papers? Thanks for sharing!


On April 9, 2014 at 9:19 am, Dan Bartholomew said:

Do you have any standards for room and space numbering that you could share?


On April 9, 2014 at 9:25 am, Sherwin said:

This could supplement/complement our space planning system.


On April 9, 2014 at 9:49 am, Douglas Corkery said:

Kudos! I too am going down the same development pathway for our institution. Nice to hear of a success story in neighbouring universities! I would be very interested in understanding your development timeline to have gotten to your current state – 5 years? 10 years?


    On April 9, 2014 at 2:01 pm, Aaron Cheuvront said:

    I started working on this in 2001 but we went though a major revision in 2009 and I am working on another major revision now.


On April 9, 2014 at 2:22 pm, Aaron Cheuvront said:

I have a new video out that shows how we manage the CAD environment and prepare it for GIS. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXXK1lOpXrY
This is a manual version of our more automated process.


On April 13, 2014 at 12:35 pm, Michael Rendler said:

Looks good but check.”integrated model” Los Angeles Community College Built in 10 years starting in 2004 with a comprehensive BIM/CIM/GIS/Game Engine operational model. All built with Community College Students in the District. A comprehensive life cycle data model with SAP.


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