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Computers and digital data

Electronic calculators took over at the Swiss Federal Office of Topography during the last third of the 20th century. However, they did not become an important working tool with any speed: at first, they were only used for geodetic calculations. By the 1990s, computer-aided processes had gained a foothold in all areas of work.

1959–1982         Ernst Huber
1981–1998         Francis Jeanrichard
1998–2005         Erich Gubler

1941-                     Wabern, Seftigenstrasse 264

1953–1968
Abteilung für Landestopographie
Service topographique
Servizio topografico

1968–1978
Eidgenössische Landestopographie
Service topographique fédéral
Servizio topografico federale

1979–2003
Bundesamt für Landestopographie
Office fédéral de la topographie
Ufficio federale di topografia

The illustration shows a cartographer at swisstopo using the first digital cartographic system, called SciTex. The cartographer used two screens and several keyboards and control panels. In the centre of the photo, there is a touchpad and the cartographer’s electronic pen with which he/she can transfer information to the calculator.
Computer-aided cartography at swisstopo, around 1988 (©swisstopo)

Beginnings

In 1959, the first swisstopo engineer trained at IBM to learn how to program. This was the beginning of the slow displacement of analogue work processes by the digital domain, reaching its climax, thus far, in 2008 with the Topographic Landscape Model (TLM).

Electronic calculators were, however, slow to take over the Swiss Federal Office of Topography, taking many years. At the beginning, programming classes for swisstopo engineers often had no impact on the work of geodesists, topographers and cartographers.

It was only when the Federal Military Department obtained its own data processing centre in 1969 that it was possible to delegate the first calculations to a mainframe computer. The Military Department’s punch card computer calculated adjustment computations for the geodetic networks.

Breakthrough

During the 1970s, computers became increasingly affordable and mass production began; they were thus also more intensively used by the Swiss federal administration.

In 1978, swisstopo acquired its own mainframe computer. The Digital Height Model 25 (DHM25) was the first important digital project at swisstopo. Between 1984 and 1996, it transferred the heights of the National Map to a scale of 1:25,000 completed in 1979 into a digital model.

In the 1980s and 1990s, computers increasingly prevailed at swisstopo. The GPS-supported national survey (from 1987), the editing of the National Maps on-screen and the creation of the VECTOR25 vector dataset (both from 1995) as well as digital photogrammetry (from 1996) are just a few of the landmarks of this development.
 

 

1963: Publication of last sheet of national map (Domodossola)

Publication of last sheet of 1:50,000 national map (no. 285, Domodossola). Entire country now covered in second largest scale and new map replaces 1:50,000 Siegfried Map dating from the 19th century.

1965: Publication of 1:500,000 national map

Publication of 1:500,000 national map. 

1965: Publication of last sheet of national map (Monte Rosa)

Publication of last sheet of 1:100,000 national map (no. 47, Monte Rosa). Entire country now covered in third largest scale and new map replaces Dufour Map dating from the 19th century.

1968: Introduction of updating of national maps in six annual blocks

Introduction of updating of national maps in six annual blocks. This means that maps of one-sixth of the country can be updated each year.

1969: Computer used for the first time for adjustment calculations

For the first time the IBM 360, model 50 computer belonging to the Military Department can be used for adjusting the calculations of geodetic networks (punchcard operation).

1978: Installation of first own computer

Installation of first own computer (Prime 400) with 356 KB RAM and 80 MB harddisk. 

1979: Publication of last sheet of national map (1292, Maggia)

Publication of last sheet of 1:25,000 national map (no. 1292, Maggia). Entire country now covered in third largest scale and new map replaces 1:25,000 Siegfried Map dating from the 19th century.

1984: Commencement of production of digital height model

Commencement of production of 1:25,000 digital height model (DHM25) (until 1996). Initial project named DIKART.

1987: GPS used for surveying for first time

GPS used in national survey for first time. 

1988: Acquisition of four GPS receivers

Acquisition of four GPS receivers. GPS-based surveying now operational. New GPS national survey (LV95) reference network measured in several campaigns (until 1994).

1988: Production of "VECTOR 200"

Compilation of 1:200,000 vector dataset (VECTOR200).

1994: Basic survey for Lötschberg base tunnel using GPS

Basic survey for Lötschberg base tunnel (BLS-AlpTransit) using GPS. 

1995: Commencement of digital production of national maps

Commencement of digital production of national maps with introduction of 1:50,000 editing on screen.

1995: Production of VECTOR 25

Initiation of input of 1:25,000 vector dataset (VECTOR25).

1995: Calculation of new LV95 reference network

Calculation of new high-precision national survey (LV95) reference network that was measured using GPS between 1988 and 1994. Introduction of CH1903+ reference system.

1996: Installation of first CAD systems

Installation of first CAD system for cartography with specially developed "Dry/Nuages" software. Production to commence in 1997 with sheet 1273 (Biasca).

1996: Introduction of digital photogrammetry and orthophoto production

Introduction of digital photogrammetry (aero-triangulation) and orthophoto production following the acquisition of a roll film scanner and a Phodis TS/Phocus system from Zeiss.

1998: Introduction of swipos-NAV positioning service

Definitive introduction of DGPS swiposNAV positioning service via UHF-RDS.


Federal Office of Topography swisstopo Seftigenstrasse 264
P.O. Box
3084 Wabern
Tel.
+41 58 469 01 11

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Federal Office of Topography swisstopo

Seftigenstrasse 264
P.O. Box
3084 Wabern

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