Flex/Flash/Actionscript, Maps

Not Your Mamma’s Maps

My most recent work at Universal Mind has been focused on developing data analysis tools for geospatial and temporal data. Basically that means making sweet Flex mapping apps. Our current project has been dubbed LaunchPAD, and you can read more on the Universal Mind website.

Analysis through space and time
The time element of a dataset is an important piece that we’re focusing on. In nearly all mapping applications I see on the web the time aspect is completely ignored. There are some exceptions to this (the Oakland Crimespotting site being a great example), but overall time gets the shaft. We’re trying to expose time as a powerful method to drill down into a dataset. About halfway through the video below I talk about what we’re doing with the timeline in LaunchPAD.

Data Analysis Framework
We’re building a framework to analyze data in space and time. We’re not building an application to analyze police data (although the tools we’re developing work really well to analyze police data). The demo video mostly focuses on the police scenario because that’s one that we’re most actively pursuing, but the idea is that LaunchPAD can apply to any dataset that has spatial and temporal aspects. Near the end of the video I show an example of pulling in current earthquake data from a GeoRSS feed and using the same toolset to analyze that data.

AS3 Mapping APIs
I’ve been working with a few of the AS3 mapping APIs, in my previous post about MapMyPix I mention working with the MapQuest API. I’ve also been working heavily with the ESRI API, and this is what we’ve used to create LaunchPAD.

Video Demonstration
I did a video demo walking through some of the features we’ve been working on. It’s kind of long, close to 6 minutes, so feel free to skim it and jump around if your ADD kicks in (I added some bookmarks to the video so you can jump to specific parts). And yes, I know I had the mic too close to my mouth, I was going for the sensual phone-sex operator voice, but I don’t think that turned out quite right.

Live Demo
You can play with a live demo version of the software. So if you’re too cool for school to watch explanatory videos, just pull up the demo app and start playing around. You’ll figure it out. Make sure to turn on the heatmap option 🙂


18 thoughts on “Not Your Mamma’s Maps

  1. Really nice work Doug. Out of curiosity, are you using any bitmap caching to pre-composite the various layers together? The dragging feels like it can get a little chunky — I’m wondering if that’s at all due to rendering performance, and if so, did you experiment with caching to improve it.


  2. @Ely – map performance is one of the next things I’m focusing my energy on. We’re always struggling to figure out where the performance bottlenecks are that we can control (ie not the deep map API issues) and what we’re more at the mercy of ESRI’s API team. We’re definitely aware that the map gets way too slow to pan and zoom (and you haven’t even tried some of the larger datasets we’re working with). I’m going to be exploring various different strategies (ie showing/hiding markers versus removing them from the map, playing with bitmapCaching, etc). I’m hoping that enough is within my control, but some of the performance issue might just be inherent in the map component. Good news is that we have an open line of communication with the ESRI team, so hopefully we can work it all out. Another unfortunate thing is that ESRI’s map component doesn’t yet support Flex 3, so I can’ drop the app into the Profiler to figure out whose methods are killing performance.

  3. The team at Stamen Design did some great work with map data visualization as well. The neat thing about their application (http://hindsight.trulia.com/) is that you can play an animation nd see the information change overtop of the map as it goes through the timeline. Might be something to consider – its neat to add that 4th dimension to the app.
    I blogged about this a while back: http://www.riapedia.com/2007/06/14/hindsight_isnt_only_20_20_in_this_case_its_beautiful_too


  4. @Mike – Yup, Stamen does some great work, they’re the ones behind the Oakland crime example I mentioned too. They clearly “get it” when it comes to maps, and they execute beautifully. We’re definitely going to add in the ability to play the animation (imagine that with heatmaps, oooh, aah). Play functionality was actually in a prior prototype of LaunchPAD, but I took it out to simplify things for this release. Still trying to figure out the best UI to include the ability to play the animation, but just know it’s something that’s on our short-term radar.

  5. Shemesh_I says:

    this is a real nice app. i liked the hit map. any chance u’ll discuss how u did that? maybe an example too?

    question: the constantly-moving-locations-of-cars… how do u get this info?
    do u have call to the server every 1 second?

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  8. James says:


    This is really a nice application such is I am looking for a long time and I am also trying ESRI Arcwebservices as well but with a lot of 1046 problem with the widget design. Do you mind to tell a little bit about your experience regards to the ESRO widget design? Thanks !

  9. Palmer says:


    I am a Headhunter specializing in Web 2.0/3.0 arena and have been retained by geospatial client in DC area to find them a Flash/Actionscript Developer who can spearhead their visualization efforts.

    Stock options with potential worth of millions plus salary/benefits package well above the norm make this a compelling opportunity.

    Development and executive team are all top of this space and we are looking for creative, geospatial Developer with strong Flash/ActionScript abilities (and portfolio).

    I’ve been doing this for many years and this is one of two clients (both related in coard of directors) that offers unique position to earn life-changing income…similar to joining Google and AOL in the “early” days.

    Call me at 703-448-0050 or email me at psuk@snellingva.com…would like your expert advice on who to talk to!

    Thank you! Palmer Suk

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  11. Francois says:

    Excellent work Doug! Are you using ArcGIS api for flex? And are there examples in your flex book for dummies of something less involved than this?


  12. @Francois, that demo video was using the discontinued ArcWeb platform (prior to the release of the Flex component for ArcGIS server). But this mapping application has evolved into what is now http://www.spatialkey.com, and that now uses the MapQuest API instead of ArcWeb (but we are able to swap out map providers if we want).

    And sadly, no, there is no mention of mapping applications at all in the dummies book 🙂

  13. Hamish says:

    Hmmm…I was wondering – what’s happened to ‘LaunchPAD’ application demo??? I want to try it, but it’s missing from the site. Do you have an alternative link?

    Hamish, New Zealand.

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