Spatio-Thematic Query Processing; Vague Spatial Relations; Knowledge Representation; Region Connection Calculus (RCC); Description Logics
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Search engines on the Web are not designed to support spatial queries. While local prepositions, such as “adjacent to”, may be used as strings in a query, they are evaluated according to the frequency of their occurrence in the indexed documents and not according to their meaning in natural language. This proposal addresses the shortcomings of existing search services by developing a framework for the processing of (possibly vague) spatio-thematic queries. The proposed project is limited to a part of Switzerland and to the environmental domain, but it is intended to be in a form that can be scaled up to the global size of the Web and to other domains in the future. The project uses a declarative formalism for representing spatial knowledge. This allows spatial knowledge to be combined with thematic knowledge represented according to an ontology. If the represented spatial relations are linked to local prepositions, such as “close to”, “near”, “next to”, “a short distance outside”, “a long way off”, and “far away from”, then queries using vague spatial concepts can be processed. This requires some additions to the existing theory of spatial knowledge representation.The objectives of the proposed project are to?*develop a theory of vague spatial relations based on the Region Connection Calculus (RCC);?*explore competing implementation strategies for an application to process (possibly vague) spatio-thematic queries;?*evaluate the best approach using a prototype application.One of the implementation strategies for an application supporting the processing of (possibly vague) spatio-thematic queries will be explored in collaboration with the Hamburg University of Technology, Software, Technology, and Systems (STS-TUHH) in the course of their doctoral project GeoDL. This was approved in April 2009 by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG).The proposed project will address a number of significant research questions:1.How can (possibly vague) local prepositions be formalized such that they can be processed according to their intended meaning?2.Which implementation strategies are the most promising in terms of productive use for an application to process (possibly vague) spatio-thematic queries?3.What is the degree of agreement/disagreement between a set of local prepositions, as perceived by human subjects, and the corresponding spatial relations, as computed by the prototype application, for a set of pairs of spatial features?The first question will be addressed in terms of a theory of vague spatial relations and a set of mappings between frequently used local prepositions and (possibly vague) spatial relations. The theory will serve as a basis for the development of a practical application capable of processing (possibly vague) spatio-thematic queries. Addressing the second question will involve describing the conditions under which each strategy is successful, and identify the most promising for productive application. Answering the third question requires identifying a set of (possibly vague) spatial relations that are sufficiently well defined for productive use in an application. The outcomes should add to our knowledge about how geometrical computations in a Geographic Information System (GIS) are combined with reasoning services provided by a knowledge representation system based on description logics in general.The successful project will pave the way for a new kind of “intelligent” application that can be used to solve problems requiring both thematic and spatial knowledge. This can be further developed for potential applications and business innovations in a broad range of industries, such as housing, tourism and media. In the particular context of the search services focused on in this proposal, applications will support users in asking (possibly vague) spatio-thematic queries in a language which is close to their way of thinking. The results of searches using these applications are expected to meet users’ expectations better than those of existing search services in that they take into account the meaning of local prepositions in natural language.