Feature Talk: Prof. Sergio Rey talks about PySAL, Open Source & Academia

We’re really pleased to announce that on Wednesday, 22 February Professor Sergio Rey, of the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at Arizona State University will be discussing the Python Spatial Analysis Library (PySAL). His talk will provide an overview of PySAL and illustrate key components of the library drawing on examples from regional inequality dynamics and urban analysis.

Future plans for PySAL and related projects will also be outlined. Lessons learned in directing a distributed, open source project will be shared with a particular emphasis on the challenges and opportunities found at the intersection of open source and the academy.

The talk will be followed by drinks and a chance to speak informally with Prof. Rey, or just to mingle and chat with other researchers.


Wednesday 22 February at 5:30pm


Room S-3.20, Strand Building, WC2R 2LS


Download the flyer: serge-rey-talk-22-february.

Better regulation through ‘Big Data’?

This Thursday 23rd June, Alex Griffiths from the School of Management & Business will give a seminar on the use of ‘big data’ in regulating public service provision. 

Better regulation through ‘Big Data’:
A triumph of hope over reality?

 Alex Griffiths, School of Management & Business, King’s College London
10:30-12:30, Thursday 23 June 2016
Room K1.26, King’s Building, King’s College London, Strand, London, UK

‘Big data’ enthusiasts often claim that data analytics is the key to better regulation and improved public service provision. By harnessing the power of big data, regulators can identify those service providers at greatest risk of non-compliance and target their interventions accordingly. This promises both to concentrate regulatory efforts where improvements are needed most, while freeing others from unnecessary scrutiny.  Whilst such data-led approaches have been widely adopted in the private sector, whether in credit scoring loan applicants, or recommending similar products to online shoppers, to what extent can they be successfully extended to the regulation of public services?

This seminar evaluates two extant data-driven approaches to regulating healthcare quality, before assessing whether machine-learning techniques can provide a more effective means of targeting regulatory resources in health and higher education. The presentation concludes with a discussion on the preconditions necessary for a successful ‘big data’ approach.

Directions: From main Strand reception, go straight ahead down the corridor. Turn left into the East Wing corridor just after the vending machine, the following rooms are up the small staircase to your immediate right: K1.26 (21B): King’s Building

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GeoComputation – The Next 20 Years

Last December we held a workshop at King’s on the Future of Geocomputation. Now we’re looking forward to participating in another day of Geocomputation discussion, this time at the Royal Geographical Society Annual Meeting 2016 in London on 31st August.

Ed Manley, Nick Malleson, Alison Heppenstall and Andrew Evans are convening two presentation sessions and a panel discussion at the RGS conference, entitled GeoComputation – The Next 20 Years. The session name is a reference to the 1st International Conference on GeoComputation held in Leeds in 1996. Next year, another Leeds GeoComputation conference is planned to reflecting on the successes initiated by the original meeting started and to consider future directions.

In the meantime, at this year’s RGS Annual Conference geographers who use computational techniques will speculate on the future of this area of research. What will The Internet of Things mean for geography? What about group cognition modelling? In the first session of the day I will be speaking about some of the things we learned from our workshop in December. Then later in the day Jon and Faith will be on the panel for the discussion about where GeoComputation is heading and what we should look out for over the next 20 years.

Registration for the RGS Annual Meeting is now open, with earlybird registration closing Friday 10th June. Hope to see some of you there for lots of interesting discussions!

Talk: Urban hierarchies and scaling laws

This afternoon’s seminar by CASA’s Dr. Elsa Arcaute will be of interest to a wide range of students and staff at King’s – with a background in theoretical physics and complexity, Elsa now studies how urban and regional systems scale and divide, and how these aspects are expressed in infrastructure and the built environment. To put it another way: where does London end? 4:30pm today in the Pyramid Room (K4U.04) and followed by wine and soft drinks.


In this talk we look at the different ways to obtain definitions of cities and their relevance to urban scaling laws. We also look at the hierarchical structure of Britain through a percolation process on the road network. We observe how at a large scale the divisions relate to well-known fractures of Britain, such as the North-South divide, while at small scales cities can be observed at a transition where the fractal dimension of the clusters has a maximum. The clusters defined at this distance threshold are in excellent correspondence with the boundaries of cities recovered from satellite images and the previous method.

About Elsa

Elsa Arcaute, is a Lecturer in Spatial Modelling and Complexity at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at University College London. She is a physicist with a masters and a PhD in Theoretical Physics from the University of Cambridge. She decided to move to the field of Complexity Sciences and joined the Complexity and Networks group at Imperial College London. There she developed models on self-regulation for social systems, extracting fundamental behaviours from experiments on ant colonies to test on robots, and to implement for an intervention in an Irish eco-village. In 2011, Elsa moved to CASA, joining a project funded by the European Research Council and led by Prof. Michael Batty, on morphology, energy and climate change in the city. Since then Elsa has been working on applying complexity sciences to urban systems.

Mobile Apps & Tech for Fieldwork

Last week several members of King’s Geocomputation activity hub participated and contributed to a fieldwork mapping and monitoring party held at The Royal Geographical Society in London. Presentations and demos included crowdsourcing & OpenStreetMap, low-cost research drones and Arduino micro-controllers. This blog post summarises another presentation that explored the options for using mobile apps for fieldwork .

My contribution at the mapping and monitoring party was to look at mobile apps for fieldwork. I’ve posted my slides from the presentation online in pdf and Gslides formats and provide a summary of some of the apps below. I provide plenty of links to the apps I refer to in both my presentation slides and this summary.

I focus on android apps but Faith Taylor at King’s focused on Apple apps and used her massive iPad at the party to highlight what she finds useful to have on her real iPad in the field. Also at the party Michele Ferretti gave a quick highlight of using the OpenStreetMap Overpass API to obtain field site data and Tom Smith demonstrated auto-tweeting arduinos for monitoring soil moisture.


There was lots of other interesting stuff at the party on twitter, which you can get a taste of from the #rgsfieldtech hashtag on social media. As you can see from the twittersphere it was a great event and we look forward to the next!

Mobile Apps for Fieldwork

I suggested in my presentation we can think about using apps for fieldwork in a few different ways:

  • Planning where and when to go in the field
  • Managing data collection and storage using GPS
  • Measurement using device sensors


Considering what the weather/tide conditions will be like when you are in the field is an important part of fieldwork preparations. There are a plethora of apps to help with this. Weather Forecast UK is my personal favourite for UK weather and the paid version includes observation and forecast maps. LunaSolCal Mobile is great for finding out rising and setting of sun and moon, whereas Sun Position can also show the solar and lunar path on an augmented reality camera view for any day of the year at your current location.


Mapping is another important aspect of preparation – where will you go in the field? Several apps are useful for both planning where to go, but also tracking where you have been in the field (and add notes, photos, etc as you go). OruxMaps is possibly the best Andoid app for tracking while adding notes, photos, video, audio in a single integrated package. Alternatively use a light-weight tracker (such as GPS logger for Android) and then additional apps for photos (turn on ‘save location’ in settings in your device camera app), notes (e.g. MAP note) and other recording.


When in the field you will likely be collecting data. One of the best apps for data collection during UK fieldwork is Fieldtrip GB which is built on Ordnance Survey map data. The app allows you to capture georeferenced notes, photos, tracks, download maps for offline use, save data to your device which can later be snyced to your dropbox account later. One of the nicest features of the app is the ability to create your own custom forms for data collection.


The main drawback of the Fieldtrip GB app is that it only works in the UK as uses it uses OS mapping. When venturing beyond the UK, you could try Map It for recording data collected in the field. Map It allows multiple (global) map sources and export formats, map polygons and the like. It also allows you to create custom forms for data collection/recording. If doing human geography data collection, the Collect app is designed specifically for questionnaires or surveys. Again, it allows you to set up custom forms that match the questions you wish to ask – this can be done on a PC before you visit the field and results are automatically synced to a database for later desk analysis.


Moving on from managing data in the field, we can also think about apps to actually make measurements with sensors on current mobile devices. There are many possibilities for using mobile devices for surveying. For example, the theodolite app Measure Angle provides functionality to view data lat, long, azimuth, angles, and more in an augmented reality perspective. The precision of these apps are dependent on the hardware on which they are used – don’t necessarily expect professional grade precision, but they are good for the fraction of the price of professional equipment (or even free!).

There are also many stand-alone apps useful for measuring different physical properties in the field:

  • Slope: use device accelerometers to evaluate orientation – these apps possibly require calibration and you may want to assess their accuracy before use
  • Aspect: there’s no dedicated app that I know of for this but aspect could be readily measured by combining compass/theodolite and sun position apps (links above)
  • Albedo: there are few apps for measuring this out there, but according to Dr Tom Smith at KCL this one is quite good


There are several apps out there useful for assessing the geology and soil in your study area. Several of these have been developed by British research groups. For example, iGeology and mySoil are developed by the British Geological Survey (with partners). Other apps enable you can use your smartphone or tablet in the same way you would use a brunton compass. You simply orient the phone or tablet along the planar or linear feature, choose a symbol, and tap. The device’s built-in compass and orientation sensors instantly record the strike, the dip, and dip direction.


Finally, when in the field you may need to identify flora and fauna. There are two general types of app for this. First, those that recreate traditional guide books but in digital format (including possibly with sound or video). Be sure to select these apps as appropriate for the region you are visiting. Second, there are apps that attempt to use sound and video detected by your mobile device to identify species. The success of these is variable. Google Goggles is one of the most widely known for identifying the contents of images taken by your device camera (I have used with mixed success). For birds there are apps like Warblr that do something similar to Shazam, attempting to identify birds from recordings of their song. Bird Song Id claims 85% success!

General Tips for using apps in the field

Test your apps before you start your fieldwork proper. This is important both so you understand and feel comfortable with how the app works, but also so that you know what it can do and how accurate it is likely to be. You may want to do some benchmarking before you go in the field, for example testing the app against known conditions (e.g. known slope angles).

Think about the need for internet connection – check what data connection apps need before going in the field. Sometimes you may have a data connection, but in many places you may not. Both Connectivity and testing are particularly important if you are linking data to cloud or online databases

Consider upgrading hardware – a device with additional core processors or memory will be worth it if you will be doing a lot of fieldwork. Also consider buying a storage card to expand built-in device storage and for tablets consider getting a device that can use a SIM to connect to cellular data networks.Some apps may need specialist sensors that expensive smartphones have but others do not.

Experiment with alternatives and buy pro versions – they often don’t cost much (relative to professional field equipment) and can offer much better functionality, precision and ease of use. However, beware some apps require in-app purchases and also look out for ‘expert id’ species identification apps in which identification is not automatic (compared to a database) but actually sent to a human to identify. There are two main limitations to this; first, it can take time to receive results (hours to days), and second you will likely have to pay for each id. So this might be good for particularly difficult species but not for general ID.

Finally, get creative with your use of apps. Just because an app is branded for one thing does not mean it cannot be used for another purpose. Combine apps together if necessary. And if there’s no app out there to do what you want, maybe consider making our own! It may not be trivial but there are many guides and courses to get you started. And if you’re thinking about undergraduate study, the Geocomputation and Spatial Analysis pathway at King’s will give you some of the skills you need to do this too!

Forthcoming Seminars: SDGs, APIs, cities

With the new term now well underway we have some exciting research seminars coming up soon to tell you about.

“Will implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) make use of available social and environmental science data?”

Dr Stephen Lintner & Dr Mark Mulligan, King’s College London

Wednesday 3rd February 16:30-18:00 hrs in the Pyramid Room (4th floor of King’s building, Strand campus)

Dr Lintner will review challenges faced during implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and explore the political, policy and operational context of the SDGs.  He will examine the scope and aspirations of the SDGs and the potential issues that may be encountered in their realization. Dr Mulligan will examine demand for SDG metrics and the “big data” challenge in building accessible, reliable and meaningful SDG reporting metrics. He will examine the uncertainties around the datasets available for understanding sustainable development, from both a social and environmental perspective, at the local, national and global scales and some ways forward that might help countries better evaluate any progress being made.


“Why and how open data and an open API standard can improve research, with examples using the National River Flow Archive and the R language.”

Dr Claudia Vitolo, Brunel University London

Friday 12th February 17:15-18:15 in the Pyramid Room (4th floor of King’s building, Strand campus)

Dr Vitolo will discuss the use of data Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to improve access to open hydrological data. The seminar will be interactive with demos using the R language. Feel free to bring your own laptop to work along with the demos. You’ll need R (version >= 3.2.3) and RStudio Desktop (version >= 0.99.491) installed. To make things easier it will also be useful if you have the following R packages installed and up to date: XML2R, RCurl, zoo, rjson, rgdal, sp, stringr, rmarkdown


“Urban hierarchies and scaling laws”

Dr Elsa Arcaute, University College, London

Wednesday 23rd February 16:30-18:00 hrs in the Pyramid Room (4th floor of King’s building, Strand campus)

Dr Arcaute will discuss the issues with the way that we use data to define what a city actually is. Come and find out why this is nowhere near as easy or as straightforward as you think… You’ll find yourself using it to critique every city assessment you see from now on.