What is OpenStreetMap

In the following article, we will cover what OpenStreetMap is, how it is used inside X-Plane and more importantly, how to contribute.

OpenStreetMap (OSM) is a collaborative effort to create a free editable map of the world. It was started in 2004 by Steve Coast, and since then, has grown to a large scale project with over a million users all over the world and thousands of contributions everyday.

OSM data in central Berlin, showing the amount of detail available. Even individual trees have been mapped

Many people are unaware of what OSM is exactly and mistakingly believe it is simply the draggable map on openstreetmap.org. It’s important to understand that the OSM website is simply a tool used for viewing the vast amounts of data inside OSM and for viewing and creating basic changes. The actual OSM data contains much more information than is available on this map and more importantly, is available for free under the ODbl license. This means that no single company or agency (such as Google or USGS) control the data, and people are free to use the data in their applications. The following lists some of the uses/and key points of OSM, and will help you get an idea of the information available and how it is used:

  • Many applications besides the website use OSM data. If you search the iOS AppStore or the Google Play Store for Android, you’ll find thousands of applications that use OSM data. Most are simply offline versions of cities, whilst others are full-blown satelite navigation applications. e.g. The excellent OsmAnd. There is literally no limit to what can be done with OSM data, and World2XPlane/OSM is just one of the many uses outside of simple mapping applications.
  • OSM data contains lots of information not visible on the OSM website. Many items have additional data attached to them, such as the address of a house, the height or even colour of a building. There is no limit to the amount of data that can be attached to items on the map (as long as simple rules are followed).
  • OSM data is updated literally every second. In fact OSM data is often much more up-to-date than commercial equivalents such as Google Maps. In my local town, the new motorway junction appeared on the map about 5 minutes after it was officially opened. It is still not visible on Google/Bing or even the goverment website.
  • OSM data contains things you won’t find on other maps, and comes from local people with local knowledge. e.g. People will mark footpaths through fields, bicycle routes, opening times for shops, and even the type of food a restaurant serves.
  • Contributing to OSM is fun and rewarding. As well as improving flight simulator scenery, your changes will be available and benefit everyone who uses this data.
  • OSM data has been used to help save lives. After the Haiti Earthquake in 2010, the map data was immediately updated by hundreds of users and the data was used to aid search and rescue. http://hot.openstreetmap.org/projects/haiti-2

How does X-Plane and World2XPlane use OSM data

One of the many uses of OSM data. Here is a 3D map of Berlin from the excellent website http://map.f4-group.com/

World2XPlane takes OSM data and converts it into scenery for X-Plane. It uses as much information as possible to generate highly realistic scenery. The buildings you will see in the generated scenery are actual real buildings in their real location. If your house is mapped inside OSM, it will also appear in its exact location inside X-Plane, and you can literally fly over (or crash into) your house.

X-Plane’s default scenery also uses OSM for things like roads, railroads and power-lines. In addition, alpilotx uses OSM data to produce the incredible HD Mesh which works really nicely with scenery generated by World2XPlane. HD Mesh v2 uses coastlines, rivers and other information to create very realistic looking scenery. The important thing to realise about OSM data is that anyone can edit it, fix bad data and expand the map. If you find a village or a stream missing inside the X-Plane scenery, you can edit the OSM data, and it will eventually find its way into X-Plane. The tutorials section on this website will contain information and guides on how to edit and expand OSM data, and to see your changes inside X-Plane.

HD Mesh/Global Scenery and World2XPlane

A keypoint to remember is that World2XPlane generates buildings, forests and VFR objects which sit on top of other scenery, it does not create roads, rivers, mountains or coastlines. I highly recommend installing generated scenery on top of either Alpilotx’s HD Mesh, or photo scenery from sites such as simheaven.com

In summary, World2XPlane generates and uses the following from OSM data:

  • Individual houses and buildlings
  • Forests, Woodland and VFR objects such as chimneys, wind farms, billboard signs.
  • Trees surrounding fields and inside residential zones (from landuse tags inside OSM)
  • Lights and 3D objects from OSM3D data.

HD Mesh Scenery v2/Default Global Scenery inside X-Plane uses the following data from OSM:

  • Water features (Lakes, Rivers Coastlines). HD Mesh v2 also processes linear rives (i.e waterway=river)
  • Roads
  • Railroads
  • Power lines
  • Urban Park Areas

HD Mesh Scenery V4 (and the default Global Scenery) do NOT use  building footprint information,  POI information, forest data (or any other landclass style information) from OSM. Both sceneries are and should be used together to produce super realistic scenery.

OSM Limitations

There are a few important things to know about OSM data before using it to generate scenery:

  • The level of data can vary greatly between different areas. e.g. Germany is very well populated and most towns and cities are mapped in very high detail. However, parts of Spain are still empty and are waiting to be mapped. It is often the case where one village will be mapped well, whilst the neighbouring village will be empty.
  • Since anyone can contribute, the data and information available can vary greatly (even from one building to the next). For example, one person would tag a building correctly as a house, whilst another person might simply tag it as a building. Some people have gone to extreme levels of detail and tagged everything, right down to the fence surrounding a house, whilst others have chosen to simply map a very basic rectangular outline.
  • OSM data does not currently contain elevation data, however this hasn’t stopped people combining OSM with other data to produce topographical maps. A perfect example of this is the amazing free flight planning application for FSX/X-Plane Plan-G.
  • OSM data does not yet contain 3D models such as Google Earth. However, there is some basic 3D information, and this information is used inside World2XPlane.

Why are you telling me all this?

Firstly, and in case you haven’t noticed 😉, I’m a big supporter of OSM, and I have been contributing to OSM long before I started work on World2XPlane. Secondly, I believe OSM has huge potential, not only as a source of data for flight simulation, but also in other areas. Thirdly, I don’t like the idea of any company or organisation having a monopoly on mapping data (e.g. Google decide which items are visible on their maps, and also decide which businesses are returned search results).

 My goal is to get as many people as possible contributing to OSM and creating incredible scenery for X-Plane. The tutorials will walk through adding data to OSM, repairing broken data, and finally downloading data and converting it to X-Plane. Please also keep in mind that whatever you add to OSM, will also be used by thousands of other applications. If you also use FSX or Prepar3D, there are also many commercial products that will use your changes. FlightGear can also use OSM data for its scenery.

An exceptionally well mapped town in the UK. People have mapped individual trees and fences
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