Spatial Cognition and Computation 1: 67–101, 1999.
© 1999 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Formal speciﬁcation of image schemata – a step
towards interoperability in geographic information
ANDREW U. FRANK and MARTIN RAUBAL
Department of Geoinformation, Technical University Vienna, Gusshausstrasse 27-29, 1040
Abstract. The formal speciﬁcation of spatial objects and spatial relations is at the core of
geographic data exchange and interoperability for geographic information systems (GIS). It is
necessary that the representation of such objects and relations comes close to how people
use them in their everyday lives, i.e., that these speciﬁcations are built upon elements of
human spatial cognition. Image schemata have been suggested as highly abstract and struc-
tured mental patterns to capture spatial and similar physical as well as metaphorical relations
between objects in the experiential world. We assume that image-schematic details for large-
scale (geographic) space are potentially different from image-schematic details for small-scale
(table-top) space. This paper reviews methods for the formal description of spatial relations,
integrates them in a categorical view, and applies the methods arrived at to formally specify
image schemata for large-scale (LOCATION, PATH, REGION, and BOUNDARY) as well as
small-scale (CONTAINER, SURFACE, and LINK) space. These speciﬁcations should provide
a foundation for further research on formalizing elements of human spatial cognition for
interoperability in GIS.
Key words: image schemata, formal speciﬁcations, spatial cognition, spatial relations
Exchange of data between GIS and interoperability of different vendors’ GIS
software are topics of enormous practical interest (Buehler and McKee 1996).
Unambiguous deﬁnitions are at the core of any effort to achieve the necessary
standardization that allows data exchange and cooperation of different GIS.
Standardization of technical terms and the fundamental concepts neces-
sary to make computers interact is mostly achieved or can be achieved with
current tools. The abstract behavior of computerized systems can be speciﬁed
in a formal language and it requires then the checking of the compliance of the
target computer system – which is by deﬁnition also a formal system – with
the abstract formal system. This problem is not speciﬁc to GIS but general