Laser-Scan (LSL) was a British technology company based in Cambridge, England, founded in 1969, which produced world-leading graphics hardware and then software for computer graphics, digital mapping, charting, and geographic information handling.

Laser-Scan started providing software to accompany the original Sweepnik scanner and the HRD-1 display/plotter. This broadened to include map editors, line-following map digitisers, the map production suite LAMPS, and the Gothic object-oriented spatial database and toolkit.

Read the LSL History for an overview of the company and its products,then the LSL Software page for a summary of software products, and then see below for more detail on the company's main map production software suite, known as LAMPS, plus its associated analysis and GIS software.

LSL Logo 2


The Laser-Scan Automated Map Production System (LAMPS) has its origins in 1976 with the creation by LSL of the IFF (Internal Feature Format) file structure and IFFLIB programming library. IFF was one of the first formats worldwide designed specifically for storing digital maps, and given that it is still used 35 years later, it was well-designed. The original purpose for IFF was to be the main output format from an automated map scanning and digitising system called FASTRAK, developed for the British military, and driven by a PDP-11 minicomputer. A set of utility programs (the DAta Manipulation Package - DAMP) and a visual map editor (SOLMPS) grew up to manipulate IFF files, running on the PDP-11 under the RSX operating system.

In 1979 Laser-Scan got its first DEC VAX minicomputer (the first non-military VAX in the UK), and the IFF library and utilities were ported to VMS, to form the basis of the Laser-Scan Automated Map Production System (LAMPS), centred around a new map editor called LITES. In 1985, LITES had a major rewrite, and became LITES2. LAMPS and LITES2 were actively developed through the 80s and early 90s, and were ported through software translation to the fast new DEC Alpha hardware in the early 1990s, which gave the suite a life-extension.

However, in the mid 90s the focus of Laser-Scan moved to a new object-oriented platform, available on UNIX and Windows called Gothic, on which a new mapping system called LAMPS2 was developed. Many customers however continued to use the original VMS LAMPS suite, which became known as ‘The Land-Rover of Digital Mapping’ because of its robustness, stability, and market focus. Some still use it to this day!

LAMPS Customers

Among the customers using LAMPS over an extended period were UK military mapping (MCE - now DGC), the Admiralty (UKHO), The AA, the RAF air charting unit ( AIDU), The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), George Philip (school atlases), and the national mapping agencies of the UK (Ordnance Survey), USA (USGS), Canada (CCG, now CTI), and Mexico (INEGI).

At peak, the combined customer base included over 75 sites, with sizes range from single workstations up to OS and UKHO who had well over 100 workstations each. The UKHO site ran what was probably the biggest VMScluster in the world, with mirrored servers to withstand possible terrorist threats, distributed to over 100 workstations, managed from a single logical copy of the VMS and LAMPS disk files.

LAMPS Contents

The LAMPS suite is divided into a set of ‘packages’, each covering a major aspect of functionality. The main ones included:

Map Editor - LITES / LITES2

The Laser-scan InTeractive Editing System (LITES) was the largest program in the LAMPS suite, and handled all the interactive map display and editing. In 1985, a military contract allowed us to do a major re-implementation of LITES and the plotting and representation components of LAMPS. The new editor was called LITES2, and 25 years later was still in use at major sites worldwide.

File formats - IFF/FRT/SRI/TRI

See IFF User Guide for a description of the IFF file format that underpins all the programs in the map production suite.
See FRT User Guide for a description of the FRT, SRI and TRI file formats that provide the feature coding and symbology knowlege for the programs in the map production suite.

LAMPS Software Product Specifications

These are HTML versions of the Software Product Specifications for LAMPS, and have been created by an automated python script from the original .RNO (Digital Standard RUNOFF)source files. These SPSs provided product definitions for sales of LAMPS software.

LAMPS User and Reference Manuals

These HTML versions of some of the principal user and reference manuals for LAMPS have been created by an ad-hoc automated python script from the original .RNO (Digital Standard RUNOFF)source files, to give an easily searchable idea of what the software did and how it worked.

LAMPS Brochures

LAMPS Articles and Case Studies


See Sample Outputs for examples of the kinds of maps created from LAMPS.

GIS - Horizon/Metropolis

In the late 80s, there was a realisation that for every map producer there were a much larger number of map users. To address this and the growing GIS analysis marketplace, a layer was developed which added GIS functionality to the underlying LAMPS software. In particular it added access to attribute data in relational databases, management of continuous (sheet-free) mapping, and a point and click GUI (Graphical User Interface). The products were Horizon (targeted at the environmental market) and Metropolis (targeted at property information). Over time, Horizon also became useful in providing continuous mapping support to mapping and charting customers, such as the AA.

More information on Horizon and Metropolis is in the following brochures:

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