Making Overlay Maps for OsmAnd on Linux (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Wed, 10 Apr 2019

Making Overlay Maps for OsmAnd on Linux

For many years I've wished I could take a raster map image, like a geology map, an old historical map, or a trail map, and overlay it onto the map shown in OsmAnd so I can use it on my phone while walking around. I've tried many times, but there are so many steps and I never found a method that worked.

Last week, the ever helpful Bart Eisenberg posted to the OsmAnd list a video he'd made: Displaying web-based maps with MAPC2MAPC: OsmAnd Maps & Navigation. Bart makes great videos ... but in this case, MAPC2MAPC turned out to be a Windows program so it's no help to a Linux user. Darn!

But seeing his steps laid out inspired me to try again, and gave me some useful terms for web searching. And this time I finally succeeded. I was also helped by a post to the OsmAnd list by A Thompson, How to get aerial image into offline use?, though I needed to change a few of the steps. (Note: click on any of the screenshots here to see a larger version.)

Georeference the Image Using QGIS

The first step is to georeference the image: turn the plain raster image into a GeoTiff that has references showing where on Earth its corners are. It turns out there's an open source program that can do that, QGIS. Although it's poorly documented, it's fairly easy once you figure out the trick.

I started with the tutorial Georeferencing Basics, but it omits one important point, which I finally found in BBRHUFT's How to Georeference a map in QGIS. Step 11 is the key: the Coordinate Reference System (CRS) must be the same in the georeferencing window as it is in the main QGIS window. That sounds like a no-brainer, but in practice, the lists of possible CRSes shown in the two windows don't overlap, so unless you follow BBRHUFT's advice and type 3857 into the filter box in both windows, you'll likely end up with CRSes that don't match. It'll look like it's working, but the resulting GeoTiff will have coordinates nowhere near where they should be

Instead, follow BBRHUFT's advice and type 3857 into the filter box in both windows. The "WGS 84 / Pseudo Mercator" CRS will show up and you can use it in both places. Then the GeoTiff will come out in the right place.

If you're starting from a PDF, you may need to convert it to a raster format like PNG or JPG first. GIMP can do that.

So, the full QGIS steps are:

Convert the GeoTiff to Map Tiles

The ultimate goal is to convert to OsmAnd's sqlite format, but there's no way to get there directly. First you have to convert it to map tiles in a format called mbtiles.

QGIS has a plug-in called QTiles but it didn't work for me: it briefly displayed a progress bar which then disappeared without creating any files. Fortunately, you can do the conversion much more easily with gdal_translate, which at least on Debian is part of the gdal-bin package.

gdal_translate filename.tiff filename.mbtiles

That will create tiles for a limited range of zoom levels (maybe only one zoom level). gdalinfo will tell you the zoom levels in the file. If you want to be able to zoom out and still see your overlay, you might want to add wider zoom levels, which you can do like this:

gdaladdo -r nearest filename.mbtiles 2 4 8 16

Incidentally, gdal can also create a directory of tiles suitable for a web slippy map, though you don't need that for OsmAnd. For that, use gdal2tiles, which on Debian is part of the python-gdal package:

mkdir tiles
gdal2tiles filename.tiff tiles

Not only does it create tiles, it also includes multiple HTML files you can use to display those tiles using the Leaflet, OpenLayers or Google Maps JavaScript libraries. Very cool!

Create the OsmAnd sqlite file

Tarwirdur has written a nice simple Python script to translate from mbtiles to OsmAnd sqlite: Download it then run filename.mbtiles filename.sqlitedb

So easy to use! Most of the other references I saw said to use Mobile Atlas Creator (MOBAC) and that looked a lot more complicated.

Incidentally, Bart's video says MAPC2MAPC calls the format "Locus/Rmaps/Galileo/OSMAND (sqlite)", which might be useful to know for web search purposes.

Install in OsmAnd

[Georeferenced map overlay in OsmAnd] Once you have the .sqlitedb file, copy it to OsmAnd's tiles folder in whatever way you prefer. For me, that's adb push file.sqlitedb $androidSD/Android/data/ where $androidSD is the /storage/whatever location of my device's SD card.

Then start OsmAnd and tap on the icon in the upper left for your current mode (car, bike, walking etc.) to bring up the Configure map menu. Scroll down to Overlay or Underlay map, enable one of those two and you should be able to choose your newly installed map.

You can adjust the overlay's transparency with a slider that's visible at the bottom of the map (the blue slider just above the distance scale), so you can see your overlay and the main map at the same time.

The overlay disappears if you zoom out too far, and I haven't yet figured out what controls that; I'm still working on those details.

Sure, this process is a lot of work. But the result is worth it. Check out the geologic layers we walked through on a portion of a recent hike in Rendija Canyon (our hike is the purple path).

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[ 19:08 Apr 10, 2019    More mapping | permalink to this entry | comments ]
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