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Special Section in Honour of Dr. Andrew Frank

Formal representation of qualitative direction

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Pages 2514-2534 | Received 05 Dec 2017, Accepted 19 Dec 2017, Published online: 25 Jan 2018


This paper reviews formal approaches to representing spatial knowledge about qualitative direction. Unlike geometric direction information, qualitative information does not employ numerical values but relies on comparison. The qualitative approach is often regarded as suitable for capturing commonsense concepts and thus is relevant to human-centered interfaces for spatial information systems. To establish a context for the work on qualitative direction, we preset a brief history of the development of qualitative temporal and spatial representations from different scientific perspectives. We identify main focal areas of these representations of spatial direction and propose a taxonomy. In the light of more than three decades of fruitful research, we obtain a map of formal representations that reveal interrelationships between different research strands in the field.


We thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments. Christian Freksa and Diedrich Wolter acknowledge financial support by DFG in the context of the priority program of volunteered geographic information (SPP 1894). Additionally, Diedrich Wolter acknowledges financial support by Technologieallianz Oberfranken.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.


1. Clementini (Citation2013) employs a different interpretation of deictic, calling any relative frame of reference (egoentric and allocentric ones) deictic.

Additional information


This work was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft: [Grant Number SFB 1320 EASE, SPP 1894].

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