In the context of a spatial index, a grid or mesh is a regular tessellation of a manifold or 2-D surface that divides it into a series of contiguous cells, which can then be assigned unique identifiers and used for spatial indexing purposes. A wide variety of such grids have been proposed or are currently in use, including grids based on "square" or "rectangular" cells, triangular grids or meshes, hexagonal grids, and grids based on diamond-shaped cells. A "global grid" is a kind of grid that covers the entire surface of the globe. (wikipedia)
In practice, construction of grid-based spatial indices entails allocation of relevant objects to their position or positions in the grid, then creating an index of object identifiers vs. grid cell identifiers for rapid access. This is an example of a "space-driven" or data independent method, as opposed to "data-driven" or data dependent method, as discussed further in Rigaux et al. (2002)). A grid-based spatial index has the advantage that the structure of the index can be created first, and data added on an ongoing basis without requiring any change to the index structure; indeed, if a common grid is used by disparate data collecting and indexing activities, such indices can easily be merged from a variety of sources. On the other hand, data driven structures such as R-trees can be more efficient for data storage and speed at search execution time, though they are generally tied to the internal structure of a given data storage system.
The use of such spatial indices is not limited to digital data; the "index" section of any global or street atlas commonly contains a list of named features (towns, streets, etc.) with associated grid square identifiers, and may be considered a perfectly acceptable example of a spatial index (in this case, typically organised by feature name, though the reverse is conceptually also possible).
OTHER USES : The individual cells of a grid system can also be useful as units of aggregation, for example as a precursor to data analysis, presentation, mapping, etc. For some applications (e.g., statistical analysis), equal-area cells may be preferred, although for others this may not be a prime consideration.
In computer science, one often needs to find out all cells a ray is passing through in a grid (for raytracing or collision detection); this is called "grid traversal". (source : wikipedia)
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