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Defining the Geospatial Industry

The first known use of the term “Geographic Information System” can be traced back to Dr. Roger Tomlinson’s research paper “A Geographic Information System for Regional Planning” in 1968. Since then GIS has evolved from being a niche scientific tool to a mass-market technology. T

Today, GIS is being used in different industries and applications. Regardless whether the famous quote “80% of all data in the world has a spatial relation” is accurate or not; it is true that there are more than 770 million smartphones (as of 2013) with GPS capabilities and the number of smartphones with GPS/GNSS sensors have being growing each year.

The large scale use of GPS/GNSS has been one of the biggest driving factors for the growth of new applications and analysis that utilise location data. Location data is slowly transforming the mobile industry and the fact remains that most of the apps we use today, require location access.

Perhaps, it’s not difficult to see why the US Department of Labor identified Geospatial technology (besides nanotechnology and biotechnology), as one of the three most important high-growth industries of the 21st century in one of its reports.

But then again, what exactly does the Geospatial industry encompass?*

Definitions can be a tricky thing; sometimes it’s rather difficult to restrict a term to its original and historic definition. If one were to define Geospatial technology as “any technology that enables the creation, management, analysis and visualisation of Geospatial data”, then would it be correct to identify that any field/domain that uses spatial information and maps, as part of the Geospatial industry? And as a natural extension, would it be accurate to identify anyone who works with spatial data as a Geospatial professional?

When you think about it, most applications and technologies utilise location data for some purpose or the other. Self-driving cars, UAVs, Wearables, Augmented Reality, Internet of Things, Connected bikes and other technologies use spatial data and maps for a wide variety of purposes and applications.

Wearable Tech & Internet of Things*

Google Maps democratised GIS technology and Wearable tech could do the same for some of the more niche GIS applications like Geomedicine. Wearable technologies like Fitness bands, Smartwatches, etc., might still remain a niche device but they have quite a few sensors built into them – GPS, accelerometer, heart-rate sensor, etc. These sensors together with the APIs like Apple’s Health Kit and Google Fit are going to be very helpful in bringing Geomedicine applications all the more closer to being a reality and a widely-used tool.

Data from wearable tech are already forming the base layer for some really cool and insightful visualisations like the RunKeeper map by Mapbox that visualizes the routes that people use for fitness activities in different cities across the globe. Visualizations like this can be helpful for the city planners to understand leisure activities in urban areas.