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How will real-time inputs, and the increasing number of sensors, impact the geospatial industry?

(June 2012) Written by Matt Ball , Sensors and systems. For decades the lack of geospatial data was a barrier to geographic information system expansion and adoption. While obtaining high-quality spatial data continues to be a challenge, the problems of a lack of available data has quickly turned into the need to manage a glut of information. With the number of sensors and platforms growing exponentially, the data deluge will only increase in pace.

The ability of geospatial technology to make sense of all of this data will prove to be of wide benefit to increasing number of end users. However, the old model of mapping and spatial analysis professionals at the hub of insight won’t apply, instead there will be services and automated systems that feed a broader understanding of place.

Content Explosion

It’s helpful to put the number of sensing devices and platforms into perspective:

  • the number of earth observation satellites continues to rise, with China illustrating that trend a few weeks when they launched four satellites in one week
  • the number of drones that the U.S. military deploys is now equal to one third of their aircraft, up from 5 percent in 2005
  • with the Federal Aviation Administration relaxation of laws on unmanned aerial systems (UAS), a proliferation of personal observation platforms is set to take off
  • the Global Satellite Navigation System constellations are increasing with Russia’s Glonass and China’s Compass improving precision and performance
  • smart phone purchases grew 49% last quarter according to Gartner, with these devices containing an increasing number of sensors to make sense of our surroundings
  • the number of sensors are increasing, with an Internet of Things approach that allows the devices to interact (see Twine and Cosm)

Together, this collection proliferation is termed Big Data, and with all this data there are increasing interests to quantify these inputs to get a better awareness about operations and to increase efficiency.

Real-Time Data Hubs

Earth observation is of particularly importance right now, with increased populations, reduced resources, and visible global change in climate patterns. The uncertainty of these changes, and their impacts on humans and economies, is being met with a new and more ubiquitous view on planetary patterns. With today’s satellite constellations and airborne platforms capable of imaging the same spot on the earth multiple times per day, we get a much more complete picture of our planet.

This ability is being met with new approaches that are illustrated at a few different scales.

  • DigitalGlobe’s Analysis Center shows the marketability of rapid insight and views of newsworthy topics.
  • The UN Global Pulse is mining data from the Internet and from phones to gain a better understanding of human well being across the planet.
  • China has made a commitment to create a national geographical conditions monitoring database by 2015.

Together these different approaches show a need and interest to harness multiple inputs for a real-time awareness of change in order to mitigate damage and impacts.

New Insight on Design

The combination of sensors and systems, and 3D data capture at high precision, is also helping to revolutionize our management and understanding of our built environment. With precise models of the as-built environment, along with sensors that return details on resource use and other factors, we gain a better handle on the full lifecycle of our structures. Inputs inform designs that return the highest possible performance, and constant monitoring lets us achieve the optimal operation. In the middle the new connectivity with a model-centric workflow, has a great improvement on construction efficiency.

These sensored systems are manifest at many scales, from the better heating and cooling of buildings, toward the better management of utility networks, and all the way to smart cities that include intelligent grids and transportation. The adoption of a smart city approach is a global phenomenon that will spur wider proliferation of sensors to address a wide array of city-scale problems.

Toward Automation

Looking back at the seeds of this new sensor and system approach there are a few industries and applications that foretell a whole new level of automation. With precision agriculture, farmers have long reaped the benefits of greater insight into local conditions at a fine scale through automated machines coupled to detailed digital models to improve crop yield. The broad geospatial industry can take cues from the progression in that sector as it’s moving from informing farmers toward the robotic automation of tools and systems.

Traffic sensors and feeds are perhaps the best example for the impact of real-time data coupled with nimble actors. Users of real-time traffic sharing applications such as Waze can expect great deal of time savings for their effort of monitoring and reporting conditions. However, here again we may see a large leap toward automation as today’s sensors have proven capable of driving cars without human control.

It will take years if not decades for the automation trend to take hold, if it does at all. In the meantime, the foundation that the geospatial technology industry has built to make sense of massive amounts of data is set to pay off.

Source Sensors and systems