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Sensors & Systems Ten Predictions for 2014

(© By Matt Ball, Sensors&System) Much time is spent this time of year looking forward. Sensors & Systems did some reflecting on emerging issues, innovative approaches and technology trends to come up with the following predictions for 2014.

On the list are platform and services advancements, policy initiatives and the continued evolution of model-based design. Read the full list and feel free to add your own observations in the comments.

1. Rapid Modeling and Inspections – The proliferation of drone platforms for measurement and modeling will only increase this coming year. There have already been compelling use cases for drones for such things as mine site surveying and bridge and building inspection. One can envision a flying swarm at the start of any major infrastructure project, where data collection is done quickly with a fleet of unmanned autonomous sensors that coordinate for the completion of a detailed model. Similarly, any disaster would be well documented with a similar swarm, feeding on-the-ground efforts with real-time information for better coordination. Yes, we’re still one full year away from the FAA’s planned opening up of commercial drone use, yet such efforts are underway elsewhere in the world. The stability of quad and octo-rotor aircraft that can lift large payloads means sensors such as LiDAR can easily be deployed, improving the detail and accuracy of models to rival any other collection method, with the added benefits of better safety, lower cost, and quicker modeling.

2. Wearables – The advent of Google Glass is perhaps most notable for the term “glassholes” in our mind. The high price and techno advantage on display to a select few will slowly morph into more usable technology and integrated applications. There is huge promise for these hands-free devices in the area of field work, and now there are a growing number of competitors to the Google Glass device. The hope for augmented reality improves with these devices, doing away with the bulky and cumbersome need to hold a phone or tablet in front of you in order to overlay a model on existing reality. Let’s hope something like “kicking glass” is the next popular euphamism for this wearable phenomenon.

3. Storytelling Feeds More Mapping – With so much basemap data in place for navigation and online Earth exploration, the use of online mapping platforms to illustrate news or for storytelling will only increase in the coming year. Google has recently launched Tour Builder tools for users to create their own place-based stories, adding a competitive storytelling push to the templates available through Esri’s ArcGIS Online. The idea of maps as media is rapidly surpassing past expectations, with even integrated video and simulation for real-time or forward-looking maps for planning purposes. The growing awareness of what maps can illustrate can only help to justify greater data amalgamation, and the openning up of additional services. The business model needs some tweaking in order for these data collection efforts to be long sustaining, and longevity is certainly a concern as we’ve seen Google table many services that users have valued. We’ll need to see these services reach a higher level customer with such features as near real-time imagery or in-depth analysis in order to feel confident that the trend will continue.

4. Failure Feeds Funding – There’s a growing likelihood that the weather forecasting capabilities made possible by NOAA and NASA’s collaboration on polar weather satellites will see a gap in coverage. Losing the ability to accurately forecast and predict hurricane paths are a potential inexcusable outcome from this technology trajectory. On top of this gap in funding is the undeniable fact that our sensing capability continues to improve, and we could far exceed the data products of today if an investment were made in next-generation capacity. It would be a grim outcome to have a major sensing failure feed future funding, yet with gridlock in Washington that’s an outcome we may face. Here’s hoping that calmer and concerned policy makers invest in the safety of their citizens before their hand is forced by a calamity.

5. Government Rebound – There are signs that the global economy is on the upswing, and this may bode well for some meaningful policy directives, local government technology advancements, and the investment in geospatial underpinnings. Perhaps this is an overly optimistic outlook, given how grim things were this Fall in the United States with both the Sequester and the government shutdown taking their toll. At the least, more coordinated geospatial data integration across federal agencies could be achieved.

6. Big Data for the Environment – Hewlett Packard just launched Earth Insights in partnership with Conservation International. The effort here is to align sensing to ecological problems, creating an “early warning system” for conservation efforts in tropical forests. This PR-friendly effort is inline with’s Earth Engine work, proving both the contribution of these technologies as well as the desire to do good. These efforts are making impacts, and helping researchers adopt new connected and integrated monitoring efforts. As the Internet of Things takes hold, we can expect to discover many new things about the natural world thanks to this more sentient century.

7. Territorial Disputes – There are increasing territorial disputes around the world, whether that’s in the South China Sea, the Arctic or elsewhere. Much of this back and forth is around scarcer resources, marking a need for more production in order to meet consumption. With so much scrutiny on disputed land, an increase in monitoring and mapping will be required. In addition to border disputes, there are also increasing international investments in foreign lands, such as China’s growing investment in agricultural land in Africa. The need to gain a better understanding on global land use, and territory claims, will fuel further government investments in geospatial technology.

8. Earth Observation Services – We’ve written about the age of microsatellites, and the Silicon Valley-based earth observation companies Skybox and Planet Labs. With the successful launch of initial satellites by both of these companies this month, and the installation underway for the Urthecast instrument on the International Space Station, the commercial satellite imagery market is getting many new players and with different business models. We can expect online data delivery and insights from these satellites to be sold as services as these companies harness data management and delivery tools coupled with big data analytics.

9. BIM Means an Integrated Model – In the infrastructure modeling and simulation space, increasingly Building Information Modeling (BIM) is translating into a modeling strategy that integrates all inputs, whether aerial imagery, GIS data, legacy CAD drawing or many individual BIM models that all come together as a whole. Having one integrated model for planning and design is becoming a requirement rather than a vision, and the tools are making this integration much easier. It’s fascinating to see such a rapid transformation for ideas of integration and interoperability to a new norm that begins to take the integrated model for granted. We’re a ways away from dismissing the bottlenecks of the past, but there are advancements that promise

10. Solutions and Platforms – Intergraph led the charge away from just their GeoMedia GIS platform and toward solutions that incorporated GIS and image analysis functions for specific application areas (public safety & security, defense, utilities, transportation, etc.). There is a vision for a more integrated geospatial platform to include measurement sensors when they were purchased by Hexagon who also own Leica Geosystems. The back and forth between platform and solutions continues to play out more broadly in the whole geospatial industry. With Esri’s robust ArcGIS Online platform, they are now branching into solutions with the recently launched electric and gas utility industry solutions. As these robust geospatial platforms continue to evolve we can expect them to offer more integrated analysis functions through cloud computing capacity. The building blocks for standardized industry solutions has evolved to the point where solutions become much easier to deploy. With momentum gaining, and technology advancing, we can expect more integrated solutions in the coming years.

Read prior predictions here:

About Matt Ball
Matt has been promoting the application of sensors, systems, models and simulation for the better stewardship of our planet for the past fifteen years. The first ten years of that span were as editor of GeoWorld magazine and show manager of the GeoTec Event. The past five have been as a founder of Vector1 Media, with publications Sensors & Systems, Informed Infrastructure and Asia Surveying & Mapping. E-mail: mattball at – See more at: