Three major trends in the use of spatial information include increasing use of remotely sensed imagery, the integration of information for GIS / CAD modeling and the use of spatial information for graphically rich visualisation / simulation environments. In general spatial information is being served to, and used by more people and businesses than ever before. We are just entering the next great phase of geoinformation use.
Remotely Sensed Imagery
A quick glance of most mainstream media these days will include one or more articles pertaining to the launch of a new imaging satellite. They are either about to be launched or planned to be launched within the next 5 years. Several factors are contributing toward this increasing need for satellite imagery, but foremost is the realisation that aerial and satellite imagery can provide the needed information relating to landscape change. Change is the driving factor. More specifcally, we want to know more about the Earth’s surface and the types and rates of change which are occurring.
High resolution, greater frequency and the support of image anaylsis software to realise the extent of information from these images is also furthering their value. But there is also a host of downstream applications being developed from these data sources, each dependent upon unique image analysis capability optimised for particular processes involving agriculture, forestry, oil and gas, marine and weather related impacts.
Integration of Geoinformation for CAD / GIS
In many ways the integration of spatial information is the key to the future. GIS and CAD are the tools for realisng this. Much of the current infrastructure needs maintenance and/or replacing. At the same time, growth in population is demanding new infrastructure. Urban growth in the future will be highly connected to sustainability initiatives and this will require more information being used and integrated to enable decision making for urban and rural planning of all kinds.
Spatial information can now be found at the heart of many cities and governments, but more work needs to be done. As these organisations connect, embed and integrate spatial data, spatial models and spatial design they will further support efforts in spatial data infrastructures (SDIs). Users of spatial information are now realising that higher interoperability opens doors to collaboration and improved decision making. They are realising that problems can be understood better and dealt with quicker, when information is integrated and provides a better overall picture of a given situation. More integration means that buildings can be designed with a view to population demographics, changing environmental factors and the relationship of transport systems, for example.
Visualisation and Simulation
Spatial modeling involves geometry and can be found in applications for both GIS and CAD environments. The trend in modeling extends from the availability of data that is arriving in higher frequency and resolution. Good data supports modeling that means something and is useful. Spatial modeling today is not about creating nice pictures. It is fueled by high quality data with the purpose of enabling better decision making, testing hypothesis, reducing uncertainty and increasing capacity to mitigate risk. We model to understand more, and better.
An outcome of modeling is the realisation of 3D representation. Whether we are modeling landscapes, creating buildings, monitoring health and disease, operating airports or pathways for pipelines; the amount of data and the required geocomputation to process the integrated mentioned (above) requires that we appreciate and capitalise upon higher level graphic interfaces and environments.
We want to be able to query whole neighbourhoods, whole watersheds, whole populations and all factors and processes within defined boundaries and across boundaries. At the same time, people will begin to think in new ways for using spatial information once 3D takes hold. New technologies and hardware will arise, more new analysis methodologies will be developed and new requirements for understanding will emerge.
The future is exciting, filled with discovery, new opportunity and our industry is sitting in the driver's seat.
The use of spatial information has reached a point of wide adoption, where online visualization of location information has become an expectation. There are many trends in the use of spatial information, some that have been building for a long time, and others that have emerged more recently. All of the trends that I see revolve around ways that the Internet has improved data access and distribution. That’s certainly no surprise, for the Internet will be central to any future trends regarding spatial information for some time to come.
I’m hoping that the “where are they leading” component of this question will foster some debate. I’m intrigued by the implications of these trends, but don’t pretend to have all the answers. Please feel free to chime in on the comments if you see a different trend or a different evolution for one of the trends that I’ve identified here.
Data as a Service
The idea of spatial data as a service has been around for quite some time. The innovative ImageConnect (from GlobeXplorer, a DigitalGlobe company) service that allows direct access to imagery archives and ordering through plug-ins with popular GIS packages, was truly an exciting development. This tool puts a large image library at the user’s fingertips through an integrated toolbar in ESRI ArcView, MapInfo,Intergraph GeoMedia and Autodesk MapGuide products. The tools allows users to bring in imagery directly into their products, select the best image from the library, and order, save or update that imagery.
ImageConnect was at the forefront of the data as a service evolution, and since then there have been other similar services, such as MapMart’s MapMart On-Demand or i-cubed’s Data Doors. These offerings don’t quite reach the ease of use of ImageConnect’s plug-in approach, but they do make imagery and geospatial data ordering much easier than in the past.
The emerging ArcGIS Online Services provides a robust data source on a subscription basis for ESRI ArcGIS users. This service has added a great deal of data for users to access and manipulate within the ArcGIS environment, when connected to the Internet. Data can also be purchased for offline use on local machines.
Data as a service will prove to be a growing trend, much in the same way that applications are being ported to “the cloud.” The online use and manipulation of imagery and other data sets in an online project space will become the predominant means of working with GIS tools, with the data linked to remotely, and without the headaches of data storage and maintenance.
The rise of Open StreetMap as a free and editable map of the world, creates a very useful wiki-style repository for collaborative mapmaking. The lack of free government data in the United Kingdom spurred this movement, but it has since expanded far beyond that one country. Open StreetMap provides a commons for those interested in creating map data, where mapmakers have formed a community of more than 50,000 collaborators. Mapmaking has obviously become a hobby for a lot of people that feel rewarded by seeing that the data they create can be used by others.
Google Map Maker is another means for user-generated content, allowing users to edit or add information into Google Maps that is then available for others to see and edit. It’s a similar concept to OpenStreetMap, but its used only for areas where Google hasn’t already licensed data from a commercial provider.
The user-generated data is a great source of geospatial data for a wide range of applications that couldn’t afford to buy their own data or aren’t interested in being tethered to a specific web mapping platform. The threat to commercial data providers may be growing, but there’s incredible value in geospatial data providers as witnessed by the purchase of the two leading commercial geospatial data providers last year (TeleAtlas acquired by TomTom and NAVTEQ acquired by Nokia). There’s great value to the commercial data set for business applications such as routing and logistics as well as commercial navigation.
The open data movement isn’t after the commercial market, and has the added advantage of locally-generated content that includes interesting points of interest and multi-modal data sets such as paths and shortcuts. It’s that local take that makes the open data most appealing, and the reason that it’s likely to grow exponentially for community-building applications. This source is predominantly European to data, but I expect it will evolve exponentially to become global within the next five years.
The use of spatial information gets a strong boost of relevance when it’s coupled with spatial analysis that is finely tuned to a user’s application needs. The analysis of spatial information can be returned in a report format or sold as a Software as a Service model, where the manipulations to your own data occur and are returned for use in your own software on a transaction basis.
I’ve commented before about the rise of trusted sources and services for analysis. This goes well beyond simply amassing geospatial data for desktop manipulation. It’s a trend that will enhance the value of spatial information, and make in-depth insights available to a much larger audience. This trend will grow to unlock the true power of geospatial technology for the masses, beyond just maps and directions.
Winding throughout this thread of spatial information use is the trend for more accurate, higher quality and more current spatial data. There’s a growing trend for better quality assurance and accuracy in our spatial data, and a growing number of applications require immediate and up-to-date data. These three trends could have easily replaced the other three outlined above, but because they’re universal for all types of data, not just spatial, I decided to only include them as a sidebar.
We’ve tackled a large number of questions in our weekly Perspectives thread, and this week marks our full-year anniversary for this feature. Today’s wide open question is fitting for such a milestone. We never look at each other’s writing before posting, and there are some weeks that we’re in alignment and others where we’re directly opposed to each other. I’m guessing we may have some overlap on this question, but regardless, I’m interested to see what Jeff has to say. I hope that you share our interest in reading two separate takes on the same question.