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August 6th, 2013
Will the move toward Web GIS provision an operational augmented reality?

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Geospatial systems and data are a form of augmented reality already, providing insight into assets and operations in the context of the broader world. However, there’s a new level of augmented reality that is coming about that promises real-time insight, juxtaposing our models and asset information onto what we can see where we’re standing in real time.

This level of augmentation has hit phones and tablets to some degree with intriguing prototypes, but will really take off with wearable computers like Google Glass for true hands-free insight guided by our digital libraries and our business rules. The promise of quality assurance in fieldwork will follow, which will fuel enterprise investments that spur innovation and quick adoption. While there are compelling reasons to make this technological leap, there are also technological leaps that underpin the transition, and key among them is the adoption of the cloud that enables Web GIS.

Data Freedom

One of the most compelling aspects of the extension of software and services to the cloud is the ability to more readily combine asset information with base map data. Whether paying for updated imagery, or accessing a wealth of available base maps and styles, the cloud has greatly enhanced the mapping experience.

No longer are GIS professionals constrained by the onerous effort to provision servers, and beg for hardware improvements or a considerable data budget. Instead, there’s a much greater degree of freedom to act autonomously to deliver a compelling map experience with a wealth of data and domain-oriented templates that improve presentation and usability for larger audiences. With this newfound data freedom comes the ability to serve insight to new form factors of devices, enabling a greater degree of augmentation wherever the data is most accurate and mature.

Seamless Access

The cloud is proving a panacea for all manner of enterprise integration efforts, where the eased integration of Web Services helps to solve database and data incompatibility of the past. Not only is data more easily integrated, but by drawing on infinite computing capacity allows for complex analysis delivered quickly, where in-house servers or desktops would have cranked along for hours.

The intelligence community is leading a charge in harnessing this cloud capacity, with investments to integrate different data feeds, to analyze imagery on the fly, and to deliver situational intelligence to save lives by accurately predicting enemy actions. All enterprise users stand to benefit from this compelling mission that has spurred vendors to cooperate and deliver more understandable insight within the context of time and space.

No Augmentation without Precise Location

There are certainly technical barriers to be overcome before augmented reality makes sense, but it’s clear that it’s tightly tied to the advancements taking place in the geospatial community. AR can’t operate without accurate and updated information about our world and a precision of position that isn’t yet possible.

The underpinning of data and position that works well indoors and out, and provides a syncing of orientation of device with what we see is a daunting challenge. Making a natural extension to the real world will only be possible with better realism in our models, better tracking of position, better orientation between models and reality, and better devices that merge both views.

Insight to Spur Adoption

To date, we’ve seen some rather silly AR tourism or marketing applications that are throw aways in terms of their relevance, with nothing more than novelty staying power. For AR to truly change operations, it will need to become the way that we provision field crews on a daily basis, and will need to be intuitive and helpful to the point that it becomes indispensable. By achieving this status in just one organization, it will quickly proliferate as a market advantage — undoubtedly driving down costs while improving over time as the data that is shared and collected improves.

As we’ve seen this seamless move of data and GIS from desktop to server to mobile, the new form factor for immersive augmented reality can’t be far behind. We’ve provisioned our systems for this further transition to be a quick adjustment as all the connections are in place except further tuning of our devices, positioning technology and the data.

Augmented reality should be a target of GIS vendors, rather than allowing device manufacturers to drive this market. As discussed above, the ability to achieve the promise of AR rests as much in the data as the device, and in order for their to be a bi-directional benefit for the system and the user, the system should drive the innovation.

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