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February 3rd, 2014
How has geodesign sparked geospatial technology innovation?

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Often, a really good problem to solve is needed in order to spur technology innovation. The evolution of geographic information systems from primarily recording conditions into an environment where it becomes the impetus for environmental or urban actions certainly has proven to be a challenge. This challenge comes at a time when CAD, BIM, and GIS are converging, and there are increasing numbers of sensors to inform our understanding of the world, often in real time. It’s also powered by more automated data capture and ample base maps that can be accessed much more cheaply than in the past.

The term geodesign is as fitting as any to describe these more dynamic information hubs that improve the design process through greater knowledge, and integrated simulations for the understanding of design performance. This dynamic future toolset owes a lot to the concept and possibilities of geodesign. A good number of challenges that face geodesigners are spurring innovation, from the ability to quickly model reality and engage stakeholders to the need to integrate more monitoring, metrics and models to understand the nexus between the built world and the environment.

Great Gathering

The fifth Geodesign Summit took place just last week in Redlands, Calif. at the headquarters of GIS giant Esri. There, the community of 300 attendees were treated to a broad range of presentations that incorporated GIS and city modeling primarily in planning and development scenarios. The geodesign technology push was evident in the tools displayed by Esri, with integrated 2D and 3D modeling, and the need to engage and extend designs for public input.

One of the key moments from the event took place immediately following a keynote by Janine Benyus on the need to mimic nature to take advantage of thousands of years of evolution. The keynote touched on the vision of modeling cities based on their ecosystem services, with metrics for the amount of air and water that they return to their environments. The idea of cities being scored based on their benefits to their surrounding environments puts the push for action onto the city and is counter to the monitoring and measurement of cities only for their detrimental impacts. This concept was embraced by Esri’s president Jack Dangermond and discussed as possible with today’s tools that could be further enhanced to offer the kind of accountability that Benyus described.

Clear Direction

The cloud is a big enabler for this vision, with modeling possible online with extensions of computing capacity, and the use of Web Scenes for rich interaction within a browser without plugins. Esri’s effort is not focused just on visualization and design manipulation as it extends to environmental and legal libraries for a more intuitive understanding of legal and zoning details as well as the possible impacts on the natural environment with stormwater, wind and weather models and feedback.

This next-generation of digital reality interactions puts a great deal of power into the hands of users that are trying to make sense of current conditions and to answer complex questions about the behaviors of people in their built environments or Earth systems or of fauna and flora. The current capacity is far from able to model the complexity of nature, but the road map is clear and it will continue to help explore and explain phenomena and interactions. At the heart of this new way to visualize and explore is the ability to also expose and share with great transparency that allows for inclusive feedback on what is happening or what is planned along with intended and modeled outcomes.

Growing Urgency

Geodesign is as much a concept as it is a mission with a sense of urgency that we must make sense of our planet in order to address issues of carrying capacity, biodiversity, energy, resources, and changing climate. The issues appear to be compounding and pointing the way to a future that cannot be addressed in the same way. The need for a new approach to things would benefit greatly from the geodesign approach of informing planning and design with expected outcomes.

The move from design then build then test, and toward testing the design before building instead, is the kind of move that addresses the need to be proactive about adapting to changing realities rather than reacting when changes become disruptive. The urgency comes from increasing volatility in the face of water and food shortages, or the real possibility of environmental refugees that must move because the planet can no longer support them in their historic location. The challenges are real and growing, and the time to react is now and before something catastrophic occurs.

Ultimately, geodesign provides a unifying vision that can be taught and pursued through projects and with an evolving toolset. The amount of change that it can impart still rests on individuals, communities, policy makers, and the designers and planners that guide our patterns and approach to change.


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