A lot has changed in the geospatial industry since I started my career back in the early 1980s. GIS software today has a level of sophistication that we could have only dreamed of back then. Digital technology and the Internet have transformed how we do business and how customers utilize imagery. And the geospatial industry has grown tremendously. Most importantly, geospatial imagery and data is everywhere today, used in countless applications by private companies, non-profit organizations, government agencies and the public. That is deeply rewarding to people who have devoted long careers to advancing the technology and promoting the use of geographic information.
The world has changed a lot over the last three decades and the use of geospatial information has grown exponentially, but in many important ways sensors have changed very little over that span of time. No, sensor technology has not been static. There have been important advancements that make them more powerful. But in a very fundamental way, sensors have not changed much since “E.T.” was the biggest movie at the box office and Olivia Newton John’s “Physical” was playing non-stop on the radio: Sensors today are predominantly monolithic, single-purpose, proprietary devices, just like they were 20-30 years ago. That would be fine if the world we live and work in was single-purpose world, but it’s not. We live in a multi-purpose world, and that requires a new approach.
Our industry needs a new generation of sensors that are designed to move beyond that monolithic approach. Some people might contend that the traditional sensors are OK as-is, arguing that the longevity of these traditional sensors prove that they work fine and arguing that a new generation of sensors is unnecessary. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” some might say. But the truth is that the monolithic approach is broken and has been for a while. Companies that use the sensors have been incredibly creative in working around the limitations of those sensors, and they have shown saint-like patient with the frustration of working with those outdated devices.
Traditional sensors are too limited in functionality, too hard to work with, and too costly to operate and maintain. Their design drawbacks and inflexibility impact geoimaging companies’ bottom lines every day by imposing unnecessary hard costs, soft costs and opportunity costs. The companies that use these sensors to collect imagery and data need better equipment in order to increase their productivity, increase their margins and grow their businesses. And I firmly believe that our industry will not achieve its true potential and advance the “science of where” until sensor technology evolves in a way that overcomes those limitations and drawbacks.
So what are the key attributes that the next generation of sensors needs to have in order to meet the technical and business requirements of geospatial companies for the next 10, 20 or 30 years?
These are the key design principles that are shaping the new generation of geoimaging sensors, and they will provide a powerful foundation for the geospatial industry as we continue to grow and as we continue to support new applications of geographic information.