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December 28th, 2014
Sensors & Systems Ten Predictions for 2015

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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 2015. On the list are platform and services advancements, policy initiatives and the continued convergence of mapping and modeling for infrastructure design.

1. Increased Infrastructure Spend – The issue of aging infrastructure, and the need for repair, is one of the few funding issues with growing bipartisan support in Washington. With the American economy doing well in comparison to both Europe and Asia, now is likely the time for increased investment, which will further spur economic growth. Geospatial tools are ideally suited to help analyze the investment that is needed, particularly for the large linear assets of roadways. Newer laser mobile mapping and drone-based bridge and utility corridor inspection tools will have a strong role in the planning and maintenance phases of this work.

2. Wearables – We’ve seen much pushback against Google Glass of late as those that spent $1,500 to be cutting edge have abandoned the devices for lack of utility. Google has yet to move to mass production, and developers are abandoning the platform. Other wearables are faltering too, such as fitness tracking devices, with smart watches on the rise. However, smartphones are still the outright mobile winner and are becoming more powerful and central to how we collect field data and communicate with our circles. This doesn’t mark the end of the heads-up display possible with glasses or headsets, but it does slow development of such interfaces. It looks like innovation will be needed to advance wearables. Looking back, it is perhaps parallel to Microsoft’s tablet efforts that faltered only to be resurrected and eclipsed by Apple’s iPad. Perhaps we’ll see some new tech this year from the likes of Apple or Samsung to advance the functionality and adoption of wearables.

3. Mapping for Automation –  The markets for mapping in mining and agriculture are advancing thanks to the use of these maps for automation. We’re seeing the growing use of machine control in these industries and the lower-cost data collection platforms of drones and smallsats are aiding this increased automation. We can expect more innovation in both of these industries, with custom workflows and data collection platforms that are tuned to the work. Regularly updated maps with insight into mineral composition or crop health are what guides all production decisions, and increasingly the actor for those decisions is a robot tuned to the map.

4. Discovery – The baffling disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 gave us a stark reminder that while we’re in an era of globalization, the world is still a big place. This geographic lesson has been accompanied by a large-scale seafloor mapping effort in the estimated area of the plane’s disappearance. In addition, there’s a growing clamor for a global satellite-based system for all flight tracking. The growing capabilities of Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) will help close the gaps, and will provide new tools for closer monitoring of flight as well as ship traffic.

5. Government Investment – NASA is set for an explosion in Earth observing missions this coming year, which will further the science of monitoring across many areas including climate change impacts. The mission of this agency seems secure, likely in light of the growing investment from emerging countries such as India and China are making in space. The agency’s budget was boosted $549 million more than the president requested.

6. App Mentality – The announcement late in the year of an IBM an Apple alliance for enterprise customers furthers the move toward apps and dashboards for the delivery of decision making tools for a broad set of workers. The alliance between Esri and IBM is likely a player in these apps for location and mapping functionality. The alliance further advances the delivery of simple and fine-tuned solutions that are aimed at improving efficiency. The approach relies on analysis of large amounts of data to tease out insight, but wraps the insight into a simple interface.

7. Security – The ongoing unrest in the Middle East provides a stable revenue stream for high-resolution imagery to monitor activiity in the region despite the fact that war efforts are over in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The rise of ISIS in vacuum of power in Syria and Iraq has proven problematic, and satellite imagery has provided needed insight in these areas of unrest. With power changes across this region and into Asia, the need for ongoing monitoring for military purposes won’t likely diminish for some time to come.

8. Earth Observation – With DigitalGlobe’s successful launch of WorldView-3 and the subsequent removal of restrictions on the resolution of imagery that customers can purchase, the capabilities of commercial satellite imaging took a big leap forward. While the business model seems secure for high-resolution imagery, there are a number of upstarts aiming to deliver more frequent revisits with good enough resolution. The Earth observation market is set to expand, and many players are looking for new opportunities around the rapid deliver of data and insights on a service model rather than an image model. We can expect the cloud delivery of applications and solutions to play largely into the expanded use of imagery in the coming year..

9. Models or Maps – In the infrastructure modeling and mapping space, we are seeing ongoing convergence where project starts use GIS or other modeling tools such as Autodesk’s InfraWorks for the early conceptual stages of project development. The convergence of CAD, BIM and GIS continues, and at this point there’s no set answer for what approach wins out. There’s ongoing need for greater interoperability, broader access, and integration of the tools and data. 

10. Subscriptions – The leading GIS vendors are moving more toward a subscription model rather than a licensing model. This played out most recently with Hexagon Geospatial’s Power Suite bundling of software capacity aimed at different levels of production activity. The model works well for both provider and user, with a dedicated yearly revenue stream and ongoing software updates that don’t have to conform to a yearly release cycle. The future of geospatial is a hybrid desktop and cloud configuration, with the solutions crafted by professionals and delivered more readily as web-based apps. With data more readily accessible via marketplaces and other repositories, the user has been freed to consider usefulness and usability.

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