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July 14th, 2014
What are the top ten promises of wearables for greater geospatial awareness?

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The wearables are certainly coming. We’ve seen the future in Google Glass, and the Android wear watches that are extending our handheld devices to be more hands free. We know that there is great value in extending technology to be more in tune with our actions, and less intrusive to our navigation.

Some of the first uses of the term augmented reality come from the navigation of cities with overlays of historical information or for guided field trips that aim to educate in the context of where geological processes made their mark. The dream has been long coming for devices that will break down barriers between our vision and experience, and aid our understanding by delivering information within the context of the world around us.

Wearables are a key to the next wave of advancement of geospatial technology – seamlessly delivering the data that we’ve worked so long to collect, and providing it in an intuitive user interface with little need for training. There are a great many use cases for this wearable technology, where location is the key to unlocking understanding, and here’s a top ten list of the professional potential use cases, and add-on innovations.

  1. Security – Perhaps you’ve heard of the military effort to create a contact lens that delivers situational awareness to the soldier. This leap forward to display information and enhance vision with sun protection, magnification and even video capture, gives this application the top spot, and the likelihood of leading the way with innovations.
  2. Exploration – Whether looking for minerals or for oil and gas, the ability to augment vision with maps of underground structures holds great potential to aid exploration. Field prospectors  will be able to expand their insight and perhaps even employ a spectrometric vision to understand the materials that they’re viewing in order to find the deposits that they’re after.
  3. Asset management – The complexity and normal wear and tear of our transportation and energy infrastructure require a great deal of ongoing maintenance. Wearables that better capture condition and guide repairs have the potential to greatly increase the effectiveness of the field worker.
  4. Location Scouting – The ability to view properties with a detailed understanding of commercial potential, overlaying insights about the population and retail success of companies around will improve this process. The wearable device might even overlay site requirements within the users vision to better judge suitability while also helping to measure and map for sharing and communicating.
  5. Planning and Designing – Related to the real estate example above, the ability to map and measure and overlay potential designs in context could greatly aid the planner and designer in putting forth their vision for an altered urban landscape. Again, the measurement and mapping of the site might be improved through wearable technology, while also aiding the wearer to come up with a vision for improvement while they experience what’s currently there.
  6. Building – The construction process could be dramatically altered by workers that have views of plans that they can manipulate while they’re also moving or constructing materials in place. The  heads-up display of plans with materials or components being placed would greatly reduce job site errors. These wearable devices could also have built-in laser levels and measuring capacity, further enhancing the worker’s accuracy and efficiency.
  7. Agriculture – The use of multispectral imagery to discern the health of crops is already in handheld form, but imagine if the grower could view their crops more seamlessly through goggles that display the health they see in front of them with airborne imagery and the records of what they’ve applied and the yield they’ve achieved. This full context could be the key to unlocking efficiency where the farmer has control of the information, and can call up the formula that works best for each soil type or condition.
  8. Emergency response – After a natural or manmade disaster, first responders fan out to understand the damage and aid those in need. Wearable technologies that aid finding and assessing as well as coordinating and prioritizing the work of teams could have a dramatic impact of how quickly we can recover.
  9. Natural Resource Management – Whether it’s assessing forest potential, battling invasive species, ensuring biodiversity or combatting pollution, the use of wearables will have an impact on how we manage our natural environment. The fieldwork in these fields are often in trying conditions, and wearables will simplify data collection and aid our understanding of habitats and ecosystems, uncovering interdependencies and giving us a better gauge of health and vitality.
  10. Public Works – The ongoing inventory and maintenance of our municipalities requires substantial fieldwork for such things as signs, hydrants, stormwater networks, and even graffiti removal. Putting geospatial technology in heads-up displays for such fieldworkers enhances their data collecting capacity to greater understand conditions, and to manage and prioritize the work.

This next wave of wearable technology will come with bi-directional data exchange, where delivering of information to the users is also accompanied by information feeds from various sensors that either the user carries or that relay data feeds to the user and the system from the objects around them through the Internet of Things. Our systems will gain insight and updates at the same time they’re aiding the field worker, and this added data will be a game changer for how we interact with and manage our world.

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