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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

GISCafe Voice Techno-Predictions for 2015

January 27th, 2015 by Susan Smith

In the United States alone, geospatial data and services are estimated to generate $1.6 trillion annually.

Skybox Imaging

Skybox Imaging

In essence, the products, services and technologies that we can put our hands on today, or that are in development, are part of the technology predictions for 2015. They provide markers for where the industry is going, for what is important and essential and will shape the future. Part of what we learned in assembling information for this article was just how important the current work people are doing is, and how that gives voice to the new ideas of the future.

Data has become one of the most talked about topics in the geospatial world, and not surprisingly. For many years, data has been a big topic, but much data has been inaccessible, and now there are various ways of being able to access it without such great cost.

DigitalGlobe, WorldView-3 image

DigitalGlobe, WorldView-3 image

For 2015, data is a big topic. The W3C and the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) announced a new collaboration to improve interoperability and integration of spatial data on the Web. Spatial data —describing geographic locations on the earth and natural and constructed features— enriches location-based consumer services, online maps, journalism, scientific research, government administration, the Internet of Things, and many other applications.

“Location, as well as providing context to much of today’s online information, is vital to the emerging field of connected devices,” said Ed Parsons, Geospatial Technologist at Google. “Through this collaboration we hope to make the understanding of geospatial knowledge a fundamental component of the Web.”

According to OGC materials, spatial data is integral to many of our human endeavors and so there is a high value in making it easier to integrate that data into Web based datasets and services. For example, one can use a GIS system to find “the nearest restaurant” but today it is difficult to associate that restaurant with reviewer comments available on the Web in a scalable way. Likewise, concepts used widely on the Web such as “the United Kingdom” do not match the geographic concepts defined in a GIS system, meaning Web developers are missing out on valuable information available in GIS systems. Bridging GIS systems and the Web will create a network effect that enriches both worlds.

The March 2014 Workshop on Linking Geospatial Data, co-organized by OGC and W3C in partnership with the UK Government Linked Data Working Group, Google, and Ordnance Survey (the UK mapping agency, drew more than 100 attendees. Topics ranged from management of data in response to the Fukushima nuclear plant accident to the use of spatial data to create new services from spatial and historical data in the Netherlands. Informed by the conclusions from that Workshop, the collaboration announced will enable publishers of spatial data, providers of services that consume the data, and application developers to establish common practices and reduce the cost of integrating spatial data on the Web. Through the collaboration the Geospatial and Web communities will document use cases and requirements, develop best practices for publishing spatial data on the Web, and advance some existing technologies to W3C Recommendations and OGC standards.

Now the gathering of data and the dissemination of data are moving at such a high rate of speed, due to the availability of cloud computing and methods of being able to gather data.

Where Data Comes From

Today, data comes from a variety of sources. It is no longer kept in a silo somewhere in a proprietary format. In fact, data needs to be un-proprietary in order to be able to be used by many stakeholders. Where data comes from nowadays includes: Building Information Modeling, UAVs, reality capture or modeling, scanning, data management, cloud computing, data acquisition as a service, LiDAR, satellite imaging — all hot ticket areas of advancement that we predict will continue to advance in 2015.

In 2009, a couple of Stanford grad students envisioned that they could “index the earth the way Google indexes the Internet.” This is how the radical satellite imaging company Skybox was born. And now Google has acquired the company. So I guess that’s where Google comes in: already there, in the way of indexing. And Skybox is already there in terms of providing the satellite. Last November the company launched its first mini-bar-sized satellite, SkySat-1 into orbit aboard a Russian Dnepr rocket. Plans are to launch eight more by the end of 2015. Skybox even has its own rocket.

An example among many, of how data is used: “Location plays a vital role for BBC Online, not least in our remit to provide timely information for Weather, Travel and Local News,” said Chris Henden, Service Owner for Location Services at BBC Future Media. “It matters across the service, from maps showing places of note in World War One, to detailed context for breaking news. We source data from various third parties, then transform, curate, and make it available to our front-end services. There is a perceptible gap between the specialized world of geographic data, and that of the Web. Bridging that gap can take significant, repeated effort, and is not always successful or possible. Therefore this collaboration between the OGC and W3C is more than welcome.”

Building Information Modeling

Some years ago when I first began reporting on “GIS,” many readers had not heard of building information modeling (BIM). Now, BIM is going to be discussed at major geospatial conferences, including the upcoming conference jointly hosted by MAPPS and NSPS national surveying, mapping, and geospatial conference, Collaboration: The Map to the Future, April 13-16, 2015 at the Hilton Hotel in Crystal City (Arlington), VA.

Another important announcement made in 2014 that will influence what happens in 2015, was that of the commitment between Bentley and Trimble to further infrastructure product delivery. Construction modeling includes modeling of temporary works, intelligent positioning, “splitting and sequencing,” detailing for fabrication, workface planning, construction work packaging, and support for distributed construction – referencing and supplementing design modeling deliverables.

BIM deliverables created by architects and engineers are valuable for owners and those involved in maintenance and operations. There has been a disconnect, however, between those BIM deliverables and their use by construction professionals, who have then gone ahead and created their own 3D models. This situation damages the integrity of the original designer’s BIM work and fractures the design to construction process, losing the view into engineering and analytics. Bentley and Trimble intend to fill this gap with construction modeling, where the architects and engineers’ work is “preserved and referenced,” with construction modeling overlaid and as-built changes included. Each company will pool resources to contribute to construction modeling. Trimble’s deep roots in location intelligence and positioning, as well as construction, combined with Bentley’s expertise in the area of architectural and engineering design, are a strong fit for helping to heal communication gaps between those two industries.

Vice president, Infrastructure at Autodesk, Paul McRoberts says Autodesk is “agnostic” about where data comes from. “It could be aerial imagery, it could be ‘pick your favorite’ GIS data environment, it could be a Revit, or Bentley environment. As long as the data is able to be represented from a pure coordinate perspective. We’ll also take point cloud information, or aerial imagery capture to what level of data you want or any scale you want in order to understand what things look like today. The biggest thing we’ve established is that folks want to know what does it look like today. We’ve taken it a step further –- what do we want it to look like tomorrow? We have layered in analytics to say whether or not this is the right decision – around traffic, airport, water systems, etc. Is it the right decision being made today for the future?”

In talking about 3D Cities, McRoberts says that the disruption during construction is a huge factor in determining how infrastructure will be built and when.

“We have a analytical environment right now that does multi-modal transportation, with a company we acquired called Azaleant,” says McRoberts. “What got us interested in them, is exactly that: I have the train, people, car, bus — all these ways to get from Point A to Point B. Instead we look at how the person gets somewhere – I take the train, ferry and then I walk…How long does it take me to get to these things?”

In Singapore they started a game-like environment where if you get off the train earlier and you walk, they will give you points for walking as part of the game. You trade those credits in for more transportation vouchers to use in other places. This has gone viral now.

This as well as other data sources, are changing the way we look at information.

“We used to have GIS and maps, and surveyors. Now we fly down the road with a drone or an aerial environment and collect exact information that is there,” says McRoberts. “With sensors we can tell the exact amount of traffic. I can layer all these things to advise me about the traffic of the future.”

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Systems (UAVs and UAS)

Speaking of where data comes from, one of the exciting developments on the horizon is the use of UAVs for gathering data that would be otherwise difficult or expensive to get.

Trimble  just received word from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that they have granted an exemption that will allow the company to conduct commercial operation of its Trimble® UX5 Aerial Imaging Solution in the U.S.

Brandon Basso, UAS Reno, said in his keynote at the recent ASPRS UAS Symposium in Reno in November, 2014, “The View from Above,” “Satellites are extremely expensive and resolution not that great, and hard to schedule. The farmer is not going to fly one, but for less than a few thousand dollars with a 3DR IRIS+, he can see what’s going on right now.”

On the other hand, there are situations where UAVs are not going to be reliable sources of information. For example, in remote and dangerous areas, such as around political prison camps in Afghanistan or North Korea, there is the fear that the UAVs will be shot down. There is no such worry about satellites.

John Palatiello, Executive Director of MAPPS and NSPS Executive Director Curtis Sumner were recently talking about the upcoming jointly hosted national surveying, mapping, and geospatial conference, Collaboration: The Map to the Future, April 13-16, 2015 at the Hilton Hotel in Crystal City (Arlington), VA (mentioned above).

“I think biggest trend is UAVs; it’s what everyone is talking about, and the biggest game changer in the community. In some respects it is a new enabling technology,” said Palatiello. “It’s disruptive technology. There is every reasonable expectation that the notice of proposed rule making by FAA will be out soon, and we’ll have some sense of what the rules will be and what folks may have to do become legal and operational.”

IGI Consulting’s “2014 UAV Market Research Study” conferred, reporting there will be a significant growth in 2015 after the FAA decision on UAV Access to the National Airspace.

UAVs will be important to surveying as well, and a lot of people at MAPPS will focus on this very heavily, as surveyors will use the data.

“I’ve gotten lots of responses from folks already some have already purchased small UAVs and have experimented within the constraints that exist,” said Palatiello. “From a surveyor’s perspective, anything that we’re going to be involved in in this conference, and in particular what we’re doing with National Geodetic Survey, has an impact on what surveyors do and how they do it. It also impact how surveyors contribute to the database that the NGS uses. I think that collaboration works just among the entities such as MAPPS and NSPS and our other partners, but also across public and private sector lines.”

Special GISCafe Coverage: UAS: Disruption in the Skies

Reality Capture or Reality Modeling

The accessibility of point clouds, drones and imagery is all part of what Bentley calls “reality modeling.” “We’ve put a lot of effort into being able to model reality as cheaply as possible,” said Francois Valois, director of Product Management at Bentley Systems. Reality modeling serves as the basis for design, planning, construction and ultimately operations.

Kevin Breslin, Infrastructure Solutions Manager, IMAGINiT Technologies, talked about new technologies that are being used by their consulting company. The list includes “not just laser scanning,” but digital cameras, drones, acquiring information at relatively low cost,and extracting from it accurate, 3D models that can be integrated into most design technology.

“The concept is not new,” says Breslin. “We’ve been acquiring existing conditions forever. Surveying is not new, but the tools & technology that we have now extend the range of possibility. For us it is a holistic approach to reality capture. We are looking at it from the 3D laser scanning side, but also looking at other tehcnologies such as hardware and software. We are focusing more on how we can work with our customers to get the results they need without focusing so much on the technology they need or a piece of hardware.”

Reality capture is taking off. No longer does it cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in hardware. “There are different tools for different jobs; some tools yield a higher degree of accuracy and certain environments. Depending on the needs and level of accuracy an organization needs, we can help them find more cost effective tools and help them gain a great deal of rich, detailed information.”

Breslin talks about how a cell phone camera photo can drive a 3D color mesh model that you can then import into AutoCAD Civil 3D, Revit, etc. “That’s a big change we’ve seen. Cameras, UAV drones, quadcopters – it’s really exploded.”


Scanning is under the “Reality Capture or Modeling” umbrella in terms of its ability to capture as-built environments so that people will have a quick model of a structure without having to completely remodel it in BIM or CAD.

Bentley and Siemens PLM Software announced they have integrated Bentley’s point-cloud building information modeling (BIM) advancement with the state-of-the art process simulation tools in Siemens’ Tecnomatix software for 3D digital factory automation. This will enable users of Siemens’ product lifecycle management (PLM) software solutions to work from enhanced 3D digital models of existing factories in their “as-operated” conditions – by leveraging the models created from point clouds captured through scanning.

Data Management

At Autodesk University 2014 held in Las Vegas in December, Joe Hedrick, Infrastructure Solutions Team Manager, IMAGINiT Technologies, talked with GISCafe about how projects in general are becoming bigger, along with ever-increasing use of reality capture. IMAGINiT  is a provider of software, training, support and services to design and engineering companies and Autodesk Authorized Reseller and Autodesk Training Center.

“Bigger datasets, more partners and consultants are involved,” said Hedrick. “We continue to see a huge increase in people looking for ways to manage data. We’ve had several contracts with the army where they are managing everything from facility drawings to various documents and spreadsheets. In addition, private and commercial engineering and architectural firms are looking for ways to share data and projects.”

IMAGINiT mostly uses Autodesk Vault for integrations and data storage. “Commercial firms may want to tie into accounting, and we have integrations into some of the popular accounting packages out there,” said Hedrick. “We’re in the middle of a big one for government. We are using our system and then programmatically writing to the data tables that they have in place.”

A cheaper solution to integration and managing data is Autodesk’s Fusion A360, said Hedrick. “I think it will change how we manage data. It’s going to integrate very nicely into the design platforms and apps.”

With data management, Hedrick said the biggest challenge is the size of the models. “How do you share a model that could be several gigabytes? With one of the army projects, we’re talking about 3 TB of data. How do we share that information? With pure sizes, there’s not a great way to share that amount of information. This becomes particularly difficult when you incorporate scanned data into it.”

Cloud Computing

Attitudes toward the cloud have changed in the years since its announcement, and many companies offer their own cloud services for customers. The importance of the cloud will continue to grow, as it makes so many technologies possible. Most major software companies now include a cloud offering for their customers.

ArcGIS 10.3 was released at the end of 2014. In this release, 2D and 3D are in the same application, ArcGIS Server becomes a complete system for achieving the Web Portal. The portal, Web GIS,  is included as part of the server product and serves as a platform. Side by side with ArcMap, you can use the new ArcGIS Pro. It’s efficient, has an intuitive display, supports multiple layouts, and is a step toward the future of desktop GIS. ArcGIS Pro connects tightly with the rest of the ArcGIS platform through web GIS. In other words, you can publish directly from ArcGIS Pro to either ArcGIS for Server or ArcGIS Online.

ArcGIS 10.3 platform

ArcGIS 10.3 platform

Bentley’s newly announced CONNECT Edition provides a very complex and deep common environment to extend across work groups and enterprises, without changing the basic file format of the products that users have an investment in already.

Bhupinder Singh, senior vice president at Bentley Systems enlightened an audience about CONNECT Edition at the Bentley Year in Infrastructure 2014 event held in London in November 2014, saying that Bentley’s platform approach is to extend it to include your desktops, servers and handheld devices.

“When you have suites, there is still a disconnect,” said Singh. “A goal was to improve information mobility with CONNECT Edition. When you begin you connect to a project, everyone connects to a project profile, then there is a project playbook, and personal playlist – an individual set of apps for the user.” This is similar to the playlist you get with your Apple iTunes music list.

The benefits are: reducing time it takes to get project started, to get supply chains on board, and the data you have becomes increasingly more valuable.

The idea behind CONNECT Edition is to bring cloud services to “all users across all projects.” Microsoft Azure cloud services also serves as the underlying technology for CONNECT SELECTservices, which was introduced earlier this year to all Bentley subscribers. Also through Azure, Bentley’s MANAGEservices provides instant-on access to all ProjectWise services.

From Autodesk comes the cloud product A360, a project based collaboration tool where data is housed in a central location in the cloud. It was built in response to a need for a product that is specific to AEC and “better than DropBox,” according to Bass. Everyone attending AU got a free one year subscription to it.

“A360 digitizes the way you work together, and captures all activity in one place, an essential place to collaborate,” said CEO Carl Bass. “You don’t need a separate product to do it, it is built into all 360 products today and all our products of the future.”

“Fusion 360 provides the context to understand what’s going on in your project. The cloud provides a natural hub to see what needs to be changed and what needs to be done.”

A key technology in making 3D modeling of urban environments affordable is the power of cloud computing. That, combined with more affordable software access options, make the management of 3D city models possible on more devices, making the technology far more mobile and facile.

Data Acquisition as a Service

Data acquisition has become big and diversified, and with that change has come the designation and need for “data acquisition as a service.” Companies who are able to acquire data and extract important information from it are going to be ahead of the game in 2015.

From Jon Fingland, Business Unit Director, Trimble General Contractor & Construction Manager division, comes this message: “Over the course of the next year, we anticipate a lot of focus on technology integration and connectedness. The focus here at Trimble is to enable improved value-extraction from the many datasets and technologies already in place in the industry to help service providers be more competitive and efficient. The days of data silos need to pass in favor of improved transparency, collaboration and overall process improvement.

To remain competitive, improved organizational synchronization will keep everyone on the same page:

         Connecting the office and the field, the virtual and the real

         Connecting the stakeholders, such as the architect, contractor, trades and owners

         Connecting internal stakeholders to leverage data through the process, such as continuity from a design to estimating, to scheduling and into field execution

The vision of a seamless flow of work is truly becoming a reality and the result will be rapid change in the industry.”

At one time, it was very difficult to get contractors to embrace technology. Today, contractors have more choice and more flexibility in the technologies they employ to get the work done. “The winners will facilitate users in their desire to take advantage of the best tools available today,” said Fingland. “Rather than increasing the number of datasets required, making the data available to be leveraged and accessible by all that need it will, in no small way, transform the construction industry.”

“One particularly compelling opportunity for sharing datasets is in tracking work progress against plans. Connecting the actual time labor spends on a job, as well as connecting material, equipment and tools to what is on site and where it is, could feed directly into project management systems. This will result in a tighter adherence to schedules and improved visibility into the hours that are actually needed to complete each stage of complex projects.”


There has been increasing demand for research utilizing all information generated from lidar remote sensing data and not just bare earth digital elevation models (DEMs). While this technology has been a proven mapping tool, effective for generating bare earth DEMs,research on using the entire point cloud of this remote sensing data for scientific applications have been slowed by:

  • The high cost of collecting LiDAR
  • A steep learning curve on research and understanding involving utilizing the entire point cloud.

Some of the main providers of LiDAR data – Velodyne, Leica Geosystems, Optech, and Riegl USA, and Unmanned Systems Source are interested in the phenomena of providing LiDAR specifically for UAVs now.

Satellite Imagery

One significant game changer for satellite imagery has been recent: in 2014  DigitalGlobe, Inc. received permission from the U.S. Department of Commerce on its application to allow the company to sell its highest-quality and industry-leading commercial satellite imagery. Consequently, the U.S. government will relax restrictions to allow for commercially available satellite imagery up to 25 cm resolution – this being twice as detailed as the previous limitation of 50 cm.

DigitalGlobe was already positioned for this: their DigitalGlobe WorldView-3 which launched August 13, 2014, (Worldview-3 launch from Vandenburg) is the first commercial satellite set up to capture these high resolution images at 25 cm. Within six months of this historic launch, those private industries who want these high-resolution images and videos of the globe can have them for the asking – and the ticket price, of course.

The high-resolution images from the $463 million Worldview-3 are so sharp that maps’ level of accuracy and detail will increase so that it can determine 10-inch objects such as telephone poles, mailboxes, garbage cans and other things attached to ground level. Imagine, being able to see such things from space! Customers can see through smoke, take a look beneath the ocean’s surface and determine the mineral and moisture content of the earth below.

GISCafe Voice did a special coverage on the topic:

Greater Clarity from Space: Update on Satellite Imagery


What is different about today’s technological predictions is that the thing that we can most easily predict is that there will more blending of technologies. When years ago, there was resistance to the merging of GIS and CAD, or BIM, now those technologies are spoken of in the same mouthful at many events, especially in areas of infrastructure and sustainable cities and disaster recovery. Where once the technologies used in manufacturing such as 3D scanning were reserved for that industry, they have now found their way into both the AEC and the GIS industries. Where once the need to share data was considered suspect by a great number of government and private agencies, today there is more open discussion about data sharing now that cloud technologies and other technologies have made those activities more accessible and perhaps at the same time, more friendly. The need to share data and collaborate has also increased severalfold over the past few years, due to disasters both natural and manmade, as well as the need to restore aging infrastructure and look at the health of cities globally.

Satellite imaging, remote sensing, LiDAR and 3D scanning companies are looking at ways to deliver their products using UAVs, or figuring out what they can use UAVs for and what they can’t. While none of the technologies mentioned in this article will come as a surprise to anybody, I think the surprising thing is that they are all being considered and used together now. If the technologies aren’t quite here yet, perhaps such as UAVs, the road is being paved for their arrival, with many companies lined up to usher them in.

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Categories: 3D Cities, analytics, ArcGIS, ArcGIS Online, asset management, Autodesk, Bentley, Big Data, cloud network analytics, conversion, crowd source, data, Esri, Esri UC 2014, field GIS, geospatial, GIS, Google, GPS, Hexagon, image-delivery software, indoor location technology, Intergraph, lidar, location based sensor fusion, location based services, location intelligence, mobile, OCG GeoPackage, OGC, Planet Labs, remote sensing, satellite imagery, sensors, Skybox Imaging, spatial data

One Response to “GISCafe Voice Techno-Predictions for 2015”

  1. Sanford says:

    However, in order to successfully take aerial shots with
    Remote controlled drones, a lot of factors need to be considered.
    One of the best products that can be found here is the quadcopter (Maricruz).
    Some of the latest models can also be controlled through your tablet
    or smart phone.

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