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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 2017 Year in Review

December 19th, 2017 by Susan Smith

2017 tested the resilience of geospatial technologies with many natural disasters.  In reviewing the year, we take a look at products, services and technologies that moved the industry forward and responded eloquently to geospatial need.

Disaster response, weather tracking, and predictive weather analysis drove a great deal of development and put to the test those technologies in place for just such eventualities.

Other areas of interest include new developments in sensors, location and Big Data, small sats, mobile mapping and 3D models for indoor mapping, autonomous driving, and building smart cities.

Under the Weather

In an interview with URISA’s GISCorps founder Shoreh Elhami and URISA executive director Wendy Nelson, they offer a broader understanding of what GISCorps is about and how it can help with natural disasters.

Is ArcGIS Online able to generate a setting for help, i.e., website, app, or whatever resource might be needed, during a natural disaster event? And how soon might that be available to the public? 

ArcGIS Online (AGO) can be used to create a variety of story maps. Those story maps as well as any AGO based web apps can be embedded in any website and very quickly. A good example of that is the web app that our volunteers embedded in Fort Bend County’s website on road closures. Another example is a story map that was built by NAPSG shortly after the disaster, our volunteers also assisted with that project.

How has the GIS relief effort for Hurricane Harvey been handled by GISCorps so far and what are the plans going forward?

26 of our volunteers have been working on mapping road closures in Fort Bend County. The information originates from County’s website, emails, and also tweets. The Web app has been helpful to residents, first responders, and the county staff. The project was lead by two of our volunteers who worked with GISCorps Core Committee members on managing the project. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) also requested the assistance of a GIS programmer to pull data from the FEMA site on an ongoing basis. The GISCorps Recruitment team selected a volunteer within 30 hours and put the volunteer  in contact with CDC. We also asked our volunteers to contribute to NAPSG story map. We are currently on stand-by and ready to assist with other projects at this time, be it for Harvey or Irma.

Hurricane Harvey weather map

How do the projects for Hurricane Harvey and Katrina differ or are they the same? What are the priorities?

Quite different. For Katrina, we deployed 30 volunteers onsite, the option to assist remotely didn’t even exist. Volunteers packed up their bags, laptops, and other essentials and head over to the affected areas within a couple of days. For Harvey (and many other disasters of the past few years), we haven’t had to send anyone anywhere. Volunteers work from their home or offices and have been effective in different ways. For Katrina, the priority was to help with the rescue efforts at first (locate people under stress and report to the coast guard) and then, the recovery phase began where volunteers made 100’s of maps and conducted lots of analysis). For Harvey, crowd sourcing and information from social media have become major sources of information for developing interactive maps to first responders and other affected population.]

Tom Jeffrey, CEO of CoreLogic, a leading global property information, analytics and data-enabled solutions provider, talked about their analysis for the flooding and storm surge as a result of Hurricane Harvey.

Many news reports have pointed out that there were an enormous number of people in flood zones who did not have flood insurance. CoreLogic’s analysis shows that 52 percent of residential and commercial properties in the Houston metro are at “high” or “moderate” risk of flooding, yet are not in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) as identified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Properties that are within SFHA zones required flood insurance if the property has a federal insured mortgage, if categorized as Extreme or Very High risk.

CoreLogic used their North Atlantic Hurricane Model to create wind and storm surge damage footprints for Hurricane Harvey using the track forecast data from the August 25, 10:00 a.m. CT advisory issued by the National Hurricane Center. The model tracks the multiple facets of hurricanes such as ocean flooding, wind and storm surge. The North Atlantic Hurricane Model analyzes the insured loss data to determine the expected loss range from the Hurricane Harvey event footprint in the model. Certified by the Florida Commission Hurricane Loss Projection Methodology (FCHLPM) since the inception of the process in 1997, the model provides a granular, up-to-date detailed risk assessment for the combined perils of hurricane winds and coastal storm surge flooding.

We can compare what Hurricane Harvey’s insured property loss estimates are with previous storms. In this model, it is projected that Harvey will result in $1-2 billion insured property damage while Celia was a stronger storm (category 4) and wreaked $3 billion worth of damage. Hurricane Ike made landfall near Houston and resulted in $11 billion worth of damage.

Hurricane Harvey was estimated to cause $1 billion and $2 billion from wind and storm surge damage. Left out of this equation are insured losses caused by additional flooding, contents and business interruption, as the flooding and rainfall is expected to last several days or weeks.  95 percent of the insurance claims are expected to be related to wind and less than 5 percent related to storm surge. At the time of the report, low exposure to Houston and other large metro areas was expected. However, while Hurricane Harvey made landfall near Corpus Christi, it went on to wreak great devastation in the city of Houston. In Houston alone, about 100,000 homes are damaged, according to Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert.

Of course these estimates were subject to change and interpretation as more data has been revealed.

A new kind of predictive weather analysis became available from Climacell, a company that adds their own proprietary analysis and weather data to what is readily available from the National Weather Service.

Rei Goffer, ClimaCell, CSO, talked about the company’s partnership with Autodesk BIM 360 announced at Autodesk University 2017.

ClimaCell is targeting the construction industry with their short-term weather prediction model. Why? “One-half the lifetime of a construction site is very weather sensitive, from the time they dig a hole for concrete, it’s a big factor on daily basis,” said Goffer. “We need to be able to plan accordingly and for each weather phenomenon. That’s why we’re addressing the construction industry.”

ClimaCell also addresses other industries. Goffer is one of three co-founders, with a background in aviation. All three co-founders come from military service where they were very affected by weather. “We knew there was a big gap in the provision of Weather data,” said Goffer.

“We are developing the world’s most accurate granular short-term prediction model,” Goffer said.  “So that basically construction site managers can’t get this from any other weather app or specialized server.”

What differentiates ClimaCell from existing weather data providers?

Goffers reports:

  1. Weather data – we have many more weather observations, at much higher quality than any other weather company.
  2. Better models – we developed proprietary models for short-term weather prediction, that are faster and more accurate than anything previously available.
  3. Computing power – we run our models on GPUs (Graphical Processing Units) rather than on CPU (standard processors), which gives us an edge in terms of competing time and resolution.”

“Our software can be used on the construction site, and you can see a map of the rain predicted by our engine for the next six hours down to the street level, with five minutes intervals instead of 1 hour intervals,” said Goffer. “It’s Very valuable in terms of real time operations that the construction manager needs.”

Integrated into the Autodesk solution is the ability to automatically have your construction site on ClimaCell software and automatically generate alerts that you define. “So you can say you care about a specific intensity of precipitation and you want to know if it will cross a threshold. Do tell me to send a text message or email to my team. You can take it to the next level and send instructions to people in different functions.”

Frank Braunschweig, CEO of ACTION Modulers, talked about the agreement of Bentley to acquire ACTION Modulers, leaders in environmental modeling. With these modulers, you can predict the impact of weather and rain on your city. Reality modeling can assist in putting that information together accurately and efficiently. Capabilities include:

  • Predictive analysis for urban drainage overflow
  • Flood early warning systems
  • Pollutant tracking

Key points of the company:

  • It was established in 2004
  • Affiliated with the University of Lisbon’s School of Engineering (Instituto Superior Technico)
  • Strong research and development team
  • Proven technology for EU projects

“There is interesting timing around the release of ACTION Moduler with all the flooding, hurricanes, etc.,” said Bentley’s Aidan Mercer. “This software is predicting being able to “optioneer” the potential of this happening, This means it can be predictive and it can model the potential of that happening, and integrate with our predictive analytic software. This is providing that environment by integrating within ContextCapture so you can capture site conditions and then integrate that into the environment.

It’s not very hard to predict what’s happening today. Where the digital aspect will come in is when the machine has the likelihood of failure or of weather or systems hit by unusual circumstances. It’s not necessarily being able to model the existing network, its being able to simulate that prediction beyond that point. You’re seeing this simulation going into the cloud so it continuously cross references itself to find those gaps.”

Golf Course


On November 1, Velodyne announced that it is partnering with BoE Systems to integrate its VLP-16 Puck and VLP-16 Puck LITE LiDAR sensors into BoE Systems’ UAV fleet for geospatial data collection and analysis. This partnership delivers full 360° imaging of geography and equipment for a multitude of industries with a critical need for quick, safe, and accurate aerial inspections, including transportation, utilities, telecommunications/infrastructure, construction, aggregate, forestry, and agriculture.

In conjunction with BoE Systems’ proprietary hardware and software integrations, this provides digital maps with a level of detail that allows for the development of highly accurate flood models, drainage analysis, Building Information Modeling (BIM), contour mapping, and more.

Velodyne’s new Puck, VLP-16 sensor is the smallest, and most advanced product in Velodyne’s 3D LiDAR product range. Vastly more cost-effective than similarly priced sensors, and developed with mass production in mind, it retains the key features of Velodyne’s breakthroughs in LiDAR: Real-time, 360°, 3D distance and calibrated reflectivity measurements.

Velodyne LiDAR’s Puck LITE is a lighter weight version of the VLP-16 Puck for applications that demand a lower weight to meet their requirements. The Puck LITE has identical performance to the VLP-16, the only difference is the weight of 590 g vs. 830 g for the latter. No other changes have been made to the Puck LITE as it retains its patented 360° surround view to capture real-time 3D LiDAR data that includes distance and calibrated reflectivity measurements. Velodyne LiDAR’s Puck LITE is a lighter weight version of the VLP-16 Puck for applications that demand a lower weight to meet their requirements. The Puck LITE has identical performance to the VLP-16, the only difference is the weight of 590 g vs. 830 g for the latter. No other changes have been made to the Puck LITE as it retains its patented 360° surround view to capture real-time 3D LiDAR data that includes distance and calibrated reflectivity measurements.


Cepton Technologies, Inc.’s Head of Business Development Wei Wei  and Vice President of Engineering and co-Founder Dr. Mark McCord talked about the Silicon Valley company’s growth and their latest announcement. In October, Cepton Technologies, a provider of 3D LiDAR sensing solutions for automotive, industrial and mapping applications, announced the launch of SORA 200, a lightweight 3D LiDAR sensor.

Announced at the annual Commercial UAV Expo, SORA 200 promises to deliver long-range, high-resolution and low cost mapping capabilities to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Cepton also recently unveiled the HR80 series of high-performance 3D LiDAR products for ground applications.

Wei Wei said that the reason for developing SORA 200 was that there was no 3D liDAR sensor delivering long-range, high-resolution and low cost mapping for ground robots or UAVs. The much sought after SORA 200 is able to produce highly efficient 3D map data at increased altitudes and velocities in various environments.

The FAA requires that drones fly at at least 400 feet above ground. The direction of UAVs is moving towards the medium to small surveyor market, where mining, agricultural and other industries want UAVs to gather data with a 200 meter range. With a frame rate of 200 frames the drone can fly higher and faster. Previous LiDAR offerings were only able to offer a range of 100 meters.

At 550 grams, SORA 200 is the lightest high-performance UAV LiDAR on the market, according to Wei Wei.

Location, Location…and Big Data

As a result of the huge amount of data generated via mobile devices, social media, sensors, and transactions, Gartner forecasts that 8.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2017, up 31 percent from 2016, and will reach 20.4 billion by 2020. This sets the stage for the need for powerful location tools for both business and government going forward.

The expansion highlights an update to Pitney Bowes flagship solution Spectrum, a new Big Data module which incorporates address, location and customer data information to create a single view of a customer; unique customized data sets that organizations can deploy to supplement existing investments in business intelligence (BI) infrastructure that are now embedded directly into the SDK. The Big Data module provides the ability to validate and cleanse customer and location-based data natively within Apache Hadoop and Spark, before applying analytics. Clients benefit from the combination of market-leading address validation, GeoEnrichment and analysis to get more value from structured and unstructured data. For example, organizations can use these location-based insights to gain a 360-degree view of property to streamline the mortgage process, and property and casualty underwriting; offer coverage mapping for real-time mobile networks; and understand customers, merchants and ATM locations.

“Customers’ experience with Big Data frameworks brought them to ask us for this type of solution,” said Joe Francica, managing director, Geospatial Industry Solutions, Digital Commerce Solutions at Pitney Bowes. “Every implementation is different and some clients run on 10-50 nodes, it depends on the architecture they want.”

In working with insurance companies, Pitney Bowes processed a lot of data extrapolated to Florida for Hurricane Harvey response; providing homes with records and developing risk profiles. Geocoding is used for attribution and GeoEnrichment. Big Data includes attributes such as property value, roof composition, wall composition etc. on the software side.

According to company materials, Pitney Bowes has partnered with several of the largest Big Data software providers, including Cloudera and Hortonworks, and certified its data quality and advanced geospatial capabilities on both Cloudera Enterprise and Hortonworks Data Platform to help bring their solution to market. In addition, the software provider has joined with Hortonworks Partnerworks in the Modern Data Solutions (MDS) partner program. These partnerships will enable clients that have invested in Big Data frameworks to add Pitney Bowes data quality and location capabilities to their data lakes and business processes.

Acquired on November 29 by Operation IceBridge during a flight to Victoria Land, this image shows an iceberg floating in Antarctica’s McMurdo Sound. NASA image

Small Sats

According to the NASA website, small spacecraft and satellites help NASA advance scientific and human exploration, reduce the cost of new space missions, and expand access to space. Through technological innovation, small satellites enable entirely new architectures for a wide range of activities in space with the potential for exponential jumps in transformative science.

We will be seeing more of these small spacecraft and satellites in the commercial industry as well. GIS as embedded technology has become ubiquitous for the construction industry and other industries that rely on geospatial information. In some cases, organizations do not see geospatial data as a separate entity, but as part of a whole of the datasets needed for the workflow. Bentley and Autodesk are examples of these providers.

Thornton Abbey Scan – GeoSLAM

Mobile Mapping and 3D Models for Indoor Mapping

An example of advancements in indoor mapping is the ZEB-REVO handheld mobile mapping device from GeoSLAM Ltd. That employs a highly robust 3D Simultaneous Localisation And Mapping (SLAM) algorithm, which enables the rapid creation of a 3-dimensional model of any space.

Since it does not require a GPS signal, the ZEB-REVO is at its best in complex, enclosed, multi-level environments, without compromising on the accuracy of data collection.

The real-time upgrade option for the ZEB-REVO includes a revised datalogger capable of undertaking SLAM registration in real-time. It has its own integrated Wi-Fi, with results that can be displayed live, as they are captured, on any web browser enabled device including tablets and smartphones.

Autonomous Driving

Technology for autonomous driving such as Sanborn 3D HD Maps and the navigation technology to operate driverless cars will change the landscape of our roadways and the workforce. While autonomous driving is in its infancy, the route to making that happen is becoming shorter with more supportive third parties jumping into the industry.

The problem for Sanborn HD Mapping Technology is to reduce unattainable time and costs of autonomous car testing.

Their outcomes have been as follows:

  • High-precision 3D base maps
  • Substantial reduction in production time
  • 3D mesh used in driving simulation tool
  • automotive partners visualize and analyze 3D models on the Web

Used in this endeavor are Bentley ContextCapture, Descartes, Sanborn HD Mapping technology.

Smart Cities and Nations

Building entire cities is actually happening in Asia. The adoption of technologies to realize cities takes place more quickly there than anywhere else in the world. A small nation/state/city such as Singapore is well poised to take advantage of and demonstrate this exciting new technology.

Speaker chief executive of the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), Tan Boon Kai, gave a keynote entitled “Towards a Geo-Enabled Smart Nation” at this year’s “Year in Infrastructure 2017” event in Singapore. He spoke about Singapore’s push towards being the “world’s first smart nation.” This involves improving the lives of citizens, creating more opportunities and building stronger communities.

Using good data, the government can carry out better measurements and improve the nation’s performance holistically. They have limited land and unlimited space, and it takes just an hour to get from the airport to the furthest point on the island. Their goal is to optimize land resources for the economic and social development of Singapore.


  • optimization of state land and properties
  • gatekeeper for land use in Singapore


  • registration of land and property transactions
  • management of national land survey system
  • Administration of Residential Property Act

Mapping and Geospatial:

  • Development of geospatial technologies in support of Smart Nation
  • Operation of geospatial platforms within government
  • Building up geospatial capabilities within the public service

The mapping and geospatial workflow includes capture, model, share and manage data.

In supporting Smart Nation, Kai said they need digital transformation, to ensure interoperability, evolving from 2D to 3D and beyond.

“Having geospatial as a key component reinforces that data is fundamental as a push for developing as a small nation,” said Kai.

SLA are constantly exploring new ways of capturing and sharing data efficiently.

What do we have to do to support digital transformation? Digital transformation enables us to deliver on service making and processes, said Kai.

“Ensure interoperability, adopt open standard formats, believe in open format and smart data so data can support a wide variety of smart apps,” said Kai. “It can be stored in our database, developed once and used by many.”

2D is inadequate to represent high density development, so they must capture and create 3D datasets with a high level of detail. This is very important to allow environmental studies.

Smart Cadastre development is also a key data set of the country and processes. “All agencies use this data set,” said Kai. “Our cadastre system will in future be called Smart Cadastre, and hope it’s extended in 3D format. We hope it will improve productivity, decision making as well as do analytics.”

SIReNT GNSS Reference Stations are developed to ensure the country continually gets the best position from the system. It supports up to centimeter level positioning, navigation, and monitoring, and is an open system supporting both public and private users. “We need to constantly consider improving the integrity of this system,” said Kai.

OneMap 2.0 allows public users to download and obtain map data of Singapore, today it was upgraded from version 1. Developed inhouse, this solution is a complete open source environment, providing high quality geospatial information for all kinds of apps.

3D National Mapping is done in partnership with the water agency, public utilities, and aviation of Singapore, and for planning risk management and policy development. It involves capturing data at street level and phase 1 airborne laser scanning and imaging and phase 2, mobile laser scanning and imaging.

Terrain models and 3D mapping shown in the 3D City model for Virtual Singapore is in a virtual environment.

Massive amounts of data are collected for over 6,000 roads in Singapore. 3D models collect roads and street furniture, and support driverless vehicles of the future. Laser scanning for heritage documentation allows the country to protect their national monuments.

“We are looking at methodologies to allow us to capture models and manage underground networks to integrate above and underground 3D Map,” said Kai.

Once details get into 3D data set, it will be great, he said. Both softwares have to be compatible and share interoperability.

SLA is trying to create efficiency without manpower, as it is one of the ways to gather efficient data.

“SiRenT is our positioning system that allows us to gather data in real time,” said Kai. “How can we gather accurate real time data? We want to consolidate all the sensor data we have.”

The role of the electric utility allows SLA to monitor energy efficiency. The problem for telcos and energy companies is the need for consolidated ways to capture. Telcos in Singapore are privatized so there is an effort to get them to share their data. “We’re hoping we’ll be able to monitor consumption levels of energy and are  looking at ways to harness natural forms of energy,” Kai said.

“We need better insight into indoor infrastructure and how buildings are created as indoor data is critical for us,” said Kai. “You’ll soon be able to input BIM data, to increase the level of data you have.”

“Our challenges in Singapore in many government agencies, is how do you accurately capture the next generation of utility data underground, while ensuring today’s underground data is accurate?” Kai asked. “There’s no way of verifying underground drawings are accurate unless you dig.”

They will need to do more underground modeling, said Kai. Many countries share these challenges and if we can all find a solution in common, then technologies will be created to address the issue.

If these weren’t large enough challenges, Kai said they are working on driverless vehicle development, with SiReNT precise navigation capability for driverless cars.

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Categories: #YII2017, 3D Cities, analytics, ArcGIS, Autodesk University 2017, autonomous driving, Bentley, Bentley Systems, Big Data, Building Information Modeling, citizen science, climate change, cloud, cloud network analytics, CoreLogic, crowd source, data, developers, disaster relief, drones, emergency response, field GIS, geocoding, geospatial, GIS, government, handhelds, hurricanes, image-delivery software, in car navigation, indoor location technology, indoor mapping, laser radar, LBS, lidar, location based sensor fusion, location based services, location intelligence, mapping, mobile, NASA, NOAA, Pitney Bowes, reality modeling, remote sensing, resilient cities, satellite imagery, sensors, small sats, spatial data, storm surge, survey, telecommunications, transportation, UAS, UAV, UAVs, utilities, utility geographic information systems

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