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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 Trends and Predictions for 2018

January 4th, 2018 by Susan Smith

Happy New Year!

As mentioned in our year-end wrap-up, a great number of events that shaped technology in 2017 were natural disasters. Scientists and experts predict that we will see more of these natural events and will continue R&D efforts to prepare for them.

Smart city technology will become more important as geospatial professionals seek to find better ways to predict, analyze and prepare communities for the onslaught of weather events. Actual Smart Cities are being built in some parts of the world. And to make those smart cities and countries, in some cases, viable, we will grow greater confidence in artificial intelligence, vehicle technology, Cloud, Internet of Things (IoT), drones, high resolution satellites and small satellites, augmented, virtual and mixed realities and data and sensors.

These technologies have become or will become a part of the fabric of geospatial interaction as the demand for them increases.

The Global Mountain Explorer provides information from global scales down to specific mountains, such as Borah Peak, Idaho pictured above. (Public domain.)


For many years, sensors were a kind of distant relative of geospatial technology. Now they are front and center, a powerful driving force. They are behind data capture technology from UAVs, high resolution satellites, GPS-enabled smartphones, smartphone apps able to capture 3D scan data and much more. They are the brains behind the IoT, AI, and the driverless car vehicle technology on the horizon.

To get a sense of just how much influence sensors alone have, take a look at the following:

The Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence

This holiday season saw a big upset as Amazon slashed prices on its Echo Dot smart speaker and its Alexa voice assistant to $30, forcing the price of Google Digital Home Devices down, and complicating the release of Apple’s HomePod. Amazon limited the purchase of Echo Dots to three per family. Sales went through the roof, and these are backordered for an extended period of time.

What does this device do and how does it impact our lives?

Smart speakers start talking only under specific circumstances, like when they are awakened and spoken to, or when there’s a timer or reminder set up, or when someone calls the device.  A Talking Digital Assistant like Echo may ultimately connect more devices and complete more tasks around government, commercial and private establishments than has been previously been possible.

And on the social spectrum, will it supplant friendships, do shopping, give us driving directions? Will we relinquish more responsibility to devices than we already have?

What are the ramifications for security as Amazon collects information from its Echo devices (and other servers will do too)?

Artificial intelligence, which this device technology is an example of, is a collection of advanced technology that allows machines to sense, comprehend, act, and learn. Echo Dots can learn how to recognize your voice, sense your voice and comprehend and act on a command. The notion is that AI can in fact “improve productivity and lower costs, unlock more creative jobs and creating new growth opportunities.” Ultimately, customers could pay for goods by simply using their voice.

Business Insider Intelligence predicts that Amazon will continue to perform strongly and lead the U.S. market in the smart speaker market, selling more than 70 million smart speakers through 2025. It is expected that more devices will also feature screens in the future.

Test drive of Nissan’s brain-to-vehicle technology (B2V) in Atsugi, Japan.Photographer: Camille Lim/Nissan Motor Co.

Vehicle Technology

This year, many popular software providers have discussed their role in the upcoming self-driving car technology. The foot is on the accelerator with this technology, with many technology providers developing new aspects of this future tech.

While it may not seem imminently viable to geospatial professionals, it is technology that will affect our workforce but also the way we build roads, rail and bridges, to incorporate self-driving vehicles. As it impacts those infrastructures, it will then impact the destination infrastructure that is connected by those networks. So while it might not be something that you will encounter when you go to work this coming Monday morning, research and development is under way to bring future technology to fruition.

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.

The challenges faced by 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

Just this week, Nissan announced its R&D to use brainwave sensors to detect what a driver intends to do in the next fraction of a second, or in a self-driving car, what he expects the car to do.

Open Source

Open source software is not a new trend, but it is destined to continue into 2018. Open Geospatial Consortium (OGS) standards will be valuable in the proliferation of IoT offerings, new driverless car regulations and perhaps will influence capturing real-time data from other sources.

Smart Cities and Nations 

In the U.S. we have many cities using smart city technology but not to the extent it is being used in Europe and Asia. This technology is destined to explore every new technology that is released, including that designed for IoT, reality modeling and self-driving cars, and all data capture capabilities.

The adoption of technologies to realize cities takes place more quickly in Asia than anywhere else in the world.

China’s next big new city is the new Beijing capital. According to Santanu Das, senior vice president, Design and Modeling at Bentley, they’re moving the capital away from Beijing. to between Beijing and Tianjin. About 200 miles to the east, it is a USD $118 B project and they’re going to finish it in five years. There is no environmental impact report that needs to be done. They don’t have government regulations of flyover, data capture, conversions, like in the U.S. There’s probably a 2 million population between those two locations.

A small nation/state/city such as Singapore is well poised to take advantage of and demonstrate this exciting new technology. Singapore will become a blueprint for larger nations to embrace a holistic view of building, incorporating all the requirements of a nation that it was not possible to do at the birth of most countries.

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 Bentley “Year in Infrastructure 2017” event in Singapore, talking 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 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.

References to entire cities being built in Asia:

Set to be complete by 2020, Nanhui will be a “satellite city” (kind of like an urbanized suburb) in the Pudong area of Shanghai. It’s over a decade in the making. Construction, including residential complexes, eight university campuses, a museum, offices, plazas, and retail began in 2003.  

Designed by the German architects Gerkan, Marg, and Partners, Nanhui New City plans to attract 800,000 residents and reportedly cost $4.5 billion.  

The Chinese government has spent billions of dollars constructing Yujiapu Financial District, nicknamed “China’s new Manhattan” (There are even skyscrapers inspired by Rockefeller Center and Lincoln Center). Construction on the 1.5-square-mile site started in 2008, and will total an estimated $30.4 billion.

Located outside Tianjin, it will feature 47 new residential and office towers when complete in 2019.

Augmented, Virtual and Mixed Realities

Most popular and notable design software companies offer some kind of augmented and/or virtual reality tools. Putting those two together, you have a mixed reality experience. These are in greater use than ever before, as they can also offer a fourth immersive and predictive model for more clarification.

A product we looked at in 2017 may signal a trend in VR: Alan Buckner, director of workstation VR management, talked about the HP Z VR Backpack workstation that was announced at SIGGRAPH 2017.

The HP Z VR Backpack product boasts very high frame rates provided by NVIDIA Quadro P5200 with 16 GB video memory, seventh generation Intel Core i7 vPro Processing, two totally swappable batteries that can be swapped while the VR session is running. This allows the user to keep the immersion running. Plus 32GB Z RAM to drive large datasets and applications in VR.

The Backpack itself is lightweight, engaging, easy to manage, for those who need an untethered experience for moving around in different jobsite areas freely. It also is great for IT administrators who want to bring the product into an environment where it works with other products.

SaaS Solutions

Software-as-a-service applications are here to stay, cloud-based services that by definition interact with a number of clients over the internet. They can be open or on private networks. This is a cost-effective way for organizations to procure and use their GIS tools, by only buying the tools they need when they need them. This works well for both small and large geospatial firms with requirements for GIS, analysis and visualization.

Small satellites

According to NASA, small sats is the umbrella term for describing any satellite that is the size of an economy-sized washing machine all the way down to a CubeSat, which you can hold in your hand.

CubeSats were developed by researchers at California Polytechnic State University and Stanford University who wanted a standardized format to make launching them into space easier and to be small enough for students to get involved in designing, building and launching a satellite.

Often the small sat can ride on a larger mission if it is small enough.

The small size of the satellites, be it the size of a cereal box, for example, doesn’t allow much room for the science instrument or power to run it.

NASA is working on flying a group of satellites in a formation, each of which can see a slice of Earth. The views could then be stitched together later.

While small satellites don’t offer the high resolution or longevity of bigger satellites, they can cover more ground area and fly more frequently. They can also be sent into areas that you wouldn’t want to send a larger satellite. Combined with large satellites, they can complement and offer a bigger picture.

Several other creative ideas are in the works, which suggests that we will see more about small sats of all kinds in the coming year.

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Categories: 3D Cities, airports, analytics, autonomous driving, Big Data, citizen science, climate change, cloud, crowd source, data, developers, disaster relief, drones, earthquakes, emergency response, Esri, field GIS, geocoding, geospatial, GIS, government, GPS, handhelds, hurricanes, image-delivery software, in car navigation, indoor location technology, indoor mapping, LBS, lidar, location based sensor fusion, location based services, location intelligence, mapping, mobile, NASA, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, NGA, OCG GeoPackage, OGC, Open Source, OpenGeo, photogrammetry, reality modeling, remote sensing, resilient cities, satellite based tracking, satellite imagery, sensors, situational intelligence, small sats, smartphones, spatial data, storm surge, subsurface utilities, survey, telecommunications, transportation, UAS, UAV, UAVs

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