Spatial Technology Trends

Message from the Editor -

Welcome to GISWeekly! The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Engineering unveiled the world's most advanced "sentient" building - the Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science, at the end of April. This was accomplished using local positioning systems by Ubisense, a sense-driven computer system that tracks people and equipment with “Ubitags”, monitoring and managing everything inside a building in real time. The Ubisense system utilizes Ultra-Wide Band (UWB) radar technology, developed by a team of scientists based in Cambridge, England. Read all about this and more exciting spatial technology in this week's Industry News.

GISWeekly examines select top news each week, picks out worthwhile reading from around the web, and special interest items you might not find elsewhere. This issue will feature Industry News, Acquisitions/Alliances/Agreements, Announcements, New Products, Going on Around the Web, and Upcoming Events.

GISWeekly welcomes letters and feedback from readers, so let us know what you think. Send your comments to me at Managing Editor

Best wishes,
Susan Smith, Managing Editor



Industry News
Spatial Technology Trends

By Susan Smith

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Engineering unveiled the world's most advanced "sentient" building - the Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science, at the end of April. This was accomplished using local positioning systems by Ubisense, a sense-driven computer system that tracks people and equipment with “Ubitags”, monitoring and managing everything inside a building in real time. The Ubisense system utilizes Ultra-Wide Band (UWB) radar technology, developed by a team of scientists based in Cambridge, England.

Peter Batty
The Ubisense system is scheduled to be released at the end of July - several beta sites are already in place. Previous location tracking systems have typically not been accurate enough to track interactions between people and objects. Ubisense products can track people and objects in an indoor environment in real time, performing to 6-inch 3D accuracy. “It's as though the building knows what's going on inside it,” explained Peter Batty, chief technology officer of Ten Sails in Denver.

The goal of the Siebel Center is to create and implement a middleware operating system that can manage resources in a prescribed space.

Currently, the Siebel Center is not the only research center interested in local positioning systems. The University of Cambridge is also using the Ubisense products to research sentient computing ideas.

What is being studied in these research centers is a way of creating a relationship between technology and the people who use it. Local positioning systems utilize spatial technology to create smart buildings, and challenge some traditional definitions of GIS.

This is just one of many interesting technologies that the company Ten Sails is involved in. Peter Batty presented "Technology Trends in the Spatial Industry" at GITA this year, overviewing technologies that will significantly impact the geospatial industry in the next 10 years. The company is sailing ahead with a new type of business model that focuses on creating and operating a global network of location technology companies. They currently have three companies in the network: Ubisense, Virtual Business Networks (VBN), and Ten Sails Consulting, and are looking to further extend this in the near future. Former Chairman of Smallworld (now GE Energy) Richard Newell and advisor to Ten Sails, also won a lifetime achievement award at GITA 2004.

Trends that are worth watching are off-the-shelf data, location tracking technologies, wireless communications, web services, and development on the Internet, according to Batty in an interview with GISWeekly this week.



Off-the-Shelf Data

“The big growth areas are not in traditional GIS right now,” claimed Batty. “We're seeing Microsoft and Oracle playing a bigger role. There's a lot of growth in applications that are not really GIS but where a relatively small spatial component is embedded in something else. A key part of making that possible is having data available that people can buy, rather than having to create and maintain their own data. I think one of the things that has been inhibiting the growth in the industry has been the big effort you need to create and maintain data yourself. This has meant the industry has focused on the traditional areas like government, municipal applications, utilities, where maps are a major part of that business, so they can justify the effort that they need to create and maintain data.”

The geospatial industry is changing, Batty noted, in that today you can buy off-the-shelf data from companies like Microsoft that is very inexpensive. Some companies like Microsoft claim that if you bought all the data that is in their package it would cost you thousands of dollars, whereas the price tag on their package is a mere $300 because they can offer volume discounts. “This is very attractive for a business where mapping is not their central concern,” remarked Batty. “A business that wants to provide a store locator on its web site can't justify the cost of maintaining map data themselves, but off the shelf data and services make this a very viable proposition now.”



Location Tracking Devices

Another angle on the availability of data availability is location tracking devices, which enable a whole different set of location data when combined with wireless communications. “We're seeing big growth in vehicle tracking and fleet management applications, for people truck rental companies, and distribution companies.

“With the off-the-shelf street data and cheap devices which combine a GPS and wireless communications mounted in trucks, you can very quickly, in a matter of a few weeks, roll out a system which has very rich data,” Batty said. “Traditional GIS projects will take much longer to get up and going and get data into the system. Those two factors, the location tracking devices and the off-the-shelf data, are opening up a lot of new markets that weren't available before because of the cost of capturing the data.”



Microsoft

“I think a lot of GIS people underestimate the impact of Microsoft in the spatial market - I think they are going to be have a significant presence in a lot of these new application areas,” predicted Batty. “Traditional GIS people tend to say 'oh well, it's not sophisticated enough,' but for a lot of these new applications, you really don't need a lot of sophistication. You need something that is easy and simple to install and integrate. As well as the desktop version of MapPoint, Microsoft also has Microsoft MapPoint Web Service, and the Microsoft Location Server.”

“Microsoft Location Server is initially focused on a cell phone based location mechanism, which can typically track somebody to within a couple of hundred feet. One thing we could potentially do with Ubisense is, if somebody happens to be in a Ubisense enabled building with sensors in it, you could track them to a higher degree of accuracy. We could plug into a framework like that, which would give you an accurate reading with Ubisense if one was available, and if it wasn't, then you could communicate with cell phone to get a more approximate location.”

Batty envisions the various location tracking technologies fitting together in that kind scenario in the future.



Privacy and Policy Issues

The power and capabilities of location tracking technologies herald the arrival of some very interesting privacy and policy issues which will become enormously important, particularly with regard to tracking people. These issues are already being raised with the E911 initiative, which enables 911 responders to be able to track the location of a cell phone. This technology is widely available already, and is scheduled to be rolled out by the end of 2005, when the vast majority of cell phones should have this technology. The police, or your insurance company, could potentially tell if you had been speeding in your car if they could get access to this type of information. So while there is enormous potential for location tracking technologies, it's important that appropriate privacy policies are put in place.

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