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Susan Smith, Managing Editor
What’s in Store for Geospatial in 2010
By Susan Smith
2010 began with a stock market rise, perhaps signaling renewed confidence in a slumped economy, or reflecting the hopes that generally accompany the start of a new year. Peter S. Goodman’s The New York Times’ article, Divergent Views on Signs of Life in the Economy suggests that there is an upswing in the stock market as well as other indicators.
However, to quote him, “But if the Great Recession has indeed relaxed its grip on American life, it has been replaced by something that might be called the Great Ambiguity — a time of considerable debate over the clarity of economic indicators and the staying power of apparent improvements.”
In summary, the economy has been bolstered by $787 billion in stimulus federal spending, some of which is earmarked for the geospatial industry.
Last year, we watched that money be allocated and attempted to figure out how much was going to geospatial, as it was also shared with other industries. This year, we may see results of some of that allocation.
There is also some jostling in the geospatial space in terms of the players; it looks as though traditional geospatial companies such as ESRI, MapInfo and others are still firmly ensconced in the market, while Autodesk may be shifting their focus from geospatial to other areas of their businesses. Intergraph’s Security, Government and Infrastructure division is focused primarily on government, defense and intelligence, public safety and utilities without any products geared for the consumer. Google, who ushered consumers into GIS, and was responsible for a large amount of geo-awareness, now comes forward with some surprising technology announcements of its own.
Below are some news bits that may signal some shifts in the market that we might want to watch. These are not predictions, just interesting events that may have significance during the coming year.
Google Wants to Fill White Spaces
As I write this, Google is about to announce its new Android Nexus One phone.
This past year Google has been positioning itself as a more serious contender in the geospatial space, with the announcement of their own map database. In 2010, Google will continue to surprise us with its strength in the geospatial market.
Google created its own digital maps of the U.S., ending a contract with map data provider TeleAtlas, owned by TomTom, a provider of mobile phones.
Next Google moved into the GPS turn-by-turn navigation market for mobile phones, with its announcement that it will offer a free service for the new Motorola Droid called Google Maps for Mobile.
Now Google will offer this service on its own phone, the Nexus One, which includes a five-megapixel camera and is lighter and thinner than Apple’s iPhone, according to press reports.
The Nexus One is the first smart phone designed by the company’s own engineers. Unlike other mobile phones, it will be available from Google itself, allowing customers to use the network of their choice.
Further, is Google’s most recent request of the Federal Communications Commission to designate it as one of the administrators of a database for "white space" devices. Google has been urging the FCC to open up the "white spaces"—which are small amounts of spectrum between broadcast television channels--to unlicensed use. According to an article in CNET, Google joined the White Spaces Database Group in February to help move the project along, since one of the requirements of the white spaces plan is a database that devices can use to figure out which channels are available for use.
What is significant about this from the geospatial perspective is that Google's Richard Whitt, Washington telecom and media counsel, said in a blog post that "we don't plan to become a database administrator ourselves, but do want to work with the FCC to make sure that a white spaces database gets up and running." Contrary to this, Google just announced a plan that "the Federal Communications Commission ("FCC" or "Commission") designate Google to be administrator of a TV bands geolocation database."
This announcement is profound in that two kinds of databases will be needed for the white spaces database: one, a geolocation database which Google is confident it can build, and a spectrum-sensing technology database. The databases will be designed to avoid causing interference with TV broadcasts and wireless technologies.
What is also significant about this announcement is that Google is influencing standards for an area that hasn’t yet been defined – white spaces.
Standards play a key role in enabling increased ROI/value and risk reduction. If Google does move into geolocation then there will likely be discussions with the OGC regarding standards. KML is an OGC standard and Google’s Geolocation API is a W3C draft recommendation.
Google has also applied for approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to be allowed to buy and sell power much like utilities do. Last month the company created a subsidiary called Google Energy. Google consumes vast amounts of electricity to run its computers in its data centers, which the company said is the main reason for wanting the ability to buy more renewable energy.
Whether or not that is the case, approval of the application for the grant would mean that Google would be able to sell any surplus power just as utilities do.
In The New York Times (Jan. 4, 2010) “Five Tech Themes for 2010,” by Jenna Wortham notes Location as one of the five big predictions for the new year,, with more useful location based applications such as the location awareness in Twitter. In geospatial, we have been location aware for some time, but the notion of location is now much more mainstream.
I checked in with Got GEOINT? to learn about the government’s geospatial response to the Christmas Day terrorist who ignited an explosive aboard a Northwest Airlines flight over Detroit on the holiday. Certainly such an event suggests more stringent methods of tracking of terrorists throughout the world. Detection methods will certainly be ramped up from now on and flying America’s friendly skies will probably be subject to more scrutiny than we have become accustomed to.
This website is a useful source of ongoing government geospatial information so it will be a good idea to stay tuned to it over the coming year.
Applications have proliferated in the past year, and there is no end in sight to how many are yet to come.
An example of one that was announced last week: iPhone now has the only national crime map providing up-to-date crime data from every major U.S. city, as well as numerous foreign markets. The SpotCrime iPhone mobile application is also the first crime map to feature Augmented Reality (AR) views of criminal activity. Augmented Reality is a new area that allows users to see a live view of a real-world environment with merged or augmented elements complete with computer-generated imagery of crimes which have occurred in that location.