Ease of use will drive demand

Ease of use will drive demand

Jill Smith, CEO, DigitalGlobe
Jill Smith

The world is moving towards producing very high resolution imagery (even sub-metre). How is the uptake and application of this imagery?
There does appear to be increasing desire for very high resolution imagery, with higher accuracy and speed being the other desired attributes. Wherever there is imagery, there is demand for high resolution imagery. Whether it is consumer applications for location-based services, or economic development across the world, particularly in parts of Asia, South America and Russia, imagery is part of a mapping application on a handheld, in a portal or a mobile device. In these areas there is great demand for high resolution, highly accurate, and very up-to-date or rapidly corrected imagery as an essential part of both monitoring what’s going on in land where there is rapid development, as well as the use of that imagery for the planning of that development.

At the other end of the spectrum is its role in the safety of all our respective nations – in critical missions and government and defence decision making, whether it is in support of troops supporting peacekeeping mission, fighting wars, nation building or the intelligence applications or demands. So the uptake and adoption of the high resolution imagery is pushing rapidly in each of those sectors and there is no one particular area driving uptake from our perspective.

Resolution has always been one of the deciding factors regarding aerial photography and satellite imagery. As we have higher and higher resolution satellite imagery, it is coming close to aerial photography. In this scenario, what is the future of aerial photography?
Very high resolution satellite imagery can indeed, for certain applications, in certain markets, be a substitute for aerial photography. But I would anticipate both co-existing. In developed countries including parts of America or parts of Europe where there are no limits on what can be captured on aerial imagery, the issue is whether satellite imagery can deliver equivalent or better speed, in terms of mapping or accuracy. Then there is also the issue of cost. Application by application, where there are large area requirements, satellites imagery will always have the upper hand because they can collect this information more efficiently and more quickly. Satellite imagery will dominate in markets where there are restrictions on flying. Aerial photography is likely to have an upper hand in very high resolution (15-20 cm) requirements for one time projects where a satellite may not be able to do it more quickly, accurately, and cost efficiently than aerial.

What would be the most conducive environment for better uptake? What do you expect from user community?
The issue to be considered is the stumbling blocks to greater use of high resolution imagery. It is simply too hard, too difficult, too expensive, and requires too much expertise. One has to be a GIS expert to be able to use imagery in an application, whether it is a consumer application, government, land development, or critical missions. What all these sectors have in common is the demand for imagery to be used by a large number of people who don’t have GIS expertise and actually don’t even want to learn any more about imagery. They simply want to access it in the same way they access Google Earth or any of the other applications in their everyday life. The onus is on the industry to address these issues. DigitalGlobe is one of the leaders in breaking down those barriers, to make it faster and easier for providers of applications to incorporate and use imagery, and for the end users to readily embrace imagery within that application. There are two core categories of barriers. One is the availability. If one has to wait for several weeks or months to get the imagery, then it is difficult for a company assure its customers that the imagery is available. One way out is to have an image library with coverage of the globe, and a currency or a refresh rate that matches the needs of the customers. Another requirement is a collection capacity or constellation to respond to specific requirements. So the first barrier to break down is to assure that imagery required is readily available. If there is a specific or more up-to-date requirement, that too should be made available very quickly.

The second barrier relates to ease-ofuse. The question here is beyond data availability, it is of how easy it is to manage, access and deliver the data into end users’ hands, of performance, and of latency in terms of accessing it online – how easy, how costly or otherwise is it to make that imagery available. We, as well as others including Google, are paving the way in terms of ease-of-use of imagery. We, as an industry, have to keep to the premise that if we are to drive demand, we have to make it simple for as many people as possible.

With a large amount of data on Google Earth being from Digital- Globe, how are you tackling issues regarding restrictions in a lot of countries about things being put up?
The impact of Google Earth and Microsoft Bing map is generally acknowledged by the industry as being hugely positive and beneficial to the industry. They have broadened the possibility and value of imagery, made it easy for people to use it, and in the process created a high water mark for ease of use for each of us. It is important to acknowledge that they have been game changer. We are supportive of the continuing development of those capabilities and thrilled about our relationships with Bing map and Google Earth accordingly.

However, it is viewed by some as a mixed blessing in situations where it is deemed as contributing to heightened risk against our respective nations or against places of prominence or importance.

We are an American company governed by rules and regulations for American companies, and will always abide by those first and foremost. But our rules allow us to sell, most of the times, most of our imagery to third parties who can make it available to others whether it is free via portal or for a specific application. So we are not the final decision makers in terms of what is or isn’t allowed to be shown in a country, or on an application or otherwise. We will continue to support the expansion, the opening up, and making imagery available to more applications and uses as part of the growth potential we see in the industry. The respective countries need to be responsible for self governing, whether there are restrictions around applications or what imagery can be shown in a country. That decision needs to be governed by the providers of those applications. We will always abide by the rules.

What exactly has DigitalGlobe on its drawing board right now? What in your view are the future trends in the use of very high resolution imagery?
We are totally committed to breaking down the barriers to using imagery. A lot of our investments are designed to effect exactly that transformation in the industry, to ensure that our customers can get high resolution, very accurate imagery, very quickly and very cost effectively. At the same time, we aim to make it easy for as many applications as possible to incorporate imagery. At DigitalGlobe, we call that building out a geospatial cloud, enabling our customers in their ability to be able to use imagery without everyone having to make more investment in order to do so.

When one opts for very high resolution, the total cost of ownership also becomes very high. When you pick “the best”, it comes with the burden of higher storage cost, larger files, more performance issues, etc. In many ways, the very fact that we are operating with very high resolution and pushing that out in the market, underscores the responsibility we have to make it easy for the end user to use imagery, or for application providers to do so cost-effectively, with ease of use, and a performance that becomes a standard.

The future is about increasing adoption at the end of the day. Resolution is increasingly not the decisive factor. Accuracy and speed also factor in. The core driving option for imagery is ease of use and breaking down the barriers.

Also speed of delivery means different things to different sectors. For example, if I want complete coverage of South East Asia,. Speed for some time sensitive applications, particularly for government and defence customers, for monitoring agriculture, insurance etc, is how rapidly one can collect it, literally from the day it was requested, to when it is completed and delivered. So shortening that collection period is an issue, and in order to do that two things are required: Firstly, a large constellation that can provide multiple access to a single area, or in-day revisit, and increase the probability of collection at any one time. Secondly, large collection capacity, so that when I can gain access to the area, I can collect as much as possible in a short period.

So speed is more than just speed of collection; it is literally how rapidly and reliably the customer can get what he wants.

Can you tell us how GIS Development as a company can make a difference and make the market more aware about the technology/industry?
GIS Development does a great job in terms of showcasing core applications and technologies. We would say, continue to do that. But part of driving the industry is moving it out of what I will call a niche. It is about GIS expertise and GIS technology, but also about opening it up to a broader world. GIS Development can therefore play a role in showcasing applications and technologies to a broader marketplace that are beyond niche applications or users; for example, creative ways of combining multiple phenomenologies to solve a practical problem related to change detection; or examples of providers delivering a better end-to-end product for a customer; where the success may not be in the imagery per sebut in the fact that it has been made easy and now more people can access; and the way we move beyond just simple technology-based, pixel- and innovation-based development that opens people’s eyes to the new challenge of how to enhance applications, drive more adoptions and go beyond the GIS community that we know and love and to which we belong.