Prof. Arup Dasgupta
“Most travellers hurry too much…the great thing is to try and travel with the eyes of the spirit wide open, and not too much factual information.”
As I sit to write this editorial, Hurricane Sandy is in the news. Where is it going to make landfall, which are the areas likely to be affected, where are the shelters? In each of these questions, the dominant word is ”where”. Location is the most powerful aspect of geospatial data and the determination of location is thus a technological challenge. While we have moved far from the early days of navigation by stars, compass, chronometer and sextant to modern systems like GNSS, the principles remain essentially the same but the applications have moved beyond navigation. Indeed, we can now experience the spirit of remote places through these technologies.
The greatest game changer has been the availability of cheap GNSS receivers which find place in personal devices like cameras and cell phones. Personalised location-based services have thus become a booming industry. It has also made geospatial systems participatory through VGI and neogeographers. Location is now turning intelligent and can be activated through speech. Adding virtual reality to location results in a very interactive identification of points of interest.
At a professional level, GNSS has revolutionised surveying, design and engineering, asset tracking, transportation management, health care, disaster management and defence. Where next? The United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has successfully demonstrated that cars can navigate autonomously at realistic speeds using a raft of technologies including GNSS. Efforts are on to enable sketches and voice messages as inputs to C4ISR systems to describe battlefield situations and identify target locations. Car navigation systems do provide voice instructions. Imagine a situation where the driver can command the device through simple sentences like “navigate to the nearest gas station”. As Ashutosh Pande comments, location must become pervasive and, I might add, persistent.
However, there are challenges. The portion of the spectrum carrying the GNSS signals is crowded with other satellite and terrestrial services. The biggest enemy to the GNSS is the crowding and resultant degradation of service. While there are stringent specifications on spectrum use, rogue elements or accidental spill-over can be damaging. As applications grow, the need to regulate the spectrum usage becomes more and more important. However, regulation of the usage of technology is another matter.