| Prof. Arup Dasgupta
Land, water and air – these three elements form the basis of human life and human activities. One of these activities is transportation of people, goods and material for industry, commerce and recreation. Transportation is about movement from one place to another and, therefore, is a fertile ground for geospatial technology and applications, which can range from route planning to position location, navigation, asset management and surveillance.
The story of human progress has a huge chapter on exploration and commerce. The hunger for new land led to the ‘discovery’ of the Americas. The search for an alternative to the risky land route to India for spices and silk led to the search and discovery of a route from Europe via the aptly named Cape of Good Hope. While land travellers were guided by way points, sailors depended on the stars and the sun. The sextant provided a measure of the latitude but it required a determined and somewhat eccentric clock maker named Harrison to devise a means to determine the longitude.
The ability to navigate also helped conquest and colonisation. The need to optimise transportation routes for the efficient movement of goods and men saw the development of engineering marvels like the Panama and Suez Canals; the evolution of the railroad, road networks, aircraft and ocean liners and ports, railway stations and airports. As traffic grew, port cities became transportation hubs and the cause for competition, congestion and chaos.
The need for regulation and control required planning and foresight. That essential tool of navigation, the map took on a different role – as a means of planning. Routing of roads, canals, railways and the charting of air corridors, the location of facilities like airports, stations, goods yards, and protection of the environment from the ill effects of these activities, safety and control, all required a map base. Thus geospatial technology was, is and will continue to be an integral part of this human endeavour. Technologies like the Global Navigation Satellite Systems are now essential for navigation. As the world battles with global warming and economic crisis, the need for optimising transportation to reduce costs and reduce emissions becomes essential. While technology is doing its bit by evolving fuel efficient transportation, geospatial technology is providing for efficient route planning and management of assets and facilities and their sustainable development.
The Geospatial World Forum 2012 was held in Amsterdam in the third week of April. This small country, the Netherlands, hosts two important travel hubs, the port of Rotterdam and Amsterdam airport, an important gateway to Europe. Amsterdam city itself is well served by train, road, tramway, canals and metro, and is an illustration of excellent transportation planning and management, blending the traditional with the modern. The Dutch Kadaster, which co-hosted the conference, provides a very comprehensive spatial information base on which such planning is done. This exemplifies the importance of geospatial technology for transportation.