The main focus now is to bring together the right information for the right problem, tells Robert Laudati, Managing Director, Commercial Products & Solutions, Harris Geospatial Solutions, in an exclusive interview
Harris Geospatial Solutions is known for its contributions towards solving real-world problems. How would you describe the journey so far?
Harris Geospatial’s mission has been to look beyond its tools and contribute towards solving real-world problems using technology. The journey so far has been highly exciting. Some of the works of the company include everything from helping utilities to get a clear understanding of the condition and location of their infrastructure to helping agriculture businesses tailor crop management decisions to boost yields and profits. Technology develops at a rapid pace, and to remain relevant and shine through, one needs to continuously evolve. Thankfully, we have been able to keep up with the pace, and at the same time, make significant contributions to the change. Harris Geospatial Marketplace was one such important effort. It came into being when an organization called MapMart.com was acquired by Harris in 2014. The vision was to put together data and analytics to provide real-world solutions.
What is unique about Harris Geospatial Marketplace? How is it different from other imagery providers?
Since its inception, the platform has progressed a lot, engaging many of the leading data providers to provide their data through the MapMart marketplace portal. Taking the technology further, the platform is providing both very simple and very complex solutions so that the customers do not have to worry about where the data is coming from or how to install products locally. They just get access to the solution that they need to solve their problem.
The purpose is not just to provide an ecosystem to access data. While the customers can continue to buy data from our marketplace, the main focus is now moving towards bringing together the right information for the right problem. This way it differs from many of the other ecosystems and platforms out there. The company is really focused on providing answers that manage and simplify all the complexity like — do I need optical imagery or do I need multispectral imagery, is radar data the right data for the solution? So, Harris has developed a technology that allows users to focus on the business problems they have. They do not have to worry about the technical complexities of imagery data. With a better focus on business problems, the businesses are able to make better decisions.
With an explosion in remote sensing, imagery data is now playing a more important role in solving real-world problems. Do you agree?
Yes. At the Esri User Conference 2017, you could see that there is fundamentally an explosion in the interest and the use of imagery. Historically, vector GIS was very important and people were making incredible and rich maps. But now, you can see Esri is very involved with us in the imagery space and trying to move in analyzing and using imagery for more than just the base map. With that, there is an explosion of sensors that are available. Now we are talking about WorldView-4 from DigitalGlobe and new smallsats from Planet and others. So, the whole rise of radar and SAR as a viable technology is enabling use of imagery data to solve more real-world problems.
What is Harris Geospatial’s contribution in this developing scenario?
Harris Geospatial has a variety of products that include some of the portfolios that came from the Exelis acquisition in July 2015. The company has a broad array of commercial products, best known for tools like ENVI and IDL, which are still market leaders in the industry for imagery analytics and visualization. Harris Geospatial is also complemented by a rich array of IP capabilities and product offerings in the government systems space.
In the near future, Harris is seeing a tremendous opportunity in taking advantage of not just a single data type, but putting more than one or maybe two or three data sources together to solve complex real-world issues. It is a real opportunity for Harris to bring together its expertise in all of these specific data types and present them in a way that can be used to resolve and fundamentally change how people use imagery.
Remote sensing with AI and machine learning is the new buzz. How is Harris Geospatial contributing to the revolution?
Harris Geospatial has been heavily involved with deep learning for many years with some internal and government-funded projects. Recent years have witnessed a shift towards commercialization of deep learning and we have come across some very interesting and unique applications of deep learning in the imagery space. Harris technology continues to be a differentiator in terms of many things that you read about today, such as machine learning and AI. These concepts are very broad, but the applications to imagery are quite specific and it goes well beyond what typically you will see around object detection. Harris has been using AI for applications like finding cars and understanding where airplanes are, but what we are moving towards is using deep learning technology to actually extract information and be able to use it and analyze it. For example, Harris has recently prototyped and delivered a solution using deep learning to extract features from LiDAR point Clouds and that is really a disruptive use of AI technology for a specific imagery focused use. We are very excited about the potential of using deep learning as a way forward to manage complexity.
Do you agree that we are on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution? What major developments in the geospatial industry do you foresee in the near future?
In terms of where this industry is going and the revolution that might be happening with respect to imagery, in particular, I do see the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. I have a long history of GIS and geospatial technology and until very recently, with all the technology that’s been available, the output and the delivery of GIS information have primarily been through a hard copy map and a digital map. Now you see that revolution is made possible by the increase in sensors and the increase in the analytical tools. It is really about moving from data to answers. Geospatial technology needs to evolve to be able to provide answers to people who have no experience with GIS; they may not even have an understanding of the concept of location. We can increase the complexity and still keep the end user application quite simple.
I think over the next few years these platforms and marketplace will really become scalable and distributed around different industries. We are going to see an explosion in usage of that information. All of us in the industry from sensor developers to software providers will witness a rising wave of democratization of GIS and geospatial technology. Everyone will be using these technologies in some form or the other, but they don’t have to be experts in the field to be able to process the information.