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Of promises and rethinking

Arup Dasgupta
Prof. Arup Dasgupta
Managing Editor
[email protected]

December is the time to look back on the year that was and take stock of the 12-monthold predictions. In January 2012, I had ended my editorial musings as follows: the time has come for the earth observation industry to take a closer look at itself. In particular, it has to find out why it remains the preserve of governments. Short-term quick fixes are not the answer. It requires some out-of-the-box thinking.

Looking back, we see that there have been some very significant events in the area of earth observation in 2012. An NRC report warned of the decline in US EOS capabilities; at the same time Forecast International estimated the remote sensing market to cross USD 17 billion by 2021. UK gave a significant boost to its space industry and so did the European Union after a hiccup to its EO plans. India launched its 100th mission and also its most complex state of the art EO satellite, RISAT. The DigitalGlobe- GeoEye pasodoble ended with DigitalGlobe acquiring the latter for USD 900 million; an indirect result of the US government”s decision to cut its spending on EO data. Clearly, governments continue to have a direct say in the investment decisions related to earth observation. Further, there is no sign of any significant out-of-the-box thinking in the industry.

Rio+20 saw some significant moves. For the first time, earth observation and geospatial technology obtained a strong political backing at the international level. The final document of the conference mentions the importance of geospatial systems. It is up to the geospatial community to rise to the challenge of helping to realise ”The World We Want.” The UN-GGIM is now tasked with seeing through some of the recommendations. There are many opportunities for the geospatial industry; but the start-up seems to have been hit, as have many other activities, by the persistent downturn in the markets due to recession in the US and Europe. The silver lining is a predicted CAGR of 9.2 per cent for GIS and related technologies in the first half of this decade.

The technological elements that hold promise for geospatial data analysis, storage and delivery are big data analysis, the cloud and mobile devices. These technologies have evolved very rapidly and have made their mark in other IT areas. Their assimilation in geospatial systems have begun and is picking up speed. These technologies require a rethinking of deployment and application strategies in SDI but most governments are continuing to support older technologies and models. It is therefore no wonder that SDIs continue to stutter along over budget government projects.

The regulatory regime also experienced some turmoil as the call for open data became more vociferous. Most countries, including India, relaxed norms for data access but technology continued to confound lawmakers. The lesson that denial in the age of Internet, social media and personal computing does not work is yet to sink in.

Will 2013 be a breakthrough year for geospatial systems? Will we come to terms with Geospatial Artha?