GIS software is a powerful engine and, as computing power has increased exponentially over the years, GIS software has become exponentially more powerful as well. GIS software needs fuel. Data is fuel for GIS.
One of the most prolific GIS data generators is GNSS technology. Whereas in the past it would take tens of minutes using expensive GPS receivers, specialized software, and a specialized operator to generate centimeter-accurate GIS data, today’s modern GNSS receivers, along with off-the-shelf software on any personal mobile device, enable almost anyone to collect centimeter-accurate locations in just a few seconds. On top of that, this can be done in real-time. From a practical perspective, an operator can navigate precisely to a buried water valve, for instance, to turn off service to a broken water main pipe. Once the valve is turned off, its location is instantly sent to a GIS server, where a public-facing map is updated instantly to show which street addresses will be without water service during the repair. Not only does the utility save non-revenue water loss, but it also keeps its customers happier through transparency.
This level of real-time precision enables all kinds of organizations to make accurate decisions very quickly and if they choose to, they can inform tens, hundreds, thousands, or millions of people in an instant.
Ease and simplicity of data collection
Like it or not, most people choose the path of least resistance. Today, billions of people interact with their iOS and Android devices every day to the point that mobile devices have become an extension of their minds. These devices help us communicate, stay organized, and navigate efficiently.
If an old computer, tens of thousands of times less powerful than an iPhone 8, was able to guide and control the Apollo spaceship to successfully land it on the moon 50 years ago, then certainly the mobile devices of today, being incredibly more powerful, would make perfect tools for collecting GIS data — and they do. Their large screens, fast processors, wireless communications, high-resolution cameras, and huge storage capacities make today’s commercial smart devices ideal for collecting, accessing, displaying, storing, and analyzing GIS data. They also can talk to the most accurate GNSS receivers in the world through Bluetooth.
Suffice to say that when I designed the first high-precision Bluetooth GPS receiver in 2002, I could not imagine the power of the mobile devices that, today, all of us carry in our pockets. No one except Steve Jobs could. But isn’t it great that today’s most perfect GIS data collection device also happens to be the path of least resistance?
The cost of collecting 3D, survey-grade data is falling drastically
We already carry powerful handheld GNSS/GIS data collection devices in our pockets, thanks to our smartphones. In addition, “survey-grade” GIS data collection software is easier and more affordable than it’s ever been. Centimeter-accurate GNSS receivers cost less than ever before in history.
These three trends mean you can quickly grab a device and collect an astounding amount of survey-grade, three-dimensional data in one afternoon. Contrast that with the old days, when an organization would have to hire an engineering or surveying company, schedule the project, and wait for the final data to be delivered, which is a process that can take weeks or months. The old days are over. Today’s organizations can collect such data themselves — in hours — at a fraction of the cost. Lower-cost data means organizations can afford to collect accurate data on projects that couldn’t afford the cost of high-precision data previously. What was previously inconceivable yesterday has become a reality today.
Driving the future: The impact of high-accuracy data on IoT and Augmented Reality
Information Technology (IT) and GIS technologies are converging and becoming tightly intertwined. Stakeholders are asking for real-time data. Real-time data requires IT owners to join the data movement within their IT infrastructure and software systems. If we accept this is happening today, then as we look ahead to tomorrow, we’ll see the Internet of Things (IoT) start to take off. The future is bright for a smarter world. And it may be starting one high-accuracy data collection point at a time.