Recap 2013: Most discussed Geospatial News

Recap 2013: Most discussed Geospatial News

Industry | Technology


Geospatial industry valued at $270 bn
The global geospatial industry brings in $270 billion in annual revenue and companies in the sector pay more than $90 billion in wages each year, according to a report published by Oxera in January. The study is one of the first to consider geo services as an industry in itself, encompassing all digital mapping and location-based services. It is recognised that this industry is growing rapidly, meaning that many of the estimates provided in the report will quickly become underestimates.
Size of Geospatial Industry
China g-tech industry’s value at $42 bn
The GIS industry in China is estimated to reach $42 billion by the end of 2013, according to a Ministry of Land and Resources statement. The statement, based on data from the National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation, talks about interesting facts about the geospatial industry in China:

US firms can sell high-res satellite imagery
WorldView-3 DigitalGlobe
WorldView-3, DigitalGlobe's next satellite, is scheduled to be launched in mid-2014 and will offer 0.31 metre resolution panchromatic and eight-band multi-spectral imagery

The US Senate Intelligence Committee has approved a legislation allowing US firms to sell higherresolution satellite imagery on the open market. The relaxed imagery-resolution restrictions were recommended in a report detailing the unclassified provisions of the Intelligence Authorization Bill.

The recommendations encouraged the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and Office of the Director of National Intelligence to “promptly review” a licensing request from US industry to collect and sell electro-optical imagery with a ground sampling resolution distance of 25 cm, or twice as sharp as the satellite imagery the United States currently allows to be sold on the open market.

According to a statement from the US Senate Intelligence Committee: “The committee is concerned that foreign commercial imagery providers may soon be able to provide imagery at or better than the currently allowed commercial US resolution limit of 0.5 metres.” The report accompanied the 2014 Intelligence Authorization Act (S. 1681), which the committee voted 13-2 to send to the Senate floor. “As foreign firms approach or surpass this level of resolution, current restrictions on US commercial imagery data providers put the United States at a competitive disadvantage…”

European satellite navigation framework
In an important multilateral development, the EU Member States’ Permanent Representatives in April endorsed the compromise reached between the Council and the European Parliament in their negotiations on a new financial and governance framework for the European Satellite Navigation Systems (EGNOS and Galileo) for the period covered by the multi-annual financial framework for 2014-2020. The development of applications based on the satellite navigation systems, such as chipsets and receivers, has been added as one of the objectives, with a view to maximising the socioeconomic benefits from the programmes. The commission, which will be responsible for the security of the programmes, will be given the power to lay down high-level objectives in this respect.
European countries opening up on EO policies
Sentinel 1A for launch in 2014 In August, the European Commission (EC) finally agreed to permit free access to data from its Sentinel series of Earth observation satellites. This aligns the European Commission with a policy already adopted by the European Space Agency (ESA). After a long process of evaluation that included input from the European Association of Remote Sensing Companies (EARSC), an association of private-sector providers of earth observation data, the commission concluded that any harm to private-sector satellite operators will be outweighed by the expected growth in value-added services derived from the data. The German government, meanwhile, put into place a two-step regulatory regime for commercial satellite imagery that subjects proposed sales of the most sensitive data to approval on a case-by-case basis. In response to inquiries about where German policy stood following the announcement that Germany’s TerraSAR-X radar earth observation system would begin marketing 25-centimetre resolution imagery, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) said there was no fixed limit to what may be sold. For imagery with special sensitivity, the Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (BAFA), must clear each sale.
NASA launches three smartphone satellites
NASA miniature satellite
A NASA scientist holds one of the three miniature satellites launched in April 2013. The trio sent “image-data packets” to multiple ground stations on Earth. These images were reconstructed by the Ames Phonesat Team and multiple amateur radio operators around the world.

NASA has launched three smartphone satellites called "PhoneSats" into the orbit. The lowcost satellites, named Alexander, Graham and Bell, rode to space in April aboard the maiden flight of Orbital Science Corp’s Antares rocket from NASA's Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia. NASA engineers kept the total cost of the components for the three prototype satellites in the PhoneSat project between $3,500 and $7,000 by using primarily commercial hardware and keeping the design and mission objectives to a minimum. Using their smartphone cameras, the PhoneSat trio sent the image-data packets to the PhoneSat Team on earth who reconstructed high-resolution photographs from the minute data packets. Amateur radio operators from every continent but Antarctica contributed in capturing the data packets NASA needed to piece together the smartphones' image of Earth from space.
NASA, ESA tie up on Sentinel 2, Landsat
The European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA have joined hands to ensure that Sentinel-2 and the newly launched Landsat Data Continuity Mission offer compatible data products. The agreement is aimed at bringing greater benefits to users of images of earth’s land and coastal zones.

ESA is currently developing the two-satellite Sentinel-2 mission for Europe’s Global Monitoring for Environment and Security initiative. The first satellite is slated for launch in 2014. The mission is dedicated to supplying multispectral, high-resolution optical images for monitoring changes to the landscape, for forestry and agriculture and to support emergency efforts in response to natural and manmade disasters. The pair of Sentinel-2 satellites will deliver high-resolution images globally, providing continuity of SPOT and Landsat-type data.

A great year for ISRO
ISRO in July launched the first of the seven satellites constituting the IRNSS space segment. With the success of this mission, India will become the fifth member of the elite group of nations which already have their own navigation satellite systems in the space.

On 2 July, the Indian Space Research Organisation successfully launched IRNSS-1A, the first of the seven satellites constituting the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) space segment. IRNSS-1A is designed to provide accurate position information to users in the country as well as the region extending up to 1,500 km. The entire IRNSS constellation of seven satellites is planned to be completed by 2015-16.

On 5 November, ISRO followed up with the launch of the Mars Orbiter Mission. The $75-million ‘Mangalyaan’, is the size of a small car and is meant to make a 300-day journey to study the Martian atmosphere. The success of this mission will make India the first country in Asia, and the fourth in the world, to get to Mars.

The year of adieus to the high-soaring birds
The year 2013 could well be remembered as the year of bidding adieus to some of the most long-lasting space missions.

Landsat 5
Landsat 5 Image On June 5, 2013, the USGS team transmitted the last command to the Landsat 5 satellite, terminating the mission 29 years, 3 months and 4 days after its launch by NASA from Vandenberg Air Force Base on March 1, 1984.

The Landsat 5 mission had been an extraordinary success, providing unprecedented contributions to the global record of land change. The USGS had brought the satellite back from the brink of failure on several occasions, but the recent failure of a gyroscope left no option but to end the mission. For more than quarter of century, Landsat 5 observed our planet changing, including the Kuwaiti oil fires, the Chernobyl disaster, changes in Antarctic ice. Landsat 5 was recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the longest-operating earth-observing satellite mission.

  • 29 years, 3 months and 4 days: Time spent in space
  • Over 150,000: Number of times Landsat 5 orbitted Earth
  • Over 2.5 million: Number of images of land surface conditions it captured

RADARSAT-1 was Canada's first earth observation satellite. It was sent on a mission to monitor environmental changes and the planet's natural resources. On March 29, 2013, it experienced a technical problem which proved to be ‘fatal’

  • November 4, 1995: Launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, US
  • 5 years: Design lifetime
  • 24 days: Time it took to cover entire Earth

SPOT 4, launched on March 24, 1998, was the second generation member of the SPOT Earth observation system designed by CNES, France.

  • 177 months: Time it had been operating for
  • Over 6.8 mn: mages of the earth it acquired
  • January 11, 2013: Operations terminated
360 EO satellites to be launched over the next decade
The number of earth observation (EO) satellite launches is expected to more than double over the next decade to 360 satellites. According to a latest research report released by Euroconsult, the emerging markets will be the major contributors to this growth. The report, titled ‘Satellite– Based Earth Observation: Market Prospects to 2022’, says the EO satellites launched by civil government and commercial entities will translate into $35.8 billion in manufacturing revenues over 2013 to 2022. This would mean an 88% increase over the previous decade. Organisations from more than 42 countries are expected to have launched at least a first-generation EO satellite by 2022. In total over 2013-2022, 69% of EO satellites will cost less that $100 million (compared to 56% in the last decade). These satellites may not have higher precision systems but they will assist in advancement of a local space industry in the emerging space nations. The percentage of high-cost ($200 million plus) satellite missions is expected to remain stable at 10% to 11% and thus absolute numbers will also increase. This is in effect creating a polarisation in satellite cost between “higher-end” missions requiring significant R&D to support sensor design for government agency environment monitoring missions (such as from NASA, ESA, JAXA) or precision accuracy commercial satellites (such as from DigitalGlobe or Astrium) and the lower-cost missions.

The report says the EO commercial data market is expected to reach $3.5 billion by 2022. The market in emerging regions like Latin America, Russia & CIS, Asia, and the Middle East will witness steady growth. Defence will remain the first application area. Growth in natural resources monitoring and energy will remain robust due to regional economic growth. Location-based services sector will further foster growth through the thriving demand of data to assist Internet and hand-held devices.


New prototype vehicle to up EO satellites’ accuracy
Outback Rover Outback Rover, a prototype autonomous vehicle developed by Australian scientists, will improve the accuracy of earth observation satellites that are used to provide data to the country’s mining and agricultural industries.

Outback Rover has been developed by researchers at CSIRO, Australia's national science agency. It is helping to calibrate satellites that provide clues to earth's soil condition, mineralogy and vegetation. Accompanied by researchers from Japan, China, Israel and France, CSIRO scientists recently took the rover prototype on a mission to Lake Lefroy — a huge salt lake in remote Western Australia — to see if they could automate the satellite calibration process. This is where they matched the information gathered by satellites against measurements taken on-ground and compared them for accuracy. This process is called vicarious calibration and is undertaken by ground crews who walk in grids or transects, taking measurements with hand-held devices known as spectrometers, as satellites travel overhead. CSIRO’s Dr Alberto Elfes hopes the rover will be able to collect calibration data autonomously and send it wirelessly back to researchers.

Chip to aid navigation when GPS unavailable
Defence Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) at the University of Michigan have made significant progress with a timing & inertial measurement unit (TIMU) Researchers of the Defence Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) at the University of Michigan have made significant progress with a timing & inertial measurement unit (TIMU) that contains everything needed to aid navigation when GPS is temporarily unavailable. The single chip TIMU prototype contains a six axis IMU (three gyroscopes and three accelerometers) and integrates a highly-accurate master clock into a single miniature system, smaller than the size of a cent. The chip integrates breakthrough devices (clocks, gyroscopes and accelerometers), materials and designs from DARPA’s Micro-Technology for Positioning, Navigation and Timing (Micro-PNT) programme. Three pieces of information are needed to navigate between known points ‘A’ and ‘B’ with precision: orientation, acceleration and time. This new chip integrates state-of-the-art devices that can measure all three simultaneously. The tiny package is 10 cubic millimetre thick. Each of the six microfabricated layers of the TIMU is only 50 microns thick, approximately the thickness of a human hair.
Sensor for reconnaissance operations
Global Strike Near Real Time Battle Data Assessment (NRT-BDA) System Researchers at the US Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center have developed ‘Global Strike Near Real Time Battle Data Assessment (NRT-BDA) System’ which incorporates unattended sensors and a remote warfighter interface to provide timely reporting of conditions during reconnaissance operations. One sensor includes a chemical agent detector similar in shape and size of a two-pound soda can. The sensors have been tested from a P-3 Orion aircraft at 1,000 feet. It is equipped with an accelerometer, which triggers the release of the cap and small parachute. Once it lands, the spring-loaded legs pop open, allowing it to sit up right. The detector is also equipped with a GPS tracking device. This detector, which was a redesign of the Joint Chemical Agent Detector, can feed information to a satellite and then to soldiers manning a warfighter interface as far as a few thousand miles away.
Augmented reality to make life easier for bikers and car drivers
Headsup display by Russian-based startup LiveMap

Augmented reality-based HUD or heads-up display for drivers remained the buzz word through out the year with Russian startups to handset-manufacturer-turned-mapping enthusiast Nokia, everyone wanting their share of the pie.

Russian-based startup LiveMap announced that it was working on a motorcycle helmet that came with a heads-up display, as well as a microphone to initiate voice commands, and an earpiece to listen for notifications and alerts. The entire system is integrated into the helmet, so there’s no discomfort when wearing the headgear and having various objects getting in the way. The helmet will have a translucent, colour display that's projected on the visor in the centre of the field of vision, and a custom user interface, English language-only at launch, based on Android.

The helmet display includes a light sensor for adjusting image brightness according to external light conditions, as well as an accelerometer, gyroscope, and digital compass for tracking head movements. The Russian government is assisting the startup financially. The company hopes to launch LiveMap in the third quarter of 2014 in the US and Canada, and in Australia and the UK before the end of 2014.

In another development, Nokia and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz have joined hands to develop 3D smart maps for self-driving cars. Nokia HERE agreed to initially provide 3D maps from the Mannheim to Pforzheim route in Germany. These maps will be used for cars connected to a computing cloud. Nokia said at the Frankfurt Auto Show that connecting cars to a cloud is "one of the biggest opportunities for the automotive industry today."

A number of automobile companies are in the process of developing computer-controlled features for cars. Google too has been working on self-driving cars since 2010.

A camera without a lens!
Image from Far Out mapping software Scientists at Duke University, North Carolina, US have devised a metamaterial that uses microwaves to image objects or scenes in real time. Metamaterials perform hardware compression during image acquisition. By leveraging metamaterials and compressive imaging, the researchers developed a lowprofile aperture capable of microwave imaging without lenses, moving parts, or phase shifters. The innovative aperture allows image compression to be performed on the physical hardware layer rather than in the postprocessing stage. The researchers subsequently developed a device, using thousands of tiny apertures arranged in a strip 40 cm in length, which records images in 2D — one dimension across the strip and the other for depth.
‘Far Out’ knows your future location
Researchers from Microsoft and Google have developed a new tracking software that can predict future location of a person. The programme, called ‘Far Out’, is based on statistical research and tracks people using a GPS device and learns their routine. It then makes predictions about where that person will be in future years. It can also incorporate life changes such as a new job, marriage and moving house into the calculation.
Breakthroughs in indoor location
Cambridge Consultants developed a new technology to accurately detect the location indoors when GPS drops out The availability of low-cost smartphone components has enabled a new generation of indoor location devices and applications, with new researches and technologies focusing on further accurate tracking of indoor location. For instance, Cambridge Consultants developed a new technology to accurately detect the location indoors when GPS drops out. Sensors and a custom algorithm determine the location, with an accuracy of approximately 1% of the distance travelled. It uses low-power, low-cost sensors and the device concept is small enough to clip on a belt. It also doesn’t need any existing internal infrastructure.

Similarly, ByteLight, a Boston-based company, has developed a technique that uses LED light bulbs for indoor location tracking. Using microchips mounted on LEDs, it causes the LEDs to flicker too fast for the naked eye to see. In doing so it communicates information to a smartphone through its camera lens. The communication between light bulb and smartphone tells the exact indoor location of the person. Its margin of error is less than a metre.

Radar gun to spot illegal GPS jammers
Chronos Technology radar to identify GPS Jammers In a first, Chronos Technology, a UK-based company, has developed new handheld radar to identify which vehicles are illegally using the GPS signal jammers.

Until recently a number of devices have been available to law enforcement officers who want to detect jammers. But they only detect the presence of a jammer, not find out where it is. This new device can identify where a jammer-using vehicle is in a multi-storey car park – and can also pinpoint portable devices in drivers' pockets when they have left their cars. Chronos has not revealed how the device works, but it is likely it triangulates signal strength to work out exactly where the 1.5 gigahertz signal that a GPS jammer emits is coming from.

EO sensor hunts explosives
instrument that can recognise explosives remotely A team of scientists in the UK have adapted satellite technology intended for earth observation to create an instrument that can recognise explosives remotely. The system uses an infrared laser to detect volatile compounds given off by explosives and other dangerous materials. The new explosives detector was created by Damien Weidmann and his team at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. The researchers claim that the flexibility and range of the Active Coherent Laser Spectrometer (ACLaS) makes it ideal for all kinds of hazardous or undercover gaseous-phase sampling, including detecting toxic leaks, chemical-warfare agents, illegal drugs manufacture or highly localised industrial air pollution. The new device has been tested at distances up to 50 metres and gives unambiguous chemical identification and quantification readings in as little as three seconds.
First detailed map of global forest change unveiled
First detailed map of global forest change Google Earth has helped scientists at the University of Maryland in US in developing an engaging, high-resolution map that shows global forest loss and gain. The map tracks changes in the world’s forests during the years 2000 to 2012. The first such detailed map was created from satellite data and has the ability to zoom in to the high resolution of 30 metres. The team of scientists was led by Prof Matthew Hansen of the University of Maryland. The map highlights great forest losses in Indonesia, Malaysia, Paraguay and Angola, according to a study on the project in the journal Science. Brazil, on the other hand, saw successful reduction in deforestation. The study reveals that the huge South American country, home to most of the Amazon rain forest, reduced forest loss by half between 2003-04 and 2010-11.
Water evapotranspiration rates for US mapped
For the first time, US Geological Survey (USGS) scientists have been successful in mapping the long-term average evapotranspiration rates across the continental United States. It is a crucial tool for water managers and planners because of the huge role evapotranspiration plays in water availability. Evapotranspiration rates are important because the amount of water available for people and ecosystems is the amount of annual precipitation — that is, snow or rain — minus the amount of annual evapotranspiration. Evapotranspiration itself is the amount of water lost to the atmosphere from the ground. Much of this loss is the result of the “transpiration” of water by plants.

To produce these maps, USGS scientists Ward Sanford and David Selnick examined Landsat satellite imagery for climate and land-cover data from 1971 to 2000 and streamflow data for more than 800 watersheds for the same time period. This information allowed them to generate a mathematical equation that could be used to more precisely estimate long-term evapotranspiration at any location in the continental United States.

A three-letter word for each location on earth
What3words, a London-based startup, has developed a new mapping service What3words, a London-based startup, has developed a new mapping service which divides the globe into 57 trillion boxes measuring three metres each. It has labelled each area with just three words address to help make finding locations more accurate and memorable. The w3w pin can be moved around the Google Map and can show the code for the precise point where the pin has been placed. Alternatively, users can search the site for landmarks or addresses to find that location's code. Or three random words can be entered, each separated by a full stop, to find a surprise location. Once a location has been identified, it can be shared via email, Facebook, Twitter or GPS systems. What3words is available on Web browsers as well through Android and iOS apps. The new service makes it easier to remember than complicated coordinates.
‘Javelins’ with GPS to measure Antarctica
25 javelin-like equipment in the Pine Island Glacier (PIG) Scientists at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have dropped 25 javelin-like equipment in the Pine Island Glacier (PIG), one of Antarctica’s biggest and fastestmoving ice streams. These ‘javelins’ contain advanced GPS equipment that allow the BAS to monitor the speed and nature of the ice movement. This will further help in accurately measuring the entire continent.

Researchers in January had done initial drop trials of the battery-powered javelins at Scar Inlet on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula. The darts were dropped from aircraft flying over the region. They were equipped with parachutes and small ‘ice brake’ fins to lessen the force of their impact with the ice and stop them from driving too deeply. Scientists had released 33 ‘javelins’. A total of 25 survived the violent emplacement and return daily data. BAS expects a two-year lifetime for the devices.

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