“The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance,” says Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum. How do geospatial systems fit into the scheme of things in this revolution?
Geospatial systems are solutions in search of problems, or as David Schell of the OGC puts it more elegantly, application of geospatial technologies is limited only by our imagination. We cannot imagine self- driving cars if there were no maps. In fact, it is maps, those earliest attempts at modelling the world, that gave rise to exploration and discovery which in turn fueled the previous revolutions. Today, maps are but one item in the tool chest of the geospatial professional. Interestingly, most of the others are borrowed from other technological advances and adapted to the needs of spatial information management.
Take the case of Blockchains which emerged as an Internet application for financial transactions but is now being considered for adoption into geospatial transactions. If one looks back, one can see how advances in ICT have been similarly adopted and adapted — Internet, Cloud, Big Data Analytics, AI, to name a few. Another technology that has had a big influence is space. Remote sensing and GNSS are synonymous with geospatial even though these technologies were originally developed for military use.
Role of geospatial in 4IR
The question that begs itself is what will be the role of geospatial in the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Here we begin to face uncertainty. While it is true that developments like Google Earth, Google Maps and Location Based Services as well as the proliferation of smart handheld devices have revolutionized the adoption of these technologies by the person on the street, the same cannot be said for government institutions and businesses. The penetration of geospatial systems is yet to realize its full potential.
A major cause is the explosion of spatial data and the means to handle such data becomes problematic. Entrepreneurs are harnessing tools like Big Data Analytics which were being used on transactional data to handle geospatial data and further merge such data with transactional data and even unstructured data from social media. Mladen Stojic of Hexagon calls these ‘smart maps’ which provide a dynamic information experience by delivering contents using business workflows communicating analytics through user experience that is modern and also makes sense.
Headway to innovation
It is moot that such a fresh view of geospatial information has registered with the majority of government institutions and businesses. Maps are no longer things that hang on the office wall or pop up when you click on Google Maps. They are a part of your living experience, like as a self- driving car which does not ‘look’ at a map but uses it to navigate from point A to point B as it deals with a plethora of real time data coming from its body mounted sensors and also received through the fabric of the IoT.
Take the case of crop insurance. While the governments are still coping with conventional satellite imagery interpretation, many young entrepreneurs have taken the problem by its horns and are marketing innovative solutions using not only remotely sensed imagery but a huge amount of data gathered from sources, both planned and opportunistic. A key factor in such solutions is the need for satellite data.
Unfortunately, a few governments are yet to take up the issue of open data and availability of data for free, primarily due to cost issues and regulations.
However, Geospatial leaders are confident that better days for geospatial are just over the horizon. It will take a much greater effort to enjoy the sunrise. That effort has to be towards making geospatial ubiquitous.