Home Blogs Top geospatial industry trends to watch out for in 2017

Top geospatial industry trends to watch out for in 2017

The year 2016 was one of transformation and new technologies, with location becoming more and more fundamental to all processes and new, path-breaking concepts taking centrestage. A field like geospatial is always difficult to predict given its constant evolution and how fast it is getting integrated in other technologies. As we begin a new year, let’s take a look at some of the trends that are most likely to shape the spatial sectors in the coming time.

The Global Outlook 2016: Spatial Information Industry report, prepared by Cooperative Research Council for Spatial Information (CRCSI), lists 18 trends which could be shaping the spatial industry in times to come.

The report notes that the world has a nascent realisation that the digital transformation is providing us with a positioning and location capability that is precise, ‘always on’, and is tracked, stored and retrievable for instant or future use. Once privacy concerns have been addressed and effective safeguards against the potential dangers are in place, the transformative applications of this capability will be enormous.

The Internet

Hype cycle for The Internet of Things
Hype cycle for The Internet of Things. Credit CRCSI

The Internet connects devices, people, processes and data in an integrated global network. According to an estimate by Cisco, the global Internet market will be worth $19 trillion in the next 10 years (with $14 trillion coming from the private sector and $5 trillion from the public sector), created by initiatives like smart cities and infrastructure. By 2020, there are likely to be 50+ billion connected devices, which in turn will each have multiple sensors, thus creating a trillion sensor ecosystems, which is also known as the ‘Internet of Things‘. This ‘Planetary Nervous System’ will assist individual decision-making and enable self-organizing ‘smart’ systems to create a collective intelligence. To achieve an economy of scale and interworking, interoperable global standards will be very important  as will semantically enabled algorithms and applications that streamline standards.

Wearable Devices

Wearable devices have witnessed maximum demand in areas like fitness, medical and security sectors, while devices for other industry sectors are just emerging. Although regarded as a novelty at present, they are expected to be mainstream very soon. A Gartner study predicted that 30% of wearable technology will be “unobtrusive to the naked eye” by 2017. However, one important thing that needs to be taken into consideration is if we invite technology onto or into our bodies, we also need to be willing to share everyday decision-making as to what to do. There are early signs of a technology takeover, leading to questions about the sustainability of the current relationship.

Global growth of VR head-mounted displays
Global growth of VR head-mounted displays. Credit CRCSI

Other than health and lifestyle, wearable technology can be used in a variety of significant other areas such as monitoring indicators, fulfilling an interesting purpose for which they were not originally intended. Virtual Reality headsets provide the wearer with fully immersive experiences. The market is forecast to grow at 99% CAGR between 2015 and 2020.

Networks & Connectivity

About 3.4 billion or roughly 50% of the world’s population people are connected to the Internet today with digital services having great economic and social impacts all over the world. While the global digital economy is growing by 10% per year, there are constraints that need to be addressed, such as the slow adoption of long-term evolution technologies, particularly in Europe, that optimize the speed and function of mobile devices. Furthermore there is a need to address the policies and regulations to accommodate international interoperability.

Map of Internet usage per country
Map of Internet usage per country. Credit CRCSI

Incidentally, broadband network speed and penetration are closely related to a country’s national GDP. An increase of 10% in broadband penetration is greater than 1% increase in GDP. The global telecommunication industry has declared that connecting the remaining two-thirds of the world’s population to the mobile internet is a great opportunity, as well as one of the most urgent issues.


Global Space Activities were worth $330 billion in 2014 while the global Space economy grew 9%. According to OECD’s ‘Space Economy at a glance 2014’, the space manufacturing supply chain represents around $85 billion globally.

Map of civilian imaging satellites launched, by country
Map of civilian imaging satellites launched, by country. Credit CRCSI

This number is probably relatively underestimated since there are institutional programmes in many countries that are the sources of unreported contracts to national space industries (e.g. defence activities). As a second segment, services from satellite operators – which own and operate satellites – are also included for around $21.6 billion (i.e. revenues from the satellite telecommunications operators: fixed and mobile satellite services, satellite radio services, and commercial remote sensing operators). The consumer services include actors, usually outside the space community, which rely on some satellite capacity for part of their revenues. These downstream activities are an integral part of the space economy. They include direct-to-home satellite television services providers, SatNav consumer equipment and value-added services, and very small apertures terminals providers with revenues estimated at around $149.6 billion.


The global real-time location system market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 37.41% between 2015–2019. In the United States alone, a conservative estimate would show GPS contributed $68 billion to the economy in 2013. More than $26 billion was related to vehicle-location services, $13.7 billion to precision farming, $11.9 billion to fleet-vehicle telematics, $11.6 billion to surveying, and $5 billion to GPS-based guidance of earth-moving equipment. LBS use location-enabled devices to track the users and to determine the visitor’s use-pattern.

Spatial accuracies with established indoor location methods
Spatial accuracies with established indoor location methods. Credit CRCSI

Location-based services can be segmented into a range of markets — indoor; LBS search and advertising, LBS tracking, LBS navigation, LBS infotainment, analytics, recreation and fitness. Since LBS allow much more targeted advertising campaigns mobile advertising will certainly take off in a big way. According to a Berg Insight report, LBS advertising in 2018 will be 2% of total global advertising expenditure for all media, and 7% of all digital advertising, with Bluetooth Low Energy beacons being disruptive game changers. LBS is predicted to grow with a CAGR of 54% from $1.66 billion in 2013 to $14.8 billion in 2018. Moreover,

Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems

The market for RPAs or UAVs, as they are more popularly known, is expected to surpass $8.4 billion by 2018. The commercial RPAS sector alone has an estimated 51% CAGR, 2014–2019, with revenues exceeding $5.1 billion by 2019. On the other hand, BI Intelligence estimates a growth in the civilian drone market of 19% CAGR and 5% CAGR in the military market between 2015 and 2020.

Global aerial drone market, 2013–2024
Global aerial drone market, 2013–2024. Credit CRCSI

There is a growing trend to use RPASs for dangerous jobs such as for power transmission, wind turbine inspections or the mapping of collapsed buildings in emergency situations. The sector has caught interest of venture capitalists. According to Dan Kara, Practice Director of Robotics at ABI Research, the commercial sector is the sweet spot for the small UAS market, a fact recognized by both defence industry suppliers.

Spatial data

The value of open data has been realized and governments are actively pursuing ways to enable easy access for all. The father of World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, co-founded the Open Data Institute, a UK-government backed, £10-million initiative linking universities and commercial supporters that advocate access to open data.

Landsat downloads since open-data policy
Landsat downloads since open-data policy. Credit CRCSI

The open data policy has been applied to NASA’s Landsat satellite data, and consequently data were made freely available. Since then a significant increase in user downloads can be observed. The role of globes was foreshadowed by Al Gore in his 1998 speech on virtual globes predicting the worlds citizens would one day be able to interact with virtual globes depicting scientific and cultural information. An Open Digital Earth Foundation review paper evaluates the Digital Earth globe technologies currently available. These include case studies such as the Google Earth and Bing Maps 3D Platform, Cesium (AGI), Bhuvan 3D (India), QLD Cube Globe, NASA World Wind, WebGL Earth 2 (Klokan Technologies), Marble (KDE), Skyline Globe, ESRI ArcGlobe, EV Globe, SuperMap GIS, Digital Earth Science Platform, and osgEarth.

Spatial Data Infrastructure & Analytics

Spatial data infrastructure,  or the concept of harmonized spatial data through a common infrastructure, is an old term in the geospatial industry. Data producers, aggregators and end users within the infrastructure are able to discover, interact, analyse and seamlessly develop reports; irrespective of varying spatial data quality, of heterogeneous data formats or of the different data models.

The European Commission’s INSPIRE is a excellent example of how SDIs can benefit nations
The European Commission’s INSPIRE is a excellent example of how SDIs can benefit nations

After many debates, today, the main focus is on providing geospatial data in the form of distributed spatial web services, data retrieval through catalogues, and visualization in the form of Web Map Services. It has been observed that the work on SDIs has been of more interest to governmental and academic sectors than to the private sector with governments across the world heavily investing in SDIs to ensure that the spatial data created using taxpayers’ money is presented to citizens in a useful way. The advent of Smart Cities by Urban Planners, 3D-city models and building information models has also recently provided an opportunity for the SDI community to develop the concepts of Indoor SDI.

Mapping systems

Major software providers are looking to combine BIM and GIS
Major software providers are looking to combine BIM and GIS

The process of convergence between CAD, BIM and GIS is continuing given the greater need for interoperability, broader access, and data and tools integration. Groups such as ISO BIM–GIS Ad Hoc Group, OGC-building SMART alliance partnership and InfraBIM project are working on this integration. Companies like Autodesk and Leica Geosystems are collaborating to streamline construction workflows. The collaboration involves reality capture and BIM to field layout solutions with laser scanning, building construction layout and similar markets. Bentley now also combines BIM and GIS with its recent purchase of SiteOps. It combines design and cost models for optimised workflow and helps engineers and developers understand site preparation costs as a function of design.

Big Data, Algorithms, Applications

The power of Big Data in the Cloud and access to powerful processors is immense — it means gaining knowledge with relative ease compared to any process just a few years ago. Geoscience Australia scientists for instance have unlocked 25 years of archived satellite imagery with their Data Cube, using the high-performance computers of the Australian National University’s National Computing Infrastructure (NCI), to monitor land and water resources and provide unique information on flood risk and ecosystem management.

25 years of water observation from space
25 years of water observation from space. Credit CRCSI

The figure above shows analyzed satellite imagery over 25 years. The permanency of hydrological features in the landscape are colour coded; red depicts areas that hold water 1% of the time; green areas, 20% of the time; while blue areas always hold water (100%).

Further, mobile network data have the potential to restrain infectious diseases such as Ebola. Researchers used data from the Orange Telecom network in Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal to map the aggregated call patterns of one million anonymous phone users at transportation hubs in order to understand the potential routes of virus spread within the country. The US Department of Defense has modified the Constellation system (a WMD bio-surveillance prototype) for contact tracing people with direct contacts to sick Ebola patients, and for using this information in outbreak responses.

Smart System Applications

As Internet of Things becomes a buzzword, it is envisioned that the integrated network of Big Data will use advanced analytics to create actionable intelligence with predictive algorithms to program automated SMART systems with improved efficiencies. Multiple sensors like cameras, scanners and sensors will provide data to smart systems in every sphere of life — from cities to energy, transport, agriculture, natural resource management to health etc.

Smart cities business opportunities by market segments
Smart cities business opportunities by market segments. Credit CRCSI

Sensor data and smart algorithms will merge to create the most futuristic applications. Total system performance will become more and more important, and companies that address this market need are in better positions to drive this process and gain value. The widely discussed smart cities now offer huge business opportunities with an estimated market value of $1.5 trillion by 2020. The figure above shows the various sectors within the Smart City market, and their respective CAGR.


It is anticipated that machines will communicate directly and fluently with brains in the not too distant future, changing the way we work. Already researchers have reported successful conscious communication of two humans using the Internet, enabling telepathy via computer to brain interface. One researcher in France successfully sent words to a researcher in India.

Patterns of brain activity for perceived self-location
Patterns of brain activity for perceived self-location. Credit CRCSI

While police and soldiers, or criminals of the ‘dark’ side can communicate silently and covertly during operations, planes can be piloted, and missiles shot by mere thoughts. This was demonstrated (in a flight simulator) by TU Munich and TU Berlin. At Arizona State University swarms of small RPAS could be directed by one controller (drone pilot) through focused thoughts. The app MindRDR, Google Glass, together with a Neurosky MindWave sensor (EEG monitor) allows people to take photos with pure thought (brain signals) and to post them on Twitter and Facebook.

Crowd Sourcing

Crowdsourced information from the public — very often with spatial components — has become an important means of obtaining data, particularly for crisis management.

Nepal-based Kathmandu Living Labs collected hundreds of reports from earthquake-affected areas to map where aid and relief was needed. Credit Kathmandu Living Labs
Nepal-based Kathmandu Living Labs collected hundreds of reports from earthquake-affected areas to map where aid and relief was needed. Credit Kathmandu Living Labs

The earthquake in Nepal in April 2015 again demonstrated the usefulness of geospatial tools for emergency management. A global network of volunteer geeks – digital humanitarians – assisted with vital information to help emergency workers on the ground. Information was gained from the analysis of Twitter feeds with embedded location information or accumulated by active crowd volunteering on platforms such as Tomnod, and the Humanitarian Open Street Map Team. Mapbox helped with information on road conditions, and building damage analysis. While Esri offered smart maps to visualise impact maps; Facebook and Google helped with locating loved ones in the crisis region, tools for remote mapping efforts have increased in sophistication since the earthquake in Haiti in 2010. In 2013 crisis mappers assisted with Typhoon Haiyan, and subsequently with Syrian refugees, and the Ebola crisis.


Companies that collaborate are up to five times more likely to grow
Companies that collaborate are up to five times more likely to grow

Collaboration is a key ingredient to success, according to a report from Deloitte, ‘Collaborative Economy’. The report, which valued collaboration at A$ 9.3 billion per year, found that companies that collaborate are up to five times more likely to grow, twice as likely to be profitable, and twice as likely to outgrow competitors. Yet it also found that half of the businesses surveyed have no collaboration strategy.

Digital Disruption

Distribution of job categories against probability of computerisation
Distribution of job categories against probability of computerisation. Credit CRCSI

Digital disruption will affect the kinds of jobs that will be available in the future. A study by Committee for Economic Development of Australia analyzed the likelihood that computerisation will disrupt or replace jobs.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) no doubt have come up as the single biggest disruptive technology in the recent times. And if there is anything all IT majors are currently working on, it is ‘cognitive computing’, or what has been historically known as ‘artificial intelligence’. Renowned futurist Ray Kurzweil, who is the Director of Engineering at Google, predicts that by 2020 smartphones are likely to have the same storage and processing capacity as a human mind and by 2029 ‘brain software’ will be completely functional.

All IT majors are working on artificial intelligence
All IT majors are working on artificial intelligence

However, there are also growing concerns that AI could become a threat to humans at some time in the future and it has been voiced by people like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Stephen Hawking. An open letter of concern has been signed by many well-known personalities in the field asking for focus on research priorities to ensure AI systems are robust and beneficial.

Security & Privacy

The conflict between security needs and privacy rights is likely to intensify in the coming years
The conflict between security needs and privacy rights is likely to intensify in the coming years

With biometrics becoming a norm, passwords are expected to become a thing of the past very soon. As many as 10 million identities are digitally pickpocketed each year. However, security can be enhanced when behavioural biometrics are used to identify users, such as when facilitating a financial transaction on a bank’s website. Banks and financial institutions use location data as an extra layer of security to combat fraud.

However, there has been growing concerns from citizens over use of location data to track them saying it violates their privacy. A Pew Research reported that about 35% of adult social-media users have location information turned off to maintain their privacy on their posts. A 2014 study by the US President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee said there was a 3–5 year window of opportunity to maximize security and minimize risk in adopting the Internet of Everything; otherwise the nation could find itself dealing with adverse consequences for generations.

Governments’ Digital Transformation Agenda

Governments across the world — from Toronto to Seoul — are in the midst of a historic transformation as they abandon analogue-operating models in favour of digital systems. Spatial enablement and Location Intelligence together form one of the key components of the digital transformation of the world.

Spatial enablement and location intelligence together form one of the key components of the digital transformation of the world
Spatial enablement and location intelligence together form one of the key components of the digital transformation of the world

Australia’s National Innovation and Science Agenda strongly endorses the need for the Digital Transformation of the Australian economy. Similarly, Digital India, DigitalGov (from USA) and Digital 5, or D5, is a network of leading digital governments with the goal of strengthening the digital economy. The D5 members are New Zealand, South Korea, Israel, the United Kingdom and Estonia. The D5 members are bonded by the principle of openness, and are focused on changing government’s relationship with technology by adopting open standards and open-source software, as well as making digital government more effective.