Drones and Geodata: The coming boom for LI

By Joe Francica

Unmanned vehicles, aerial, ground-based or marine, are reshaping and disrupting the mapping and geospatial technology industry. Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, are capable of freeing GIS professionals from the bounds of "line of sight." The ability to remotely-capture earth observation imagery with lightweight and relatively inexpensive sensors is freeing capital from more expensive data collection methods. The full gamut of sensors were on display at the Autonomous and Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference, called Xponential. Xponential is one of the largest events dedicated to unmanned vehicles, featuring over 650 exhibitors and drawing nearly 6500 attendees. This year the event was held at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center in downtown Dallas, Texas.

Jim Cantore, meteorologist for The Weather Channel, was the master of ceremonies for the event. Cantore said that UAVs are transforming the way broadcast news is covering events, as they are able to gather news from different angles and in near real-time.

Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel Corporation and the keynote speaker, focused on three main topics driving the adoption of UAVs:

  1. Data is the new oil.
  2. Automated systems will exist "on the air," "in the air," and "on the ground."
  3. Autonomous systems will be connected and the data fed back to users.

"We believe that the world will become separated by those who use data and those that don't," Krzanich said. "The future of data is much larger than you see it today."

Krzanich went on to say that a single autonomous vehicle will create four terabytes of data in a single day of driving — an incredible amount of data when considering the number of potential vehicles that may be enabled with autonomous systems ­— and those data contain an inherent location-based context.

In addition, the average person creates 650 MB per day, and by 2020, that will increase to 1.4 GB. These huge increases in data rates will transform information technology and create entirely new industries such as connected cars, digital health, and wearables. Companies like Uber, Lyft and FitBit are good examples of new, disruptive companies utilizing location data.

The result may be manifold and will affect the emerging space of location intelligence in several ways:

  1. Sensors that make cars autonomous will be the reason that the data rates will increase exponentially and will require better mapping to support the ever-increasing need for accurate digital street data.
  2. Integrated software will support simultaneous 3D mapping capabilities that look at the surrounding terrain and takes the next best action that controls the vehicle.
  3. The improvements in mapping will allow autonomous vehicles to travel at any speed, both indoors or outdoors.

Looking even further ahead, Krzanich said the future is bright for industries like insurance and emergency management. Expect to see fully automated flight for house inspections, especially to support insurance claims. In addition, Intel has been at the leading edge of unmanned systems to have the capability for search and rescue during natural disasters. Major catastrophic events that cause flooding and wind damage are expensive, costly and dangerous, and are those that many families find the most difficult from which to recover.

Perhaps most exciting is the use of Intel technology that allows drones to be piloted indoors in non-GPS environments. That capability has been most difficult to solve, but Krzanich says that Intel is about to crack that challenge. In all, the advancements and use cases for unmanned vehicles is expanding beyond mapping and image capture, and now includes some truly exciting applications that were thought impossible only a few years ago.

Published Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

Written by Joe Francica

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