A cholera outbreak in 1832 spurred the first application of geospatial analysis when Charles Piquet created a map illustrating hot spots for the disease across 48 districts in Paris. Fast forward nearly 200 years, as numerous organizations map the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, to see how technological advancements are transforming the geospatial industry and delivering interactive insights that were not possible even a decade ago.
Over the past five years, we have witnessed data become exponentially richer. Advanced geospatial analytics have become ingrained in countless sectors, including archeology, disaster response, urban planning, infrastructure, logistics, retail, transportation and government services.
The geospatial industry is one of the fastest growing sectors globally. A recent report from Research and Markets projected that it will grow from $239.1 billion last year to more than $502 billion in 2024, realizing a 13.2% CAGR. While fundamental advancements in GIS software, including 3D and 4D, augmented reality and virtual reality, will play a role in this growth, there are other technologies – not often associated with the GIS space – that will further fuel it.
Here’s a look at three developments poised to fundamentally change the geospatial sector and the way we use and understand the vast amounts of data being generated today:
1. Remote sensing will become synonymous with the Internet of Things.
When you think of remote sensing for geospatial applications, you may envision lidar and other sensors affixed to airplanes or helicopters flying wide swaths of geography. But soon robots, drones and fixed internet-connected sensors will become more commonplace for persistent monitoring of remote infrastructure and industrial equipment.
No longer will companies need to rely on time-consuming, annual boots-on-the-ground inspections. Lower-cost sensors that can be adapted to smaller platforms, pervasive internet access and abundant storage, and cloud-powered analytics are combining to support continual data collection. These will enable access to data sets and analytics at frequencies measured in days and weeks, rather than months and years.
Remote sensing and IoT will be critical components in integrated decision support systems. These systems will be used for earth modeling to identify changing climate patterns, and monitoring water resources and inland waterways to better understand fish habitats, sedimentation, and temperature changes. Organizations that need to manage and inspect large, geographically distributed assets can apply this combination of technologies to inspect and monitor oil, gas, and water pipelines or electric transmission infrastructure. This next generation of remote sensing technologies will help achieve the goal of moving from calendar-based schedules to condition-based schedules.
2. A new ecosystem of tools, technologies, services and careers will develop around geospatial data.
As new tools, like remote sensing combined with IoT, increase the frequency of acquisition, there will be greater demand for insights from the geospatial data collected. Within the next five years, a new professional specialization that focuses on geospatial data will develop. These individuals will be data scientists who understand remote sensing analytics, software infrastructure, and tools that enable them to work with, and manage, large data sets.
There will be a need to develop talent and tools, much like we've seen the evolution in non-geospatial databases. Individuals who were accustomed to collecting 15TB of geospatial data a year are going to have to adjust, as they now will have to deal with that much data collected every few months. To work at this scale, the industry will need to move away from desktop-focused systems and look to leverage the cloud for processing geospatial data, harvesting rapid insights and making them available to a distributed audience. Interoperability and integration will be key to the development of this rich, focused ecosystem.
3. Consolidation will occur in the drone industry.
Use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, in the geospatial industry has been limited because of federal beyond-visual-line-of-sight regulations. Steps are being taken by the Federal Aviation Administration to loosen these regulations and slowly but surely BVLOS operations will become increasingly available for a variety of use cases. Last summer, the first U.S. FAA beyond-line-of-visual-sight drone flight was completed, showing promise for their use over large swaths of areas.
BVLOS operations will unlock enormous potential for use in emergency management, persistent monitoring, and asset inspections. Drones themselves need to improve to support these new BVLOS applications.
Once regulations, as well as drone and battery technology, evolve, there will be a domino effect. Expect to see consolidation in the UAV market, favoring larger platforms and organizations that have integrated survey and analytics capabilities. This consolidation will give the geospatial industry the economies of scale required to support new use cases for remote sensing, and enable them to collect more data, more often for greater insights into our landscape and critical infrastructure.
The past several years have borne witness to some amazing advancements in the geospatial sector, yet this is just the beginning. Over the next five years, the progress will continue at warp speed – from the technologies we use to the understandings we have about our evolving world.