2022 will continue to see the rising importance of geospatial data as more and more organisations seek to unlock the power of geospatial to provide solutions to the challenges they are facing.
Here are Group CEO Dave Horner's predictions for the top five industry trends of 2022:
The rise of 3D
Well in truth not so much a rise - 3D data has been around since the turn of the century in various forms - but 2022 will be the year in which 3D finally comes to the party and becomes established as a viable and valuable solution in its own right.
Whilst 3D data and fly-throughs have long caught the eye at trade shows and exhibitions, generally when you dug under the surface, the use cases for the data tended to be pretty thin on the ground.
However, with the development of 3D software and virtual/augmented reality technology, 3D data is now becoming much more easily accessible to users. The technology and cost barriers that once marginalised 3D data as an expensive “nice to have” add on are rapidly disappearing, and 3D data is now finally becoming accessible to the masses at a price that delivers value to end users.
When Getmapping started creating the first national aerial imagery dataset of Great Britain in 1999, we worked to a five-year update strategy. Ten years later, we were maintaining many areas to three years, and today even that is not enough.
So expect to see the currency of data increasing rapidly, with major towns and cities being maintained on a one year refresh or better. In fact, many areas are already ahead of the UK on that curve – in South Africa for example, many of the metros have been updating their imagery and LiDAR data annually for a number of years, and in Australia, many of the urban areas are captured up to four times a year (of course they have the weather for it).
Satellite providers will rightly point out that they capture the planet on an even higher refresh rate – sometimes every day – so we would add a qualifier on the currency front around affordability to the mass market. To date, currency has come at a significant cost premium, but that model is changing rapidly.
In the same way that Moore's Law states that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles about every two years, then the equivalent in the geospatial world is that survey technology doubles capture rates roughly every five years, and no doubt even that will reduce in years to come.
What that means for the customer is that the currency of the data (as described above) AND the resolution at which it is captured, is increasing every year. Taking the Getmapping example, the first survey of Great Britain was carried out at 25cm resolution (to be fair, we were still using film back then). By 2005, digital camera technology enabled data to be captured at higher resolution, and our national imagery layer gradually moved to 12.5cm, with increasing requests for 5cm imagery for towns and cities.
Today, 5cm imagery for urban areas is pretty much the standard, but even higher resolution is around the corner – thanks to the latest technology, we started capturing areas at 3cm resolution in 2021.
3cm aerial oblique image, Cambridge, 2021
Drone suppliers will rightly point out that they can capture down to sub-centimetre. However, it is important to recognise a distinction here between large area capture (towns and cities) and project capture (for example a new development or roundabout). Drones can and do deliver even higher resolution for small areas, but are not yet the right solution for anything larger.
It is also important to recognise the rise in demand for mobile mapping imagery and point cloud data – capturing our communication routes at ultra-high resolution (imagery captured at 3mm resolution 10m from the sensor, with ~1 million points per metre of LiDAR data). This is creating an unparalleled level of detail and opening up a range of new applications, many delivered in tandem with the power of AI.
The concept of digital twins first came to prominence in product development and the manufacturing sector, but over the last eighteen months, the concept of creating digital twins of the built environment is being discussed and promoted as an offering more widely.
In truth, anything from a 2D digital map to a full 3D immersive model can be classed as a digital twin, but over the next eighteen months expect to see more and more detailed digital twins of our town and cities coming onto the market in various forms.
The real power of a digital twin is its ability to enable scenario modelling in a safe environment – undertake a wide range of “what if” investigations quickly with minimum disruption in the real world. This also extends to the ability to 'be there without being there' – to undertake site visits from the desktop.
Another powerful spin-off from the rise of digital twins will be the development of experiential solutions – everything from tourism to education to gaming – bringing the built environment straight into our homes.
Solutions not data
One of the key benefits to the geospatial industry of the technology revolution is that it is attracting a much wider range of users and creating powerful new applications for data.
However, this does mean that there is now a new generation of what we are starting to call “geospatial immigrants.” In the same way that a digital immigrant is someone who was typically born before or at the start of the digital age, and has had to adapt to the development of digital technology, so are the new entrants to the geospatial industry having to learn to work with geospatial data as a key technology enabler. So whilst traditional users of geospatial data have been more akin to “geospatial natives” – they know what they want and how to use it – the rise of the geospatial immigrant creates a new challenge for the industry.
Geospatial immigrants are generally not that interested in how geospatial data is created and what it is; they are far more interested in what it can do for them. To enable this, the industry needs to ensure two things – firstly that users are getting the right data for their needs, and secondly that they are able to access it easily. This in turn translates into delivering solutions to this new class of customer rather than just delivering data. Giving the client what they need in a way that is easy for them to ingest, analyse and action – i.e. the solution to their problem or challenge.
Dave Horner, Group CEO, Getmapping
Dave heads up the Getmapping Group and is focused on building sustainable growth through long term strategic partnerships that deliver value to our clients, our partners and our supply chain globally.
He has worked in the geomatics industry for over twenty five years and has a wealth of practical experience, having worked as a technical specialist, before stepping up into various management positions and becoming the Group CEO 10 years ago. He has seen at first hand the huge change of focus in the sector from being a niche industry to becoming recognised as a key enabler across most market sectors.