Changing the Spatial Game

It is fair to say that in the last 5 years there has been an explosion of new technologies in the spatial world that has changed the way we do business, interact with the community and explain our profession. I cannot count how many times I have heard in a presentation that thanks to Google Earth we can now easily state what we do in the spatial world.

Google has shown us that the game can change quite quickly and the evidence is found in all the innovative uses of the Google Maps API. We are now at a point that the media and community expect (even demand), that Google Maps/Earth data is current and trusted whereas we know as professionals it is not so easily the case. This leads me to another point in that have we “dumbed” down our own profession by relying on Google too much? Indeed a topic for another time.

Now back to new technologies. I have recently been privy to an exciting emerging technology that recently launched and will no doubt change the way aerial imagery is captured and delivered, providing up to date photos of your local area. NearMap (www.nearmap.com) is a start up company coming out of Perth, Western Australia that has started to fly the major capitals around Australia and provide monthly aerial imagery at 7.5cm or greater pixel resolution for free to the public.

Wow, free aerial imagery that I can use at any time I hear you say. Well it does seem the case that NearMap will revolutionise the way aerial imagery is delivered and who can use it although what we do with all this imagery is yet to be answered.

I for example, have used the NearMap imagery to make a point regarding road usage as a citizen to my local council. This free, monthly imagery has strengthened my case to build speed reducing infrastructure in my neighbourhood. Yet as a business, the usage of monthly imagery (at a cost) could increase my resource spend to ensure that I get a return on investment by building downstream applications that do ‘something’ with the imagery. Is this an investment that businesses are willing to put resources into? Is a visual time series enough of an investment?

Certainly the advantages of up to date photography and the development of new technologies that automate the creation of feature datasets will ease the uptake of this new photography offering. Not a Google killer yet but the question is how soon will the private sector jump on this and complete the value chain so that information is backed up by near real time imagery?

Another disruptive technology that has been brought to our shores is by a company called Earth Mine (http://www.earthmine.com). Along the same lines as Google’s street view or Australia’s own Virtual Observer (http://www.virtualobserver.com.au), Earth Mine can capture street level photography at high resolution with the advantages of each pixel being registered to its correct place in the world. This innovative technology allows for mapping in real 3D through the street level photography. By extending the street view imagery, markups (that is the creation on new vector layers on the image) can be overlaid allowing for planning, asset management and even new augmented reality overlays where community participation in changes might even be achieved.

Another new application that could bring the previous technologies together is
Wikitude (http://www.wikitude.org/). This is an example of where the merging of technologies is creating a new market space. Quite exciting to geo-tag and add content into an application that could possibly feed off the up to date data being captured by NearMap and Earth Mine. Imagine, adding GeoRSS feeds into an augmented reality space to highlight specials of the month for a business or information on tourist attractions so as to not disturb the natural environment?

These game changing offerings are a small sample of technologies being develop that will enhance, extend and change the spatial sector. Quite an exciting time if you think of it and for the innovative person, the combination of these two technologies would possibly allow for a complete detailed 3D planning environment with time series. I’ve seen this type of technology being used in the games sector and with smart phones increasing in use, the merging of games, information and spatial as with Wikitude could be the start of the next big innovative leap.

To grab the attention of the wider community new technologies such as this need to be embraced but more importantly we need to identify where the value lies and how can we change process quickly enough to support it. A challenge for us all…

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