Category Archives: Innovation

Urban Planning in the 21st Century

Over the last few months the new CRC-SI 2 has been kicking into motion and positioning itself for the research areas the new program will be looking to achieve. For those who have been involved no doubt you are aware of the history of the CRCSI but for those who are not up on the current lingo, the CRCSI is short for the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information and ‘2’ is the second round of funding that the organisation has received from the federal government.

With this second round of funding the CRCSI will be able to work for the next seven years around the theme of Spatially Enabling Australia. The core research areas are Positioning, Automated Spatial Information Generation and Spatial Infrastructures. See this handout for more information.

As part of the CRCSI 2 work programs there are a number of application areas that will also be looked into and one has stuck my interest. The Sustainable Urban Planning (program 4.5 pdf: here) organisers recently held a seminar on the subject of Greyfields.

Greyfields are the ageing occupied residential tracts of suburbs that are physically, technologically and environmentally obsolescent……..typically found in a 5 to 25 kilometre radius of the centre of each capital city”‘ Professor Peter Newton.

With population growth, affordable housing and increase need for better government spending the rejuvenation of these areas of urban living must be proving a great challenge. What I feel will be key for this research theme is the engagement of community on urban planning as it was highlighted that within ‘greyfields’ most of the land is under private ownership. This proves an interesting sticky point for redevelopment in light of current issues.

As housing affordability and population growth are hot topics and that urban sprawl is becoming more and more unsustainable the greyfields are key to helping address these problems. In another session I attended recently titled ‘Boom Town 2050’ it was highlighted that the density of dwellings in Australia is not at the levels it needs to be to support population growth. Hopefully with research, engagement with community and importantly action the use of spatial within this area will be seen as critical to realising and communicating what needs to be done.

Moving Away from Gov Silos

A few days ago the Rudd government posted it’s response to the Gov 2.0 taskforce report on Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0. The responce, hosted on the Department of Finance and Deregulation (DFD) website can be found here.

Reading through the response I am pleased in most aspects of the Government wanting to take action in the area of making more data available to the public and generating tools that will help inform and direct new policy. The steering committee that will be setup to help direct the DFD is for the better part entirely made up of federal government agencies. This is my first bane of contention but more on that in a sec.

Some things to note coming out of the report included:
– Defining what Public Sector Information should be
o free
o based on open standards
o easily discoverable
o understandable
o machine-readable
o freely reusable and transformable.

– Establishment of metadata standards to improve sharing, reuse and discoverability of PSI. All well and good and there are standards that can be adopted although a focus on how custodians can easily manage metadata and update it needs to be high on the agenda.
– The creation of an ‘Gov 2.0 Awards’ that will recognise outstanding practice in the use and impact of Gov 2.0 tool to improve agency and program performance. Nice idea although will this lose focus on the bigger picture of interagency collaboration and the overall reduction of duplication across government? I hope the awards will take into account those agencies who without producing a big wondrous application get into the nitty gritty of creating a more efficient government.

In addition the adoption of creative commons should greatly increase participation and use of the data. I will say that while using creative commons is great though needs to go into how a custodian can still assure correctness where required.

There are two area’s that I am a little disappointed in:

1. The Gov 2.0 response to the report (and even the original report itself) gave little recognition to state level data and local government level data. Much community interaction happens at this level, more so at the local government level and so I feel more thought and support has to be focused in this area.

2. The steering group for Gov 2.0 looks to be entirely formed out of federal government agencies giving no thought to private industry (who will be supplying and even building the web2.0 tool to support government), academia and the citizens who will be the beneficiaries of the openness of Gov data.

If Government is really going to get on with Gov 2.0 then we need to realise that the world extends beyond government and so to be proactive around the use of PSI data then we need to engage with those who might get best use out of access.

With more and more governments pushing towards open access to data such as the UK data.gov.uk and the US data.gov portals we need to take our lead from these portals and look at what we can implement to ensure a Data.Gov.Au portal becomes a success. Catalogs, Web Services, Download realms are a good start but let fully embrace what the term “2.0” is supposed to represent and ensure that a good user interface sits with the portal that makes access data easy and useful.

App My State: Victoria

It is no surprise to see that more and more application creation competitions are popping up all over Australia in response to the global push to release and access more public sector information (PSI). Victoria is the latest state to launch a competition for innovative application that showcase the best use of PSI data.

Map My State (http://www.premier.vic.gov.au/app-my-state.html) launched by the Premier of Victoria in late February is designed to run for 8 weeks and award prizes based on youth, sustainability, popular choice and an open category.

The Mashup Australia and Apps4NSW competitions proved to be quite popular (Apps4NSW is still open for those interested:
http://www.information.nsw.gov.au/apps4nsw) although one component that sets the App My State competition apart from the rest is hidden in the terms and conditions where only Victorians can enter. Still that hasn’t deterred me from trying (being from Western Australia) and one can only hope that the organisers of this competition realise that idea’s can spring up from anywhere and still benefit Victoria.

Personally I like the idea of open innovation and how these ideas to be tested amongst the public in an open forum. Mobile applications, the web, interaction and social networking are the mediums where new information is quickly released and facilitates a very smart path to reaching critical mass. These competitions have even pathed the way for new innovative businesses to take advantage of this push for open data. Kaggle.com.au is an example of an innovaive business structured around this style of competition. Data has to go somewhere doesn’t it?

The change we have seen in this industry over the last 2 years has heightened the core element of “location” and its importance to how information can be accessed and integrated creating a common understanding. Visual interpretation of information via maps has allowed a large audience to grasp the understanding and meaning of data and how it relates to the day to day life of you and me.

Let’s face it; the public are the ones who would get the most use out of information so it will be interesting to see what this competition brings us.

Simple Interface + Rich Content

The Government 2.0 Taskforce “Mashup Australia” Competition closed some time ago and roughly 2 weeks ago the winners were announced. I have held off commenting on the winning applications due to work and a little bit of gloominess in that my help in a submission only rated 3 stars. (http://mashupaustralia.org/mashups/locate-me/)

The number of entries to the Mashup Australia competition attracted 82 entries ranging from web page mashups to mobile applications. Some were complicated and others were simple to use. A favourite of mine was the ‘Meat in the Park’ (http://meatinapark.appspot.com/) application which quite simply allowed you to find a public BBQ and invite friend so you can have a picnic. Very simple interface, rich content and specific outcome.

The winning application, the Suburban Trends mapper http://www.suburbantrends.com.au/ showed that with a little bit of effort and a focus on user design that a complicated application could be quite simple to use. This application, like so many others combined Australian Bureau of Statistics data, location services and other datasets and presented this in map form. The application took the mashup approach one step further and applied dashboard style indicators to give the user a quick overview of their desired area. Not unique in the approach although commendable in the layout, colours and use. Certainly something for all of us is to think about is the intended audience and their technology prowess (or potentially lack of). They say you only have 8 seconds to grab someone’s attention on a website so the aim is to get it right and this application gets it right and better yet it was developed by a student!

With the push to open data policies and location aware data, a very significant mashup utilised typically non spatial data and combined this with location to produce ‘In Their Honour’. This mashup is dedicated to the service men and women who fought and died for Australia by allowing the user to search for their final resting place. http://mashupaustralia.org/mashups/in-their-honour/

A very powerful mashup that is easy to see why it won the peoples award.

I commend all entries to the Mashup Australia competition and with the Apps4Gov awards in NSW and other competitions that are springing up all over the place 2010 seems to be moving towards to social mapping/media space. With data access on the increase, content and rich content is at the fingertips for anyone who wants it. The challenge moving forward is to utilise the data in such a way that makes it easy to find, use and interpret!

Where did I go at 1am in the morning?

The Answer, the O’Reilly Where 2.0 Online Conference. (http://en.oreilly.com/wherefall09/). This was an online conference focused on utilisation of the Apple iPhone sensors and how applications can easily be built to use these sensors in weird and wonderful ways. Quite an insightful conference and I was amazed at how awake I was particularly at 1am in the morning.

So why I would attend an online conference particularly at 1am in the morning?

  1. Most importantly, allows me to attend in my PJs as the conference was run on New York time,
  2. Online participation is exceedingly high. No more waiting for someone to stand up and ask that first question. Just type away!
  3. Can save the presentations as they are given.
  4. My work did not want to fork out the costs of sending me over to America.

The online conference turned out to be a bit of a code fest although I did gain some pretty insightful knowledge in what goes into building an application. It was especially interesting to see how the sensors are being used and what the developers would like to see added. So lesson one, these are the sensors in your modern iPhone:

  1. The Accelerometer – This pivots and turns the screen based on the movement of the iPhone,
  2. The Magnetometer – The digital compass in the 3Gs and the basis of many new and cool applications for the iPhone.
    Magnetometer Settings

  3. The GPS Reciever – this is what give you your location although the phone refers back to triangulation (~700m accuracy) when you don’t have clear line of sight to the sky.
  4. The Proximity sensor – This turns the screen off so you don’t accidentally hang up while talking to someone on the phone!

The Where 2.0 conference setup this dedicated session on the iPhone as it is the most dominate ‘smart’ phone in Australia (and most places in the world for that matter) and for the fact that more spatial data requests and captures will happen on devices like these in the future than from traditional GIS desktop applications.  In fact it was predicted back in 1999 by Max Egenhofer speaking at the 1st Brazillian Workshop on GeoInformatics (http://www.spatial.maine.edu/~max/pubs.html) that the smart phone would be the leading GIS device of the future

“Spatial Information Appliances – portable tools for professional users and a public audience alike, relying on fundamentally different interaction metaphors: Smart Compasses that point users into the direction of certain points of interest, Smart Horizons that allow users to look beyond their real-world field of view or Geo-Wands – intelligent geographic pointers that allow users to identify geographic objects by pointing towards them”

Ref: Simon R., Fröhlich P. & Anegg H., Beyond Location Based – The Spatially Aware Mobile Phone (http://userver.ftw.at/~froehlich/papers/Beyond_Location_Based_W2GIS.pdf)

Sounds pretty cool hey? Lesson two, it may not be widely known in the spatial sector since we generally deal with top end GNSS receivers but companies like Apple and Nokia alike are the biggest GPS receiver sellers and consumers in the world. Knowing this I feel that it would almost be right in saying that these companies are the new leaders in GPS and navigation. Certainly mobile mapping is the new fad and with so many people out there collecting and geo-tagging information it seems likely that this is the new way for us to collect information.

It was nice to listen and provide input into this conference considering in each presentation, ‘location’ was key to the applications being talked about and how the future would be built around utilisation of GPS to a higher degree. At around 4am in the morning I perked up at mention of a new iPhone application called ‘Theodolite’. http://hunter.pairsite.com/theodolite/

Imagine this, a surveying term wrapped up in a surveying application for the iPhone. Ok, now I know the GPS receiver in the iPhone is accurate to ~40 metres and so this isn’t a surveying application but the future looks bright.

I talked about Wikitude and a little on augmented reality in a previous post and attending this conference re-assured me that this new technology can really make it in this mobile mapping, smart phone, social media age. I don’t think we will be calling our phones “GeoWands” in the future but damm they are cool.

Identify, Engage and Innovate

Reading today’s Spatial Business News  (NO 368 (Vol 15, Issue 24) 27 November 2009; www.positionmag.com.au) an interesting article caught my eye regarding the closed door approach to the spatial industry by the NSW government. An annual spatial summit held in NSW, it was surprising to read that the private sector was held out from attending let alone exhibiting at the summit.

Engagement with the private sector and the building of public/private partnerships is one of the most important undertakings that a leading spatial government department can encourage. Taken from examples all over the world, most prominently the Ordnance Survey’s Partnership programs (http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/oswebsite/partnerships/) and Australia’s own SLIP Dev elopers Program, led by Landgate (https://www2.landgate.wa.gov.au/slip/portal/focus/partners.html), partnerships are necessary to identify new product offerings and how they relate to current issues, be innovative and foster close working relationships to leverage expertise where needed.

The issue with the NSW Spatial Summit seems to be that any number of new initiatives “could” have been discussed as well as other issues that are prevalent throughout agencies in areas such as data capture, maintenance, dissemination and integration. Call me a fool but one would think that just hearing about these issues could allow for the private sector to engage with the public to sort it out. I look forward to reading the summit proceedings when they are published although when that happens is anyone’s guess.

Engagement and fostering a healthy public/private relationships is included in any number of articles and discussions papers and is one of my main tasks working for a leading land agency in Australia. Just have a look through the ANZLIC (Australian New Zealand Spatial Information Council) about-us page (http://www.anzlic.org.au/about_partners.html) and it is detailed with information on how partnerships are necessary to drive the industry. SIBA (Spatial Industries Business Association: http://www.spatialbusiness.org/) is also a prominent body who partner and represent a large number of organizations and foster close working relationships across the public and private sectors. We could even go into the areas of the CRC-SI (http://www.crcsi.com.au/) and the Gov 2.0 Taskforce but I could be here for ages.

So the question remains, why in this day and age would state government agencies be closed minded on moving this industry into the future? The NSW Spatial Summit organizers claim (according to the news press) that it was the first time that local and state government agencies had an opportunity to talk to one another. If this is the case then it seems that something is fishy in NSW where no one has had a chance to discuss issues between departments. Perhaps we all need to take a closer look at the WALIS framework in WA (http://www.walis.wa.gov.au/) and where the recent WALIS Forum  saw the private sector in a dedicated stream discussing new innovative offerings which was very well received by the audience.

The lessons here is that government cannot pretend to know everything and they certainly can’t maintain this guise of having to do everything 100% of the time. Identify the issues, engage and innovate and we can all move forward into the future confident that the spatial sector will lead on the front foot.

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…