18 spatial industry trends to watch in 2017

By on 21 December, 2016


As we enter another year much transformed to the one passing, you are not alone in wondering what changes the next 12 months will bring. For technology-led sectors like surveying and spatial, it is a difficult path to predict.

Thankfully, the Cooperative Research Council for Spatial Information (CRCSI) has been busy in recent months compiling a global outlook report that identifies and assesses the 18 trends that are most likely to shape the spatial and surveying sectors in the coming years.

Overall, the Global Outlook 2016: Spatial Information Industry report provides an update on the specific technological trends and advances that have a high likelihood of converging with the industry, as well as how these are set to evolve over the coming years. The report groups the 18 following trends into four categories, ‘Infrastructure’, ‘Smart systems’, ‘People’ and ‘Issues’:


1.      The internet


The internet connects devices, people, processes and data in an integrated global network. Cisco estimates this market will be worth US$19 trillion within the next 10 years, created by initiatives such as smart cities and infrastructure.

It is anticipated that by 2020 the internet will have 50+ billion connected devices, which in turn will each have multiple sensors, thus creating a trillion sensor ecosystems – also known as the ‘Internet of Things’. In effect, it will be possible to build a ‘Planetary Nervous System’ that will assist individual decision-making and enable self-organising ‘smart’ systems to create a collective intelligence.

Image source: The Internet Map

2.      Wearable devices


Various smart glasses on the market or in production.

The wearable devices most adopted so far are in the fitness, medical and security sectors, while devices for other industry sectors are just emerging. Such interactive products are presently regarded as futuristic or as novelties, but it is expected that such devices will be considered as mainstream fairly soon.

Virtual Reality (VR) headsets provide the wearer with fully immersive experiences. The market is forecast to grow at 99% CAGR between 2015 and 2020. It is estimated that more than 26 million VR head-mounted displays will be shipped in 2020.

Wearable devices very often work only when connected to a smartphone. Smartphones act as a crucial central hub—a connected mobile computing system in our pockets—and are now available for as little as US$40.

3.      Networks/connectivity


Map of internet use by country.

Digital services are having enormous economic and social impact. The digital economy is growing by 10% per year. However, there are constraints that need to be addressed, such as the slow adoption of long-term evolution technologies, particularly in Europe, that optimise the speed and function of mobile devices. Areas affected include: spectrum scarcity, disputes over internet protocol interconnection agreements, access, and costs in emerging and rural markets. Furthermore there is a need to address the policies and regulations to accommodate international interoperability.

About 3.4 billion people are connected to the internet today, which is almost half of the world’s population. Traditional internet delivery, such as laying underground fibre cables, is often impractical and expensive, often making satellite broadband the preferred option. Companies such as Facebook, Avanti, Google, O3B, SpaceX, OneWeb and others are currently participating in this second ‘space race’.

4.      Satellites


Map of civilian imaging satellites launched, by country.

In 2014, Global Space Activities were worth a total of US$330 billion, and the global Space economy grew by 9%. The fleet of satellites operated by private companies is rapidly expanding as costs to build and launch come down. The performance of these Cubesat satellites, which measure about 10cm, weigh 1.3kg and use smartphone components, compares well to the traditional technologies for a fraction of the cost.

5.     Location


Spatial accuracies with established indoor location methods.

The global real-time location system market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 37.41% between 2015–2019. In the USA alone, GPS contributed US$68 billion to the economy in 2013. More than US$26 billion was related to vehicle-location services, US$13.7 billion to precision farming, $11.9 billion to fleet-vehicle telematics, US$11.6 billion to surveying, and US$5 billion to GPS-based guidance of earth-moving equipment.

Australia is currently in the process of updating its current datum and introducing a new dynamic datum. In this way Australia will be well-prepared for an economy and a society that will be increasingly dependent on precision positioning; especially for areas involving mobility such as controlled traffic farming, robotically enabled mines and ports, and autonomous transport.

6.      RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems)


A Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) launches from the Navy Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) (U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released)

ABI Research estimates the small RPAS (also known as UAV or drones) market will surpass US$8.4 billion by 2018. The commercial RPAS sector alone has an estimated 51% CAGR, 2014–2019, with revenues exceeding US$5.1 billion by 2019. On the other hand, BI Intelligence estimates a growth in the civilian drone market of 19% CAGR and 5% CAGR in the military market between 2015 and 2020. They see the most notable RPAS companies to be Sensefly (owned by Parrot), Aeryon, CybAero, DJI and Gryphon. Key industry drivers will not be primarily hardware and platforms, but industry-specific applications and data as well as operator and modelling services.

According to Dan Kara, Practice Director of Robotics at ABI Research, the commercial sector is the sweet spot for the small RPAS market, a fact recognised by both defence industry suppliers. As a result, both groups of small RPAS makers, along with other classes of solution providers, are aggressively targeting the commercial sector through acquisitions, internal development, partnerships and investment.

Smart systems

7.      Spatial data


Number of hits to NSW Globe, 2014-2015.

Governments have realised the value of open data and are actively pursuing ways to enable easy access for all. Tim Berners-Lee, often referred to as the inventor of the World Wide Web, is President and Co-Founder of the Open Data Institute. This is a UK-government backed (£10m) initiative linking universities and commercial supporters that advocate access to open data.

The role of globes was foreshadowed by Al Gore in his 1998 speech on virtual globes predicting the world’s citizens would one day be able to interact with virtual globes depicting scientific and cultural information. Building on the concept of virtual globes, the International Society for Digital Earth was formed in 2006 in Beijing to foster the vision of a Digital Earth.

A recently reviewed paper, commissioned by the Open Digital Earth Foundation evaluates the Digital Earth globe technologies currently available, including 21 globes operating off 16 unique globe architectures. Digital Earth will be a major topic of the upcoming Locate17 & Digital Earth Symposium, taking place 3-6 April 2017 in Sydney.

8.      Spatial data infrastructure and analytics


For the last two decades the spatial community has been working on the concept of harmonised spatial data through a common infrastructure. Data producers, aggregators and end users within the infrastructure are able to discover, interact, analyse and seamlessly develop reports; irrespective of varying spatial data quality, of heterogeneous data formats or of the different data models.

Today the main focus is on providing geospatial data in the form of distributed spatial web services, data retrieval through catalogues, and visualisation in the form of Web Map Services (WMS). It has emerged that the Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) work has been of more interest to governmental and academic sectors than to the private sector.

 9.      Mapping systems


The convergence between CAD, BIM and GIS continues as there is a need for greater interoperability, broader access, and data and tools integration. Several groups are working on this integration through standards groups like ISO BIM-GIS Ad Hoc Group, OGC-building SMART alliance partnership and InfraBIM project.

Major software providers such as Autodesk, Leica Geosystems, Trimble, Bentley Systems and 12d are all now looking to combine BIM and GIS with new integrations and acquisitions.

10. Big data, algorithms, applications


25 years of water observation from space.

The power of big data in the cloud and access to powerful processors is immense – it means gaining knowledge with relative ease compared to any process just a few years ago. One example, shown above, unlocks 25 years of archived satellite imagery to monitor land and water resources and provide unique information on flood risk and ecosystem management. The initiative, named the Australian Geoscience Data Cube, was only made possible using the high-performance computers of the Australian National University’s National Computing Infrastructure (NCI).

11. Smart system applications


System of system solutions for the internet of things.

The integrated global Internet of Things is feeding big data, which in turn will use advanced analytics to create actionable intelligence with predictive algorithms to program automated SMART systems with improved efficiencies. Cameras, scanners and sensors will provide data to smart systems in every sphere of life: cities, energy, transport, agriculture, natural resource management and health. will all benefit from integrated smart systems. Sensor data and smart algorithms will merge to create the most futuristic applications.


12. Health


Patterns of brain activity for perceived self-location

Nearly 50% of global food manufacturers have no visibility past the direct suppliers in their supply chain. In Canada the government of Manitoba has implemented a mandatory identification program requiring a unique ID number for any premises where livestock or poultry is grown, kept or disposed of. The system managing this data can track how a disease is spread, contained and eradicated in a much more efficient manner than before.

It is anticipated that machines will communicate directly and fluently with brains in the not too   distant future, changing the way we work. Police and soldiers, or criminals of the ‘dark’ side can communicate silently and covertly during operations. These advances and new capabilities related to brain science demand new ethical considerations and legislative responses.

 13. Crowd Sourcing


Crowdsourced information from the public – very often with spatial components – has become an important means of obtaining data, particularly for crisis management. The earthquake in Nepal in April 2015 demonstrated the usefulness of geospatial tools for emergency management. A global network of volunteer geeks – digital humanitarians – assisted with vital information to help emergency workers on the ground. Today crowdsourcing information from satellite imagery is a common post-disaster process.

14. Collaboration


The Deloitte Collaborative Economy report states that collaboration is a key ingredient to success. The report valued collaboration at AUD$9.3 billion per year. It found that companies that collaborate are up to five times more likely to grow, twice as likely to be profitable, and twice as likely to outgrow competitors. Yet it also found that half of the businesses surveyed have no collaboration strategy.

 15. Digital disruption


Probability of computerisation

Digital disruption will affect the kinds of jobs that will be available in the future. A study by CEDA (Committee for Economic Development of Australia) analysed the likelihood that computerisation will disrupt or replace jobs, resulting in the above graph depicting the probability of computerisation resulting from digital disruption.


16. Artificial Intelligence


Director of Engineering at Google and renown futurist Ray Kurzweil estimates that by 2020 smartphones might have the same storage and processing capacity as a human mind, and that by 2029 ‘brain software’ will be completely functional. Leaders in the IT industry are working on ‘cognitive computing’, historically known as ‘artificial intelligence’. However, concern that artificial intelligence could become a threat to humans at some time in the future has been voiced by people like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Stephen Hawking.

17. Security and Privacy


The conflict between security needs and privacy rights is likely to intensify over the next few years as citizens become more aware of what technology and analytics can do. Data about individuals are being collected and meshed together at unprecedented rates. As the Internet of Things advances, connected devices, often invisible, will collect massive amounts of personal data. Passwords will become a thing of the past. Even the human heartbeat has potential as a security measure and it is expected that location data will be used as an extra layer of security.

18. Government digital transformation

Eggers and Bellman’s recent report, “The Journey to Government’s digital transformation”, notes that governments from Toronto to Seoul are in the midst of a historic transformation as they abandon analogue-operating models in favour of digital systems. Australia’s National Innovation and Science Agenda, launched by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, strongly endorses the need for the Digital Transformation of the Australian economy.

Similarly, Digital India, DigitalGov (from USA) and Digital 5, or D5, is a network of leading digital governments with the goal of strengthening the digital economy. The D5 members are New Zealand, South Korea, Israel, the United Kingdom and Estonia.

Spatial enablement and location intelligence together form one of the key components of the digital transformation of the world.



crcsi-spatial-information-global-outlook-2016For further information on the above trends, figures, acronyms and sources, please refer to the Global Outlook 2016: Spatial Information Industry report, co-authored by Isabel Coppa, Peter Woodgate and Zaffar Mohamed-Ghouse.

The report concludes in saying that there is a sense that the world has a nascent realisation that the digital transformation is providing us with a positioning and location capability that is precise, ‘always on’, and is tracked, stored and retrievable for instant or future use.

Once the issues like privacy, security and artificial intelligence have been adequately addressed, the applications of this vision are set to be enormous.


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