The last 12 months has been a difficult time for everyone, with all sectors of society and industry affected heavily by pandemic-induced disruption.
So how has the spatial industry fared? To find out, we spoke with Rob Newman, CEO of Nearmap, a leading geospatial data company and a sponsor of next week’s Locate21 conference.
In this short Q&A, we asked Rob to give us his views on how the spatial industry is tracking, what’s new in the product and service categories and what innovative developments we can expect to see in the coming years.
How has the spatial industry in general, and Nearmap in particular, met the challenge of the past 12 months?
It has not been an easy year for anyone, but it has been a remarkable time in fast-tracking digitalisation on a wide scale, across all industries. With business and travel becoming a challenge, spatial data has proven to be a crucial source of information for business productivity and continuity. At Nearmap, we have seen increased uptake of our aerial imagery and remote access to location intelligence across various industry sectors — from government organisations to companies in construction and engineering, insurance, and utilities.
In fact, we saw continued strong usage metrics across different Nearmap content types, which was an encouraging sign that many more organisations were thinking creatively about how they could work using innovative technology!
What sort of new products and services can we look forward to in 2021?
There’s a dizzying array of new products that we are very excited about for 2021. One of the new capabilities Nearmap will present at Locate21 is our Nearmap AI Gen 3 update — which will be a shift in focus from property attributes to high-definition vector maps.
We’re also introducing AI on our 3D mesh for the first time, adding building height, storeys and roof pitch. As you can imagine, this will be incredibly useful for planners, construction, engineering and builders.
We’ve also had strong customer demand for a vector version of some of the AI layers we’ve had, so we’re making Vegetation and Surfaces AI Packs available. The ability to reliably detect tree cover with a high degree of accuracy is particularly compelling, and we already have customers in city planning and similar spaces analysing changes in vegetation over a variety of time periods — from a few months to a decade. Interest in understanding the permeability of surfaces is growing, particularly in relation to storm water management.
The AI Feature API is another key element to look out for in 2021. This is real-time, high-speed API that enables customers to integrate our AI data into all sorts of applications and workflows, either for bulk downloads, or in real-time customer facing applications. Customers can clip out and retrieve a rich, up to date vector map the size of a single property in a few hundred milliseconds, which is an order of magnitude faster than is typically done in this space.
Because we are now processing all of our ongoing imagery surveys with Nearmap AI, we even have customers pulling the same property at multiple time points to calculate what has changed. As well as providing a speedy response, we’ve managed to achieve throughput in the tens of millions of properties per day with our early adopters.
What have governments done to assist the industry? What more can they do?
Setting a clear roadmap for capability requirements and providing a procurement environment that encourages healthy competition and innovation in service delivery will always be welcome in driving industry growth.
In terms of setting Australia on the map for our world-leading sovereign capability in location intelligence, it’s important for all tiers of government to embrace the home-grown spatial sector. We’ve been very heartened to see various government agencies go beyond simply understanding the technology, to integrating Nearmap capabilities in very innovative and productive ways within the public sector.
Where do you see the industry heading in the coming decades?
This is one of the most dynamic and evolving industries. It’s hard to say for certain what is going to happen in the next decade, but we know that for Nearmap, the customer will continue to be our primary source of inspiration and drive in innovation. We’ve come a long way from our early days in generating and distributing imagery content, to now offer a range of products focused on what customers need in their work — from 3D to Nearmap AI — all to meet our customer’s changing needs.
As the world of data becomes increasingly more accessible, customer expectations will evolve more rapidly. As with the broader data industry, the expectation is access to the highest quality, most up-to-date data, on demand, on any device, with integrated AI for automated insight generation and content recommendations. We see the spatial intelligence sector set to commoditise, and then verticalise to integrate and provide this level of service into every business process, in every sector of the economy.
What are you looking forward to at the Locate21 conference?
It’s one of the few occasions in the year that brings together everyone in the aerial imagery, spatial and surveying industry, and we always look forward to hearing about the latest from our colleagues in this space.
We are very proud to have two of our talented Nearmap team on board this year’s line-up: Dr Michael Bewley, Senior Director of AI, who will present our Gen 3 update, and host a discussion with a wide range of examples of how government departments can intelligently use next-generation Nearmap AI content to plan for community change; and Stephen Neale, our Product Manager, who’s going to share first-hand examples of Nearmap enhancing decision-making flows, from informing planning to public safety management.