Interview: Tom Celinski, Nearmap

By on 12 January, 2022
Dr Tom Celinski, Chief Technology Officer, Nearmap

Dr Tom Celinski, Chief Technology Officer, Nearmap

In our Leaders Forum, we asked the experts to look ahead into 2022. Today we talk imaging with Tom Celinski, CTO of Nearmap, an Australia-headquartered location intelligence company that provides access to high-resolution, large-scale aerial imagery, 3D content, AI data sets and geospatial tools.

How can the industry play a role in the recovery from the COVID pandemic?

COVID-19 showed the resilience of the tech sector, with tech workers relatively less affected by the pandemic. The more of these types of jobs there are in the future, then the more resilient the Australian economy will be. As organisations decentralise their workforce, this presents an immediate and longer-term opportunity for regional communities. Nearmap, for example, has a flexible, digital-first work philosophy and we expect more companies will continue the shift to more agile working.

Which technologies will revolutionise the surveying, space or spatial sectors in 2022?

The resolution of aerial imagery will improve significantly. This will continue to displace alternative technologies, such as drones, enabling companies to scale-up applications such as remote inspections of assets. In fact, Nearmap is collaborating with the University of Sydney on intelligent robotic systems for real-time asset management. Nearmap will provide current 2D aerial imagery and 3D data and insights from AI feature extraction. We will also collaborate with researchers to develop cutting-edge algorithms for a range of use cases, including asset inspection.

How is Australasia placed in the global context? Are we racing ahead or falling behind?

Australia is a great adopter of major enabling technologies, but we could be a creator of more of these technologies. And not many of these technologies are scaled up in Australia. Companies often choose to scale-up abroad. The pandemic has shown us how critical it is to develop domestic capability, expertise, technologies and local supply chains. This includes technology such as aerial camera systems and geospatial AI/analytics/machine learning systems. We need to view this as strategically important and ensure Australian taxpayer funds are spent in ways that support development of crucial local capabilities for both commercial reasons and for the public good.

Which challenges or opportunities should the industry be focused on?

Australia is a leader in ‘open data,’ and we understand this will provide a good baseline. Organisations like Nearmap can complement this baseline data with much more current, high-resolution data. At the same time, it is important for decision makers involved in open data initiatives to consider implications for areas of community concern, such as public safety. One solution is to limit the resolution of open data, which would make it less likely to be misused.

What do you think your customers are looking for in 2022?

They want even more coverage, higher frequency and higher resolution. They’re asking for answers and actionable insights, rather than just imagery. Nearmap will continue to invest heavily in our 2D, 3D and AI content and tools, and this will put us in an even stronger position to meet our customers’ needs. Nearmap is supporting our customers as climate change impacts the natural world and natural disasters become more severe and regular. Nearmap ImpactResponse enables governments and organisations to survey large areas in post-catastrophe situations, with access to the detail you can only get from high-resolution captures, and gain the clearest possible insights into what’s required for disaster relief efforts.

What are your organisation’s priorities for 2022?

Nearmap remains focused on being the global leader in subscription-based location intelligence. Our coverage footprint continues to grow, and the frequency of the captures that make up this coverage will only increase as we invest in new tech — including the rollout of the next generation of our proprietary aerial camera system which will set a new global benchmark for camera performance.

What’s on your wish list for 2022?

Australia needs to accelerate the development of a unified, long-term geospatial strategy and plan; undoubtedly one that includes space-based Earth observation. But a strategy that also comes down closer to Earth to ensure there’s a focus on other capture modalities, including high-resolution, high-frequency aerial imagery.

We also need to better support scale-up businesses in Australia, as much of the current support is for start-ups and established large businesses. Nearmap is keen to collaborate with Australia’s great research talent, including FrontierSI, to address some of these issues and deliver the next generation of local technology innovations for export to the world.

This article was first published in issue 116 of Position magazine.

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