Top 10 spatial disruptions of 2015

By on 21 December, 2015
future spatial

The buildings of the future will be BIM, IoT and MMT enabled. Image: Daniel Foster (CC BY 2.0)


Disruptions are a good thing. That is, if those who are placed in their wake are willing to learn, adapt and to make the most of new opportunities. The spatial industry is uniquely wedged between technological, political and humanitarian agendas, and as such the changes that emerged throughout 2015 will effect spatial practitioners in a myriad of significant ways. Below are the ten most significant trends that 2015 brought to Australasia’s attention and how they will effect the working lives of surveyors, GIS officers or anybody else involved in spatial information in any dimension:

  1. Innovation and commercialisation take centre stage

Representatives of the spatial industry are hailing the Australian government for the benefits the new National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) will bring. The changes are expected to bring significantly more foreign investment into research and development undertaken in Australia as well as the heightened support of home-based technologies, which historically are shipped off to foreign investors long before the Australian economy can benefit. Having those innovative technologies housed locally will reinvigorate all those tech-heavy industries, including spatial.


  1. Here and now: recognising the value of geospatial

With the abundance of geospatial data available on mobile devices, people generally want information of all types delivered spatially. This means it is now the norm to have social media, restaurant reviews and news delivered with a spatial dimension. This movement is recognised both locally, with regional councils delivering their information via webmaps, as well as internationally, with international corporations’ investments. The acquisition of Nokia’s HERE Maps by a consortium of German carmakers and the purchase of WhereIs maps by TomTom make it apparent that the value of geospatial data has never been higher.


  1. Saving the world: sustainable development and climate change

2015 saw the official indoctrination of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of comprehensive guidelines that UN officials agree spatial technologies are vital to achieve.  It also saw Climate Change is being widely accepted and acted upon by governments with national flood danger estimates updated, coastlines re-drawn. December finally saw the creation of the world’s first significant movement to avert climate change, the so-called Paris Agreement, which aims to reduce global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius above averages. If governments stick to their commitments, this will see significant changes to all industries, and no doubt new opportunities as well.


  1. Spatial technologies to the rescue

The value of spatial technologies for the broader community was best proven when earthquake-stricken Kathmandu was assisted to recovery by a plethora of spatial technologies. This included UAV, crowdsourced mapping and the Australian geodetic researchers who able to use satellite technologies to predict the second large quake in the region before it happened.


  1. Drones/UAV/UAS/RPA fill the skies, land and sea

Whatever you choose to call them, and however you plan to use them, unmanned technologies are becoming commonplace for both professional and civilian use. 2015 was the year of the drone, more than any other technology. With the Australian governing body CASA set to relax laws for their use, including a more lenient weight limit, people in all professions are looking at what they can achieve and what they can get away with. The potential applications of this technology will cease to end: from star wars drones, to tracking endangered species the list of drone projects will only further skyrocket in 2016.


  1. Clearing the roads for driverless cars

Another sort of unmanned technology, driverless vehicles, are also fast on their way to common usage, provided that we can get the required . South Australia is set to become the testbed of Australian driverless technology, with special legal exemptions in place for organisations involved in the trials beginning in 2016. Meanwhile, Austroads is analysing the requirements of driverless vehicles and has begun to ‘harmonise’ road data to clear the way for widespread uptake of these technologies.


  1. Clouds and thunder: computing power put to use

Cloud computing has gone far beyond storage and is now seeing the use of otherwise impossible computational power in interesting applications. This has enabled new reality capture technologies that have theoretically been possible for years, but were practically impossible due to computational requirements. Bentley’s ContextCapture is an example of this technology, which is capable of taking basic photographs and transforming them into millimetre accurate models of any environment. At the same time, the Australian Government is investing heavily in its National Computational Infrastructure, including the Southern Hemisphere’s most powerful super computer, Raijin (named after the Shinto god of thunder). Raijin will be used for the daily updates of Australia’s Next Generation Datum and its power was recently proven with the amazingly detailed simulation of cold seawater circulation in the Southern Ocean.


  1. Data opens up to all

Governments are now widely open to the idea of sharing their resources for greater benefit. The Australian Government’s open data portal, now has over 5,200 publicly available datasets and the National Map service is in full swing, allowing users of all competencies to use this rich data for custom applications. Most recently, the announcement that PSMA’s Geocoded national address File (G-NAF) will be made openly available is in essence Australia’s the release of the mother-load of Australian geospatial data and will see a large number of applications resulting from it.


  1. Opening up standards and software

International standards body, the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), is ramping up efforts to help geospatial operations become more efficient and interoperable, thanks to the development of robust geospatial data standards in crucial areas. As of 2015, OGC is now developing standards for areas such as points cloudsbig data and IoT. Also this year, members of the Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo) published an open letter on behalf of over 80 open source developers who were concerned over Esri’s new propriety LiDAR format, in effect delivering a firm and resounding response in support of the open source movement.


  1. Look inside the box: indoor positioning, IoT and BIM

These emerging areas are interconnected and set to revolutionise the way we interact with built environments. In an increasingly urban and populous world, the benefits of these services are becoming hard to ignore. With them, emergency staff can find locations faster, deliveries will be made more directly and buildings will become unprecedentedly efficient; without them, economies will fall behind. While only a few countries such as the UK have mandated building information modelling (BIM), similar techniques are already being employed in Australia, with government large infrastructure projects already using it and the upgrade of Sydney’s Opera House being led by it, as well as the management of the Canberra’s Parliament House. For surveyors this may mean new business opportunities in laser scanning projects and modelling, such as Sydney’s Project Surveyors’ internationally recognised project; for innovators with a spatial bent this may mean using IoT for a limitless list of applications.

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