Opinion Piece: The Future of GIS

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Noam Rozenfeld has been working in the field of GIS for over five years, most recently as a GIS project manager for the Survey of Israel.  Rozenfeld has written an opinion article about what he considers to be the future trends of GIS: what emerging geospatial technologies will become commonplace tools for the GIS field.  

GIS is progressing all the time. We see it, and it feels like on a brink of something big. The exponential progress, the constant rise in demand and job opportunities, the technology leaps; it all comes down to the various abilities around us, that will make our jobs more coherent, live and true to time, and in better quality. GIS has become the geographic infrastructure of everything. The capabilities to question and visualize geo-data are becoming easier every day; cheap and accessible to anyone in the world.

So, what’s next? What will change in our workflows in the near future? What modern abilities in GIS will be part of our future workflows?

Augmented Reality

Why to go out on the field to update data? Google street view platform shows you free and with no charge how the real world looks, without leaving your office. That’s an interesting perspective, because leveraging it to your GIS environment means you could integrate your data seamlessly like you’re out there yourself. You want to update your municipal data? It’s easy now to locate a missing address in a row of consecutive buildings,; see addresses as pop ups on your screen as if you’re driving down the street. Let’s say you want to direct your field survey to a control point. Control points, which can be of different types (building corner, bush, sewage covers, etc.) can be easily navigated to, and easily located as you get near. Wikitude is a nice app that lets you update KML to your “world” as they call it, and see it as points through your cell phone screen as if they’re right there in front of you. It’s easily done and it’s here. You don’t need to wait for a pair of Google glasses. Augmented reality is something that is creating a lot of buzz. It’s not yet common in our GIS platforms, but it’s coming.

The image on the left shows relative position where the photo always directly faces the user. The image on the right shows absolute positioning where the photo is angled based on additional coordinates.

Augmented reality application developed by Azavea for PhillyHistory.

Indoor mapping

The In-Location alliance is an interesting promise, due to cellular sensitive sensors, the improvement in Wi-Fi spread and the advancement of Bluetooth technology. Google created a buzz when it debuted its indoor navigation for Google Maps 6.0 in November of 2011.  You’ll soon navigate straight to the room of your new born niece in the maternity ward, the conference room in the convention center straight from your home with no interferences.  GIS platforms will have to answer not only to mapping the outdoors, but as one integrated system that maps the inside of buildings. The market will demand it, and it’s going to be our job to satisfy it.

Google Maps 6.0 for Android allows users to navigate the inside of buildings.

Google Maps 6.0 for Android allows users to navigate the inside of buildings.

Crowdsourcing

Waze, which crowdsources traffic and other roadway conditions, was bought by Google for 1 billion US dollars.  OpenStreetMaps is completely based on volunteers, and most map platforms integrate customers feedback. GNIP helps you analyze calls from the different social platforms. On the country level for example, you’ll know when a new road has opened when GPS readings starts to pour in and you’ll see GPS points on an empty place in the road network layer.

User Interface

OpenStreetMap has a couple of editing user interfaces (UI) and most recently debuted an easier to use interface designed by MapBox to increase user participation. Esri’s last conference revealed the new ribbon style interface that’s coming. The UI of the software in general must be matched to modern, easy to understand, “Apple” concept style. When we edit a road, only the functions related to roads should appear, and there need to be a quality assurance on the fly, to minimize human/technical mistakes.

Demonstration of iD, the new easy-to-use OpenStreetMap editor.

Demonstration of iD, the new easy-to-use OpenStreetMap editor.

Visualization

Look at the Foursquare time machine for example. The classic cartography is being challenged to new methods. The market wants more beautifully visualized maps.

foursquare-time-machine

CAD to GIS Integration

The CAD-GIS gap is being narrowed all the time, but still simplifying DWG on your GIS software means missing some of the original data. This “data hole” will cease to exist.

3D GIS

3D data today can be created in several ways, LiDAR and photogrammetric modeling for example. We might even be transferred to a whole new vector style of cloud points, because of their accuracy, and not generalized lines and polygons no more. I mean, if you have LiDAR data (.las) that shows you the contour of the building with sub meter accuracy, why generalize it to a polygon with more than a meter inaccuracy? It’s a complete paradigm change.

GIS as a Profession

The niche of GIS experts is somewhat similar to graphic designers. Yes, you can do a Photoshop course and be a basic graphic designer, but that doesn’t kill the photography or the graphic design profession. In the same way, basic GIS course will lead to basic GIS technicians, but there’s so much more to know; to really understand the geography, and to decipher what the user is viewing. To maximize efficiency with better workflows and automated tools. To create maps that catch the eye. Maintain stable databases and servers. That requires someone with training, and that is the GIS expert.

 



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1 Comment

  1. Noam – very interesting to see what is coming, certainly the growth of use of GIS or location data has been staggering. It doesn’t seem that long ago that people thought of a TomTom being revolutionary. Whilst professional users have for a long time realised the potential or location data with smartphones and tablets the masses have now grasped what GIS can do. The trick will be creating apps, maps and location data which are of value to the users.

    Thanks for the article, very interesting.

    Jeremy

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