A Look at 3 Trends Shaping Remote Sensing in the Next 5 Years

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By Ian Berdie, Vice President of Innovation, NV5 Geospatial 

“Remote” took on a new meaning as COVID-19 reached pandemic proportions. It quickly became the way we learned, interacted, shopped and worked in an effort to protect ourselves from the virus. Remote is also redefining the way we look at the world. We now rely more heavily on tools like remote sensing and lidar to examine and understand our environment and geography.

Remote sensing is going mainstream, both in the business and personal worlds, and has the potential to lead us into the metaverse. Here’s a look at three trends that will reshape use of remote sensing over the next five years:

#1 The worlds of IoT and remote sensing will collide

Several factors are driving convergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) and remote sensing. First, sensor technology is improving at a rapid pace. Sensors are becoming less expensive and smaller – decreasing in size to the point where the newest iPhone comes equipped with a lidar system. While iPhone-based lidar is not yet sufficient for professional geospatial or engineering applications, it is just the first step toward placing remote sensing tools anywhere we want to collect data. 

At the same time, use of 5G and satellite internet is exploding. These networks will improve our ability to transfer data from millions of devices to cloud computing environments, where it can be digested and analyzed to gain more meaningful insights. For example, an IoT sensor may detect a vibration or temperature increase in a piece of field equipment. Using that data, a machine learning algorithm could then provide maintenance options to improve efficiency. Combining this data with asset location and routing information, as well as details on where replacement parts are located, companies could optimize maintenance plans network wide, even when assets are geographically dispersed. 

And finally – and perhaps most importantly – is our continued expectation for real-time information. We’ve been conditioned by getting alerts the minute our packages are delivered and having instant access to scores when your favorite team plays. Similar expectations exist in the business world. Traditional IoT provides operational information about that device, while remote sensing maps and measures the environment around it. Combining these two concepts effectively will provide us with a holistic picture of how a device operates and what is happening in its environment at that time. From there, we’ll have a better understanding of how environmental conditions impact equipment behavior, which will allow us to optimally manage and maintain all assets. 

#2 Crowdsourced data collection will become more sophisticated

NASA runs projects in which citizen scientists create data to help train models or identify existing features amongst the stars from imagery it provides. This type of crowdsourcing is a brilliant approach to gathering data that could be costly to collect otherwise.

A picture of an arm holding a smartphone against the background of a hilly landscape with a picture of that landscape on the phone.
NASA offers citizens several ways to help them gather spatial data. Photo: NASA GLOBE Observer.

A lot of our personal data is being crowdsourced today, too. Think about how your purchasing decisions on Amazon or Netflix result in targeted ads. Crowdsourcing geospatial data, however, is not limited to that gathered via Waze or Google Maps while we drive. As the costs lower, and data collections devices decrease in size, crowdsourcing of geospatial data will become more commonplace. 

For example, utilities spend millions of dollars inspecting poles and infrastructure located on customers’ property. But what if your utility asked you to use lidar on your new iPhone to gather data for the pole in your yard in exchange for a 20% discount on that month’s bill? I certainly would. Crowdsourcing collection of this type of data not only would save the customer money, it also would help the utility save on the labor costs they incur doing lidar scans themselves. Another scenario could involve getting a tax credit by mounting a lidar or thermal camera on your bumper, which scans for potholes as you drive and reports back to the highway department. The data then could help the department prioritize where repairs are needed. Or consider, you receive a free fishing license if you share sonar data from your fish finder, connected via 5G, with the Fish and Wildlife Department. That data would help maintain healthy fish habitats. 

#3 The metaverse is coming, and geospatial will matter

With Facebook’s recent rebranding to Meta, there is a new focus being put on the metaverse – an immersive online world encompassing digital societies and economies. These virtual worlds have been mostly the realm of gamers, but now they’re expanding to the boardroom as managers are even holding meetings in the metaverse.

Real estate is the next metaverse frontier. Recently Tokens.com paid $1.7 million for 50% of the Metaverse Group, one of the first real estate companies focused on the metaverse. They are focusing investment in Decentraland, where 90,000 plots of land 50’ x 50’ are for sale. Similar metaverses exist, including Sandbox and Enjin.  

While those platforms look more like the blocky images associated with games like Fortnite, other applications, such as SuperWorld are creating a virtual replication of the world. There you can buy plots of land that are replications of real-world places, like Mount Rushmore, Machu Picchu or even your childhood homes. In this metaverse images must be believable – something only possible with remote sensing and geospatial technologies. As these types of metaverses grow in popularity, demand will grow for scans on a variety of locations. The realism will be part of the value of these virtual properties, particularly for those who want to incentivize virtual tourism to create advertising revenue or entrance fees. 

And the old adage of real estate – location, location, location – pertains to land in the metaverse as well.  We’re seeing early adoption of the metaverse by the art and fashion worlds, which use these virtual locations to display and sell their work.  As these virtual locations attract visitors, art and shopping districts are being developed where advertising space has value and the virtual properties are able to charge higher rent.  

Even as the pandemic subsides, we will likely still remain geographically dispersed, both in our personal and professional lives. The future is bright for remote sensing. It will play an important role in connecting us – whether it is with the devices we rely on, our interactions with others, and even as we plant a stake in the unexplored metaverse.

About the Author

Ian Berdie is the vice president of Innovation for NV5 Geospatial. He earned a B.A. from Carleton College and an M.A. in Geography and Remote Sensing from the University of Miami.  Prior to his time at NV5, he worked as a wildlife biologist for various state agencies and nonprofits. 

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