Maps in 2018: Big Moves in the Geospatial Industry

With a Higher Demand for Accurate Information and Increased Drone Usage, the Mapping Industry is Due for Big Changes in the Near Future

One of the industries we don’t often associate with disruptive technology is cartography. Mentioning the term cartographer conjures up images of Ptolemy and Eratosthenes creating some of the earliest visualizations of geography. Just because we’ve come a long way since the days of Ptolemy’s Geographia in 150 AD doesn’t mean that we’re done improving the way we understand and collect data in the world. In fact, this old science is likely to see even greater disruption and improvement in the near future as new technology finds its way to the industry. Between the rise of new innovative technologies, the future of autonomous vehicles, and the increases in civilian drone usage, the geospatial space is poised to undergo significant changes on the macro scale in the coming year, here’s how.

Increased Need for Advanced Mapping

One of the biggest shifts in the mapping industry is not coming from the industry itself, but from the needs of those outside the geospatial realm. Autonomous vehicles are becoming increasingly popular as more companies jump in the trend. However, one of the crucial aspects of autonomous vehicles is the reliability and accuracy of the information they’re working on.

As more driverless cars begin to roll off the lot and into the streets, the companies developing the vehicles need increasingly more detailed and accurate maps to utilize. Chris Campbell is with the HD Map Innovation Center at RMSI and recently told GeoAwesomeness that 2018 could be the year of the map, saying that:

“We are finally at a point in the autonomous driving realm where maps are ‘what’s next.’ Maps for autonomous driving (HD Maps) are more detailed and more complex than previous maps used for navigation. To be mapped extremely accurately (ideally below 10cm) these new maps require road, lane level geometry, and street furniture.”

Drone Usage and Data Collection

Another major development for the mapping industry is the increase in drone usage outside of security purposes. Now that drones are becoming more mainstream and available on the consumer level, there are an incredible amount of implications that come along with that. For the first time, vast amounts of geospatial data are able to be collected from small, unmanned aircraft that are available to the average consumer.

As drone usage continues to develop, so to will the uses of the data that’s collected from drone surveillance and recreational use. In fact, an entire industry has emerged from the increase of drones to connect businesses with the insights drone footage and data collection can offer. Some examples of this emerging corner of the tech world include companies like PrecisionHawk and Soar.

PrecisionHawk offers drone usage and data collection for a variety of industries, ranging everywhere from agriculture, construction, insurance, and government uses. Offering what it calls “drone-based solutions,” the team sees drones as an efficient means of inspecting facilities, offering agricultural field reporting, assessing damages, and nearly anything else drone-based data can assist with.

Soar, on the other hand, is creating a way for both drone users and businesses to benefit from the increased use of drones. Having a more direct connection with the geospatial industry, Soar is building a platform for drone users to openly share and sell the data they collect. The team is taking a blockchain-based approach to mapping and is working on “creating the world’s first fully democratized global super-map using drone content.” Amir Farhand, CEO of the startup, sees democratization as the future of the geospatial industry with an increased emphasis on the needs of all consumers evolving with drones and other technology. According to Farhand:

“The geospatial industry as a whole is moving towards democratization. This means not only is technology is becoming more accessible, but also the various datasets which are being produced from it. 2018 has been a year for consolidation which followed several years of big funding round and various acquisitions. However, 2019, will see a re-emergence of funding and partnerships as additional geospatial technologies evolve and become more applicable to everyday consumer needs. Several key areas of growth will be in the fields of drones in particular, and the datasets which they produce. AI and machine learning will have a big part to play as well.”

Now that we’ve already seen satellite companies take over the big data and alternative data markets, it’s time for drones to offer far more detailed insights into the world of alternative and geospatial data. To the benefit of everyone else, drones and satellites won’t be competing directly, but rather complementing the data each can provide.

Data Availability

The new focus of data creation and utilization from nontraditional sources means that both businesses and individuals will be able to benefit from the geospatial age of big data. With new initiatives taking advantage of blockchain technology and a distributed approach to data collection and curation, the barrier to entry in the data and mapping market is significantly lower. Now anyone with a drone can take advantage of their hardware not just for their own individual projects and recreation, but to benefit others as well. The kind of real-time up-to-date information that drones collect, when properly distributed, brings enormous value to the geospatial industry. In both terms of efficiency and accuracy, drones (and the data they collect) are likely to prove to be one of the most important developments for the mapping industry and the availability of data they create.

The Takeaways

With the new developments in various industries, namely the future of autonomous vehicles and the growth of big data, there’s a significant increase in the demand for geospatial information. Satellite imagery once offered the most cutting-edge information available to the geospatial industry, but now that’s changing. Increases in drone usage and improved data collection methods means that the future of the mapping and geospatial space is all about detail. Detailed information for roads, for alternative data, and for nearly any other application imaginable. In addition, this is all happening at a time when not only big businesses can benefit from growth in the industry, but even individual drone enthusiasts and users can take advantage of the data they’re collecting that can offer valuable insight for other parties. Keep an eye on drones and their increased importance in the geospatial industry, they’re likely not going away anytime soon.

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