Peter Batty, founder and VP of Ubisense, gave the keynote this morning at the GIS in the Rockies meeting in Loveland, Colo. Batty last addressed this group in 2002, and the changes in the interim provided the focus for his talk.
The disruption of Google for pervasive and easily accessible geospatial capability was mentioned as the biggest phenomenon. Consumer-driven innovation is also driving change, with the iPhone and video game technologies as major change agents. Another force is OpenStreetMap (OSM), where free software and free map data are driving interesting map creation efforts. The simplicity of OSM data creation efforts that make mapmaking much more accessible to the masses. Geospatial analysis is also becoming more mainstream and accessible, with free tools such as those on GeoCommons and Mapzen.
Batty mentions that many traditional GIS users don’t know about many of these developments, and that many of the new mapmakers have no idea about the full suite of GIS functionality. There is a need to bridge the two groups.
Batty has been working at Ubisense on a new interface to Smallworld data that overlays the information on the Google basemap. The Ubisense MyWorld takes advantage at both the map and the StreetView imagery to see assets in context, combining complex GIS data with the functionality that Google provides. Again, the emphasis is on simple and intuitive interaction with the data. Hooks to pull in different data such as location of trucks and incidents, and even photos from sites such as Flickr, are providing the ability to build up rich and near real-time data from field crews and the public.
Batty highlighted the great flexibility in the integration between traditional GIS and the new mapping platforms. Both KML and geoRSS provide an easy means for integration. KML is good for sparse and dynamic data, but it’s hard to match the GIS styles and symbology, with KML lacking representational functionality. For denser data, raster map tiles that are pre-rendered are the way to repeat the styling in the GIS, with performance and scalability. REST APIs and geojson provide a more intuitive and web searcheable means for web mapping.
Usability testing is something that Batty has been concentrating on lately. He mentions the book, Don’t Make Me Think, as an important resource for application developers. Seeing how people use the tools reveals problems in the design, and reinforces the maxim that the fewer words, menus and details presented on the page the better. The aim for most public-facing applications is to make things simple and intuitive, so that connections to background GIS attribute data takes just a few clicks.
The advantage of the cloud play out on economies of scale for the hosted resources from such companies as Google and Amazon. Allowing users to run their applications, and to scale those seamlessly based on demand. Batty’s MyWorld development on the Google cloud offering, with a good amount of free capacity, has just cost him 13 cents. The concern about security in the cloud was dismissed, saying that it would be much easier to steal a laptop field computer than to hack into the cloud. The cloud also provides a means for constant and incremental updates that benefit all users, and address any changing security concerns.
The changing nature of geospatial data, that is becoming much more multimedia, was also addressed. Photo sharing sites, and the ability to create models from photos (Photosynth) provide a greater degree of context. The Google StreetView offering also Microsoft’s Street Slide provide an intuitive means to navigate at street level. The next steps toward augmented reality such as Layar are showing the way forward, but they’re not yet accurate enough using only the compass. Batty pointed to Microsoft Research efforts that combine a compass, and GPS with image recognition and registration. The ability to build immersive 3D technologies in a rather automated way were highlighted, with examples from C3 Technologies and Prototypegame.org. Sensor data is also becoming much more available, such as traffic feeds.
Crowdsourcing, the move toward participatory data creation, was the closing trend highlighted by Batty. Examples of community sourced data in times of emergency, Hurricane Katrina and Haiti, were highlighted. OpenStreetMap was first seen as a free, but lower quality data source, but that has changed. With the number of people updating, we’re seeing much more up-to-date and detailed data, and there is incredible momentum with more than 300,000 users. The move by Mapquest to create Mapquest Open is a further validator, and Microsoft is also showing OSM data on Bing Maps. Crowdsourcing is a paradigm shift for data creation, but we still need to work out the right mix of traditional versus crowd-based data update.
Batty said that there is both a fast and slow train in the industry, and many of us have been stuck on the slow train. Batty suggests that we all take a look around at the kind of innovative things happening on the consumer-focused fast train, and to try to bring in these ideas, particularly simplicity, into our day-to-day work.