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The future is bright for geospatial technologies

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Satellite view of the earth from space, depicting lights on land

Today, we launch our new report Future Technologies Review outlining how emerging technologies will shape the future of the geospatial sector in the UK.

The report has been written by PUBLIC, a venture firm and research house that works with technology startups to help them transform the public sector. The research engaged with nearly 100 innovative technology companies in the UK to understand the key technology trends and developments in the market. 

One message from the report shines through: the potential for new geospatial technologies to unlock economic value for the UK is tremendous. From agriculture, to housing and planning, from insurance to energy production, geospatial data is being captured, processed, and analysed in genuinely transformative ways. 

As Daniel Korski, Chief Executive of PUBLIC, put it: 

We are really excited to be launching this report, alongside the Geospatial Commission. Geospatial data and technology has the capability to drastically improve public services, from the way we manage transport in cities to how we plan smart energy policy. The UK government is only at the beginning of its journey in exploiting these new technologies for the benefit of citizens and service providers alike. We look forward to seeing the impact of this report in the policy and projects to come.

How can geospatial data transform public services?

Perhaps the single greatest opportunity for new geospatial technologies is in the mobility and transport sector. From satellites in space, to air-borne platforms, right down to the ground-level, advances in cameras and sensing technologies have brought about a plethora of opportunities for the geospatial community in the transport sector. Here are just a few. 

1. Digital models are paving the way for predictive 3D simulations

Traditionally, maps were analogue representations of a specified geographical area. Today, maps are increasingly becoming digital models, or ‘twins’ of a given point in space in time. With these dynamic, regularly updated models, mobility and transport companies have the ability to represent geographical variables in much more detail. They can even manipulate how these variables interact with each other. 

Building these digital models at scale is already unlocking exciting opportunities for the public sector. 

One smart city use case includes modelling trends in passenger flows and vehicle use in a given area. Using these models, companies are now developing predictive simulations of different transport scenarios, showing cities how infrastructural investments and route changes will likely affect passenger flows. 

Imagine if a council could know in advance the effect installing a major new bus station would have on local traffic? This is now a reality through the advances of modelling based on geospatial data. 

Indeed, advances in sensing and imaging capabilities, especially from space, have greatly enhanced the ability to build highly complex digital models in recent years. Through utilising advanced satellite imaging, companies are now able to collect detailed, accurate and regular observations of Earth. In fact, now by combining multiple highly granular sensor capabilities, certain proponents of satellite imaging are even able to view through natural barriers such as shadows or obstructions. 

2. LiDAR sensors collecting data to enhance the navigation of Autonomous Vehicles 

In addition to improved space imaging capabilities, we have also seen significant advances to ground-level sensors, which are increasingly being utilised to monitor transport systems. 

LiDAR, a well-established technique in the geospatial sector, is a method that allows the measurement of a distance to a target through the firing and reflection of pulse lasers to a sensor. Using advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning, LiDAR data is now being processed and analysed in real time, to allow applications such as real-time road asset and signage data capture. 

LiDAR sensors are also being used by innovative companies to process data in extreme or low-visibility conditions. Vehicles using sensors in conditions such as rain, fog or low light can still effectively navigate and collect data about their immediate environment. 

Most significantly, there is an enormous opportunity for the geospatial community to play a leading role in future connected autonomous vehicle (CAV) projects. The E-CAVE (Enabling Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Environments) project, led by Ordnance Survey (OS), aims to explore how CAVs can share positioning and safety information in real-time. 

Further, through this project, OS is also engaged in supporting and collaborating with CAV testing across 4 CAV test bed projects announced in 2018. Overall, by combining up-to-date geospatial data with smart car technology, OS is helping to accelerate CAV testing programmes using geospatial technologies and standards, thereby supporting the government’s vision for Britain to become a global leader in CAV technologies. 

3. Crowdsourcing as a valuable source of journey data for citizens – and cities

Finally, crowdsourced data on mobility and passenger patterns is unlocking extremely useful insights for transport and urban planners. Through crowdsourced information, streams of movement from vehicles and people are now available for analysis, at high speed and high scale. 

Innovative startups and entrepreneurs are increasingly releasing new use cases for this data made accessible by individuals, such as optimised navigation and journey planning. Some startups are now even servicing cities and local governments directly, providing them with analysis about local residents’ use of transportation infrastructure.

Next steps for the sector

Many of the opportunities reviewed in the PUBLIC report are tremendous, and have the potential to unlock value in many commercial and industrial sectors in the UK. In fact, some of our most exciting future industries and technologies, such as smart cities, drones, CAVs and 5G connectivity will rely on close collaboration with the geospatial community – especially with its emerging market of innovators and entrepreneurs. 

The most exciting finding from our research is that the UK is developing a thriving geospatial startup market, with many highly innovative companies developing new geospatial products and services. 

As the sector continues to mature, we will likely see further external investment, both from institutional investors and research and development funding sources. With many highly encouraging early success stories, this further financial support will be crucial to helping the sector to realise its true potential. 

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