105. The Geospatialist's Guide to Programming Languages

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Understanding the difference between, let alone actually learning, programming languages can be a big effort...this is coming from personal experience. So, in order to help geospatial newbies to the world of programming, this (far-from-comprehensive/authoritative) post will attempt to distinguish the popular programming languages in a slightly different manner.

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NB. Thanks to Florin-Daniel Cioloboc for writing an excellent post on this topic.



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HTML is the artistic director of programming languages. It is primarily concerned with the content which is presented to the viewer of a webpage. Composition and arrangement are of utmost importance to HTML and as a result, it spends a lot of time categorizing and describing information. HTML leads a minimalistic lifestyle and likes to spend time in arthouse cafes thinking about epistemological matters.



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If HTML is about organising information on your website then CSS is about making it look good. This language has a flair for bringing life to features and text on the page through its ever-growing range of style sheets. CSS allows you to add much-needed space to a text box using some padding, to change a boring dot on a map into a bright coloured pin, and to convert a simple outline shape into a hatched semi-transparent boundary. Fabulous.




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Javascript is, as the name suggests, the script-writer of programming languages. It is the reason why actions perform on your webpage when you press a button and why features on a map appear or disappear or change style when the scale is changed. Javascript is essentially a library of functions which can be loaded into your application or website and it is very popular in web mapping and mobile development. You can see what Javascript files are being referenced in your page in the <script> section of the HTML page.




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Python is a powerful programming language which is used for processing, analyzing and modelling spatial and non-spatial data. The library is commonly used in web mapping, GIS scripting and application development and it can be accessed through the Python console on most GIS software interfaces. Today, Python bench-presses large amounts of Big Data and it, therefore, is commonly used in machine-learning processes in the geospatial world.



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Any programming language which calls itself by one alphabetic letter is bound to be pretty cool....and R is no exception. This scripting library is, like Python, used for processing, analysing and modelling both spatial and non-spatial data in GIS software applications. Due to its statistical origins, R has become increasingly popular among geospatialists who are trying to break into the business intelligence and data analytics circles.


C, C++, C#, Java, .NET

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Every good application or software programme has been constructed using a heavy-weight foundational programming language. These languages are popular among back-end and full-stack developers who use them to build the many opensource and proprietary applications and plugins which we feel at home using.



Structured Query Language ensures that your requests to the geospatial database are properly...well...structured. Like most literate types, SQL can be fussy - but only for your own good. The language can be used in GIS software programmes to create, query and update attribute table data. If you enjoyed algebra at school then you will love writing SQL.A reflection on turning 100...in blogger terms that is. Read here.



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Last but not least, PHP is a server-side language which can be considered as the 'wheelbarrow' of programming languages. Once it has ensured that requests to the server have been strapped in safely, PHP transports them to and from the backend server. PHP works closely with HTML and SQL in particular.

104. Beyond 100 - Geospatial News and Updates

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The following is a summary of recent articles featured on geobreadbox.com. Thanks for reading so far and keep an eye out for more of content on GIS Professional magazine in 2018.

93. Explaining Sentinel Satellites

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In 2017, you don't need to be a rocket scientist to explore satellites. All you need is the following items... Read here.



94. Geospatial Friday: Statistics 2.0, Urban Planning's future, Australia leading the way

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A link to my articles on the excellent GIS Professional magazine. Read here.


95. SLAM Robotics

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Mapping the world...using robots! Read here.


96. UN & World Bank make big progress on Geospatial


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The UN-GGIM has, behind the scenes, been busy working with the World Bank. Read here.


97. Attending the INSPIRE Conference? Read this...


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Some useful tips for attendees at September's EU INSPIRE Conference. Read here.


98. Underground Infrastructure - Geospatial's Great Unknown

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Lots of opportunities and dangers exist right under our feet.... Read here.


99. Open-source Superpowers (GeoMesa, GeoWave & GeoTrellis)

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An overview of three excellent opensource tools for Big Geospatial Data. Read here.


100. Confessions of a Geospatial Blogger

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A reflection on turning 100...in blogger terms that is. Read here.


101. Let's talk...Machine Learning

A short article on Machine Learning and how it relates to geospatialists. Read here.


102. Let's Talk...Wavelengths and Remote Sensing

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Understanding the science of wavelengths behind Remote Sensing can be a challenge. This post may help.


103. Geospatial Data Science...Gone Wrong!!

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The EU's General Data Protection Regulation is turning data about European citizens into a substance which needs to be carefully controlled (and possibly diffused) by those who have it in their possession. Read here.

102. Let's Talk...Wavelengths and Remote Sensing

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Writing about stuff like remote sensing, satellites, and real-time imagery is all great fun up to a point. It's when the experts of these fields start to discuss the more technical aspects that things can get uncomfortable - like colour bands, Normalized Difference Vegetation Index or 'false' colour images (huh?!)

This post is an attempt to explain one of the concepts which geospatialists may need to understand if they are ever to get stuck in an elevator with a group of physicists.

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Imagery is captured using either active sensors or passive sensors. These sensors record the wavelengths of visible light which are emitted from their point of focus.

A wavelength refers to the means by which light is measured. One wavelength refers to the distance between two successive wave troughs or crests. As such, light is categorized into different types within the electromagnetic spectrum - with each type depending on the distance between the emitted wavelengths.

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The largest types of waves are called radio waves. These are used to transmit television and radio programmes.

They can either be very big or very small.



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After radio waves, we get into the waves for optical communications.

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The first optical waves are called infrared waves. These are somewhat smaller than radio waves (about the width of a pinhead) and they emit heat. A good example of infrared light is the type of kitchen lights used to keep food warm in a restaurant.



After infrared waves, we're at the point when waves start to get really, really, really small...as in the size of molecules and atoms and nuclei.

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First, come the type of waves which keep map-makers in employment - visible waves.

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As the name implies, these are the only waves in the electromagnetic spectrum which we can actually see, and each colour in the spectrum appears in the same sequence as it would in a rainbow. Red has the longest wavelength and violet has the shortest wavelength.


A blink of the eye later, we're back into the invisible wavelengths territory!


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First up, and moving on from the final colour in the visible spectrum, is ultraviolet, or UV waves.

These type of waves come from things like the sun or high power welding machines. Due to the radiation emitted, UV waves can be very dangerous if over-exposed to them!


After ultraviolet, we're into the world of X-Rays.


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These are a pretty obvious one. However, if you want to learn more about X-Rays just ask your local doctor! I'm sure he or she will be delighted to discuss the electromagnetic spectrum.

Especially if it's on the clock!




The final and smallest wave which we know of is the Gamma Ray.


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However, unless you are work in the advanced medical sciences or spend your time fighting aliens, you probably have little use for these! Bew Bew!



The key thing to remember when it comes to the electromagnetic spectrum is that, although visible waves are the only ones which humans can see, the other categories of waves are, thanks to more sophisticated sensor technology, being captured and put to greater use by remote sensing experts. Ultimately, this will help us to build up a more comprehensive understanding of what is going on with our planet.

Exciting times.

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103. Geospatial Data Science...Gone Wrong!!

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This Halloween, the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is perhaps the most frightening thing that is lurking around the corner...

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GDPR highlights the fact that increased availability of data comes with a potentially devastating catch - and that data scientists, who are responsible for this information, need to take extra care.

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The regulation, which comes into force in May 2018, is focused on strengthening and unifying data protection for all individuals within the EU. This means that any information (including locational information) about an EU citizen which is on your organization's servers will need to be managed and protected carefully.

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The logic behind GDPR is that data collected for various purposes can be easily fused with other open data in order to build a bigger picture of an individual. This means that information, such as purchase history records or daily commute path, can be used as a stepping stone to gathering more insights about a particular person. If for example, your innocent Google searches have ever resulted in you looking at a complete stranger's social life then you may understand how easily this can happen.


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As scientists, analysts and marketers know well, the more information you have, the easier it is to build on this information and to develop deeper insights.


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That's why it's called 'data science'...

It's about forming connections.





GDPR is about protecting the anonymity of European citizens in an age when these citizens are sharing online more and more information about themselves - either knowingly or unknowingly. The purpose of GDPR is to ensure that this information is being limited on an almost 'need-to-know' basis, that it is being protected by data and IT custodians and that it is not being misused in any way.

And now for the terrifying thing...

Aside from reputational damages, the penalties facing organizations that breach GDPR could be financially crippling...

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Perhaps knowing everything is not worth it after all!

Read more about this topic in the December issue of GIS Professional magazine.


101. Let's talk...Machine Learning

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Machine Learning is going to kick ass - from both a tech 'wow!' standpoint and from a competitive 'pow!' standpoint. If you are a business owner who is interested in or, better yet, has started to explore the technology then good for you. If you are, on the other hand, a professional who spends your day digitising parcel boundaries from aerial imagery or updating labels on a map then it's time to pay attention.

Machine Learning or 'cognitive computing' is, along with Artificial Intelligence, the latest buzz term, which is becoming increasingly popular thanks to the immense processing power of 'supercomputers' such as Google's DeepMind, IBM's Watson, Microsoft's Project Oxford and the lesser known Chinese Baidu.

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Although Machine Learning may seem like the stuff of sci-fi movies, it is not impossible to understand. The technology is simply the next era of computing (which began with tabulating machine in the 1800's and evolved into the modern programmable era in the 1930's). Supercomputers consist of software frameworks which are written on standard programming languages. This software runs on a computer operating system to provide distributed computing capabilities. Their hardware allows for massive parallel processing thanks to a large number of servers clusters and many terabytes of RAM.

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Geobreadbox tries to bring something new to a geospatial industry which now relies on social media as its main communication platform. It's about my favourite 3 subjects: geography, technology and learning and this should explain why geospatial is mentioned so often. Geography is a powerful subject in the globalised world of 2017 and it helps us to make sense of lots of information. So, in order to keep it fresh and secure, I thought that a breadbox (which lies at the heart of most homes) would be useful.


The Era of Unstructured Data

It is a supercomputer's information processing capabilities which distinguishes it from its computing predecessors. While programmable systems rely on well structured data sources and file formats, supercomputers possess an almost human-like flexibility and intuition when it comes to working with unstructured data. This explains why there is a shift in the world of data management away from a reliance on relational database systems towards the use of schemaless NoSQL databases which are capable of managing today's deluge of Big Data.

Missing a comma in your CSV file? Using incorrect grammar or abbreviations in your Tweet, or even slang terms in your weekly vlog? Not not worry. Today's machines are much better placed to understand their often complicated and unpredictable human counterparts.

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How does it work?

In order to understand how machine learning works you need to understand the 4 stages of human reasoning. The supercomputer first of all observes visible phenomenon in bodies of evidence presented before it. It then draws on its own knowledge or 'evidence' in order to interpret and generate hypotheses about what it is seeing. Next, it evaluates which hypotheses seem the most likely answer to the question at hand. Finally, considering all of the above, it decides on the best course of action.

In order to get to the point where a supercomputer can make decisions and providing unique insights a whole lot of work needs to be done by humans. First, the supercomputer needs to 'consume' vast quantities of data. The more information it has, the better it can evaluate problems and reason later on. Next, the supercomputer is 'trained' by humans on how to discern meaning from this information through the use of question and answer tests and other interactions and challenges. This ongoing consumption, exercising and feedback process helps the computer to better manage, evaluate and derive insights and patterns from new and updated information. After a certain point supercomputers are able to educate and train themselves - just like an adult human being can.

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Machine Learning and Earth Observation

While there are countless possibilities to explore through this technology, it is not in the scope of this week's post to go into too much detail. However, the most obvious benefit to be harnessed by geospatialists from supercomputers is in creating value from today's vast quantities of Earth Observation data. This includes developing applications for agri-tech and crop management, weather forecasting, water usage monitoring as well as for Smart Cities. Machine Learning, combined with powerful remote sensing detection technologies such as spectral imaging and thermal/lidar systems will allow for detection of changes in landuse and ground movement, atmosphere, water and surface temperature, as well as a range of other 'observations' which can be placed within a wider contextual understanding of the world.

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Machine learning will undoubtedly bring disruption to the geospatial and other industries. However, it will also allow these industries to solve their problems thanks to more evidence-based decision-making.

The worlds of Machine Learning, Big Data, Smart Cities and Earth Observation are converging at precisely the right time.

It's time for geospatialists to get involved in the conversation.

100. Confessions of a Geospatial Blogger

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'Content is called content because it makes me content.'

Thanks for reading geobreadbox so far - it's been a (fun) challenge so far and I hope it demonstrates that, when it comes to publishing Linkedin articles, there are no rules.


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'GeoKettle just didn't sound right!'
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Geobreadbox tries to bring something new to a geospatial industry which now relies on social media as its main communication platform. It's about my favourite 3 subjects: geography, technology and learning and this should explain why geospatial is mentioned so often. Geography is a powerful subject in the globalised world of 2017 and it helps us to make sense of lots of information. So, in order to keep it fresh and secure, I thought that a breadbox (which lies at the heart of most homes) would be useful.



'If only I had Jack Dangermond's marketing budget...'
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Geobreadbox is motivated by my belief that Linkedin could be a lot more enjoyable than it is. Some people continuously remind others that 'Linkedin is not Facebook'. Up to a certain point (e.g. not asking for dates), this is fair enough. However, when it comes to connecting and engaging with others in your network maybe Linkedin should be more like Facebook. After all, there is no rule to say that Linkedin should only contain armchair insights from former-CEOs, cheesey pictures from corporate teambuilding events, cliche stock photos, and 'blogs' which are actually thinly-veiled advertising brochures.



'Geography, Geospatial and Sci-Fi Comics'

Geobreadbox is also an attempt to reconcile my professional self with my inner-cartoonist. It is based on my working experience in the planning and energy industries and as well as on the extensive research of sci-fi comics during my younger years. Speaking as a geospatialist, I find that having a post-apocalyptic vision of the future can help when trying to solve, or at least visualise, social and environmental challenges. I'd like to thank Judge Dredd in particular for setting my expectations slightly lower...

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'Where are maps taking us?'

Speaking as a geographer who, before 2008, thought that a raster was someone who played reggae music, geospatial is a difficult field to understand. In fact, it's so hard to understand that most people who rely on it (including lots of technical people) don't even realise that they rely on it. 

That's not good.

When you consider the rise of fields such as agri-tech and 'smart cities' it's important for geographers and geospatialists to set the standard. In the same way that you probably shouldn't trust a planner to build your website, it's probably not a good idea to allow a software developer to solve your urban problems using sensor devices alone. Geospatial therefore needs to take back the wheel and help drive the industry into the mainstream.

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'Geospatial Makeover'

So here we are, 100 blogs later. Writing for geobreadbox has been an enjoyable yet time-consuming experience and it has attracted the readership almost 50,000 so far. I hope readers will now understand Smart Cities a little differently, that they'll get knitting those festive geospatial jumpers over the coming months, that they'll stay clear of geospatial zombies in the office place and that they'll understand the potential of cardboard boxes when explaining satellites.

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'Let's go deeper'

So far, having only scratched the surface of where this blog can go, there's lots of new topics to explore. In order to do so, I'll need to start using some new tools, and partner with new contributors so that I can keep the content coming at a slightly less hectic rate. If colourful and quirky is your thing then I hope you'll start tuned...

'Keep it real dude...lend a helping hand'

If you enjoy geobreadbox over the past 100 blogs and would like to help keep it free and independent, then your support would be welcomed.

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Here are three things you could do to help: KEEP IT RELEVANT by letting me know what type of topics you would like to see (either below in the comments section, via Linkedin or by email to conwayniall@gmail.com) or SUBSCRIBE (below), share, and/or follow on social media.

Here's to getting more fresh geographic content and ideas 'out of' the breadbox. Thanks for reading and peace out,


[UPDATE: 26 Sept '17 - contribute button removed.]

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99. Open-source Superpowers (GeoMesa, GeoWave & GeoTrellis)

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In 2017, GIS is now moving in new and exciting directions. The industry has become more outward looking and more open to new opportunities than ever before. The current deluge of big-data (from IoT, social media, tracking, and other apps) requires spatially-aware big-data platforms which are capable of performing geospatial analytics on cloud and distributed computing systems.

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While there are numerous commercial products on the market, this short article will give an overview of three powerful open-source standards-based systems which are turning often unassuming geospatialists into big data superheros!


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GeoMesa is one such system which is enabling geospatialists to make more sense of information in a confusing world. The software is written in Scala and is based on Apache Hadoop (an open-source software framework used for distributed storage and processing of dataset of big data). GeoMesa uses the Apache Accumulo (a sorted, distributed key/value store based on the Google's Bigtable technology) as its backend and it performs geospatial analysis (on mainly vector datasets) using Apache Spark SQL.


GeoWave is a similar open-source system which is focused on the efficient storage and retrieval of geotemporal data using the Apache Accumulo store. The Java-based system was originally developed by the National Geospatial Agency (NGA) before being released in 2014 to the energetic and innovative open-source community. Since then GeoWave, which works on top of sorted key-value datastores and popular big data and distributed computing frameworks) has engaged with the Eclipse Foundation.


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GeoTrellis is a raster-based data processing engine for high performance computing. Like GeoMesa, GeoTrellis is written in Scala and it is commonly used for climatology modelling and imagery processing and analysis at both web and cluster scales for powerful real time, interactive web applications. In terms of its background, the GeoTrellis project launched off the back of a US Department of Agriculture business innovation grant. It was subsequently refined while being applied to the development of a sustainable transit web application and an educational watershed modeling game.


The emergence of GeoMesa, GeoWave and GeoTrellis indicate that the open-source systems are keeping pace with commercial geospatial tools. Thanks to these flexible and extensible libraries, geospatialists have, in the chaotic world of Big Data, superpowers which will help to save the day!

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98. Underground infrastructure - Geospatial's Great Unknown

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In an age where every natural and man-made object on the earth’s surface is now mapped to near millimetre precision, geospatialists could almost begin to believe that their job is well and truly complete. Almost.

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Earlier this week I attended the OGC’s Location Powers: Underground event which was held (appropriately enough) in the basement floor of the Geovation Hub in London. This event served as an eye opener to the reality of what most countries actually know about the vast network of subsurface infrastructure upon which their everyday functions rely.




The Great Unknown

The issue of underground infrastructure is best explained using analogies - like a pirate's long lost treasure, or the dog that buried its bone, or a company that outgrew its internal systems. The reason why the location of underground infrastructure is such an unknown is because much of it was buried at a time when survey accuracy was either a luxury or an impossibility. Hand drawn maps, poor data capture and management practice and a general lack of strategic foresight meant that today's authorities have inherited a complex web of buried utilities which are, in a worrying number of cases, largely accounted for.

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Many Secrets

If this were not a complicated enough issue, it is further confused by the fact that much of the infrastructure buried beneath our feet is owned by private corporations who guard their geospatial information carefully. The lack of authoritative central database systems to help safely manage and protect this infrastructure (largely due to a lack of onus on such companies to provide this information) means that unlike its overground counterpart, the underground world is likely to remain the Great Unknown for many more years to come.

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"But if knowing where this infrastructure helps make cities safer and more efficient why don't these companies just share their information with authorities?" you may ask. The answer to this question comes down to the issues of security and trust. Utilities is a valuable industry and sharing information about the location of assets can be risky and expensive - particularly if it slips into the hands of competitor companies, standards focused utility regulators, and individuals with bad-intentions.


Many Unknown Secrets

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However, there is another reason about why private companies do not share information regarding the location of their underground assets - that, like governments, they simply may not know the precise location of where their own information is either. The logic for not sharing this information is therefore because they need to protect themselves from providing potentially inaccurate data to people who blindly trust in the authoritativeness of maps. As one of the event's speakers highlighted - utilities such as gas pipelines "should be thought of as a chain of potentially devastating bombs which are located right under our feet!"

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The Location Powers event in London was excellent because it examined the issue of underground infrastructure from a geospatial angle. As per the invitation, the workshop explored "how better understanding of the relationships between underground assets with above ground infrastructure can be used to minimize service breakdowns, improve asset utilisation and mitigate the impact of disasters and how a tangible Return on Investment from a digital representation of underground infrastructure can be achieved."

Let's just hope that it doesn't take a serious situation to convince authorities and utility companies to take much-needed action.

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97. Attending the INSPIRE Conference? Read this...

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Next week's Spatial Information in the European Community (INSPIRE) annual conference will celebrate 10 years since the initiative was first established by Member States of the European Union.


The 5 day conference is expected to attract up to 1,000 participants from across Europe and beyond who will share ideas on a broad range of geospatial topics such as policies, interoperability and infrastructure. The first two day's workshop events are being held in Kehl, Germany while the following three day's events (plenaries, thematic sessions, exhibitions and networking etc.) will be held in nearby Strasbourg, France.



Considering that INSPIRE is about bringing geospatialists together in order to 'make the world a better place', it is perhaps no coincidence that the initiative's logo is very similar to a pineapple, an object which symbolises hospitality and friendship.


As mentioned above, the town of Kehl plays host to the first two days of the INSPIRE conference. Strasbourg is, meanwhile, located only 6 kilometres away and at a mere €3 trainride the event certainly demonstrates the convenience of Europe's open borders!

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The conference is likely to contain lots of exciting geospatial fun and activities. However, finding geospatial 'inspiration' isn't just limited to the event itself.

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As long as you bring the right attitude, geospatial inspiration can be found just about anywhere!

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While geospatial policy for resource security will be a key focus of the event, there should be no shortage of pineapple sauerkraut and frankfurters in Kehl!

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Meanwhile in Strasbourg, you should have lots of time to sip a 'une café' while reading an inspiring passage by one of France's many famous writers.

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Since maps rely heavily on colour and composition, you should have plenty of time to find cartographic inspiration at one of the many orchestras or galleries nearby.

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Maps are also about strategy and leadership. It is therefore perhaps no coincidence that much of the event is being held in the birthplace of French football manager Arséne Wenger - the master strategist behind Arsenal FC!

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And if the conference events all get too tiring for you then you may prefer to unwind by watching a movie in your hotel...

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...or soak up a refreshing cocktail.

Pineapples are, by the way, great for the digestive system!

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Enjoy the event!

96. UN & World Bank make big progress on Geospatial

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Earlier this month, the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM) hosted its seventh annual session in New York.

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Considering the speed and volume of today's news, there is a chance that you may not have heard about the event, nor about the ground-breaking developments which resulted from it.

This week's post is an attempt to summarize the ensuing report by the Economic and Social Council for today's busy reader. As I'm sure you will agree, the Seventh Session will be considered a lucky one.


The report was prepared by the United Nations Secretariat - with lots of help from the World Bank!
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For consideration by UN-GGIM.
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It informs UN-GGIM that we all need to work together to build a global geospatial framework - to help countries design their own national geospatial systems.
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Infrastructure, data and policies will rely on money, technical assistance, knowledge sharing, and implementation procedures. 
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...because it's easy to forget that not all attendees to New York will be looking through the same window later on.
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Therefore, UN-GGIM will need to develop an action plan, guidelines, and some tools...
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...along with a road map to help countries take the best route when building a national system.
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Just keep in mind that geospatial is about making everyone happy!
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95. SLAM Robotics

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This weeks post sets out to briefly explain one of the most exciting and/or frightening advances (depending on how you look at it) taking place in the geospatial world.

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It's fair to say that most geospatialists chose their field because they dreamed of working with cutting edge technology. Today, however working 'with' geospatial technology now means working 'alongside' geospatial technology in the form of robots.

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Simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) is a system of robotic mapping and navigation which was pioneered in the early 1990's when researchers developed complex algorithms to overcome the age old problem of 'spatial uncertainty'. Today, SLAM is becoming a mainstream technology which can be found in the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle or 'Drone' systems which are now being developed by household tech companies such as Google, Apple, Amazon as well as fast changing traditional automotive and industrial tech companies.

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SLAM is a form of geospatial artificial intelligence which uses Lidar and sensor technology to scan and ‘learn’ about its surroundings, to detect obstacles and to devise optimal navigational routes. Among other applications, Naturally, SLAM underpins the predictive decision-making systems of driverless cars. The technology's enormous data collection capabilities can be aggregated and processed with live data from fixed sensors, GPS systems, Wifi signals, and even live data collected by other SLAM systems. Realtime 4D urban mapping is now a reality thanks to SLAM.

Needless to say, SLAM is going to revolutionise many industries, most notably precision-farming, mining, indoor surveillance and navigation, emergency services and above and below ground utilities management. It quickly removes the spatial uncertainty (i.e. 'where') element from navigating new places and in doing so will allow humans to explore previously hard-to-map spaces - terrestrial, marine and planetary.

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Naturally, SLAM will be a cause for concern among many professions which are focused on survey and mapping. It may, on the one hand, be combined with augmented reality technology in order to enhance human activity or, alternatively, it may be used to completely remove the need for certain professions. A SLAM devices doesn’t command a paycheque, it doesn’t get bored by tedious work, it knows when to recharge itself and, unlike humans on occasion, it knows when to ‘slam’ on the brakes.

For better or worse, SLAM is here to stay. The most important thing for geospatialists is to become aware of their new robotic colleagues.

94. Geospatial Friday: Statistics 2.0, Urban Planning's future, Australia leading the way


The bi-monthly GIS Professional magazine is a respected source of geospatial news and updates. The following are three articles which were published in the latest August edition. Check it out!

Australia - A Nation Embracing its Geospatial Future

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Australia's history with maps can be traced back many thousands of years. From tracing the early migration routes of the indigenous people through to the natural resources foundations of today's cutting edge geospatial industry, maps have always been about protecting what is most valuable to Australians. Continue reading...


Where does the Smart Cities drive leave Urban Planning?

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The world of data analytics and artificial intelligence is threatening most if not all knowledge professions around the world - and urban planning is no exception. This article argues if the planning profession is to survive and advance in the digital age then it needs to embrace geospatial technology on a much deeper level. Continue reading...


Big Geospatial Data helps modernize the Statistical Field

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The UK's Office for National Statistics recently opened its Data Science campus in Newport, Wales which promises to redefine what it means to be a statistician in 2017. And who said earth observation and locational analytics were only for geospatialists? Continue reading...

93. Explaining Sentinel Satellites


Now that information about our planet is more accessible than ever before, it’s important that technical and non-technical folk learn how to engage with each other. The Copernicus Programme serves as a good example. The professionals who have put these Sentinels satellites into space are now faced with a whole new challenge.

This week’s post demonstrates how today you no longer need to be a rocket scientist to explain Earth Observation satellites to your clients or colleagues. Today, all you need is the following:

  • 2 x large cardboard boxes
  • bamboo sticks
  • a scissors



As a brief recap to a recent post about the EU and ESA's Copernicus Project, Sentinels are Earth Observation satellites which are capturing imagery of the world that is now being made freely available to the public. Although each of the satellites share the 'Sentinel' name, they are actually quite different from each other in terms of their onboard technology, their level of activity, and their distinct functions.

Here's how to explain Sentinels.




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First launched in 2014, Sentinel 1A and 1B are all-weather, day-and-night radar imaging mission satellites for land and ocean services. These polar orbiting satellites provide invaluable information about sea ice, land surface motion risks and disaster response issues.

Note: Sentinel 1 is designed in the shape of a bird - and like a bird it spends its time gliding around in orbit watching out for any movement below.




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    Launched in 2015 and 2017 respectively, S-2A and S-2B are also polar-orbiting satellites. They use multispectral high-resolution imaging technology in order to monitor the land below including land-use changes, vegetation, soil and water cover, inland waterways and coastal areas.

    Note: S-2 satellites only have one 'wing' which means that they are less 'bird-like' than S1 satellites and therefore more suited to monitoring land.



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    Sentinel-3 is a sophisticated satellite which measures sea-surface topography, sea- and land-surface temperature, as well as ocean and land colour. The mission will support ocean forecasting systems, as well as environmental and climate monitoring.

    Note: Just like the S-2, Sentinel 3 only has one wing. However, the key difference is that S-3 includes a 'snorkle'-like feature in its design which indicates its relevance to the marine ecosystem.



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    Sentinel-4 is a soon-to-be launched satellite which will use Ultraviolet/visible/near-infrared spectrometer payload in order to ensure round the clock atmospheric monitoring.

    Note: Sentinel 4 has two wings (useful when in space) and an elegantly designed headpiece.




    The Sentinel-5 Precursor will provide timely data on air quality and climate (including trace gases and aerosols). It was developed in order to reduce data gaps while ESA and EUMETSAT transitions between earlier an Earth Observation system and Sentinel 5.

    Note: Since Sentinel 5 is focused on monitoring all of the nasty gases and aerosols which exist in the atmosphere, this satellite has presumably been designed to symbolise 'freshness' - like an electric fan...or a flower.



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    Sentinel-5 is a payload satellite which will, by the end of the decade, monitor the atmosphere (including air pollution, stratospheric ozone, solar radiation and climate) from polar orbit.

    Note: Sentinel 5 is a satellite which really pushes boundaries in terms of its design. And who said space was for the less stylish among us!



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    When operational Sentinel-6 will carry a radar altimeter which will measure global sea-surface height for oceanography and climate studies.

    Note: Since Sentinel-6 is designed to monitor sea level rise, it is probably no coincidence that the satellite has been designed to resemble a short but wide boat. This might be handy if the S-6 ever decides to return to its much-submerged home-planet in the future!

    92. Geospatial 'Breadbox' Recap

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    At the ripe old blog age of 92, it's good to pause and reflect on the geospatial things seen and done so far. That said, the following is a brief recap of the last couple of Friday posts which have been published on the 'breadbox'.


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    WannaCry signals a convergence between Cybersecurity and Geospatial

    WannaCry malware made the global headlines recently when it brought IT systems right around the world to their knees. This post argues that, because of the geographic impacts which cyber-threats are having worldwide, cyber-security systems can no longer be considered in isolation from the geospatial systems which they are often responsible for protecting. Seems as if a lot of readers agree with this one...


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    Geospatial lights up pre-election politics in the UK

    Pre-election campaigning is when political parties make the most ground-breaking promises. In this post you can read about one such geospatially relevant promise that the victorious UK Conservative party made in its pre-election manifesto. Let's put it to the test though...


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    Geospatial Friday: Schwarzenegger backs GIS

    A number of years ago, the former Governor of California/cyborg from the future, Arnold Schwarzenegger shared his thoughts on GIS. In this post the T-800 informs us that the once sci-fi world of Artificial Intelligence is beginning to have a real impact on the geospatial world. Uh oh...


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    Business advice from Bill Liao, mentor and investor

    This post provides a recap of some advice which I received from Bill Liao, the Australian tech investor, mentor, and current business partner of the founder of MapInfo GIS software. Worth a read for anyone with an interest in business, sales, self-awareness, and, of course, technology!


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    OGC, UN-GGIM, GEO - driving the Global Geospatial Agenda

    The partnership between the UN-GGIM, the OGC, and GEO is a powerful one which is driving the global geospatial agenda and thereby opening up new opportunities for geospatialists worldwide. This article contains a link to an article in 'GIS Professional' magazine which discusses this partnership in more detail.


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    Geospatial Review: News & Updates - first half of 2017

    This post shares just a sample of the eye-catching geospatial news and updates from the first half of 2017. Enjoy!



    Geospatial Review: News & Updates - first half of 2017 (Part 2)

    ...but it doesn't stop there. This post shares even more geospatial news and updates from the first half of 2017. The geospatial industry is truly alive and well!



    The Great Tribes of GIS

    According a recent article by GIS guru, Nathan Heazlewood, geospatialists are a tribal bunch. This post expands on Nathan's analysis of the GIS profession in order to provide a deeper anthropological insight into the 'Great Tribes of GIS'.



    Geospatial Blogging and US Government Servers

    Thanks to a recent request from across the Atlantic, Geobreadbox content recently made its way onto US government servers! It is expected that the geospatial agenda will begin to influence higher office in no time at all...



    Copernicus - A Rising Opportunity for Geospatialists

    With all of the talk within the geospatial industry now turning to the topic of earth observation it makes sense that the Copernicus Programme is the real flavour of the moment. This European Commission and European Space Agency (ESA) backed earth observation programme is making the data which was captured on its 'Sentinel' satellites freely available the public. It's time for geospatialists to embrace a new world of opportunities!

    91. Copernicus - A Rising Opportunity for Geospatialists

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    The real opportunity for forward thinking geospatialists is not in using GIS software to create maps for traditional customers under traditional contract arrangements.

    In order to understand where the opportunity exists, you need to get familiar with a very special family called the Sentinels - a family of earth observation satellites which are changing how we view the world, how we overcome global challenges and how we make money.

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    The Sentinel family are a product of the Copernicus Project, (previously known as Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES)), which is the European Programme for the establishment of a European capacity for Earth Observation. The world's largest single programme of its kind is the result of decades of work by the European Space Agency (ESA) in collaboration with numerous other bodies (including the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), European Economic Area (EEA), Mercator Ocean, Frontex - European Border and Coast Guard Agency , European Union Satellite Centre (SatCen), European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA)).

    Although the Sentinel satellites have been in planning for many years, it is only since 2014 that they have started to become operational. Since then, four satellites have gone to work in order to fulfill the objectives of the Copernicus programme and between now and 2021 four more satellites are expected to be launched. Today, we are beginning to see the results of this system.



    Data is collected using earth observation satellites and in situ sensors such as ground stations, airborne and sea-borne sensors in all weather conditions and at all times of the day. As an example, data received from the Sentinel satellite programme includes high-resolution optical images which can be used by land services for the purposes of monitoring and managing vegetation, soil and water cover, inland waterways and coastal areas.

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    A big emphasis of the programme is to help policy and decision-makers to better understand and prepare for the effects of climate change. Global atmospheric composition monitoring of both land and ocean environments will be of key importance in this regard and today the EU is beginning to requiring that member states implement reporting systems which will make use of this information.

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    The Copernicus presents a big opportunity for geospatialists because the EU wants entrepreneurs to help justify the programmes by creating products and applications which utilize Sentinel data. In order to make this happen, the processed Copernicus data is made freely available to the public via a website which also includes a number of useful developer tools and resources. Solutions for the following fields are particularly relevant to the programme:

    • environment protection,
    • management of urban areas,
    • regional and local planning,
    • agriculture,
    • forestry,
    • fisheries,
    • health,
    • transport,
    • climate change,
    • sustainable development,
    • civil protection,
    • tourism.

    The Sentinel family is one of those families that you just gotta love. If you are of the belief that the future is online, that anyone with an idea and energy can innovate, and that the true value of the geospatial industry is in the data then you will begin to see the Copernicus programme (and other open data programmes like it) for what it is:

    An opportunity to reinvent what geospatial means in 2017.

    90. Geospatial Blogging and US Government Servers

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    Blogging can lead to unexpected opportunities...


    So the other evening I was hanging out at home when I got a Linkedin message from someone at a US government department. This individual asked if I'd be happy to share some 'Breadbox' content and links to their "internal government site". My first thought was 'Gee whizz, I always wanted to see the bright servers of the good old U-S-A!'

    "Sure, go for it!", I responded.

    Later on however it got me thinking about a couple of things....


    I wonder what the visa policy on geospatial accessories is?
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    Will I get on with the neighbours?
    I hope they got my humour in the past..
    I bet I'll be surrounded by lots of cool stuff...
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    Maybe I'll be part of a top secret plan...
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    First breadbox into space perhaps...
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    Hope I don't get tangled up in the whole geopolitical mess though...
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    I should probably make arrangements before I go!

    Thanks for reading so far.


    89. The Great Tribes of GIS

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    New Zealand geospatalist Nathan Heazlewood recently wrote an excellent article on the importance of self-understanding within the GIS industry. In it Nathan explores and organises his understanding of the field by breaking the GIS profession into four distinct 'Tribes'.

    He reasons: "The more that the industry understands about itself the better....[including] what parts of the industry are growing or shrinking or transmogrifying" so that students and professionals can understand what skills will be required in the future.

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    In this weeks, post I thought I would, with permission from the man himself, hammer home this message by exploring Nathan's 'Great Tribes of GIS' in a little more detail


    1. '...Gists'

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    Nathan: "The '...Gists' are basically some of the primary analysts and users of GIS data for scientific analysis purposes (hence many of their job titles end in '...gist') or other types of analysts."

    Analysis: Gists are a mysterious jungle community which is famous for its witch doctor abilities. This scientific-minded tribe spends its time concocting powerful cures to cognitive 'knowledge-gap' problems by using a range of information ingredients. Gists are regarded as an extremely superstitious tribe which is highly protective of its techniques and formulas, and are, for their sake and yours, best left to their own devices.


    2. '...Graphers'

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    Nathan: "The '...Graphers' are people that focus on the display or representation of data geoGRAPHically, such as cartographers and their 'kin'."

    Analysis: Graphers are an ancient northern European tribe which has spent many centuries sailing the seas in search of shiney and attractive treasures. Graphers are, as suggested by the 'third-eye' embem forged onto their helmet, a very visual bunch which regards sight above all other senses. They are, as a result, fiercely protective of their appearance, as well as their ancient map-making traditions and conventions.


    3. 'Measurers'

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    Nathan: "The 'Measurers' are people that collect geographic data using measurement or imagery tools."

    Analysis: Measurers are perhaps the most important of the 'Great Tribes of GIS'. This tall and athletic group spends its days in the great open sourcing the highest quality geospatial information which is available. Graphers use highly advanced tools and techniques for doing so and often return with more information than the other Tribes can manage.


    4. 'Techies'


    Nathan: The 'Techies' are the GIS industry's interface to technology, led by people such as GIS Developers and their related colleagues.

    Analysis: Techies (pronounced 'Tekees') is the more mechanically-minded GIS Tribe which is focused on building tools and structures to support the other tribe's activities. Despite the impression which Techie's often primitive looking style of dress gives, they are actually a very innovative bunch. Be warned though, Techies can be very moody, and often respond to criticism of their designs in an aggressive and stubborn manner.

    88. Geospatial Review: News & Updates - first half of 2017 (Part 2)

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    If you thought last week's post contained details of everything which has happening in the geospatial world so far in 2017 then you're in for a pleasant surprise. The industry buzzing, with lots of new companies and innovations coming on the scene. The following post contains just another small sample of the significant geospatial news and updates from over the past six months.

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    Chips, Maps, Cars

    In January, Intel, the provider of cloud computing, data center, Internet of Things, and PC solutions, bought a 15% stake in HERE, the mapping service which is co-owned by car giants Audi, BMW, and Mercedes. This purchase provides a strong indication that the future market for geospatial maps among the autonomous vehicle sector is unlikely to be dominated by any one company.

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    From Microsoft to maps

    In March, a ground-breaking Bill and Melinda Gates backed geospatial-focused project called Radiant Earth was launched. The project seeks to encourage the sharing of satellite data for the purposes of understanding and solving the world's major environmental and social problems. And who said retirement was only about sleeping in late and playing golf?

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    A welcome distraction...

    While Uber has been in the news recently for all of the wrong reasons, the company has been doing some pretty impressive stuff for the geospatial community behind the scenes. In April, the company released an open source version of deck.gl, the data visualization framework which it uses internally. Geospatialists, data visualisation professionals, and even policy makers and planners are sure to benefit this powerful framework!

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    'Zucks' luvs Maps

    Last year, Facebook joined forces with Columbia University and the World Bank in order to develop detailed maps of all human populated places on the planet. In order to do so the social media giants used artificial intelligence software to scan satellite imagery and identify human-built structures. While the main intention of these maps is to develop a strategy for internet-beaming drone deployment there are possibilities that the maps could be used for more noble purposes such as socio-economic research and risk assessment for natural disasters. Today, the maps are freely available to the public. This beats the usual meal photos and selfies pics any day!

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    Two eyes (in the sky) are better than one!

    Since the earth observation industry is one with massive potential, it is natural that mergers and acquisitions are taking place in 2017. Perhaps the biggest one so far is that DigitalGlobe, the owner of several commercial Earth-viewing spacecraft in orbit, has been acquired by Canada’s MDA Corp. This acquisition is a vote of confidence in the growing markets for satellite manufacturing, ground systems, radar and electro-optical imagery and analytics. The next challenge is figuring out what to do with all of the imagery!



    Big Data and Big Data become Besties

    As recently pointed out to me by Joe Francica, Pitney Bowes has made big steps to promote the value of location in the fields of Big Data and business intelligence. The company's recent partnerships with Cloudera and Hortonworks, two companies which are emerging as powerful forces in the Big Data industry is a sign that mapping and location are being taken seriously by the business world. About time!


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    Zenly and Snapmap

    Love it or hate it, Snapchat, the app which people over the age of 30 don't quite understand, is moving into the geospatial world. This month the company acquired Zenly, a GPS-based app which allows users to see where their friends currently are on a map for an estimated $350 million. This acquisition is expected to complement Snap Map, the company's current location-sharing and location-based content discovery feature.

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    Satellite Imagery on demand

    As you have probably realised, satellites and earth observation are the buzzwords of 2017 so far. Another big development in this field is that near realtime, cloud-free imagery is now available to the public through Planet Labs. In February, the San Francisco-based company, launched a record-breaking 88 shoebox-size “Dove” satellites into space from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in India. Impressive!

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    HOT stuff!

    Finally, I'd like to give a shout out to the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap team of volunteers who are applying the principles of open source and open data sharing for humanitarian response and economic development purposes. For geospatial corporations who have lots of cash and want to support a good cause, then look no further.


    NB: Again, this is not an exhaustive list of updates and news from the industry so please feel to comments below.

    87. Geospatial Review: News & Updates - first half of 2017

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    If you are a straight to the point professional, then Linkedin is a probably the best platform for finding out about what is happening in the geospatial world. This week’s post shares just a sample of the eye-catching geospatial news and updates from the first half of 2017. The geospatial industry is truly alive and well.

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    Opensource Everything!

    As well as open-sourcing some of its most powerful algorithms such as the TensorFlow Object Detection API, its artificial intelligence engine, Google has recently relaunched its Google Maps platform which is expected to deliver a whole host of new functionality to geospatialists. Google is clearly giving businesses and professionals little excuse to get left behind by innovation.



    Score for Opensource

    Boundless Spatial, the provider of geospatial tools and services for managing data and building applications has scored big on government contracts. The company was recently awarded a $36 million contract by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), the primary source of GEOINT for the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Intelligence Community. This contract win is proving that opensource is now being taken as seriously as proprietary software and is sure to inspire bootstrapping geospatial startups around the world.


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    50 million Irish Objects

    In January, Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSi), Ireland’s national mapping agency launched a National Mapping Agreement (NMA) which will give government departments and public sector bodies unrestricted access to most of OSi’s geospatial data (consisting of some 50 million Irish real-world objects). When asked if geospatial technology and information is gaining momentum in Ireland, OSi responded: “to be sure”.

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    Freshly baked Australian Satellites

    In order to keep pace with the rapidly advancing Earth Observation field, Australia recently sent its first satellite into space in 15 years. Although the three satellites, which were launched through NASA’s Cape Canaveral station are each only the size of a loaf of bread, they have massive potential for the country’s ambitions in the global satellite market. Fair dinkum.


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    Esri joins the Creative Community

    Esri is realising its ambitions to break into the ‘digital-artistic’ community by releasing a plugin for the Adobe Creative Cloud Photoshop and Illustrator products. Cartographic purists will obviously be delighted with the expanded range of brushes, fonts and palettes. You can expect to see some very hip-looking GIS professionals hanging in trendy cafes near you soon.


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    Business Intelligence/Geospatial Intelligence

    According to the Google promoted ads section, Tableau, the provider of business intelligence software for data visualisation, now seems to be strengthening its association with GIS. Just type in 'GIS data visualisation' and you'll see for yourself. According to Tableau's website: “Incorporating maps into your analysis, reports and dashboards should be as common as creating another bar chart, pie graph or data table.” Optimism aside, if only map-making and GIS was that easy!


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    ONS - 'Getting it right'

    The Office for National Statistics (ONS) in the UK is redefining what it means to be a statistician by leveraging some powerful new resources. Its new data science campus at its headquarters in Newport, Wales, is planning on harvesting Big Data from traffic sensors, mobile phones and satellite images in order to gain a better understanding of what is actually happening in the UK. It is expected that by upskilling statisticians on the latest technologies and information shock election and referendum results in the digital age will soon become a thing of the past!


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    Spatial Bright Lights

    NASA has announced that it is releasing new global maps of Earth at night which are expected to open up possible real-time applications for any geospatialist with a touch of imagination and (noctural) vision. The maps will provide the clearest yet composite view of the patterns of human settlement across the planet and will be updated on a daily basis. Who said mapping was only a daytime activity?


    Please feel free to add any other news or updates in the comments section below.