Top Ten Geospatial Developments of 2015

Written by Matt Ball Published: 15 December 2015

In our regular end-of-the-year reflection, Sensors & Systems looks back over the past 12 months to come up with the top developments of 2015 that will have strong implications for geospatial industry growth and diversity in the coming years. Making the list are technology disruptions, acquisitions, modeling frameworks, mapping efforts and global change.

1. Google’s Mapping Effort Gets to Ten Years and Is Retooled — Early this year Google and their mapping efforts Google Maps and Google Earth eclipsed the ten-year mark. At the same time, they saw a number of high-profile mapping people leave and they decided to mothball their Google Earth Enterprise effort. The company has a lot of very interesting mapping assets however, and clearly mapping provides the platform for so much of what they do from local search to autonomous vehicles. We are watching and waiting for their next move.

2. Uber Acquires Map Talent — The international transportation network company, powered by a smartphone app and empowered by cloud-based technology, is hiring many mapping people. Uber hired Brian McClendon who ran Google’s mapping effort, and they recently hired Manik Bupta who had a product role at Google Maps. It will be interesting to see what technology comes from this mapping and transportation technology pairing.

3. Nokia Sells Here to Automobile Consortium — The sale of Nokia’s Here maps unit to the automaker consortium of Audi, BMW and Mercedes for $3 Billion, is another notable pairing of maps and transportation. The automakers relate the importance of precision maps for the future of mobility. The lidar sensors that Here has been using provide a very accurate map that we have yet to see in any sort of online mapping application. That may never be the end goal though as with this precision, they’re obviously interested for safety and navigation aspects of autonomous vehicles.

4. Significant Advancements in Virtual Reality — The emergence of high-resolution goggle-type headsets (Oculus Rift and Microsoft’s Hololens, among others) means that virtual reality is making leaps toward our living rooms. The likely first foray will be gaming and entertainment applications, but serious commercial platforms to extend virtual reality toward augmented reality are also coming online, such as the infrastructure-oriented DAQRI helmet. These empowering and immersive new devices will be huge consumers of maps and models, and it will be fascinating to see how they pair the two.

5. Smallsats Continue to Proliferate — The number of Silicon Valley-based smallsat providers just got bigger with the addition of Hera Systems. This newest player has plans for affordable high-resolution imagery with a constellation of nine one-meter resolution satellites in October 2016 with plans to expand to 48 satellites with imaging technology licensed from NASA. This joins Planet Labs and Google SkyBox as one more credible player that will drive down imagery cost and increase the exploitation of imagery insight, with a focus on information and analytics.


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Green Technology Helping Map Marine World

Predicting Sea Ice Changes in Advance

December 11, 2015 — BOULDER – Climate scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) present evidence in a new study that they can predict whether the Arctic sea ice that forms in the winter will grow, shrink, or hold its own over the next several years.

The team of scientists has found that changes in the North Atlantic ocean circulation could allow overall winter sea ice extent to remain steady in the near future, with continued loss in some regions balanced by possible growth in others, including in the Barents Sea.
“We know that over the long term, winter sea ice will continue to retreat,” said NCAR scientist Stephen Yeager, lead author of the study published online today in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. “But we are predicting that the rate will taper off for several years in the future before resuming. We are not implying some kind of recovery from the effects of human-caused global warming; it’s really just a slow down in winter sea ice loss.”
The research was funded largely by the National Science Foundation, NCAR’s sponsor, with additional support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Energy.
Yeager is among a growing number of scientists trying to predict how the climate may change over a few years to a few decades, instead of the more typical span of many decades or even centuries. This type of “decadal prediction” provides information over a timeframe that is useful for policy makers, regional stakeholders, and others.
Decadal prediction relies on the idea that some natural variations in the climate system, such as changes in the strength of ocean currents, unfold predictably over several years. At times, their impacts can overwhelm the general warming trend caused by greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere by humans.
Yeager’s past work in this area has focused on decadal prediction of sea surface temperatures. A number of recent studies linking changes in the North Atlantic ocean circulation to sea ice extent led Yeager to think that it would also be possible to make decadal predictions for Arctic winter sea ice cover using the NCAR-based Community Earth System Model.

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DC Startup Innovators


By Melanie D.G. Kaplan 2015 Issue 4 Trajectory Magazine

Mapbox is one of Washington’s fastest-growing geospatial companies. This summer, the company closed on $52 million of venture capital backing and now has more than 100 employees, 30 of whom are based in D.C. But locating the Mapbox office isn’t easy. It sits in an alley north of Logan Circle on the backside of bustling 14th Street, where employees go for freshly brewed filter-drip coffees at Peregrine and local beer at Batch 13.

Inside the former auto shop, dozens of bicycles compete for space on wall hooks, bare bulbs hang from the ceiling, and Herman Miller chairs roll around the concrete floor, catching occasionally on a manhole cover. The office is uncannily quiet as workers communicate through GitHub and Slack, standing or sitting at desks and tapping away on MacBook Pros.

The five-year-old, open-source startup builds maps for developers, including Foursquare and Pinterest, and recently partnered with MapQuest in an effort to overhaul the navigation company’s branding and product. Although the commercial market primarily drives the company, the value of its proximity to the federal government is significant.

“We’re working with federal agencies that are tackling some of the toughest and most complex geo problems in the world, like NGA mapping West Africa’s Ebola epidemic in real time or the U.S. Geological Survey finding better ways to serve terabytes of open imagery data,” said Matt Irwin, Mapbox’s government and humanitarian lead. “It’s a ton of fun to have someone from the government approach you and say, ‘We’re trying to solve X.’ These are massively compelling problems.”

– See more at: Startup Innovators