Mar 9, 2015 in Articles by
New Technologies Driving Change in the Geospatial Industries

Welcome to today’s workshop on new technologies and forces that are driving change in the Geospatial industries.

As an introduction to today’s presentations, I thought I might raise  some ideas, concepts  and conversation starters about technology, the pace at which it is evolving and how we as a profession can and should  be embracing, what for me and I am sure many in the audience feels like a series of never ending disruptive technology shifts. Where possible I will try and illustrate with a storey to contextualise to the southern African survey environment.

We as SAGI are hoping that today may help us to respond to the forces that are driving change in our Geo-spatial arena.

To illustrate this accelerating pace of change –

As many of you know my dad was a surveyor. In 1979, I think, he became involved in the Sun City project. The storey goes that Sol Kerzner flew over the Pilanesberg looking for a hotel site. On seeing the current local he pointed down and said “I want my hotel there”. Werner was appointed to provide the map that covered “there”. Remember no hand held GPS, no Google maps, no phone with  Geo tagged image of site.

In the survey methods of the time, ground control was established by means of resections, the occasional tellurometer measurement and lots of levelling. Thereafter aerial photography was captured on film and maps plotted using early digital mapping tools.

The architects then produced some initial designs and the next step was raising finances and getting buy in from Bophuthatswana government.  To seal the deal Sol Kerzner wanted to show the President of Bophuthatswana where his presidential suite was to be and the view from the balcony.

How was this to be achieved? – Werner suggested he set out the position of the suite and then build a scaffolding tower at height of proposed balcony. The financiers etc. thought this was amazing that a surveyor could in a day or two could translate the drawing into an accurately positioned point on the actual hotel site.

The survey was done, scaffolding built and guests invited and transported to the site. On standing on the balcony the President was amazed and the deal was done.

Fast forward to 2012 and in a conversation with an architect friend based in Berlin, he regaled us on how he had convinced the CEO of a corporation to sign off on a 25 storey high new headquarters.  Apparently the big stumbling block was that the CEO wanted to know what the view from his new office desk would be like.

What did architects do – they flew a multi-copter to the GPS coordinates of the CEO’s desk and had it film a 360 panorama. At the formal presentations of building concepts etc. they showed this video. And as a result of the video the deal was struck.

Two years later and he again finds himself trying to convince a CEO to build a new multi storey office block. Some discussions had been held about design concepts and a locale. – How did they convince the CEO. They invited him to a meeting and on his arrival all he found was a pair of live streaming video glasses on a desk. On putting them on he realised that he was at his new desk and looking at the view through the new building windows.

Walking around. he saw other views and similar weather to what he was seeing from the actual presentation room.

This was achieved through a combination of augmented reality and live video stream from a multi- copter hovering at his proposed office position and tethered to his goggles. Again the deal was struck successfully.

Whilst it tells us something about presidents and CEO’s and their vanities, for me, more telling is what it tells us about the changing surveyor profession. By the 3rd presentation there probably was no surveyor involved at all. Yet it still involved geospatial information and it’s translation into a beneficial product for the client.

I thought it would be a good idea to touch on drivers that are forcing these changes.

Firstly the social or societal changes – We live in a connected virtual world. For a world population of 7.1 billion people there are apparently some 20 billion devices. The majority of these are spatially enabled.

We live in a spatially enabled society. Position has gone from having a certain mystique – Think “ There be dragons” written on the edge of old maps. Now our geo-spatial  position forms part of our identity. We geotag photos, we Instagram not only what we eat but where we eat. Social dating is defined by our position relative to possible match on apps such as Tinder. Log onto Uber taxi service and the position of the closest taxis is immediately broadcast to you.  Open street maps uses crowd sourcing to make maps – what happened to only cartographers and surveyors being able to make maps.

If you zoom in to your property on Google maps it will display the property boundaries over a photographic image. They provide no warning to the layman that this may not be the legally correct position. I don’t think we want google to be seen as the custodian or disseminator of our cadastre.

We have moved from an era where knowledge was power and its dissemination hierarchical to shared knowledge networks.

BUT, and I think this is critical for all geospatial practitioners to remember about the wealth of spatial data that is available on these networks. As more data becomes available, the trust associated with that data diminishes.

The second dynamic is that the means of production are changing. In the past natural resources where abundant and computational power scarce. Now it is reversed and there is pressure to use the natural resources available in the most efficient ( be that profitable or sustainable ) manner. Those that are harnessing the mass of computational  power available to assist in the efficient natural resource utilisation are rising to the top.

We used to speak of aerial mapping as a two dimensional line map extracted manually from photographic prints. Today we speak of the convergence of aerial, oblique, mobile and terrestrial scanning to create integrated intelligent fly through 3D worlds often as the foundation for an augmented reality experience.

No longer do we stake an engineer’s road design for construction, We now facilitate the provision of an accurate geospatial network. Combining GNSS positions with on demand geospatial information for real time input into the machine controlled equipment.

A few weeks ago we were asked to provide a highly detailed “as built” report of a 2500 square meter warehouse facility. Various gantry levels and a floor cast with specifications for computer driven forklifts. The field work took 23 hours. The preparations of plans and supporting reports took 16 hours. Whilst on site we were fortunate to access a scanner and decided to compare the process of data collection.  In 12 minutes we completely scanned the interior space and gathered the information required to provide engineers with reports requested. The preparation of the reports and plans still took 16 hours but we had a wealth more information to add. Interestingly the other profession involved in the project have realized they too can extract useful information from this data set to assist them in their processes.   All enjoy the concept that the ongoing designs they are doing for the facility is based on not the Design but actual structure as built.

The third force or maybe a paradigm shift we need to embrace is the concept of cooperative innovation.

Most would agree that the technology that is being explored today is both expensive and requires an investment in both capacity and training.  All off this is often beyond the reach of the average South African survey practice.  How do we get around this? I have John Hughes to thank for a great analogy. In the medical profession, we have general practitioners and specialist.  The specialist are called upon by general practitioners when specific input is required. Can we apply this or a variation thereof to our profession? In todays “Wired world” and the simplicity of sharing data and communicating, this surely is something practices and individual surveyors should be considering?

As mentioned earlier – as the amount of spatial data available increases – the level of trust associated with that data decreases.  How do we increase this trust?

We  often talks about the length of surveyor’s involvement in projects – generally from conception to completion – no other built environment professions are generally involved in projects for this long. This gives us provenance to the projects we are involved in.

The information we provide at the conceptualization phase and throughout the project life connects ALL others involved in the project.

We as geospatial practitioners should be seen as providers of FOUNDATION SPATIAL data.

Data that has authority, accuracy and remains contemporary throughout the project life.

Throughout the project we should be thinking about the data and how do we attach information to the simple collection  XYZ data we often only provide. The value is what does this enable the end user to do with it?

Are we agile to our clients’ needs and pre- empting how the spatial data needs will vary throughout the project.

To illustrate – recently we were tasked to provide the volume of a large tyre dump in Zimbabwe – a  2 hectare footprint and a 4m high unstable mass – Instead of a traditional tacheometric survey of measuring the toe line of dump and then refeltorless shots along the crests of this unstable mass we opted to map the site with a drone. A simple process – an hour of field work to place ground control and 15 minutes of flying. 3 hours of data processing and we had an orthophoto, DTM and a volume of the dump.  As per our brief, we then issued a volume certificate for the dump only to receive slightly confused responses from the client. What we quickly realised was that the question was not what is the volume of the dump but how many tyres were in the Dump? The client was involved in negotiations to buy the dump and the prices was dependent on number of tyres not dump volume? 20 minutes of searching on google and we had various sources of international norms for number of tyres per cubic yard or meter. This was applied to volumes provided. Through this simple addition to the initial information provided we saved the client some 1,2 million rand.

We need to think constantly how we can move forward  from being simple spatial data collectors/ providers – as all of today’s proceedings will illustrate the collection of data is simple.  What we do with this data is what will differentiate us?

In closing what I would wish you to take away from today’s proceedings is that these tools are ENABELERS.

But and this is critical – the concept of enable must be thought of in 2 ways – Both how does this technology enable me to collect geospatial data and more importantly how can I enable my client to use and benefit from this spatial information in the most productive and empowering manner.


Thank you.