ERDAS President Joel Campbell told Directions Magazine in a recent interview, "I do think we will find a place where real time or near real time data is available from remote sensing technologies." [Em. added.]"Whether it's from a constellation of small satellites or whether it's from a blimp or some other type of airborne drone that's capturing data on a continuous basis,"
It's growing increasingly apparent that the near-term future of technology will include explosive quantities of data, sensor-based tracking of physical objects and location as a platform for the development of scalable cloud-based software and services - all in real time. Even satellite imagery in real time. But does the prospect of dramatically more democratic access to these kinds of technologies offer substantial enough gains for everyday people to warrant paying the potential cost to privacy? Campbell says privacy concerns are being dealt with, but either way, the potential benefit to innovative software developers of real-time, analyzed, satellite imagery is staggering.
Technology Development is Underway
ERDAS creates software for sophisticated analysis and classification of remote sensing data, airborne and satellite photos. It's widely used in all kinds of different industries, from municipal agencies to disaster relief to construction and defense. Customers can use it to do things like identify where all the power poles on a city street are located.
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"Will that be universal across every square inch of the planet? Highly doubtful, but will that be an added benefit of the network of video cameras currently in place in London, England for example? I think absolutely. I think we'll see persistent surveillance systems in those metropolitan areas that are watching everything. Think about the attempted car bombing in Times Square just over the weekend, and had there been airborne persistent surveillance, the forensic work of tracking back that vehicle and where it came from and who got out of it - those things would have been much easier to do had that technology been in place. So I think there are some benefits and value in it in everyday life that will drive us in that direction over the coming years.
"The technologies are getting better, the computers are getting faster to store it and manage it and analyze it. Privacy issues are being dealt with. So I think all of those things are lining up so that, yes, my view is that this is something we will be dealing with over the coming years, and it is something that at ERDAS, for example, we are already dealing with in the defense and intelligence space around the world."
Privacy issues are being dealt with? That's something we aim to look into in further detail.
The company already has products it calls Web processing services, "geospatial processing analysis, over a web, in real time, on demand, in a standardized way - that capability exists in our products today" - but says it's still the early days.
A Foundational Language
It's not just ERDAS that's working on and thinking about this new paradigm. Jack Dangermond, co-founder of ESRI, spoke about this real-time remote sensing data in an interview with Mac Slocum at O'Reilly's Government 2.0 conference last week. (Interview at 5:10.)
"Spatial data in a digital form is exponentially growing because of sensor networks. I envision a world where virtually everything that changes or moves will be measured.
"You add that sensor data to synoptic [whole systems] measurements from satellites or aircraft where they're giving real time pictures, videos, now going online of predator movements where they're seeing it all. I think that's all being wired up, it's all being geospatialized. Geospatial is the framework on which all these measurements are being visualized.
"This isn't just another IT system, this is a foundational system that will bring all of our measurements together, both geospatial measurements like measuring geospatial things but also using geospatial frameworks to realize and visualize all information. Most information is actually geospatial: money flows, where people live, the bank accounts, transactions, all of it can be seen through maps. It's like another language - it's like a language, that's the point."
And in that language, we'll be able to write new poetry. People will understand things in new ways, and sometimes they'll use that language to talk about you.
Developers: What Would You Do With This Data?
Let's assume that real-time persistent airborne surveillance data becomes another cloud service you can pull down to leverage for your application development, just like storage, computing and some other data APIs are today. Let's assume that in time this data becomes a commodity, even!
What on earth will people do with that? The possibilities seem nearly endless.
It's hard to wrap your mind around - a sure sign that it's a powerful vision of the future. I asked ReadWriteWeb research intern and resident GIS guy Justin Houk what he would do with such a service and his first answer was, "Become invisible and king of the world." Then he got serious and settled on a dream app tracking food carts in the city. ("I'm a man of simple taste," he says.)
"It's hard not to jump right to evil uses even for me," Houk said. "I don't know how more sinister types can resist."
Apparently this kind of technology is fast leaving the realm of science fiction, even if it's being exclusively used by the military, and will soon become more generally accessible and well developed than ever before.
What do you want to see done with it, or do with it yourself?
Caption photo by NASA