Tag Archives: mapping

Esri introduces smart mapping

My colleague Mark Harrower, who is now at Esri, recently posted a blog story announcing Esri’s entry into what they are calling “smart mapping.”

The term itself is perhaps more interesting than the particulars of the technology Mark is talking about, although these are of course still important to understand. It draws from and wishes to leverage the whole assemblage of “smart” devices such as watches, TVs, cars, Nest thermostats and so on, as well as the rhetoric around smart cities, algorithmic governance, and Big Data.

Just to be clear, smart mapping, as a piece of terminology is not new. There’s a company in the UK with that name which says it has been round for 15 years, and another one called SmartMAP which says it has been around since 1995, part of a GIS company in Delaware.

In Esri’s case, Mark says that the idea is to provide your mapping tools with some capability to assess your data and recommend better ways to represent it:

Unlike ‘dumb’ software defaults that are the same every time, with smart defaults we now offer the right choices at the right time. When we see your data in the map viewer, we analyze it very quickly in a variety of ways so that the choices you see in front of you are driven by the nature of your data, the kind of map you want to create, and the kind of story you want to tell (e.g., I want to show places that are above and below the national average)

I find it interesting, if perhaps inevitable, that companies are appealing to the concept of “smart” mapping. “Making things better with algorithms” could easily be the slogan applied to many companies seeking an edge these days with their “disruptive” (but not too disruptive) innovation.

Perhaps the question is not whether these really are smart, as why  we think they are, why we like that, and what effects they will have on mapping practices?


Flying our drone [pics]

Here are some pictures from yesterday’s (Sept. 13, 2012) drone flying demonstration. The demo was given to the UK Core class 101 “Digital Mapping” and involved the students forming the words “Map This!” which you can just about make out in the pictures below.

The following pictures are a mix from the ground and from the air. We mounted a simple point and shoot below the drone (ie., a quadcopter, for closeups of the drone see here).



Map This!

I’m claiming this is world’s largest organized drone photo!

Thanks to our UK Hive photographer Russ!

Google to use balloon mapping imagery

There’s been a lot of buzz lately over the fact that Google is partnering with the Public Laboratory for Open Science and Technology (Plots) to publish the imagery generated by balloon mapping.

Whatever you may think of Google as a mega-corporation, this is actually pretty cool and worth being excited about. For one thing, there is now a clear workflow process from data capture–processing–publication, which can be realised via balloon mapping–mapknitter.org–Google. (Of course Google is not the only outlet but it is a big one).

The advantage for Google users is that balloon mapping is often more detailed, is public domain, and can have better colors. Here’s an image I captured last Saturday for example from the balloon at fairly low altitude on a cloudy/drizzly day:

On the Google blog:

We’ve imported many of the images from the Public Laboratory’s archives into Google Earth’s historical imagery database. To help you find them, download this KML file, open it in Google Earth (make sure you’re using the latest version), and fly to the image locations in space and time.

Darpa “SeeMe” program exploits DIY sensibility

Darpa’s new Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements (SeeMe) program, which enables soldiers to press a button and get remote sensing imagery of their location within 90 minutes, continues the trend toward highly mobile, lightweight and low(er)-cost “DIY” mobile technologies.

It evokes the sensibility found behind the work of groups such as the Public Lab for Open Technology and Science (PLOTS) although of course with very different goals. Where PLOTS is all about putting the capability to do remote sensing across the spectrum with inexpensive/homemade materials such as hot air balloons and a tank of helium gas in the hands of environmental activists and homebrew mappers, the Darpa program aims to:

provide useful on-demand imaging information directly to the lowest echelon warfighter in the field from a very low cost satellite constellation… SeeMe will provide reliable and persistent information by using small, short-lived, very low cost satellites at low altitudes, networked into existing fielded communications systems and handheld platforms.

Nevertheless, Darpa watchers might see this as part of an ongoing structural readjustment in the GEOINT/intel sector now that post 9/11 budgets are over. The Director of DNI, James Clapper, last fall warned of “double digit cuts–with a B” over the next ten years in the intelligence budget, which had risen to as much as $80 billion a year in the USA. Darpa anticipates a satellite network capability of 24 SeeMe satellites by the 2015 timeframe.

Ironically, the Darpa announcement claims that insurgents currently have an advantage in this area:

At the same time, insurgents that operate against US warfighters worldwide are utilizing commercial imagery services to obtain information, providing them with an asymmetric advantage.

AAG New York City: Tribes or Tensions?

I had a good time at AAG, and found it a solid if not remarkable conference. The word on the street during the conference was that it was the largest ever, at over 9,000 people. That’s pretty big league. We used to gasp at the Esri User Conference being so huge at 13,000, which it is, or the MLA at 10,000. Partly this is location, with its East Coast time zone and accessibility to Europe. Next year is LA so we’ll see.

One of the more interesting discussions came up at the Iron Sheep debriefing session (described here). It was mentioned that VGI/geoweb/web mapping services and “traditional” GIS were two tribes, and that for today’s upcoming graduate students while VGI/geoweb was innovative and interesting, it was the “wrong” tribe (Renee Sieber).

I’m not sure this is the right way to think about it though. It diverts attention to the dichotomy of the right vs. wrong tribes in which to belong. Rather, as I argued in my book, we can think of the situation as the play of tensions across the field of cartography, as illustrated here.

Upcoming graduate students and others are being pulled in two or more directions, and do not wholly belong in one tribe or another. The idea of separate and opposing tribes is too simple. (Parallel cases are C.P. Snow’s Two Cultures, or Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations”).

One is situated at different positions on the field, or different squares of the chessboard if you prefer, at different moments. (If it wasn’t 7am in the morning following a restless night I would say something profound here about the inevitability of power meeting its own resistance.) At some times, you will be using Big GIS like an Esri product. At others you will using MapQuest-OSM tiles with open source map rendering. While the allure of these newer more open tools is attractive, it is also premature I think to speak of the “democratization” of mapping and geography.

As Muki Haklay pointed out in one of the best papers I saw at the conference, most of what these tools provide here are for–and by–the “outliers.” The 1 percent if you like, of users. (His talk was basically an extension of the “long tail” hypothesis.)

This applies not only to the geoweb, but to Big GIS as well. The challenge then as always, is to smooth out the long tail and, to use Muki’s phrase decrease “digital inequality.”