On April 22nd, as part of the GeoIgnite conference, our Founder and CTO, Dr. Steve Liang, joined Dr. Nadine Alameh, CEO of OGC (the Open Geospatial Consortium) for a fireside chat. Both have “grown up with the OGC” and shared some forward-thinking views about the present and future of geospatial data. 

We would like to share three key takeaways from the chat. 

1. Geo-ethics are a going concern 

One of the key concerns when it comes to location data is how it is used. The ability to collect so much data immediately raises concerns about the use of that data and the privacy of the workers who are sharing it. 

“We are using location data and we’re using it sometimes for purposes its users did not agree on, so we are talking as a geospatial community about responsible use of geospatial data,” says Dr. Alameh, who adds that OGC has signed the LOCUS Charter. To highlight a specific example, Dr. Liang talks about an IoT-enabled COVID Recovery solution we created in partnership with the University of Calgary, using deep-learning-based AI and IoT data to detect COVID risk in a workplace. Everything from social distancing to how often a person coughs can be tracked with the system, and transformed into a risk score for each individual room

When those activities become an actionable concern for safety personnel, how do we protect the privacy of those individuals? Later in the chat when the conversation comes back around to ethics, Dr. Alameh offers her explanation for how AI can help people make safety decisions. “Sometimes you don’t need to share the data. Sometimes the artificial intelligence and the deduction can be done at the edge. What you get is the answer to the question—of whether they should go in or not—but not the data.” 

To learn how we do it at SensorUp, watch our webinar about privacy for the connected worker

2. Innovation is thriving with geospatial data

“The startups these days, they are not just building cute iPhone apps,” says Dr. Alameh. “They are actually building serious applications with a lot of data. It becomes our challenge to develop standards for this type of fast ecosystem, at the pace of innovation. We all have to get involved together to develop these standards.” 

Dr. Liang agrees, using the example of his fourth-year engineering students. “In the past decade, it’s amazing to see how much the fourth-year students can do now,” he says. “Open standard and open data allows them to access a lot of data. Now that there’s the cloud, they can build an enterprise-scale system quite quickly and cheaply, and there’s connectivity so they can hook up a whole bunch of sensors. It’s amazing to see. After two terms, they can demonstrate a complete system, working together. The future is exciting!” 

3. The next “killer app” is that there will be a killer app for everything

With time running out for the chat, Dr. Liang asks Dr. Alameh what she thinks will be the “killer app” for geospatial in the next two-to-five years. 

“To be honest with you, I don’t think there’s one killer app,” she says. “What I’m observing is that because there are so many domains within geospatial, there will be a killer app for space, for defence, and for transportation, a killer app for agriculture, a killer app for health, and for autonomous vehicles. I think there will be many killer apps.” 

She reiterates the importance of continuing to collaborate to build standards. “The more voices are represented, the faster we’ll get there. If I had a parting word I would say join us on this amazing journey, to develop the standards at the pace of innovation. And yes I put standards and innovation in the same sentence on purpose!” 

Dr. Liang offers to answer his own question about what the near future holds for geospatial data. “I think with 5G and IoT, in two-to-five years, all of our daily objects will be tracked. The question is how to put all of this tracking data together and then how can we deduct them, so they can be useful for safety and efficiency. That’s my bold prediction about a killer app.”