Our New Work for the Geospatial Commission: A Geospatial Technology Review

Henry Lawrence

19 June 2019

We are currently working with the Geospatial Commission to deliver a Geospatial Technology Review – here’s what we’ve found so far.

The opportunities for geospatial technologies in the UK are huge. With the UK already one of the best countries to grow a digital business, and ranked as the second best country in the world in terms of its geospatial-readiness scale by the GeoBuiz, it’s easy to see why it’s a growing industry in the UK.

We have been appointed by the Geospatial Commission to conduct their ‘Future Geospatial Technologies Review’. This week, we’re looking into geospatial technologies and how we’re working with the Geospatial Commission to research this report.

What are we doing for the Geospatial Commission?

The Geospatial Commission was established to maximise the value of geospatial data.  They are an expert, impartial committee within the UK Cabinet Office that will set the UK’s geospatial strategy.

As part of their Call For Evidence published last year was to explore future geospatial technologies: see page 15.   PUBLIC is delighted to have been awarded the contract to conduct this review. The Commission act as an expert committee that will ultimately set. Now, PUBLIC is working with the Commission in researching the most promising emerging technologies in this field, spelling out the challenges faced by these new technologies and establishing the best way forward.

What are geospatial technologies?

Geospatial technologies analyse the Earth’s land and features, including Global Positioning Systems (GPS), Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). These technologies record location points associated with all observations, collect images remotely and provide high and low resolution images of regional/human scale phenomenon respectively. More recent advances in technologies in geospatial technologies from the upstream, satellite and UAV production to the downstream analytical and processing methods have meant that new light has been shed some of the most prominent challenges in the UK, bringing the sector to the forefront of discussion.

How big is this sector?

The Google-funded Alphabeta report estimated that as an industry, geospatial services generate US$400 billion in revenue per year. However, this doesn’t take into account the ancillary benefits of geospatial services to society meaning this already enormous sector is even larger than it first appears. When measuring the benefits of geospatial technologies, studies often consider direct benefits (the revenues generated by companies developing geo services), consumer benefits (the knock-on economic effects of geospatial technologies) and the wider economic benefits (the efficiencies which could not be generated by other sectors).As such, the Geospatial Readiness Index proposes that the cumulative geospatial industry is projected to read $439.2 billion by 2020. Early initial economic analysis estimates that the value to the UK economy could be up to £11 billion per year.

What is the government looking for in this space?

The UK is undoubtedly seen as a leader in this field. Geospatial readiness is seen as a primary characteristic which contributes to a country’s GDP, as well as improving a whole raft of elements including infrastructure, environment and financial services to name a few. According to the Geospatial Readiness Index, the UK is second on this list behind the US.

Government policies have a big role to play in this which is why the UK government has created the Geospatial Commission with six partner bodies (Ordnance Survey, HM Land Registry, UK Hydrographic Office, British Geological Survey, Coal Authority, Valuation Office Agency).  The Commission will set the UK’s strategy and implement a range of projects to drive value.

What is the segmentation of geospatial technologies?

The market for geospatial activity is extensive and in our work we broke it down into 17 distinct categories. These were in order of value chain:

  Mapping & Addressing

  Survey & Measurement

  Data Infrastructure

  Data Analytics & AI

  Distributed Ledger technology

  Smart Sensors & IoT

  UAVs and Drones

  VR and AR

  Connectivity

  Digital Twin and Simulation

  Robotics

  Crowdsourcing

  Cameras, Imaging & Sensing

  Space Platforms and Satellites

  Cyber Security

  Quantum Processing

Key geospatial technologies and startups

Satellite-derived Earth Observation offers analysts mounds of information about the planet’s physical, chemical and biological systems. In the UK, projects include increases in commercial satellites, Copernicus, Landsat and weather satellites. Endless startups are benefiting from the data collected, for example AVUXI have created a platform to gauge the popularity of cities by highlighting categorised heat maps, points of interests, social neighbourhoods, and public transport.

The UK has developed a 5g strategy, setting out a vision of what the future of mobile connectivity will look like and how to achieve it. In terms of IoT, the UK has put the large scale CityVerve project into place in order to demonstrate how IoT technologies will connect and improve services. Additionally, there has been help for startups in this space with the Digital Catapult and Future Catapult aiming to push entrepreneurs and startups forwards. Straddling both fields, DEOS provides both satellite and 3G/4G connectivity to breast screening mobile vans, allowing for use of email and internet access, increasing connectivity to hospitals, delivering screening results faster and reducing the paper footprint.

Perhaps the greatest value will be realised in the downstream services developing in the geospatial industry. AI is now commonly used as a tool to exploit big data produced in the geospatial sector. It a key factor in the growth of GNSS and Positioning, GIS/Spatial Analytics, and Earth Observation segments. For example, Global Surface intelligence uses AI to provide satellite information for natural resource management and forest classification. Similarly, Hummingbird Technologies have developed artificial intelligence systems to utilise imagery and data analytics from satellites, drones and planes to provide farmers with high resolution crop imagery at critical decision-making junctures in the farming season.

These are just a few examples of the startups in the field that us in PUBLIC believe are utilising some of the most exciting technologies in the field of geospatial. As the project continues we will undoubtedly uncover how companies are startups are utilising these technologies, and what opportunities exist within the market for them to do so.

What are the elements of this project?

In terms of conducting the research for this review, PUBLIC has undertaken a number of different methods. Interviews have been conducted with a number of the most promising startups who are utilising geospatial technologies across the value chain. Additionally, we hosted roundtables in a number of thematic sectors including: Infrastructure, Insurance, Housing and Planning and Cyber Security. Using our knowledge of the UK’s startup ecosystem we invited some of the most innovative and successful SMEs/Startups in the geospatial community. These roundtables were well attended by some of the most established actors in their respective fields including UK Cloud and Airbus.This variety will allow for a fruitful and informative conversation on barriers and opportunities that industry actors perceive. Finally, extensive desk research has taken place in order to inform our geospatial market overview and the primary technology sections which we delve into in the body of the report.

Registrations for the GovTech Summit 2019 are now open – sign up now to join us in reimagining the future of public services in Paris on 14 November. 

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