Jack Dangermond, Part 4: Field Maps and Stuff

At the Esri User Conference, xyHt European editor Nicholas Duggan sat down for a one-on-one interview with Jack Dangermond, Esri founder and CEO. In Duggan’s five-part online series, running each day this week, Dangermond discusses everything from Esri’s beginning to the future of GIS. Here in Part 4 the two discuss Quantum Navigation and Field Maps.

Nicholas Duggan: So, I was wondering if you knew about quantum positioning and what are your what your thoughts on it.  

Jack Dangermond: I really don’t. Nick. I mean, why don’t you tell me what you know? 

ND: It doesn’t lose its signal like GPS does. You can use underwater and it’s very hard to decrypt as well, making it hard to hack or interrupt the frequency. So in the UK at the moment, they’re running trials, projects for quantum positioning, and is absolutely phenomenal. It’s something that’s starting to emerge, and it’s something that I think would start to become more mainstream over the next few years.

JD: So, yeah, I remember when the first global positioning technology came. It came on the back of a trailer. It was like a big tank. This guy drove down from Berkeley to show it to me. At that time, I’m trying to remember the years, it was in the mid-80s, late-80s maybe. We thought it was the most amazing thing because they were just starting to experiment doing position surveys in different places.

This was a Japanese company, as I recall, but before GPS, some kind of inertial system, and it was enormous. Scott Morehouse, my colleague at the time, and I just sort of laughed at it, because it was not really practical. But I think that’s the kind of technology that ultimately drove into GPS. Somebody figured it out. And perhaps the same thing will happen here. Once you have the idea, even though it’s not practical, just like with GIS and mainframe computers, you know, it wasn’t really practical, but it was curious to me as a student, and playing around with computational mapping and geography was a interesting research project.

Frankly, I was not really interested in doing research. I was interested in building a practical tool that would help somebody like me do my work. And so that’s really the kernel of what started Esri. We went out and started just messing with this. Let’s call it homemade software, that accomplish things for projects and then the first 10 years was project after project. We get feedback, we do product creation, and it evolved into a state where we have the resources to start all over.

I don’t know if I’ve told you that story before, but about 1980 we had actually made our software available to these 11 organizations. And I mean, we just got really clobbered. I mean, it was embarrassing. When you look back on it, how crude our software was. But on the other hand, it did things for people. It did hundreds of things. And so when Scott Morehouse joined us, his interest was not in projects. His interest was taking what we had done in projects and re-engineer it. So I think the wild the concepts of GIS and computer mapping existed long before, dating back to David Bickmore in the UK, his experimental cartographic lab. I don’t know if he ever studied that. And Howard Fisher, my professor at Harvard, and a few others here and there, Roger Tomlinson, and of course, those sort of experimental things. But they represent concepts. That’s a long story to simply say, yeah, I think that was sounds like an exciting idea.

And I think it needs to have meaning in the context of, you know, what is quantum navigation? A device that always knows where it’s at accurately. The concept of the device has been around a long time. We have been working a lot on indoor navigation.  

ND: ArcGIS Indoors really fascinates me because you brought in the ability to socially distance people. That was a phenomenal move. Yeah, really clever. 

JD: So interesting. Well, to be able to do indoor positioning, to take the little green dot indoors, you actually have to wire up rooms. Yep, the room Bluetooth. It works pretty well. So we have now a research lab in Austria that does this. They’re the world leader in indoor positioning technologies. And they’ve wired up, for example, the Swiss railroad tunnels, so that they always know where the trains are inside of these tunnels. It actually was done for safety because there’s lots of workers in a tunnel and we can’t have workers in a tunnel when there’s a train. So they position people in time and space in the tunnels.

I was one of the first big contracts they had a few years ago. Now we’ve brought that into our indoor software. It really allows you to be to have locational awareness. And we’re not the only game in town. There’s others that do it. It really is sensational. So yeah, real real time and COVID is one example. But just knowing where your people are at all times or where you’re at yourself, in reference to things is quite a powerful concept.

ND: You were saying about the indoor position and knowing where people are for safety aspects. In part, it  makes me wonder about the construction industry and about the requirement and the need to know where people are around the site. Along with laser scan capture, topographic survey and the other data Esri is capable of using, I can imagine there being a much wider, all  encompassing solution. 

JD: I think the field maps solution is quite intriguing. And I think it will help a great deal in informal cadastral data collection. Well, with the right, plugins of Leica or Trimble, technologies that captures the location, it could. So I think what we’re focused on is capture of data that goes directly into a GIS and whether it’s tabular surveys or coordinate surveys. We’ve made some progress there in cadastral work and we’re working with a Dutch cadastre in Colombia to actually be in the field and capture the parcel boundary.  They’re a smaller organization, but they certainly have some bright technical people that are interested in a commercialized product.

I think that were just not focused on owning the entire workflow. So we see it as kind of a partnership thing with people who build real devices, and are in the measurement system. So it’s wide open as an opportunity, I think, for people to take advantage of us and build that kind of an integrated environment.

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