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“Next Big Thing” in Surveying Winners: Cyberpunk Dreams

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series May 2017

When publisher Neil Sandler initiated the “Next Big Thing” essay contest in January, we were pleasantly surprised at the wide variety of entries. Because we hadn’t specified if the essays were to examine what the next big thing “will be,” “could be,” or “should be,” we got a mix of all three, from surveyors proposing what the profession should do next, to those citing trends to predict what will be next, to free-form speculation on what trends might or might not yield.

Over the next few months, we’ll be publishing the three winning essays, beginning this month with the first and second runners-up and next month with first place, plus we’ll be adding a few of the honorable mentions in later issues. Winning essayists receive cash prizes and are encouraged to develop their submitted summaries into full articles. The essays represent intriguing ideas and good suggestions for the surveying and geospatial communities to prepare for the future.

The second place essay is from Matthew Kumpula, PLS (Washington) who predicts that augmented reality will feature prominently in not only the mechanisms of the spatial data capture aspects of our professions but also in how we conceptualize the nature of that data.

The third place essay is from Gregory Helmer, PLS (California) who begins with a bit of “near-future science fiction” but notes that there is often a big difference between our vision of the future (based on consumer tech and pop science) and how roles may or may not (or perhaps should not) change much. Remember, we are still waiting for those flying cars we heard about decades ago.

An informative presentation Greg for the California Land Surveyors Association strikes a similar theme. As he notes in his presentation, “Positioning capabilities are superior to our [current] applications and processes.” A lot of work is ahead to create such a future.

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Second Place: By Matthew Kumpula, PLS

I am often called a dreamer, one who is trying to implement the new, to make tomorrow happen today. There is something else I see: a changing world, an evolving profession, and an opportunity to be better in my calling as a professional geometrician and land surveyor.

What is happening right now: technology and society screams to us that we are in unknown territory. Change seems like chaos at first, but then we understand it as we look back on it. Our ability to communicate in this world has fundamentally changed in the last 30 years, and so have our expectations of one another.

So, why am I philosophizing about the world today and how it communicates? I would submit I speak of my profession, a very old profession, founded in mindset, means, and methods.

My reference frame is the last 18 years, and in that time I transitioned from transit to inertial-aided measurement, or “measurement in motion” as I refer to it. So much has changed in the last 20 years, and that change dwarfs the previous 200 years of change in our profession.

Disruptive technology came into our world, and a free market fostered innovation in a way we could have never imagined. Today, the way we measure and communicate the mapping of measurements has changed in ways we never dreamed or even foretold.

Our maps have started to evolve into virtual worlds for others to design, access, and communicate within. Field measurement methods have changed at their core and require 30% of the manpower and 300% more knowledge. Currently, we send field staff out each and every day to measure, collect, and capture (MCC) the interior and exterior of our built world. What is being captured, where the capture is occurring, and by whom changes daily and sometimes hourly, creating a need for multiple professionals to interact with MCC information.

The challenge for our profession is still paper because is difficult to share over distance and time. More importantly, the memories, experiences, and progress of one person’s work isn’t easily transferred to another via paper alone. We, as a profession, have struggled to communicate, visualize, and track progress as we transition people in and out of spaces and locations. This presents a challenge for us as we have a very difficult time capturing all of the information accurately in context and time.

As we look forward, what is next for us? I believe an age of even greater immersion into our MCC tools is next. I see this occurring through the fruition of augmented reality (AR). Think back to the Star Trek: The Next Generation series with Geordi La Forge, Minority Report with John Anderton, or Iron Man with Tony Stark. Pictures of the future and our dreams came through in those characters, each showcasing potential in action.

Military applications already use forms of this technology, but now it is time for the surveyor to realize its potential, as well. With a huge push from the emerging UAS market, the lowering costs and missing pieces are coming together for AR.

Think of it: from a survey perspective, we will be moving from field notes and data collection codes to a world where products like the HoloLens will aid and sometimes supplement existing survey workflows in our profession.

Our industry desperately needs this technology because our clients demand this kind of access–but we have never had the tools to economically do so, until now. AR is the next technology that will redefine the way we collect spatial data, how our clients will access the data, and our role in the process.

Third Place: As the Geospatial World Turns, By Gregory Helmer, PLS

Anna got up early this morning. She’d ignored earlier the warning alarm on the artificial intelligence servers she’d tasked with break-line extraction routines the previous afternoon. Probably just routine ambiguous misperception between the crowdsourced lidar swaths.

Even with nearly a decade now sourcing autonomous vehicle sensors, the Topo AI can’t seem to filter out the noisy Uber data from Ford’s multispectral ranging cameras. Anna would probably need to insert one of the prioritization apps she’d developed, a neat trick to spoof the “receive times” in the algorithm. Now that field data collection had gone the way of COGO and softcopy, a little digital sleight of hand was just part of the job.

What really troubled her, though, were the GeoIMs on her social media feed. For some strange reason, rotation moment for the National Terrestrial Reference Frame was revised by 3.4 nano radians. If true, there would be some cadastre agents in the parcel prefecture she provided certification for who would be demanding understandable answers and immediate correction coefficients for the land fabric.

Tech might be changing rapidly, but would this be a typical day for a future surveyor? Probably not; the data might get richer and there might be more automation, but guess who still has to make the critical decisions?

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