Report from the 2014 Esri International User Conference

July 16, 2014  - By 1 Comments

Live from Esri in San Diego: The Hottest Mapping Trends

If you’d like to experience an industry first, I think, I’ll be participating in a live webinar being held during the Esri conference at the San Diego Convention Center on Thursday, July 17, at 10:00 a.m. U.S. Pacific time. I’ll have some planned guests, and perhaps drop-in guests, discussing the complexities of integrating mobile devices with disparate operating systems (Android, iOS, Windows, Windows Mobile, Windows Phone) into your GIS workflow. If you’re at the conference and would like to see us in action, stop by the podcast booth near Room 27 of the convention center. If you’d like to tune in live via the Internet, please sign up by clicking here.


This week is the mecca of GIS, at least in the U.S.; the Esri International User Conference (UC) in San Diego, California, and I’m swimming in GIS up to my ears.

There’s always a myriad of Esri-centric meetings and events during the weekend prior to the UC, and this year was no exception. During the weekend prior, I attended the AEC Summit, formerly named the Survey Summit. The AEC Summit bills itself as the “Forum for High-Accuracy” GIS.

The dominant technology discussed at the AEC Summit was UAS (aka UAVs, Drones). There was lots of discussion about the forthcoming Federal Aviation Administration rules (due September 30, 2015) and “potential” UAS applications. However, one presentation gave the audience a practical look at the value of a UAS. Burns & McDonnell, in association with the University of Connecticut, reported their company worked nine months to gain approval (Certificate of Authorization) from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to conduct a transmission line inspection using a rotary-wing aircraft.

Steven Santovasi, GISP at Burns & McDonnell, gave a summary presentation of their experience with UAS technology. He started with this slide that frames the UAS device market, divided into three device segments: fixed-wing, rotary craft, and a hybrid version with the hover features of a rotary UAS but the speed and stability performance of a fixed-wing UAS.

Types of UAS used for Mapping

Types of UAS used for Mapping

Santovasi reported that using the rotary UAS allowed his company to perform an inspection that he thought couldn’t be performed by a manned aircraft. He said that the UAS was able to get within five feet of the structure and take detailed, high-resolution photos. In fact, he said his team was able to identify a failing bolt that may have caused a significant power outage. He reported that a representative of the transmission line owner said that the discovery of the failing bolt “paid for the project.” The transmission line is strung on a 250-foot-tall tower.

Following is a photo of the bolt (and accompanying structure) taken by the rotary craft UAS. There’s actually a much higher-resolution an close-up photo of the bolt I’ll try to obtain and update in this article.

Failing Bolt Identified by High-Resolution Photo Captured from a UAS

Failing Bolt Identified by High-Resolution Photo Captured from a UAS at Close Range

There was some discussion in the audience that the FAA may not make the September 30, 2015, deadline, or that it will issue a partial set of rules. Last month, a Washington Post article reported the same. If that happens, it’s going to be really interesting. It seems like with each day that goes by, the heat gets turned up a little more for the FAA to act. More frequently, perhaps fueled by the FAA vs. Pirker case where the FAA was slapped by a NTSB judge for not having enforceable rules to punish “violators,” there are media reports that individuals and companies are using UASs for commercial purposes regardless of the FAA’s position. For example,

However, the FAA is not giving up in its attempt to assert its rules despite the ruling by the NTSB judge. On June 23, the FAA issued a press release offering “guidance to Model Aircraft Operators” in an attempt to squelch commercial UAS operators from believing they can fly under modeler rules.

User Conference Plenary

Every year, I look forward to Esri President Jack Dangermond’s keynote at the plenary. I love that Esri is still a privately held corporation, having only to answer to themselves. They don’t have to worry about Wall Street quarterly reports as publicly-traded companies do, so they can choose to change strategy or take on projects that may not appeal to public shareholders. Given that, you really never know what Mr. Dangermond might decide to do, or say, so it’s always interesting to listen to his thoughts on Monday morning.

Of course, there were tons of ideas shared, some new products introduced, and some impressive fourth-graders speaking to a crowd the size that 99.5% of us will never have the opportunity to address. But, after listening to the plenary, watching Twitter, reading blogs and news releases, etc., I can boil it down to one word where this technology is headed…real-time (or is that two words hyphenated? 🙂 ). I want current information, and I want information as events occur. That is the definition of real-time. I was struck by the City of Rancho Cucamonga’s  presentation, which won Esri’s President’s Award. The city has deployed a GIS that allows it to “see” events as they happen, whether it be a traffic accident, fire or other public emergency. Of course, you can easily extrapolate that to include public works nuisances like potholes, traffic signal outages, and street closures, then further extrapolate to society where you have something like Waze, a mobile phone app that allows millions of drivers to share real-time information about traffic conditions.

City of Rancho Cucamonga Executive Dashboard for Monitoring Municipal Gov't Activity

City of Rancho Cucamonga Executive Dashboard for Monitoring Municipal Gov’t Activity

In geographic regions where there is solid wireless connectivity, there’s no reason we can’t or shouldn’t have access to real-time information on a broad scale, in a very accessible manner. And of course, geographic location is a super-important part of that real-time information. Accurate, real-time information allows us to make accurate, real-time decisions.

The real-time theme bubbles and oozes from GIS, and GIS is begging to be a real-time technology. This is largely driven by mobile devices and sensors. It’s not like the real-time “transaction,” as Mr. Dangermond has coined in past Esri UC conferences, is a new concept. That concept hasn’t changed. What has changed is the proliferation of mobile devices and sensors that enable us to carry the power of GIS in our pockets. They are the technology enablers of real-time GIS, and the trend is crystal clear. It is what people want, and they will get it because GIS, mobile devices and sensor technologies are converging, and to a price point that is very affordable. This year, Mr. Dangermond mentioned the Internet of Things during the general plenary. This is exactly what I’m referring to. Devices and sensors will each have an IP address, or some method of making themselves known on a network. Some people call this Big Data. Regardless, we’re seeing this transformation beginning.

I saw a great example of the transition from labor-intensive transactions to real-time transactions at a Esri UC presentation this week. It’s a utility company that was using a data check-in/check-out workflow to collect high-precision GPS data for its infrastructure (e.g., valves, meters, etc.). The company was spending a significant amount of time dealing with the data check-in/check-out procedure and  data post-processing. Some downsides of the data check-in/check-out workflow listed were:

  • many opportunities for human or technical error
  • clunky and arduous QA/QC process
  • slow and expensive workflow that is difficult to scale
  • software maintenance cost and overhead

In the past six months, the company transitioned to a real-time data collection process that posts high-precision GPS transactions in real-time within SDE in ArcMap. Some of the benefits listed were:

  • GPS points update in real-time within SDE
  • laterals and fittings draw and populate automatically
  • support for a wider variety of software data collection tools like ArcGIS Mobile, ArcPad (either SDE or ArcGIS Online) or Collector
  • simple design for tablet use (either online or offline)
  • software cost reduction (unlimited seats of ArcGIS Mobile w/Server, Collector free through ArcGIS Online)

Perhaps the words that best describe the company’s transition to a real-time GIS transaction workflow were contained in the summary page of the presentation.

Time: Our Most Precious Resource

‘ Nuf said.

Plenary Opening Keynote by Mr. Dangermond

If you want to take a look Mr. Dangermond’s opening keynote, including the presentation by the City of Rancho Cucamonga, following is a 22-minute video that’s worth a look.

Thanks, and see you next time.

Following me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/GPSGIS_Eric

This article is tagged with and posted in GSS Monthly, Mapping, Opinions, UAS/UAV
Eric Gakstatter

About the Author:

Eric Gakstatter has been involved in the GPS/GNSS industry for more than 20 years. For 10 years, he held several product management positions in the GPS/GNSS industry, managing the development of several medium- and high-precision GNSS products along with associated data-collection and post-processing software. Since 2000, he's been a power user of GPS/GNSS technology as well as a consultant with capital management companies; federal, state and local government agencies; and private companies on the application and/or development of GPS technology. Since 2006, he's been a contributing editor to GPS World magazine and the Geospatial Solutions website. He is the editor of Geospatial Solutions Monthly, a weekly newsletter focused on geospatial technologies. Follow Eric on Twitter at @GPSGIS_Eric.

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