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How New Devices May Affect the GIS Community

April 30, 2013  - By 0 Comments
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2013) and GIS

By Art Kalinski, GISP

Years ago when ArcView II first hit the street, I had one of those “eureka” moments at the Esri User Conference Poster Session. I saw a poster of the human circulatory system created with ArcView Network Analyst. I did a double take at first because until then all previous network maps I saw were road or stream networks. I thought, of course, a network is a network regardless of size or composition.

I’m having the same kind of reality adjustment with the technologies demonstrated at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, held in Las Vegas in January. It seems like technologies are overlapping in ways we don’t expect — computers, electronics, CAD/CAM, GIS, topology, BIM, medicine, and manufacturing to name a few.  Technology paths are no longer direct and simple, but complex and interconnected. With more than 3,000 exhibitors at CES, it’s hard to make sense of it all, so I’ll focus on technologies that may potentially have impact on our GIS community and how we evolve.

Displays

UHD and OLED

Big screen TV’s are always the show grabbers at CES, and there were several examples of OLED (organic light emitting diode) and 4K UHD (Ultra High Definition) TVs from Sony and Samsung that had four times the resolution of current HD TVs — some as big as 110 inches. I don’t believe that UHDs will make a big difference in our ability to present GIS data or imagery, but OLED technology may. Two years ago I wrote about the promise of OLED displays. OLEDs would be big, bright, inexpensive and energy efficient, since the light comes from the OLEDs and not from a light panel behind an LCD screen, like current flat-panel displays. OLEDs are now available, but as you would expect, this new technology is not cheap.  However, most experts agree that OLED displays will eventually get to be very cheap. (See my July 2010 OLED article for more details.)

PaperTab is a flexible paper tablet PC.

PaperTab is a flexible paper tablet PC.

PaperTab

Related technology from Plastic Logic was PaperTab, a completely flexible “paper tablet PC.” PaperTab combines the feel of paper with the speed and convenience of digital imagery. It looks very much like the Harry Potter Daily Prophet moving pictures newspaper.  Work is underway to ultimately work in OLED technology to produce large, cheap roll-up screens that would be very bright and eliminate the need for LCD projectors.

Oculus virtual reality.

An Oculus virtual reality prototype fascinates a viewer.

Oculus Virtual Reality

Oculus VR is so new that only prototype units are being shipped to software developers. The combination of stereoscopic vision and very effective head-tracking sensors make this device possible. Unlike other VR displays, Oculus has very high resolution plus a 110-degree field of view. 110 degrees provides very broad peripheral vision so users feel totally immersed. The head tracking is so precise and rapid that there is no lag time or motion sickness. Users claim to get adjusted very quickly to the point of forgetting that they are wearing a VR device. This places the Oculus head and shoulders above any other VR system, even six-figure military hardware.

Much work remains to be done by software developers, primarily in the gaming industry. Although gamers will be the biggest customers, I can envision strong use in geospatial applications such as walking through CAD/BIM models or viewing complex GIS data such as environmental or geologic models. I predict that even mundane tasks such as visualizing the location of buried utility lines prior to excavation will become practical.

Control
Tactus provides a soft 3D feel to the touchscreen keyboard.

Tactus provides a soft 3D feel to the touchscreen keyboard.

Tactus

Tactus Technology has taken flexibility to a micro level by producing touch screens that morph small raised buttons under the displayed buttons to provide a soft 3D feel to the touchscreen keyboard. The tactile feel of the buttons is supposed to help speed data entry and usability. We may see this technology in GIS data collection devices soon.

The "Minority Report" technology is on the way.

The Minority Report technology by Oblong Industries.

Oblong, Leap Motion and Tobii Gaze

Last year at GeoInt I saw a demonstration of Oblong Industries Seismo, a hand gesture technology to control computer operation.  The technology was used in the movie Minority Report, but its usefulness goes well beyond the glitz factor. Interacting with very complex data sets such as USGS earthquake data demonstrates its value. Users claim that once the technology becomes second nature, working with a complex data matrix becomes easier and, most importantly, more understandable.

With the Leap Motion 3D interface, you can control your computer with your fingers at a distance.

With the Leap Motion 3D interface, you can control your computer with your fingers at a distance.

Two other related technologies at CES promise to improve on the capability. The first is Leap Motion, which could quickly transform how we use computers. The device is the size of a USB drive and is a 3D interface with sensors that let you control your computer with small precise finger movements in the air. Unlike earlier technology, there is no need to wear special gloves. “We’ve created a technology that could fundamentally change how people interact with computers,” said Michael Zagorsek of Leap Motion.  The device will sell for $70 and there are currently over 100,000 pre-orders.

Tobii Gaze is the second company to watch. This company developed a very accurate eye-tracking system that lets you use your eyes as a mouse. Your eye movements and keyboard taps navigate computer interfaces with great speed, precision and accuracy. The Tobii Gaze technology is a single bar that sits above the keyboard. After a quick calibration, users can control Windows 8 with their eyes and a single button push. This could also be a big help to users with paralysis or related disabilities. Will it be possible to combine Tobii Gaze and Leap Motion? It would be interesting.

Robotics

CES showed a number of robot toys, including Lego’s Mindstorm kits along with a flying swarm of robot helos. Don’t discount the serious use of swarm robots. Last year at a special operations tech day, I saw a demonstration of swarm robots that could be dropped in a hostile location to inspect a potential ad hoc runway for potholes. After inspecting the runway, the robots lined up on either side of the runway, turned on bright LEDs, and served as runway lights for the incoming pilot. We may find significant geographic data-collection capabilities from these low cost devices in the near future.

The CubeX 3D printer makes 3D printing a revolutionary new industry.

The CubeX 3D printer won a Best of CES Award.

Solid Output Devices

3D printing has been around for many years. Early printers could create solid terrain models by building layer after layer of a powder substrate that was solidified by binders printed in the appropriate spots. The unprinted unsolidified powder was brushed away, revealing the model. The models were not very durable, not very big, and took a long time to create. Very quickly, solid output devices have become a revolutionary new industry with precise laser measurement, using the powder build-up or additive manufacturing by building up and fusing material from a filament. Two big players are 3D Systems with the CubeX 3D printer and MakerBot’s Replicator 2 and forthcoming dual-color Replicator 2X 3D printers. Starting at $2,499, the CubeX boasts a 10.8 x 10.45 x 9.5-inch build area.

3D printers or additive manufacturing have seen an explosion in research and development. Objects can now be produced that are durable and intricate, including complex gears and moving parts using plastics, metal and even organic materials to replicate some human body parts such as ear cartilage. AutoDesk is a big player in the field, and I can see the technology being used for simple 3D terrain models to very complex BIM models and even intricate bridge and overpass construction models. Cornell Professor Hod Lipson, a leader in the field, stated that “3D printing is going to disrupt everything around us” and that “Complexity is free.” By that, he means that with the additive layering of materials, it is just as easy to create a complex object as it is to create a simple object.

This complex titanium part would be impossible to create with traditional machining techniques but was easily created with a 3D printer. (Image courtesy of 3D Systems Corp., Rock Hill, South Carolina.)

This complex titanium part would be impossible to create with traditional machining techniques but was easily created with a 3D printer. (Image courtesy of 3D Systems Corp., Rock Hill, South Carolina.)

An interesting aspect of 3D printing / additive manufacturing is the importance of our GIS mathematics underpinning topology. Topology optimization is the key to additive manufacturing and part of every design process. The results of topology optimization are structures that have outward dimensions identical to normal load-bearing elements such as beams, yet have interior designs that look very different from traditionally manufactured parts. In place of triangular or circular voids, these parts have organic, almost bone-like shapes. This results in parts that are as strong as nature and use materials very efficiently.

The 3,000 exhibitors of CES provided much to ponder. I believe that GIS professionals have core skills and knowledge that position them well to work with many of the new technologies, so career paths may not evolve as many expect. My guess is that someone starting his or her career in GIS today will not end that career making maps.

This article is tagged with and posted in GeoIntelligence Insider, Opinions
Art Kalinski

About the Author:

A career Naval Officer, Art Kalinski established the Navy’s first geographic information system (GIS) in the mid-1980s. Completing a post-graduate degree in GIS at the University of North Carolina, he was the Atlanta Regional Commission GIS Manager from 1993 to 2007. He pioneered the use of oblique imagery for public safety and participated in numerous disaster-response actions including GIS/imagery support of the National Guard during Hurricane Katrina; the Urban Area Security Initiative; a NIMS-based field exercise in Atlanta; and a fully manned hardware-equipped joint disaster response exercise in New York City. Kalinski retired early from ARC to join Pictometry International to direct military projects using oblique imagery, which led to him joining SPGlobal Inc. He has written articles for numerous geospatial publications, and authors a monthly column for the GeoIntelligence Insider e-newsletter aimed at federal GIS users.

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