Pioneering the world of geospatial big data

Thoughts from PSMA CEO, Dan Paull, on Geoscape within the ecosystem of geospatial big data.

Geospatial trends over the past year have continued to take advantage of ubiquitous access to location data. Through the merging of geospatial data and the power of technology, maps have become dynamic and are providing more and more answers about the environment around us.

Time and location-stamping have moved data from position to precision, giving a more accurate reflection of the built environment. Organisations can now make sharper decisions with more efficiency and greater confidence.

Using these technologies as a starting point, PSMA developed Geoscape – a digital dataset that captures features of the built environment and links them to a geocoded address for every address in Australia – representing innovation on a global scale and a first for low-cost, high-quality whole-of-continent geospatial data mapping.

Geoscape is larger and more complex than anything PSMA has previously contemplated and our challenge from the beginning was to find new and affordable ways of collecting data to create an accurate impression of the built environment across Australia’s 7.6 million square kilometres.

Working in partnership with satellite imagery provider DigitalGlobe, we’ve been able to use a combination of satellite imagery, crowdsourcing and machine learning to develop a new process for recognising and extracting insights from images.

The result is an analytics-ready product that is globally replicable and delivers rich geospatial data depicting the built environment, including building footprints and heights, rooftop materials, tree heights, solar panels and swimming pools.

Geoscape is a reality, with datasets covering a large portion of Australia already available. Coverage of the remainder of the country is expected to be completed by mid-2018.

Geoscape is enabling innovation in areas as diverse as urban planning, infrastructure delivery and disaster and emergency response management, because it dramatically enhances the richness and availability of information about buildings and their surrounding environment.

But PSMA’s ambitions for the project extend beyond national borders. What excites me most about Geoscape is that it breaks the mould for what can be achieved at a particular price and it demonstrates the capability that we have been developing over the past two decades.

And because it is based on satellite imagery, which is available globally, many aspects of Geoscape can be built and implemented for countries around the world.

We believe the methods and approaches we have pioneered with Geoscape can be used to support the establishment of fit-for-purpose spatial data infrastructure in the developing world, such as titling systems and frameworks to support geocoded addressing.

In March, PSMA Australia presented a paper at The World Bank Land and Poverty Conference 2017 in Washington DC, which demonstrated how the technology underlying Geoscape can be used to accelerate land administration programs in developing countries. It could have an extraordinary impact on a process that has traditionally been expensive and challenging to implement.

Geoscape can contribute to the achievement of the United Nation’s recently agreed Sustainable Development Goals, given the UN and global research organisations have recognised that the availability of geospatial data has a direct impact on the speed of development of a country.

With Geoscape, we are only just scratching the surface of what is ultimately possible on a global scale. Balancing the opportunities opened up by emerging technology with the economics of innovation, we have developed an analytical dataset that will improve the speed and precision of business decisions and help deliver meaningful business outcomes. I can’t wait to see the results.