I know 2010 started yesterday but I slept in. I’m just a day late.
Even a day late perhaps it’s profitable to step back and muse over larger technology trends. I’ve worked through several technology tides in the past 35 years. I regretfully admit that I never successfully absorbed the “Gang of Four” Design Patterns. My penchant for the abstract is relatively low. I learn by doing concrete projects, and probably fall into the amateur programming category often dismissed by the “professional” programming cognoscenti. However, having lived through a bit of history already, I believe I can recognize an occasional technology trend without benefit of a Harvard degree or even a “Professional GIS certificate.”
What has been striking me of late is the growth of mirror realities. I’m not talking about bizarre multiverse theories popular in modern metaphysical cosmology, nor parallel universes of the many worlds quantum mechanics interpretation, or even virtual world phenoms such as Second Life or The Sims. I’m just looking at the mundane evolution of internet mapping.
One of my first mapping projects, back in the late 80′s, was converting the very sparse CIA world boundary file, WDBI, into an AutoCAD 3D Globe (WDBI came on a data tape reel). At the time it was novel enough, especially in the CAD world, to warrant a full color front cover of Cadence Magazine. I had lots of fun creating some simple AutoLisp scripts to spin the world view and add vector point and line features. I bring it up because at that point in history, prior to the big internet boom, mapping was a coarse affair at global scales. This was only a primitive wire frame, ethereal and transparent, yet even then quite beautiful, at least to map nerds.
Fig 3 – Antique AutoCAD Globe WDBI
Of course, at that time Scientists and GIS people were already playing with multi million dollar image aquisitions, but generally in fairly small areas. Landsat had been launched more than a decade earlier, but few people had the computing resources to play in that arena. Then too, US military was the main driving force with DARPA technology undreamed by the rest of us. A very large gap existed between Global and Local scales, at least for consumer masses. This access gap continued really until Keyhole’s aquisition by Google. There were regional initiatives like USGS DLG/DEM, Ordnance Survey, and Census TIGER. However, computer earth models were fragmented affairs, evolving relatively slowly down from satellite and up from aerial, until suddenly the entire gap was filled by Google and the repercussions are still very much evident.
Internet Map coverage is now both global and local, and everything in between, a mirror land. The full spectrum of coverage is complete. Or is it? A friend remarked recently that they feel like recent talk in mobile LiDAR echos earlier discussions of “Last Mile” when the Baby Bells and Cable Comms were competing for market share of internet connectivity. You can glimpse the same echo as Microsoft and Google jocky for market share of local street resolution, StreetView vs Streetside. The trend is from a global coarse model to a full scale local model, a trend now pushing out into the “Last Foot.” Alternate map models of the real world are diving into human dimension, feet and inches not miles, the detail of the street, my local personal world.
LiDAR contributes to this mirror land by adding a partial 3rd dimension to the flat photo world of street side capture. LiDAR backing can provide the swivel effects and the icon switching surface intelligence found in StreetView and Streetside. LiDAR capture is capable of much more, but internet UIs are still playing catchup in the 3rd dimension.
The question arises whether GIS or AEC will be the driver in this new human dimension “mirror land.” Traditionally AEC held the cards at feet and inches while GIS aerial platforms held sway in miles. MAC, Mobile Asset Collection, adds a middle way with inch level resolution capability available for miles.
Whoever, gets the dollars for capture of the last foot, in the end it all winds up inside an internet mirror land.
We are glimpsing a view of an alternate mirror reality that is not a Matrix sci-fi fantasy, but an ordinary part of internet connected life. Streetside and Street View push this mirror land down to the sidewalk.
On another vector, cell phone locations are adding the first primitive time dimension with life tracks now possible for millions. Realtime point location is a first step, but life track video stitched on the fly into photosynth streams lends credence to street side contingency.
The Location hype is really about linking those massive market demographic archives to a virtual world and then back connecting this information to a local personal world. As Sean Gillies in “Utopia or Dystopia” pointed out recently there are pros and cons. But, when have a few “cons” with axes ever really made a difference to the utopian future of technology?
Fig 5 – Brain Computer Interface
Eye tracking HUD (not housing and urban development exactly)
I’m afraid the “Last Millimeter” is not a pretty thought, but at least an interesting one.
Just a few technology trends to keep an eye on. When they get out the drill for that last millimeter perhaps it’s time to pick up an ax or two.