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NORTH51 is a time for us to connect and look forward. Unfortunately, this year NORTH51 was cancelled due to the ongoing COVID19 pandemic, so we’re reliving some of the best moments online instead. In this post, I’m going to look forward, and hopefully, we can have a robust conversation online instead of in person.  

Here are a few themes I see emerging and coming into the mainstream 

Distributed Data Collection  

We all remember seeing the Google Streetview cars driving around with their crazy photo-eye stalks on top. I can’t say for sure that it was the largest data collection effort undertaken by a single corporation, but almost everyone on the planet knows what you mean when you mention Streetview cars. The ways in which we collect data are changing rapidly as the technology becomes smaller and moves under the skin of our larger systems. I spoke last year about the amount of data collected by self-driving cars and the ways in which it could affect our cities. Last year Sean Gorman, CEO of Pixel8 Earth, spoke at NORTH51 about the work they are doing to create an open 3D map of the world. This year they launched a beta project with people from all over the world contributing data to the open 3D map. These sorts of open, user-driven projects will take over from corporate-driven data collection, and I believe that we will start to see a larger and more diverse set of data collected. This should lead to an entirely new set of business opportunities with new markets and new users.  

Privacy on the rise  

Privacy is big concern for many people, but delineating the specific bounds of privacy can be tricky. What does “private” mean, and for whom? Most people take the approach that they will “know it when they see it.” Location privacy is especially tricky given how much we rely on our mobile devices to know where we are, and deliver location-relevant content. Some people choose to disable the GPS on their phone, even if that means they can’t use it to navigate. While others aren’t worried about posting location-tagged photos and videos of themselves committing federal crimes, like, say Storming the US Capitol. Hopefully, the hack of right-wing chat site Parler and the subsequent downloading of geotagged data, and the arrests and criminal prosecutions that come from it, will raise the profile of online location-based privacy and engage individuals who weren’t previously aware of the risks.  

Earlier in 2020, the Tim Horton’s app was publicly lambasted for its approach to location privacy and the overwhelming collection and analysis of data on their users. Even just getting a coffee can be problematic these days!  

Indoor Positioning – Finally Mainstream?  

Indoor positioning and navigation has been the Holy Grail in the geospatial industry for a long timeis this the year that we finally crack the nut? In my opinion: yes and no. We are seeing an explosion of companies adopting indoor positioning and using custom installed beacon systems to provide the service. Historically the driving force for indoor location has been to give visitors effortless navigation through large or complex spaces, but we’re seeing industry buying in first. Calgary based ZeroKey is one company benefiting from this adoption. Their solution is targeted to large manufacturers and brings millimetre-level accuracy to warehouses and factories, leading to decreased costs and improved quality.  

Like Level-5 self-driving cars, I think we’re still at least 10 years out from a generalized indoor location system for the public. However, the advances in the industrial sector are getting us closer one step at a time.  

COVID19 Behaviours  

It wouldn’t do to ignore the largest shift in behaviour and activity in the last year, all courtesy of COVID19. Due to the pandemic, we have adapted the ways in which we live and work, including working from home, eliminating social gatherings, and reducing the time that we spend in public places. While not specifically geospatial in nature, these changes to our work and home life will certainly affect 2021 and beyond.  

Due to COVID, people are spending more time outdoorsin Alberta, reservations for campgrounds were up a stunning 5,400%Personally, I am glad to see individuals taking an interest in the outdoors and the wild spaces of our province, and I hope that this continues once the travel restrictions are lifted.  

Work-from-home is here to stay: ShopifyTwitter, and Microsoft have all announced plans to go “digital by default.” From a corporate perspective, the savings on real estate and all the assorted extras of servicing a space can make a big difference on the bottom line. From an employee perspective, reduced commute times and a greater ability to manage work/life interactions can improve their overall wellbeing. The downsides, of course, are reduced personal interaction and a loss of spontaneous creativity. This pendulum will continue to swing while we figure out the best mix.  

Business travel and conferences are both down massively, and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) isn’t forecasting a return to 2019 levels of passenger demand until 2024, at the earliest.  

Digital adoption skyrocketed during the pandemicgaining five-years of growth in only three monthsAs the author in the previous link is careful to note, the majority of retail remains “offline,” but I think it’s critical to consider the new audience reached during this timeWithin that massive spike is a huge number of people who had never purchased something online before, and now that they are past the initial fear or skepticism of online shopping, they will more frequently and easily purchase online again.  

Whether it is remote working or online shopping, getting new users over the digital hump has been a challenge, and COVID created a big incentive to do it.  

Wrap Up  

2020 was a year of massive change. Looking forward into to 2021, I remain characteristically and unapologetically optimistic about the state of technology, geospatial evolution, and geospatial adoption. I believe that 2021 will be a positive environment for companies to grow and innovate, and the challenges of COVID will create new opportunities and accelerate digital adoption.