The future of spatial science: A techie map of the universe

The Future of Spatial Science was something I always thought others would be telling me.

I remember sitting in the Association of Geographic Information (AGI) conference about 8 years ago, learning about how spatial was impacting the world. I saw some of the first versions of augmented reality on the big screen. As we were “walked” through an outdoors environment, the room went quiet.

Now, years later, as I’ve grown in my career and as a technologist, I’m the “expert” envisioning the future. Recently, I was asked, “How do you see spatial impacting our future technologies?”

I had never pondered this before, but all at once ideas, visions and concepts started to appear in my brain. And it made me smile. We will live in an exciting world in the next 5 to 10 years, and spatial will be a big part of it.

So here is a snippet of my thoughts on what’s to come. I’ve highlighted 7 areas, but there are many, many more ways the technology of tomorrow could apply to this field:

1 Blockchain

Imagine not only knowing that your contracts are safe and the transactions associated with them logged, but that they’re also geofenced with metadata about the location of your contract. This data could tell you where the contract applies, and whether it is valid based on where you are.

Take it a step further, and you could track your movements in blockchain, such as where you spend money or where your data is recorded. This could become part of a ledger used to help protect you and your data.

Imagine if your property, your land and your assets were all managed through blockchain — in the cloud — with a geolocation indicator attached. All metadata could be tracked and traced in a spatial world. How powerful would this information be?

2 Smart Dust

Smart dust — tiny sensors, bots or other devices that can collect and transmit information — has huge potential in the spatial space. By distributing “dust” in a remote environment, users can learn about the location at a nano level. A survey using smart dust could yield huge amounts of data about the environment at any one point in time.

The technology could have amazing applications in health, farming, defense, geology, environmental issues, archeology, emergency management and more, especially in places where it is hard to get information due to the environment. Imagine using it in a fire-fighting scenario, where professionals need to find out how hot or exactly where the fire is. They could do so without getting close to the source.

Imagine using it in an inhospitable environment — such as Mars — where we could release a cloud of smart dust and collect the data to analyse and understand that environment. Exciting stuff!

3 Mapping of other planets, asteroids and our universe

Often it seems we are no longer looking into the way we do things on this planet. Climate change exists. Most of us have accepted the truth that we have negatively impacted our environment, and some of us (like Elon Musk) are looking at other worlds, not only for living, but for resources. In the future, remote working may not only mean working from home, but working from other planets. Sounds freaky, right?

How will we manage mapping on other planets if we can’t manage the amount of information we’ve harnessed spatially for our own planet? Can we manage that extraterrestrial data to a perfect degree? What time and data and location stamps would we use on these planets? Who holds the central time for this information? Will we have GPS ability? Will we have Wi-Fi??

People like Natasha Hurley-Walker are trying to answer these types of questions. Though they may seem like ridiculous questions now, they will likely be real considerations and challenges to overcome in the near future.

4 Artificial Intelligence

How will artificial intelligence know when it is “home” in both a networked world and a virtual one? We will need to help AI identify place using location and spatial technology. Knowing where AI is will be beneficial for humans, as will knowing where and with whom — both AI and humans — it is interacting. In the future, we will not only need to know where humans are but also where the AI is, whether in real or virtual worlds.

5 Augmented and Virtual Reality

As virtual, augmented and “real” worlds collides, we are going to need to know “where” we are at any point in time. For example, my wedding took place in Western Australia but was also streamed online in a virtual world for our friends overseas. They certainly attended my wedding, though we were physically separated by great distances.

We need to think about location differently. We need a different perspective about time and location. As our worlds grow and grow and overlap, we have such things as “Internet time” and virtual locations. We need to think about how locations interact and how they affect the way in which we live.

Eventually, we may have to track our location on different planets within the universe, as well as the virtual world.

6 Drones

Drones have a physical location. The exist where they are at any point in time, and they also have a home, where they come from. They also have an idea of tracing and tracking, where they are going to and where they are coming from. They have a flight path similar to that of an airplane, and a view finder that allows the drone user to immerse himself in the environment observed by the drone.

Suddenly, that user is in two locations: the one from which he or she is “flying” the drone and the environment of the drone.  We’ve realized the ability to “be” two places at once. And other users may be brought into the environment through a virtual connection.

In this way, drones create a scary and complex geographical world that can and should be mapped.

7 Security

The security of the trail we leave behind is crucial.

My husband and I use tracking devices to help coordinate daycare pick up. (Yes, we are both geeks.) The other day, my audit trail said I was in another area of Western Australia when I certainly wasn’t. I was on the train on the way to meet my girls at pickup.

This mistake was an anomaly, but how do I prove that Google was wrong and I was, indeed, where I was? In the future, this will be even more crucial, as our location becomes a key to validating our identity through such uses as biometrics. And you can just imagine the implications for criminal investigations.

So spatial is not going away. In many ways, it holds the key to our future.

If only we knew now what we don’t know we know…. Alas as long as we keep our feet on the ground and know where we are and where we’re interacting, we can remain grounded. We will know where our home is. And we (Artificial Intelligence, robots and humans alike) need to know where our home is, in the real or virtual world.

As they say, home is still where the heart is!

Sarah James was ANZ lead for Authentic Leadership in DXC and an advocate for DXC’s Women in Leadership and STEM. Prior to leaving DXC in September 2017, Sarah founded the Empowering Future Leaders blog and was its primary author. With over 15 years of experience in the world of IT, Sarah’s specialty is spatial information and includes integration on projects as diverse as mapping volcanoes in Hawaii to delivering high-tech police vehicles.


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  1. Sarah, for me this is your best blog yet. I learnt stuff, I was blown away by stuff and at the end of it all I was brought back to humanity – that which sets us apart, our hearts! The Trek universe and more is slowly becoming reality. If you can imagine it you can make it! Our world is changing and expanding. We indeed live in a amazing world.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ken Gottry says:

    Blending one technology with another emphasizes the old adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A specific technology leaves the lab and enters mainstream when it starts being integrated with other technologies to produce even larger impacts on our lives. Another well-written and thought-provoking topic.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. geosupergirl says:

    Thank you kind Sir


  4. What a good write up.I just think of something. Combine with the point 5 and 6 could be a great experience. You said about the wedding situation, it could be the best if you ‘attend’ the wedding as a ‘drone’. The drone will fly everywhere through the ceremony represent as you, and you control it just like you play the first person game with the VR headset. I do not know that you get my point or not but it is really great if that can happen and i would say it is possible today. Just need a little bit tweak.

    Liked by 1 person

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