Tuesday, June 3, 2014

GeoNext : Location Matters

Image source: GeoNext
Wednesday the 26th of February saw 2014's installation of the annual Geonext Conference held at the Australian Technology Park in Sydney, with this year's theme, "Location Matters", emphasising the increasing awareness of the importance of place. To quote GeoNext,
The concept of “place” permeates everything. Whether you are in technology or business; knowing where things happen, where you, your customers or your assets are, is of critical importance.
It was also mentioned that geography was cool and the presenters certainly showed what was cool about geography and geographer's themselves.

Reflecting the pervasiveness of place, the conference speakers came from diverse industries and represented a range of views on the possibilities of geolocation technologies and their applications. While the diversity of speakers perspectives was evident, there was a notable lack of gender diversity in the presenters and hackers. In fact there was no gender diversity with not one female presenting a paper. Noting the presence of females in the audience however, it would be nice to see this rectified in next year's conference, because location and technology certainly matters to women as much as it does to men. Despite this, the day saw a range of papers on geolocation including presentations which addressed its practical application, its future possibilities, and those which occasionally delved deeper into the moral complexities and issues of privacy which accompany such technologies and the "power of location".

First up, was Nic Lowe of popular car share company, GoGet, discussing the building of a fine-grain transport network from scratch. This included Lowe's and his business partner's efforts in mapping customers to cars and demand to supply, and the implementation and refinement of a suite of tools and systems to manage their current network of more than 1250 vehicles in close to 1000 locations. For Lowe, it was important to prioritise people, noting that with technology, it is easy to focus on the asset rather than the people who use it. This refining of what Lowe refers to as the human-machine mix is plausibly responsible for GoGet's growth and success. The increased popularity of such share services could be a reflection of what Lowe sees as the future of transport which he believes will be individualised, customised car share transport designed for people.

Next up we have The Politics of Location's own Kurt Iveson and his paper "On the bus in the network city: the politics of real-time public transport". Kurt discussed Sydney's introduction of real-time transport apps for its buses and trains. While there is much enthusiasm surrounding the introduction of smart transport technologies, Iveson looked at the politics accompanying its implementation and its impacts on accessibility, asking despite all the hype, whether smart transport in Sydney is necessarily a good thing. As you may have guessed, answering this question is complex. The genealogy of the apps was outlined, including successful apps created well before the current range of Transport NSW sanctioned apps yet which were taken down due to issues of access to data. Transport legacy systems, ownership of data and access to data feature prominently here. In fact Iveson suggests that the openness of data is a key political battleground with the Government controlling who has access. Access to raw data is not the only access issue with smart transport. As Iveson notes, there is an accessibility issue with the apps themselves.  Realtime transport apps are only available to people with smart phones, which excludes those who don't or can't use them. The installation of GPS on transport was also touched upon in relation to the increased surveillance on workers that such technology enabled and an associated pressure on worker's performance. As such it was suggested that smart transport prioritises some actors while marginalizing others.

Returning to the theme of the sharing economy evident in the GoGet presentation, James Moody of TuShare discussed the importance of share schemes in an increasingly resource scarce world. Focusing on the "hidden inefficiencies and idle assets" Moody outlined how both individuals and companies are beginning to take advantage of such hidden value through collaborative consumption. The increasing popularity of the sharing economy was demonstrated by a rise in sharing services over the past two years.

Attending to the actual development of geolocation technology, Professor Chris Rizos, discussed the problems with GNSS systems and the need for accurate and highly available indoor positioning systems. Specifically, Rizos discusses the development of Locata, a ground-based GNSS-like navigation system which can transmit ranging signals at several frequencies in the 2.4GHz Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) radio bands. The technology has successfully been used in open cut mines and airborne tests to augment GNSS and with the development of a beam-forming antenna technology which delivers multipath-mitigated measurements for both positioning and orientation, Locata has developed into a useful tool for highly accurate and reliable indoor navigation. Rizos cautions however, that the success of Locata, and similar research is often constrained by limited funding and the short term thinking that pervades government approaches to funding innovation. If progress in such areas is to be made, this attitude must be addressed, to avoid technologies being thwarted and not realising their full potential.

Next up was a panel discussion centering on wearable technologies. The panel was comprised of Peter Koch of Explore Engage, Eliot Duff of CISRO, and Rob Manson of buildAR.com. Unsurprisingly this included a discussion of Google Glass. Asked whether they thought Glass and similar products would be successful, it was suggested that like most new technologies, their initial adoption would be niche before growing a broader market appeal. Popular initial industries for use included the construction, engineering and mining industries, where augmented reality could play a big role in planning, construction, maintenance and repair. This lead to a broader discussion on the Internet of Things and its possibilities and constraints, the obvious constraining factor being reliable broadband networks. Importantly the panel seemed to see the future of wearable technology and augmented reality, not as technology, machine, or robotics dominant, but as a mix between machine and human relations. Speakers talked of the need to have an awareness of automated objects' intentions, and also the ability to communicate with them. It was thought that wearable technology should be an intention based service in that the intent of the user directs the service - in one panel members words, "I want a service based on where I'm looking at".

Location intelligence and its relevance to marketing is discussed by Kolt Luty of Pitney Bowes Software, in his paper "New Location Perspectives in Retail - in the Zone". Location intelligence has become mainstream and Luty describes its usefulness for retailers in targeting the right locations, and target audiences for their product. Particularly interesting were the possibilities of geofencing. Geofencing creates a virtual boundary on a real-world geographic area. This means that targeted offers tailored to a customers likes and essentials based on their spending habits can be sent to customers who opt in to such services. As these customers enter the geofenced area they can receive the offer via sms, ad or coupon, enticing them to enter the store and spend. Geofencing marketing can both aim to retain their normal spending but also increase cross departmental spending by alerting the customer to offers in other departments while they're in store. The big value for such marketing and retail techniques resides in knowing the individual's consumption data.

Hamish Robertson demonstrated how spatial science can support community-based ageing by linking and visualising varied components of the spectrum of organisations and services that engage with older people. Roberston developed a 'virtual earth' model of population ageing, dementia projections and health and social support infrastructure. He noted that despite the value of such models, spatial science is under-utilised in designing and implementing better aged care and health strategies, particularly when you consider that although the majority of older people don't want to move, the typical response to ageing is to relocate the individual. Keeping this in mind, Robertson built his model to link population data, epidemiological data and health and social support information to create a virtual environment for inquiring on the current and future implications of population ageing.

Billy Haworth presented on the use of social media and information communication during disaster events. Using two recent events, the 2010/2011 Queensland floods, and the 2013 Tasmania bushfires, Haworth discussed how individuals have utilised a range of social media and location technologies to share images of disaster impacts, coordinate relief efforts, send alerts for help, and express support for those effected by the disasters. Billy gets extra points for managing to include a reference to One Direction in his paper but questioned whether Harry Styles really could help or would care about the fires, despite one tweeters hope he would. You can find more information about Billy's research on Volunteered Geographic Information in the context of bushfire preparation in Tasmania at the "Exploring places and people" blog.

Rohan Fernando of HERE brought our attention to the "Race for the Geospatial Overworld" and the billions of dollars invested into building a spatially precise virtual representation of our real world in complete 3D and which can be updated in real-time. More commonly known as Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI), the geospatial overworld, produces advanced interactive digital maps and map-related functionality as a holistic service. Fernando discusses the uses of SDIs and their potential to change our lives. According to Fernando, SDI's include updated data collected by global teams of professional geographic analysts as well as anonymous data collected automatically from many dynamically interactive systems around the world, including each of us. Important to this type of analysis, are the larger group patterns that are shown through big data, rather than the emphasis on the patterns of the individual which are important to the marketing analytics discussed by Luty.

The final paper presentation of the day was delivered by Simon Hope of Geoplex, on "The Geekification of GIS". There was less about geeks but a lot about GIS which seemed appropriate for a GeoNext conference. Hope talked about how the rate of change in technology is having an impact on the GIS space and forcing a rethink of approaches to GIS delivery. Techniques and software innovations from the wider technology space are seen as filtering into GIS territory and having an impact in the spatial world. Cloud solutions were discussed as being more nimble and agile approaches than traditional monolithic spatial data infrastructures and Hope discussed software delivery techniques they've used to allow organisations to scale and manage large spatial applications. Software applications were considered as significantly influencing the spatial world.

The Hackfest presentations concluded the presentation part of the day. App developers were given a chance to design an app for GoGet with a multitude of prizes in the offering. Winners were chosen by GoGet and Here based on their favourite entries. The apps and the winners can be found here. The winning app was Treffyn Koreshoff who cleverly worked on blurring the line between machine and person, creating a personality for the GoGet vehicles which could be viewed on the app and included their favourite journeys, and emphasised the relationship between GoGet users and the vehicles.

Georabble drinks were held at the end of the day. The conference had provided an insight into the multiple directions geolocational technology is heading in, the variety of potential applications, and the social and ethical implications of such technology. There was much enthusiasm for the benefits that these technologies can bring however perhaps more emphasis needs to be put on an awareness of the politics behind the technologies. Issues of access, privacy and surveillance need to be taken seriously rather than just given lip service or suggesting that it is the culture that needs to change to be more accepting of lesser degrees of privacy brought by the use of such technologies.

Image source: GeoNext

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