Sensors & Systems: Ten Predictions for 2013

Much time is spent this time of year looking forward. Sensors & Systems spent some time reflecting on emerging stories and growing trends to come up with the following predictions for 2013. On the list are technology advancements, policy initiatives and the continued evolution of model-based design. Read the full list and please add your own observations in the comments.

1. Privacy – Growing scrutiny on location privacy will be underway in the new year with Senator Al Franken’s Location Privacy Protection Act mandating that companies obtain consent from users prior to collecting or sharing location data. This added scrutiny has been coming for some time, and this requirement of transparency doesn’t seem onerous for businesses offering such services. The hope is that such regulations don’t hamper business interests, but it will take broad location privacy vigilance among service providers for further and harsher measures not to be applied.

2. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Systems (UAV and UASs) Everywhere – The growth of different unmanned platforms has been exponential, despite restrictions on airspace in most of the world. We’re starting to see specialized platforms and services evolve to aid specific applications, such as mining, construction site monitoring, and even to inform precision farming implements. We can expect an explosion of platforms and applications when the restriction is lifted in 2015.

3. Data and Navigation – Many are speculating on whether Apple will snatch up TomTom or even Nokia. The heated competition in the consumer mapping market may witness greater consolidation in the coming months. With hardware providers spicing their utility by also offering free services, the market for paid navigation is rapidly deteriorating. With perhaps further consolidation of the commercial map data providers, OpenStreetMap may see an insurgence of interest.

4. Climate Change – The world will finally realize how urgent climate change is, connecting the issue with the economic pain as felt by escalating coastal damage, food insecurity, and extreme weather impacts. A serious discussion may take place around measures that factor in a true-cost-accounting for carbon emissions and impacts on ecosystem services.

5. Google Backlash – Earlier this year, a group of European mapmaking companies filed a complaint against Google that asserted it was creating a monopoly on mapping, Google has a growing percentage of mobile devices coupled with free navigation services, and other location-based offerings such as Field Trip. This dominance puts them in the crosshairs of geospatial providers, but our little niche is likely the least of the company’s worries in terms of a backlash. Just witness the public ridicule Apple went through when they got mapping really wrong.

6. Government Cuts – As of this writing, deep U.S. federal government cuts were still being debated. Suffice to say, if dramatic cuts happen the geospatial industry will be hurting across the board. My sense is that the economic risk is too great to allow the precipitous drop to happen.

7. Cloud Just Is – The hype around the cloud is fading fast as it just becomes the way we run most of our software. The extension of infinite computing has a ways to expand into truly fulfilling the ‘infinite’ definition, yet so many applications are seamlessly using an extension to the cloud that it has become the norm. No longer it seems is there much of a need to make a distinction, if there’s an online component, it’s likely a cloud extension these days.

8. Sensors to Pick From – There are already a great number of satellite and aerial earth observation sensors that capture data on the earth on regular intervals. Satellites and constellations, including government-owned imagery and weather satellites as well as commercial satellite imagery, are only increasing. The days of multiple tailored earth observation constellations has come, witness the success of ExactEarth and its focus on shipping traffic. The commercialization of space is getting more than a toehold in the earth observation space, and we can expect that to accelerate.

9. Further Calls for Intelligent Infrastructure – Given the escalating impact of aging infrastructure, and particularly fragile coast, we will see an increased emphasis on replacement. The new infrastructure will factor in projected impacts, and will incorporate sensors for real-time understanding of critical infrastructure such as bridges. This new era of the Infrastructure Internet will greatly improve quality while reducing costs.

10. Governmental Data Decrees – Increasingly, government policy is dictating detailed digital reporting, rather than traditional paperwork. Whether models (with the dictates of a BIM process by the Government Services Association) or data logs (as in agricultural policy driven by precision farming outputs) the government is getting much more sophisticated in terms of the data and models it can handle. This extension into workflow makes the paperwork process easier, while also spurring technology adoption. Expect GIS and mapping to play a critical role in such place-based reporting in the future.

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