Home > Public Domain Data > UAV/UAS: The next influx of spatial data

UAV/UAS: The next influx of spatial data

UAVs or UAS (unmanned aerial vehicles or unmanned aerial systems) are a hot topic this year. We have already discussed some of the privacy concerns in an earlier post, and for many, privacy will be the first thing that comes to mind when UAS are mentioned. However, for all the concerns, the increasing adoption of UAVs for capturing aerial imagery is heralding what Mike Tully described in his article for Sensors & Systems, The Rise of the [Geospatial] Machines: The Future with Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), as a ‘…..technological earthquake’. Although Tully’s prediction of Jetsonian skies cluttered with remotely operated UAS raises some other concerns, his description of a UAS-borne pizza delivery made me think how much better life could be for those of us who live just outside the current fast-food delivery area.

Pizzas aside, perhaps the most important change that’s coming with UAS is the deluge of information that’s soon to be available to mapping companies and geospatial professionals. Recent technical innovations in UAS design, computing power, data capture techniques and processing software have demonstrated that bulky and expensive sensors (such as manned aircraft) are no longer required to produce high-quality spatial data. Imagery from an increasingly extensive network of light-weight and affordable UAS equipped with cameras, will be continuously relayed to mapping service providers at a fraction of the cost.

Base maps previously updated on an annual or quarterly basis will be updated in a matter of hours, turning the once static background “wallpaper” into what Tully describes as an “operational layer”. This will provide end-users with up-to-date and high-resolution data and become an invaluable resource for those responding to emergency situations who were previously reliant on out-of-date and expensive mapping products. Although crowdsourced local information has helped in these situations, the quality of the data can be variable and in some cases proved too unreliable to be of any benefit.

To make optimum use of this new influx of data, new processes and analytical tools will be required to deal with both the volume and resolution of the data. Just when the dust seemed to be settling after the geospatial cloud revolution, it seems another upheaval is on the way.

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  1. Duane Marble
    September 10, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    Both Tully’s posting and the one here are a bit myopic in focusing only on imaging activities of the UAVs. They are generating a complex path through the atmosphere as well and there are many possibilities for data collection in this realm as well. It is also myopic to neglect the potential role of UUVs (unmanned underwater vehicles) as complex collectors of spatial and temporal data pertaining to the water bodies (70% of our total surface area) of the planet.

    • Jill Clark
      September 11, 2013 at 1:36 pm

      Thanks for your input. Your point about the many possibilities for using unmanned vehicles for data collection in environments other than those discussed in this post is well made. My intention was not to suggest their use was restricted to the scenarios described, but to highlight one inevitable consequence of their use – the amount of data that will be generated.

  2. October 17, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    What implications do you think this has for data accuracy and error propagation? Is it possible that data overlap (very likely) will create error or will help to resolve it?

    • Jill Clark
      October 18, 2013 at 12:44 pm

      Good question. There is a danger that quantity will undermine quality. Best way to ensure this doesn’t happen is to have rigorous quality checks in place in place BEFORE this is an issue.

  1. November 4, 2013 at 1:29 am
  2. February 10, 2014 at 1:02 pm
  3. May 19, 2014 at 1:01 pm
  4. May 19, 2014 at 1:38 pm

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