GIS – Trajectory Magazine We are the official publication of the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) – the nonprofit, educational organization supporting the geospatial intelligence tradecraft Tue, 20 Feb 2018 16:12:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 GIS – Trajectory Magazine 32 32 127732085 Weekly GEOINT Community News Mon, 05 Feb 2018 17:01:27 +0000 Airbus Offers Near Real-Time Emergency Imagery Access; Boundless Launches Geospatial Enterprise Server; IvySys Wins Threat Modeling Contract; More

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Airbus Offers Near Real-Time Emergency Imagery Access

Airbus has launched a 24/7 Emergency Image Delivery Service with near real-time access to satellite data. By transmitting data from its Pléiades and SPOT constellations to the Kongsberg Satellite Services polar ground station in Svalbard, Norway, Airbus is able to retrieve images at every orbit, enabling near-instant data delivery anywhere in the world. The service was developed to provide customers with specifically requested imagery in support of emergency and disaster response efforts.

Boundless Launches Geospatial Enterprise Server

Boundless recently premiered its new Boundless Server Enterprise, what it calls the market’s first cloud-native GIS server. The geospatial server is highly scalable and elastic enough to handle millions of requests at speed. With this release, Boundless aims to offer a powerful and cost-effective way to serve location data to applications in the cloud.

IvySys Wins Threat Modeling Contract 

IvySys was awarded a contract worth up to $4.6 million from the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory in support of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Modeling Adversarial Activity program. The program models non-state actors’ activity to create tools that recognize and warn of efforts to acquire or deploy weapons of mass terror (WMT). At the end of the four-year program, IvySys will deliver operational software for WMT activity detection applications as well as the large-scale datasets used to train the detection software.

Geospatial World Leadership Award Winners Announced

Geospatial Media and Communications presented its 2018 Geospatial World Leadership Awards at last month’s Geospatial World Forum in Hyderabad, India. A number of USGIF members were honored: Maxar Technologies CEO Howard L. Lance won geospatial business leader of the year; AECOM was awarded geospatial solutions company of the year; HERE won geospatial technology company of the year; and the United States Geological Survey was named national geospatial agency of the year.

Peer Intel

ISPA Technology announced a series of executive promotions. Former consultant and tech executive Steve Davison was appointed as the new vice president of special programs. Davison will lead capture and management of major business opportunities across the firm. ISPA also appointed Michael Grochol, the former director of ISPA’s combatant command/intelligence community division, to a newly created chief strategy officer role.

Photo Credit: Airbus

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The Past, Present, and Future of Geospatial Data Use Thu, 01 Feb 2018 16:31:38 +0000 Exploring the uses of geospatial data in retail, health care, financial services, and transportation/logistics

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Over the past quarter century, information in the form of digital data has become the foundation on which governments, industries, and organizations base many of their decisions. In our modern world, there exists a deluge of data that grows exponentially each day. Companies and institutions have come to the awareness that not only must they have access to the right data at the right time, but they must also have access to analysis of the raw data to make correct decisions. The proper collection, analysis, and usability of timely and relevant data can mean the difference between success and failure.

“As organizational decisions increasingly become more data driven, businesses need to assure decisions are made with the most accurate data. That explains why so many organizations have made data collection and analysis a strategic and organizational priority and recognize data as a mission-critical asset to manage.”

– Harvard Business Review

Hence the constant search for new data sources, tools, solutions, and experts. Hence the persistent quest for new ways to use data, find relationships in data, and discover patterns in data. As we reflect on the uses of geospatial data, one of the most significant growth areas in the broader world of data is the area of data visualization. Whether rendering information in two or three dimensions, geospatial data is the key to visualizing data, which is why it has become one of the most sought after forms of data. Geospatial data was traditionally confined to use by the military, intelligence agencies, maritime or aeronautical organizations, etc. Today, the use of geospatial information has expanded into almost every market and institution around the globe, with the discovery that it can provide new levels of insight and information. Geospatial data has become an integral element in how companies and organizations conduct business throughout the world. As we look at how geospatial data is being used in the past and present, it makes us question how the uses of this data will change in the future.

Geospatial Data in Retail

Unbeknownst to most consumers, data drives the world of retail. Google, Amazon, and Walmart have realized the value of geospatial data to achieve growth and digital transformation, and now others are following suit. To tailor products, services, and goods, it is important to know the socioeconomic information of your customers. Specifically, geospatial data can provide retailers data on income, housing/rent prices, surrounding business performance, population, and age. These details determine the brands and the products they carry. For example, a store like Macy’s or JCPenney in an urban location will carry different brands than it would in a suburban or rural community.

Another way retail uses geospatial data is in combination with weather pattern predictions. In areas prone to hurricanes, tornadoes, or extreme winter weather, it is necessary to change items overstocked or on hand. In times of catastrophe, such as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, stores like Home Depot typically carry a surplus of generators. In the restaurant industry, Waffle House prepares to provide a limited menu during times of inclement weather. During predicted storms, especially in the South, Waffle House will order the necessary food to operate on a limited menu to provide their customers with breakfast in times of need. Also, weather pattern visualizations allow grocery stores to know when they should stock up on non-perishable items. Although storms are not predictable, the times and trends year after year are, and the ability to forecast at least a few weeks ahead can increase profits and better serve customers in times of need.

In a more traditional brick-and-mortar industry, such as banking or fast food, companies like Subway and Wells Fargo can select future optimal sites and assess the past performance of existing locations. Socioeconomic data as well as information like traffic patterns, foot traffic, and the number of residences in the area can be helpful when choosing a location. Geospatial data can also provide information on competitors in the area and forecast upcoming trends or construction projects that may affect business. For example, it’s important to know if a major, long-term road construction project is planned that may impact traffic patterns and accessibility of the business location.

The use of geospatial data in retail is not a new development. People began using customer data for retail sales forecasting back in post-World War II, however, it wasn’t until the 1990s when our technology improved enough to allow companies to perform “data mining” on their customers and retail stores. Since then, data mining has gone from raw statistics to incorporating other technologies such as artificial intelligence to help log and track activities in certain locations.

The creation of GIS software in particular provided companies with a multitude of information. Through the use of thematic map coloring, companies are able to visualize geographic patterns that may not otherwise be seen in the raw data. By entering the raw data into data tables and then instructing the GIS software to generate the data into a layer on the map (such as placing pins on the map to mark where a company’s best customers lived), it creates a visual that allows retail companies to recognize certain patterns in the population. Different layers of maps can also be added or taken away to provide additional/less information with just a click of the mouse. For example, if a company was viewing a map that showed where the best customers lived but wanted to focus on the average annual income of the population living near the store, they could uncheck the layer showing where the best customers lived and select the average annual income layer instead. These abilities make GIS an invaluable asset for any retail business.

  • This article is part of USGIF’s 2018 State & Future of GEOINT Report. Download the PDF to view the report in its entirety and to read this article with citations. 

Geospatial Data in Health Care

Health geography and the application of geospatial data and techniques continues to expand its influence and use to support more accurate and timely decision-making in the healthcare market. Research continues into the application of social geography and redefining health care from a model of treatment to a model of prevention and wellness.

Geospatial data is essential for both the study of epidemiology and the geography of health care. When we “know the earth,” when we discover patterns and influencing factors, when we understand how a population is influenced by social and cultural norms, only then can we begin to understand the effects on humans and their health needs.

Many diseases are being researched today using geographic techniques. The location of water, IV drug users, environmental hazards, or the nomadic patterns of people can all provide clues and knowledge to determine where the greatest healthcare need could exist in the future. One such example follows.

Geospatial research teams are using commercial data to develop simultaneous sky and ground truth for detecting and tracking nomadic pastoralists in rural areas of Africa. Using algorithms originally developed for defense intelligence, industry has prototyped solutions that can detect and geo-locate new dwellings in the Lake Chad region. Analysis helps develop patterns of life, including health-related information, based on data availability. This information can be provided to workers on the ground in order to provide efficient vaccine and medical care to nomadic populations.

Industry is also applying advanced algorithms to epidemiology to refine the scope and improve the cost-effectiveness of imagery tasking for more sensitive and specific results. For example, geospatial technology is being used to detect and geo-locate waste tire piles in Africa, which are a significant breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitos.

Through discovery of these disease breeding grounds, healthcare teams can determine disease vectors to ultimately provide much needed vaccinations for diseases such as polio, West Nile virus, and malaria. Currently, nomadic tribes and camps are difficult to track, requiring locals and untrained health workers to deliver vaccinations in remote areas based on the seasonal migration of the tribes. Because of the difficulty in pinpointing the tribe locations and the nature of employing sometimes-corrupt locals for delivery, inoculations may end up on the black market and many people could remain unvaccinated. One in five children worldwide are not fully protected with even the most basic vaccines. As a result, an estimated 1.5 million children die each year—one every 20 seconds—from vaccine-preventable diseases. This application of technology provides better tools to track human migration, and to produce trends and reports that can make the vaccination delivery to humans in need more precise and timely. This same technology can be applied to find other structures and bio-forms that function as breeding sites—information that can be provided to survey teams for validation and action.

The use of geospatial data and analysis provides impact and benefits to the healthcare industry daily. Geospatial tools are able to visualize and inform service providers about changes in patterns, environmental impacts, identification of and changes within high-risk areas, and where the greatest need for resources providing the greatest benefit should be deployed.

Geospatial Data in Financial Services

The financial services industry, which traditionally consumes data in the form of dollars, cents, credits, and debts contained within spreadsheets, balance sheets, or financial statements, has discovered value in geospatial data. Consider the world of investment banking, an industry whose success is built by betting on ventures that offer the best return on investment and avoiding ventures that have a high risk of failure. This industry has created a science out of making the right investments based on analysis of all available data. Certainly this includes accounting data, balance sheets, and financial forecasts. However, today many financial services providers are also including geospatial data and analysis in their decision process. By using geospatial data and employing experts in geospatial analysis, companies can access new elements of knowledge, including but not limited to:

  • Visualizing real estate or land holdings tied to a particular investment.
  • Tracking changes to corporate, industry, or regional construction or development over time.
  • Visualizing geographic and demographic data of investments and the regions of the globe they occupy.
  • Analyzing services and infrastructure in a geographic area that may have a positive or negative impact on an investment.
  • Using geospatial data as one more source to avoid inaccurate or false financial information.
  • Analyzing imagery data of current or prospective investments half a world away without the need for travel.

In all of these examples, the benefit is the same. Geospatial data provides a new type of information that promotes a better final decision. Geospatial data provides new information that at a minimum promotes a more informed decision process and, in many cases, a more profitable decision. Additionally, investment risk can be reduced in ways that were unheard of a decade ago.   

Geospatial Data in Logistics/Transportation

Historically, geospatial data has been most commonly associated with transportation through the utilization of maps for navigation and transit. However, we have seen an abundance of new applications become available with digital maps that are changing the way that we understand our world. Would one ever think you could know exactly how much time it would take to get from Point A to Point B using the fastest route? Or, that we would be able to caution other drivers of a disabled car?  

But beyond the common use of applications like Google Maps and Waze, companies and industries are leveraging geospatial data for transportation that provides better solutions.

Today’s economy is focused on how to achieve results cheaper and faster while still maintaining high-quality products. Geospatial data has been a key influence in logistics and routing via roads/highways, railways, ports/maritime, and airports/aviation. Companies have been able to expand their businesses with this data by reducing the complexity of navigating large geographic areas. These operations can include:

  • Using global positioning systems (GPS) for vehicle tracking and dispatch to expedite schedules.
  • Conducting route analysis for better efficiency when transporting goods.
  • Mapping operation/warehouse locations for the proper inventory of goods for transport.

By implementing geospatial data into business decisions, companies can see favorable results. Recent studies show that by using geospatial data, companies can help improve efficiencies and customer satisfaction as well as drive business strategy:

“Research carried out by Vanson Bourne on behalf of Google, shows that mapping technology has had a dramatic impact on the transport and logistics organizations that have embraced it. 67 percent are experiencing better customer engagement, 46 percent have improved productivity and efficiency, and 46 percent have seen reduced costs as a result. Over half (54 percent) of those surveyed say that it has led them to reconsider their organization and/or product strategy.”

Internationally, geospatial data for transportation is in great demand. Data consisting of population densities, land uses, and travel behavior are valuable at the federal, state, and local levels to aid in transportation policy and planning. These data improve decisions made for highway management to ensure better use of limited funding.

During natural disasters, geospatial data plays an important role in risk management regarding transportation routes. Use of geospatial data informs strategic planners of potential routes that could be impacted due to the risks inherent to geography. These data also help identify evacuations routes. Emergency management organizations are able to identify road closures to help them navigate to people in need as quickly as possible.

Lastly, public transportation, fitness, and sport-based applications used for transportation should not be overlooked. There is an abundance of these applications available to the everyday user that helps provide information necessary to make timely decisions to improve schedules and results.

The Future of Geospatial Data

Innovation and cutting-edge research and development (R&D) in the field of geospatial data, geospatial science, and analytics continue to yield new ways to incorporate geospatial data into new arenas and offer solutions to today’s most challenging problems. Companies and academic institutions across the country are investing in developing geospatial technologies that will further extend the use of this valuable data outside traditional markets.

The fields of remote sensing and mobile drone platforms/sensors are expanding rapidly and providing consumer markets new levels of persistent and targeted geospatial data previously available only to the military and intelligence agencies. Geospatial data is a critical element to the operation of drones and small autonomous spacecraft, all of which depend on geospatial data to provide precise positioning. Numerous R&D activities are finding new ways to provide more accurate data to these platforms, thus enhancing their overall performance.

GIS research has also become a critical element in developing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies, providing an important data element to the content libraries and algorithms of these systems. AI innovations offer groundbreaking ways to perform topological data analysis, spatial analysis, change detection, and feature selection.

Geospatial data is also one of the foundational elements of virtual reality (VR) development. There is an increase in the use of geospatial data to inform policy-making. Spatial data related to urban sociology, demography, and statistics are becoming an essential element of many local, state, and federal government decision processes. The aforementioned is merely a sampling of the future of GIS. Other R&D activities that will further broaden the use of geospatial information include but are not limited to:

  • Biosecurity and health informatics.
  • Biostatistics and health risk appraisals.
  • Geospatial patterns of health behaviors and outcomes.
  • Geospatial patterns of disease treatment and outcomes.
  • Urban health, education, crime, and economic development.
  • Computation spatial statistics and social-environmental synthesis.
  • Geospatial urban planning and development.
  • Geospatial civil engineering.
  • GIS for traffic analysis and engineering applications.
  • Environmental and food security on both a regional and global scale.
  • Transport of contaminants in soil and water.
  • Geospatial trends in air pollution.
  • Food and water security.
  • Regional climate response and agricultural forecasting.

Geospatial data use has expanded beyond traditional consumers and is adding value to the retail, transportation, healthcare, and financial markets, to name a few. This expansion indicates that adding geospatial data to any data collection or analysis effort is beneficial. Furthermore, it speaks to the ever-present need to ensure geospatial data and related tradecrafts are properly governed to provide consistency in quality, accuracy, and security.

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Improving GEOINT Access for Health and Humanitarian Work in the Global South Thu, 01 Feb 2018 06:55:54 +0000 Case studies on resource inequity with respect to GEOINT in the Global South

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The “Global North” and “Global South” are generally distinguished by their respectively higher and lower economic and development profiles. With respect to geospatial intelligence (GEOINT), they also exist as parallel yet distinctly different worlds. The marked dominance of the U.S. within the GEOINT sphere diminishes our appreciation for operational challenges in the Global South, where critical authoritative data and geospatial infrastructure are lacking. Humanitarian activities, including disaster mitigation, service delivery to refugees and internally displaced people, and multinational efforts such as the Global Health Security Agenda’s mission to secure the world from “global health threats,” are constrained by that region’s variable geospatial capacity. Spatial data, also known as geospatial data, is information about a physical object that can be represented by numerical values in a geographic coordinate system. The increasing availability of geographically referenced base layer data, geo-referenced imagery sources, improved processing, and crowdsourced data enable rigorous and complex analyses with more granular outputs that allow analysts to target specific locations and populations. However, owing to a dearth of geospatial expertise, core data layers, and technical and financial resources, GEOINT capabilities remain out of reach to many countries. Such resource inequity presents a significant challenge that is further amplified in conflict areas, where current, precise, and, wherever possible, verified ground-reference data are mission-critical.

In the Global North, discussions on the “state of the art” reflect the ubiquity of fundamental GEOINT capacities including automated feature extraction and change detection; big data analytics and geospatial presentation; access to topical, relevant, and quality geospatial data; the tools and knowledge required to execute fundamental geospatial processes; and to a lesser but increasing degree, machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI). While there are notable exceptions, outside of capitals and major cities, a significant part of the Global South is bereft of basic information and communications technology (ICT) prerequisites—such as consistent electricity and internet access—needed to routinely and accurately conduct geospatial work.

National and local government support for health and humanitarian efforts vary, and the onus of procuring quality geospatial data may be left to aid and health agencies, few of which have the capacity to meet this immense need. Additionally, GEOINT fundamentals, such as current census data or authoritative base layers, are often outdated or non-existent, sometimes at the country-level, and especially below second- or third-order administrative-level boundaries. Further complicating access to authoritative data, governmental and other institutions may restrict data for a variety of reasons (which may run counter to their missions to improve the well-being of their constituencies). Restriction of these authoritative datasets may arise from political sensitivities, protection of funding streams through data dominance, or deflection of questions concerning data quality.

In the absence of open-source, authoritative data, crowdsourcing platforms such as OpenStreetMap, HealthMap, Wikimapia, and CrisisMappers fill important gaps by providing egalitarian scaffolding that supports data aggregation, curation, and management. However, it is important to recognize the intrinsic limitations of user-generated and “found” data. Free and open-source geospatial platforms such as Google Earth and QGIS have had a similarly democratizing impact on geospatial software utilization within the minority of Global South countries with dependable internet access. However, while data and tools are necessary, they are not sufficient to enable true access. Geospatial expertise is the third leg of the access “stool” required to maximize data utilization. In the Global South, the preponderance of technical capability and data dwells among national-level government, multilateral, and academic institutions rather than among implementing staff or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that operate at the subnational level.

Given this divide in geospatial resources, improved collaboration is critical among private, bilateral, and multilateral stakeholders that have access to data, expertise, and imagery. Recent examples from the global health arena illustrate how GEOINT practitioners have contributed to effectively target service delivery through a combination of imagery analysis and inexpensive, creative, low-tech ground-referenced datasets. Further field and sky coordination of GEOINT capabilities in conjunction with activity-based analytics hold significant potential to strengthen disaster mitigation response as well as civil and military humanitarian actions. We discuss the role of data access and recent achievements targeting infectious disease and humanitarian responses in remote and conflict-ridden areas as examples of successful collaborative and multidisciplinary approaches to GEOINT of benefit to the Global South.

  • This article is part of USGIF’s 2018 State & Future of GEOINT Report. Download the PDF to view the report in its entirety and to read this article with citations. 

Case Studies 

The resource inequity with respect to GEOINT that the Global South faces necessitates a continuous stream of outside financial, technical, and human resources to establish and maintain parity with the Global North. To some degree, this may account for the prominent rise of crowdsourced labor and online data sharing platforms (e.g., Ushahidi, Swift River, OpenStreetMap, Tomnod) for near real-time reporting. There have been several recent public-private efforts, however, to create sustainable solutions by investing in GEOINT infrastructure and expertise that illustrate the long-term value proposition to both donors and countries. The following case studies illustrate how providing access to authoritative base layers as well as specialized knowledge and resources such as imagery classification tools and automated feature extraction can solve problems, leverage further investment, and highlight new opportunities to bridge the North-South GEOINT divide.

1. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), a public-private partnership with the goal to eradicate polio worldwide, exemplifies the application of geospatial data and analysis to solve a humanitarian problem while building technical capacity to create sustainable geospatial infrastructure. The use of GIS has significantly changed the trajectory of GPEI since 2007, when Google Earth was first used to develop “the river strategy”—a tactic devised to interrupt transmission of poliovirus along the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo.This effort used imagery to identify settlements along the river, visualize potential trade routes and related population movement patterns, and facilitate vaccine distribution logistics by examining navigation patterns. Analytics were subsequently used to evaluate the geographic coverage of house-to-house vaccination teams; assess team performance and campaign coverage; collect location coordinates for all suspected polio cases; track post-campaign coverage surveys; and collect microcensus data to support imagery-based population estimates. The granular geospatial reference data collected in Nigeria for polio eradication also resulted in the Vaccination Tracking System (VTS) platform, which is arguably the most complete synthesis of population and health program data in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2015, this system was adapted and successfully repurposed to avert the spread of Ebola within Nigeria.

The VTS has also provided the foundation for a major breakthrough in the field of demography, resulting from a collaboration among the Geographic Information Science and Technology (GIST) Group at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Sweden-based Flowminder Foundation. This group developed population estimates for gender and standard 0-12-month and five-year age groupings at a resolution of 90 meters, based on settlement feature extraction and microcensus data.

The creation of this extensive GIS infrastructure in Nigeria led to additional base-mapping efforts in the other Lake Chad Basin nations of Cameroon, Chad, and Niger, as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, and Somalia. These activities revealed significant data gaps such as the identification of hundreds (Mozambique, Somalia) and sometimes thousands (Nigeria) of previously unrecorded place names and error rates in authoritative data that have been known to exceed 50 percent.

This work also spurred the formation of two informal, virtual stakeholder GIS working groups with representation from the U.S. government, UN, and private organizations and NGOs for East and West Africa. These working groups afford an important opportunity to exchange information on planned and completed regional activities and a professionally curated library through which geospatial data, tools, and analyses can be shared among partners. This activity has facilitated the exchange of base layer data among local humanitarian efforts with regional and supraregional organizations in remote environments in Cameroon, Mozambique, and Somalia.

2. Civil and military conflicts also pose an obvious barrier to humanitarian and disease control efforts. In the face of limited authoritative geospatial and census data, a number of multilateral, humanitarian, and academic groups have designed innovative, multisourced solutions to conduct needs assessments, deliver services, and monitor human rights violations in the region. For example, Boko Haram insurgents have occupied and destroyed villages throughout Northern Nigeria since 2008. Airstrikes and military raids have wrought further destruction, leaving humanitarian agencies reliant upon imagery and analysis from donors and commercial entities to maintain situational awareness in non-permissive areas. Even with myriad resources used to identify locations and estimate populations, remotely sensed data have limitations and a network of reliable human informants is required to validate information gleaned in these high-threat areas. By fusing imagery analysis and fresh key-informant data, villages can potentially be described as sustaining complete structural damage or partially/fully intact—and potentially whether inhabited—informing how the flow of internally displaced populations and refugees is monitored within the region.

3. A combination of geospatial data, imagery, and activity-based analysis has also been used to investigate and respond to outbreaks of guinea worm disease in humans, dogs, and baboons. Individuals are infected through the consumption of water contaminated with the parasite’s larvae. Breaking the transmission cycle requires the treatment of water sources to kill the larvae in the intermediate host, identification of other cases in the area, and preventive efforts through education and water filtration. Mounting a comprehensive response thus requires identification of all stagnant water features proximal to areas inhabited by infected humans, dogs, and baboons. In remote areas of Ethiopia, where the disease was detected in a baboon troop, authoritative geospatial data are sparse, and, while maps displaying water features may be available, seasonality plays a major role in water level, flows, etc. Thus, seasonally accurate, high-resolution imagery granular enough to reveal large game trails and walking paths used by baboons and humans to reach water sources was critical to formulate a response plan. Two-dimensional printed paper maps, rather than tablet- or computer-displayed imagery, also played a key role in communicating with local guides unfamiliar with digitally displayed data. In this case, the provision of technical assistance in addition to geospatial assets has not simply supported guinea worm eradication efforts in southwestern Ethiopia, it also increased GEOINT capacity where there was little and introduced new ways to approach a complex logistical problem.

Capacitating Access and Utilization

In addition to these examples, potential use cases with benefits that extend beyond the Global South are plentiful. For example, service delivery to refugee and internally displaced persons (IDPs) could benefit significantly from improved data fusion. While the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and NGOs strive to maintain current maps of IDP and refugee camps, these data are not always geo-referenced and thus opportunities to integrate multiple data types may be missed. The creation of “neighborhood” level maps that enumerate households would facilitate linkage of specific populations with appropriate services and follow-up. In the absence of such granular data, it may be incumbent upon residents to seek social, health, and protection services, which may be difficult for the infirm, aged, unaccompanied children, or women without freedom of movement. Geo-referenced, neighborhood-level, multilayer IDP and refugee camp data could also be used to evaluate the equitable distribution of services and, in conjunction with human activity patterns, monitor security incidents within the camp, while simultaneously assisting with situational awareness throughout the host area. Finally, this type of data affords an extension of services for returnees and protection monitoring as people transition from the care of agencies, such as UNHCR and implementing partners, back to their areas/countries of origin.

The increasing role of GEOINT as a form of social, political, programmatic, and technical currency is a countervailing influence on multilateral efforts to build sustainable technical and human capacity. In the absence of an incentivized sharing culture, a unified effort by the global development community can be successful in breaking this data-sharing impasse. One such effort is the Geospatial Reference Information Database (GRID) project, which aims to create open-source geospatial reference layers in priority developing countries selected by donor-partners, along with building local capacity to use, manage, and sustain the datasets at the country level. Co-funded by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, GRID will engage the United Nations Population Fund to support geo-referenced national censuses in all countries, which represent the “gold standard” in reference data. A key requirement of GRID is countries must be willing to expose their base reference data layers to include settlement names and locations, key points of interest, validated administrative boundaries, and GIS-modeled population estimates to a global, public platform. Such significant and freely available GIS infrastructure can directly improve digital democracy and potentially attract further investment, which could bolster the labor market for geographers, GIS specialists, and related expertise.

Additionally, several for-profit firms such as DigitalGlobe, Planet, Google, and Esri facilitate access to the imagery, data, tools, and expertise required for humanitarian and other activities consistent with their missions. In the non-profit sector, organizations such as Radiant Earth offer free access to open-source satellite, aerial, and drone imagery archives from across the globe, alongside the analytic tools that enable greater access for organizations with less technical and financial resources. Other opportunities to link sky and field lie in the integration of geospatial data with complementary computational capabilities such as AI and ML—as Palantir and the Carter Center have effectively demonstrated through the Syria Conflict Mapping Project. Through these efforts, the playing field is slowly being leveled to create parity between those with the greatest capacity and those whose access is currently dependent upon educational institutions, donors, or fee-for-service expertise. Access to free imagery, geospatial data, and analytic capacity alone is a social good in that it moves forward academic research on modeling and methods for validation. However, significant unmet needs awaiting creative and synergistic solutions remain, so continued support for robust, open-source GEOINT tools and expertise is essential to provide effective and sustainable support to the Global South.

Headline Image: A child is vaccinated against polio in the Central African Republic, November 2017. Photo Credit: UNICEF CAR

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Finding Your Passion Wed, 31 Jan 2018 17:44:07 +0000 Q&A with Andrea Keilholtz, vice president, Whiteboard Federal

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Andrea Keilholtz, vice president, Whiteboard Federal

Andrea Keilholtz has spent just more than a year as vice president of Whiteboard Federal, an analytic and software engineering firm focused on data science and cloud technology. After graduating from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, she found work supporting an Intelligence Community (IC) map library, where she helped manage the transition from hard copy maps to digital data as well as the creation of geospatial repositories. With nearly 30 years of experience in the geospatial field, she has gained expertise in geospatial engineering, project management, systems engineering, business development, government contracts, and more.

What is your advice for young, aspiring GEOINT professionals?

Find your passion. See if you can turn it into a viable opportunity. I went to college for landscape architecture. In my third year of design, we were introduced to GIS technology and I absolutely fell in love with it. Because my parents were in the IC, I spent 13 years living overseas. That experience developed my interest in geography, people, and cultures, and that integrated well with GIS.

My career was always about supporting the mission. Creating, searching, and retrieving geospatial data and creating actionable intelligence to support the mission was my way of contributing to the GEOINT discipline. Every day held a new challenge. Think about what aspect of the discipline related to geospatial science or intelligence is attractive to you, follow that, and see where it can lead.

How do you keep your team on pace with the industry’s constantly evolving IT and data needs?

Whiteboard Federal is great about providing training to individual employees. We have a lot of self-motivated people that train on their own through reading and online classes. We also have a significant annual training budget allocated to every single employee in the company, along with an additional 40 hours of chargeable training time. A huge percentage of this company takes advantage of that.

In addition, we have a bounty program for technical certification. We offer employees between $500 to $1,000 to obtain certifications in topics that are in high demand or are required for specific contracts. Quite a few of our people pursued certifications in 2017, so we’ll run the statistics and hopefully that will motivate even more people to do so next year.

What have you learned about being an effective, motivational leader?

The most important attribute is to listen. Listening applies to everyone: your employees, customers, and management. I place a great deal of value on people—your employees are your most valuable resource. I’ve had lots of employees follow me from one company to another and I take that as a compliment. Keeping employees happy and resolving issues immediately leads to a positive work environment.

What excites you most about the future of GEOINT?

In the last several years, the latest “big thing” is cloud technology. Really, that is just a mechanism for dissemination and storage of all the data we have managed to acquire or produce. As we’ve come to terms with moving our data to the cloud, I feel we are back at the point where the stall in geospatial technological development is about to end. Our attention is no longer diverted to solving the data management problem, so we can concentrate on exploring what fantastic new applications and analysis we can do with our data. I think we’re back on the upward slope of this roller coaster—it’s going to explode again.

How has USGIF membership helped your career?

I became involved with the Foundation in 2004, the first year of USGIF’s existence, and have attended all but two GEOINT Symposia. I’m a longtime member of the USGIF Planning Committee and was also the co-chair for the Interagency Working Group.

I find immense value in the convergence of like-minded people with the same passions into a forum where we can discuss industry trends and figure out how to disseminate geospatial information. Through USGIF working groups, the planning committee that organizes forums and meetings throughout the year, and certainly the Symposium itself, I was given the opportunity to connect with senior people at major intelligence organizations. I stay in contact with all the friends I’ve made through the network, and who I would’ve never met without USGIF.

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The Vanguard of Commercial GEOINT Wed, 31 Jan 2018 17:20:46 +0000 From self-driving cars and “drones as a service” to crowdsourcing exercise routes, the commercial world continues to leverage GEOINT in new and creative ways

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First we told our devices how to locate themselves, then we gave our computers the power to parse the profusion of data those devices generate. Now, those devices are returning the favor by providing useful information about the world around us. But many of us have only begun to realize all the possibilities these changes have opened after creeping up on us from multiple directions.

“We sort of slouched into it,” said Dr. Todd S. Bacastow, a professor of practice at USGIF-accredited Pennsylvania State University. “It’s certainly been within the last five to 10 years that we’ve begun to see this massive amount of data and all the opportunity within it.”

Around 25 years ago, only approximately 15 percent of the information collected in the world was geo-tagged, observed Dr. Steven D. Fleming, a professor of spatial sciences with the University of Southern California’s Spatial Sciences Institute, which is also accredited by USGIF to grant academic GEOINT Certificates.

Now? “Most of the world’s data is geo-tagged—I think it’s 85 to 90 percent,” Fleming said. “We know where a banking transaction starts and where it ends. We can track digits. We can certainly track where people are.”

That’s the story of how geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) has generated new perspectives on the natural and built environment. But the next chapter—how companies take these possibilities and turn them into new products and services—includes many plot twists.

These four companies illustrate only a few of many ways the commercial world is leveraging the power of GEOINT.

Teaching Cadillacs to Drive Themselves

The form of GEOINT many people know best is the digital map—for example, the latest Geography 2050 conference in New York City focused entirely on mobility. The ability of a phone to locate itself and then offer directions customized to traffic conditions was the stuff of science fiction 30 years ago. But as impressive as the digital cartography of Google and others can be, it’s not precise enough to feed directly to a self-driving vehicle.

So Cadillac decided to commission its own maps before it could include its highway-only Super Cruise self-driving option in the 2018 CT6. The carmaker turned to a Livonia, Mich., firm named Ushr to take navigational mapping to the next level.

“The difference about an autonomous driving map versus a navigation map, we’re concerned about the lane delineators, the slope of the road,” said Chris Thibodeau, senior vice president of Ushr. “In a navigation map, none of that information is needed.”

Plus, an autonomous driving map needs accuracy beyond what GPS can deliver—down to 10 centimeters. Ushr sent cars packed with LiDAR sensors on a tour of America’s highways—220,000 miles driven since 2013.

“It took us about a year and a half to collect and process all that data,” Thibodeau said.

Layered over original LiDAR imagery, Ushr roadway data includes details like cross-slope, lane width, lane markings, and more, all globally geo-referenced to sub-10 centimeter accuracy. Data is available every 0.5 meters along the road. (Image credit: Ushr)

In September, I had the opportunity to take a CT6 on loan from Cadillac for a test drive from Washington, D.C., to Cleveland, and the results were a kind of magic: Once the CT6 recognized it was on a highway in its database, a steering-wheel icon lit up on the dashboard to advise me that Super Cruise was available. I’d press a button to activate this mode, and the top of the steering wheel illuminated in green to show the car had taken over.

Informed by its database, the CT6 stuck to a lane as if it were a rail, slowing and accelerating as needed to compensate for traffic around me. All I had to do was keep my eyes focused on the road ahead—something the car itself watched for, using an inward-facing camera to ensure I was still paying attention.

Ushr is now looking to drive down the costs of its mapping solution, in part by applying machine learning techniques to recognize road features such as stop signs and crosswalks.

“We’re also spending a good amount of engineering resource today on basically automating those feature identification and feature extraction algorithms,” said Brian Radloff, Ushr’s vice president of business development. He added this would allow Ushr to begin mapping secondary roads.

Cadillac might not need that data—company president Johan de Nysschen told me in 2016 that bulky LiDAR sensors needed to detect pedestrians would not fit with a Cadillac’s style—but Ushr has other customers in mind.

“Some municipalities are looking at potentially using this data [in place of conducting their own surveys] if it’s accurate enough,” Radloff said. “When Amazon’s talking about things like drone delivery having a very precise HD map those drones can follow [it could] be another kind of further-out-there application of this technology.”

Bringing Eyes to the Skies—For Rent

Unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as drones, are one of the most public symbols of GEOINT’s new era. But many companies that could benefit from the ability of drones to extend human senses to places that are difficult or dangerous for humans to reach lack the budget and expertise to buy their own systems.

That’s where D.C.-based Measure comes in, offering drones and analytical tools clients can hire for particular jobs. This business model—what it calls “Drones as a Service”—has given the firm extensive insight into what drones can and cannot do.

“Agricultural is probably one of the most overhyped applications for drones,” cautioned Abigail Lacy, Measure’s vice president of sales. “Anybody you talk to who’s been in the drone space for more than two years would probably tell you that.”

A drone’s different perspective can, however, make a difference at the margins by gathering data points about exactly where in the field a crop is flourishing or struggling.

“A lot of them really derive from just having the eye in the sky—not just the RGB, but the NDVI,” Lacy said, referring to the Red-Green-Blue of traditional imagery and the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index that a near-infrared camera can produce to indicate the presence of live vegetation.

That, in turn, can allow for a more precise, cheaper application of fertilizer.

But many farmers remain skeptical. “They just tend to be slow adopters when it comes to technology,” she continued. “They’re really hesitant to drop money on all of this different equipment.”

Measure is more bullish about the potential for drones to provide insight for industries such as construction and energy. Lacy cited solar farms as one example, touting the ability of drones to answer questions before construction, such as: “How productive will the solar farm be?” and “Am I going to have water runoff issues on the site?” Once the site is in operation, drones can help identify malfunctioning panels.

Measure doesn’t disclose its rates, but Lacy cited internal research that the company’s service can yield $7,200 in annual savings on a 10-megawatt solar facility compared to traditional inspections.

She noted drones don’t just operate at a lower cost than manned aircraft, they can also get lower to the ground. The firm relies mostly on visual and thermal cameras.

“We are keeping a close eye on how LiDAR is evolving,” she said, but added that so far costs are too high and quality is too low.

The firm also often has to deal with a lesser GEOINT hindrance—every company seems to have its own proprietary software. “You’ll get 15 different software providers that all have a unique system,” Lacy said.

Measure hopes automated data processing will cut down on its own overhead, but the real “game changer” would be automation of a drone’s flight—which, in turn, will require a loosening of regulations that today ban drone flights beyond a human operator’s visual line of sight.

Fusing Maps and Live Data

Now that so many mobile devices come equipped with GPS receivers—meaning the apps on those devices can also geo-tag user activities—coping with the massive scale of the resulting data becomes a challenge.

“As the variety of channels and devices that connect customers, companies, and physical assets increases, so too do the ways to measure and analyze spatial information,” a 2016 Forrester report observed. “One of the great challenges for effectively making use of location data has been integrating it with other data sets and analysis to provide deeper context and insight.”

That’s a big theme in the work of MapD, a D.C.-based firm that’s made a specialty out of integrating live data with maps.

One of its most fascinating demos tracks the last several weeks’ worth of geo-tagged tweets around the world, placing them on the map and color-coding them by language. Users can search for keywords and hashtags or just float the cursor across countries to see what is trending. For example, the large rectangle hovering over Finland turns out to be @EveryFinnishNo, a bot that tweets out the Finnish word for a new number every minute.

Another MapD demo offers a similarly granular look at ship movements around the U.S. from 2009 to 2015, both offshore and in lakes and rivers. “Tug” is overwhelmingly the most popular type of vessel, with more than five billion records.

MapD’s New York City taxi ride data set currently totals approximately 1.2 billion records. (Image credit: MapD)

A third demo provides a look at nearly seven years’ worth of taxi rides across New York City, from 2009 to 2015. During that time, cash transactions outnumbered credit, at more than 632.1 million cash transactions versus more than 510.8 million credit—while more than 2.2 million rides were recorded as going uncharged.

The massive computational power provided by GPUs is critical to these efforts.

“GPU computing is really going to take data to the next level and analytics to the next level,” said Monica McEwen, MapD’s vice president for U.S. federal customers. She pointed to how this revolution in processing power allowed Verizon Wireless to accelerate its analysis of network problems.

“Historically, they had to do that in batch mode,” she said. “Today, they’re looking at that in real-time.”

Also important: Ensuring interfaces scale up to meet a density of data she predicted will mean “being able to display literally billions of records and have a response time in the milliseconds.”

“The pure volume of [data] makes it nearly impossible to present it in a fashion in which people can make meaningful sense of it,” McEwen said. As a result, MapD’s interfaces let users easily add or remove layers of data so they can focus on particular variables.

Crowdsourcing Exercise Intelligence

Strava, a workout-tracking app popular with many cyclists and runners, has a different challenge to address. Mashing up the location reports it gets from users can inform individual Strava athletes looking to find popular routes on its heatmap.

That trove of data soon caught the attention of urban planners, and that led to a complementary product: a database of cycling and pedestrian activity over time called Strava Metro.

“We started hearing from departments of transportation who said, ‘This is cool, but we can’t see the temporal details,’” said Brian Devaney, sales and marketing lead for Strava Metro. “We had to figure out a way to get all those GPS pulse points and aggregate them and anonymize them.”

Strava’s Global Heatmap of New York City reveals popular routes and activities. (Image credit: Strava)

Combining the heatmap with Metro required the firm to address privacy risks.

Part of its answer is privacy options. Users can choose to place a geo-fence around a home, office, or other location, hiding it and the last 500 meters of a route from the view of others. A more comprehensive enhanced privacy option suppresses even more data from the feeds of other Strava users, down to your last name.

The company won’t say how many users have exercised either option, but many customers never touch the default settings. To keep their information safe as well, Strava aggregates individual GPS measurements without reference to where users started and ended their workouts. The result is an alternative map in which a major highway like Interstate 66 in northern Virginia vanishes from view, while the bike trail next to it glows yellow but leaves no hint of where along the path one person started or ended their ride or run. Strava’s underlying maps, developed by D.C.-based Mapbox on top of cartography from OpenStreetMap, automatically show bike-and pedestrian-hostile roads in gray. Even in small towns like rural Lincoln, Va., enough users walk, run, or bike to leave a dense web of trails on Strava’s heatmap. To use this to get a sense of an individual’s whereabouts, you’d need to know where they live first.

Strava Metro, launched in 2014, offers customers not just the heatmap’s static view (updated once a quarter) of overall movements but also minute-by-minute data about how many people went in one direction on one street. Again, the company boils its data down to GPS points, this time showing direction and time, while removing everything else.

“We do buffer for privacy,” Devaney said of the company’s decision to obscure the start and end of a workout route.

And users can opt out of having their data used in Metro at all, although only “a fraction of a percent” have done so.

Customers such as city and state transportation departments as well as cyclist advocacy organizations use this data to plan or push for improvements such as bike lanes and wider sidewalks, then audit how the new infrastructure performs.

They can learn what corridors are most busy during peak commute times versus on weekends,” Devaney said. “A lot of groups are using the data to understand how behavior changes after they put in infrastructure.”

You can imagine that this data would also be enormously attractive to such businesses as athletic-wear manufacturers, but Strava has chosen to limit its sales of Metro data to organizations “working to influence policy and infrastructure.”

Eschewing commercial use of data gathered from workout-tracking apps happens to line up with one of the core privacy principles put forth last year by the Future of Privacy Forum.

What’s Next? Megacities, Drones, and Small Sats

In terms of its commercial evolution, GEOINT is barely old enough to run for office. What could it look like by the time this roughly 25-year-old discipline is old enough to run for president?

USC’s Fleming said a larger trend—humanity’s move to large cities, in which the height and volume of buildings make the traditional references of GPS unusable or suspect—will force a switch to more resilient location technologies that work better inside and next to large structures.

“We’re piling up people along the coastlines of the world, so we have to deal with megacities better.”

Many smartphone users have already seen this problem when location-based apps lose a GPS signal, decide a nearby WiFi router that happens to have been moved from one venue to another is just as valid, and vault the user to a spot miles away.

Fleming also expects drones to become even more on-demand, “where everyone expects them to be around and they’re providing things like public safety services.”

But a world in which the whine of quadcopter rotors is a normal part of the background din may take some persuasion by drone vendors.

Fleming’s colleague Andrew Marx pointed to a different form of GEOINT system: small sats.

“The advantage of a small sat is you can build up an activity of an object,” Marx said. “You can have so many repeat observations.”

But adding this temporal dimension to GEOINT will require further innovation to display it. The tasks MapD and Strava already face will only grow more arduous.

“It’s a struggle, because we’re trying to depict things in four dimensions,” Marx said.

Penn State’s Bacastow, meanwhile, warned about two trends people might not appreciate as much.

One is which countries are focusing their efforts in this area. “Many of our students in AI and deep learning are not from the U.S.,” he said, referring to a recent presentation by the University of Missouri’s Dr. Curt Davis. “Counting publications, you’d find that scholars from other countries, such as China, have a significantly larger number of publications than scholars from the U.S.”

Another is how different generations view the privacy implications of having their geo-location harvested by smartphone apps. Bacastow recounted a freshman seminar he taught two years ago about geospatial privacy.

“I thought students would be concerned and engaged in a seminar about their loss of privacy,” he said. “Quite honestly, they didn’t care. For them, while they understand the loss of their location privacy, as one student put it, ‘I want my pizza delivered to the right place with the push of a button.’”

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Draftsmen and Road Scouts Fri, 26 Jan 2018 15:34:21 +0000 The lost art of paper mapmaking

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Before Google Maps and other digital services took over the field of personal navigation, skilled cartographers drew and maintained paper roadmaps by hand.

National Geographic released this video from 1940 explaining how maps in pre-WWII-era America were created. The labor was split between two main roles. First, tireless road scouts would traverse the country in pairs, recording road changes in a to-scale graph book. While on the road, these data collectors checked their new findings against existing United States Geological Survey topographical sheets, recording mountains, canyons, rivers, and mileage between locations.

Upon their return, scouts turned the data over to draftsmen: the talented artists responsible for drawing lines and symbols that represented current road conditions. This was done on transparent sheets laid over an original master map (not unlike a layer or filter over a digital base map). Once the overlay sheet was complete, it would be removed and photographed onto a glass negative. That negative would be transferred to a zinc plate, which, after being washed, would be ready for the printing press.

Most modern mapping services have abandoned paper as a medium and transitioned entirely to web-based platforms. Though they’re largely considered passé, paper maps are still being created in small corners of the mapmaking community. Niche customer bases sometimes need traditional maps to find their way in the absence of a network connection, or need specialized maps with case-specific information such as hiking trail junctions.

The Atlantic published a Q&A with one such cartographer named Tom Harrison who’s been independently making and selling paper maps since the 1970s. Like road scouts in the ‘30s, Harrison used to begin his mapmaking process by hiking a park’s entire trail system, recording routes and boundaries by hand with a measuring wheel and a GPS. That’s become a rare practice. Harrison now uses an Adobe Illustrator software plugin to read and make use of GIS data from park and forest agencies, improving map accuracy and cutting down time spent on data collection. Cartography is still a delicate and painstaking art, though; Harrison often works on individual maps for years before deciding they’re ready for sale. His meticulous work preserves the history and the tradition of this ancient, specialized art.

Photo Credit: National Geographic

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Mapping Merriment Fri, 22 Dec 2017 18:07:57 +0000 Santa trackers, holiday traffic maps, and white Christmas weather reports

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Children around the world are counting down the hours until St. Nick leaves his North Pole factory to deliver this year’s bounty of toys. To watch Santa’s journey and estimate when his sleigh will touch down in your neighborhood, North American Defense Command (NORAD) is once again offering its official Santa tracker.

Though the command’s tradition of tracking Kris Kringle has been upheld every year since 1958, the technology NORAD uses today yields far greater precision than in decades past. The Verge reports essential tools include the military’s Space Based Infrared System (which can locate Rudolph’s glowing nose), the North Warning Radar System along the Canadian coast, radar on naval ships, and fighter jet escorts.

In the spirit of following Santa’s global journey, National Geographic released a vintage map from 1955 that illustrates Father Christmas at hundreds of stops around the world—dodging crocodiles in West Africa, climbing the pyramids in Egypt, riding an elephant in India, and lounging on the beach in Florida.

Santa won’t be the only one traversing the globe. AAA projects more than 107 million Americans will travel for the holidays, a 3.1 percent increase from last year and the highest estimate ever.

In preparation of the country’s most active travel season, Esri published an interactive ArcGIS map of traffic trends surrounding the five busiest airports in the U.S. Using data collected for the last three years on Dec. 23 (a peak travel day) by mapping company HERE, the maps display a 24-hour cycle of how traffic will change over the course of the day. Animated GIFs show how far travelers will be able to drive in 60 minutes from LAX, Dallas Fort-Worth, O’Hare, JFK, and Hartsfield-Jackson airports at different times. Commuting to Connecticut from JFK, for example, could take 40 minutes at midnight or 80 minutes at 2 p.m.

For those hoping for a white Christmas, Vouchercloud developed maps and charts visualizing every country and U.S. state’s chances of seeing snowfall Dec. 25. Globally, Russia tops the list with a predicted 60.9 percent chance of snow, followed by Belarus and Finland. Stateside, Alaska predictably takes the crown with a 66.1 percent chance of snow. Most of the southern half of the U.S. won’t see a single snowflake, with the exception of New Mexico, which is an outlier at 23.4 percent. Each location’s chance of snowfall was calculated using December snowfall data collected by World Weather Online from 2009 to 2016.

Photo Credit: National Geographic

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Uncloaking Adversaries through GIS Mon, 18 Dec 2017 22:02:45 +0000 Using GIS for Activity Based Intelligence

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In modern conflicts, adversaries hide in plain sight. Their intentions are often disguised in overwhelming volumes of data. Intelligence organizations are implementing Activity Based Intelligence (ABI) to uncloak these adversaries. ABI applies geographic thinking in new ways to help solve today’s complex intelligence problems.

At any given moment, every person, thing, place, or activity is connected to place and time. This spatiotemporal data is essential for intelligence. It is captured by sensors, transactions, and observations, which intelligence analysts can bring together in a Geographic Information System (GIS). GIS manages data that’s critical to discovering the unknown. GIS analytic tools transform data into intelligence, which drives action.

Today’s challenge is scaling out this workflow to the entire intelligence community, moving ABI practices from small, resource-rich teams to put them in the hands of every analyst. This will require organizations to harness the latest advances in technology and bring order to the growing volume of intelligence data.

Space/Time Data Conditioning

Activity data comes from a variety of sources and requires specific conditioning before it is useful. Location is the only common value across the data sources and can be used to integrate disparate data sources. GIS allows analysts to define rules to integrate multiple data sources. Integrating data shows patterns where none previously existed.

Insights combined (Photo credit: Esri)

A large volume of intelligence comes through manual intelligence reporting. These techniques might be Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) specialists watching drones or Human Intelligence (HUMINT) agents in the field. Structured observations become data points, which are integrated along with all the other sensor data, adding to the known intelligence data. After geo-referenceing, the data can be geo-enriched. This process connects observation data with foundation intelligence. Foundation intelligence provides context about the environment where these activities occur: cultural factors like religion, language, and ethnicity; the physical environment—urban or rural; and known locations like safe houses and meeting places. Connecting observations with known information gives critical context and helps find the suspicious activity within all the normal activity occurring around it.

Enabling a Spatiotemporal Data Environment

As the functional manager for geospatial, NGA, hosts the Intelligence Community GIS Portal (IC GIS Portal). While Sue Gordon was deputy director of NGA she stated “The IC GIS Portal, which is our first GEOINT service and provides easy access to NGA data, is now about two years old. Within that time, we’ve grown from zero users to almost 60,000 users worldwide.” This demonstrates the power of this data environment for supporting intelligence analysis, access to foundation GEOINT, and simple collaboration/sharing.

Access to this foundation intelligence and analyst reporting is critical to enabling ABI workflows. In addition, the GIS platform capabilities are expanding with cloud- based applications and services for real-time and big data analytics. GIS can connect to machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) systems to assist in automated intelligence production and alerting. Imagery will be connected to these systems to enable on-the-fly analysis and production. As new data types are integrated, analysts will be able to spend less time on data conditioning and more time on analysis.

Enabling the Analyst

Ultimately, for ABI workflows to be successful, analysts need to be able to use their cognitive ability to make connections in the data. They need to leverage a powerful suite of analytic tools and visualization capabilities to make sense of data. They need to be able to create products which expose their analysis along with the underlying data and workflows.

Integrate intelligence information using space and time (Photo credit: Esri)

ABI takes a discovery approach to building intelligence. Rather than merely providing updates on current intelligence, the ABI method calls for integrating all-source intelligence with other data to discover and monitor relevant information. With integrated data, analysts can discover a threat signature or indicator otherwise not discernable. 

GIS provides visualization and analytic tools for working with intelligence data. Maps, the foundational of a GIS, can be used to understand complex patterns and visualize the spatial importance and relevance of data at a specific time. Geospatial analysis tools can be used to find statistically significant patterns in the data and to help predict future outcomes. Analysts use these visualizations to explore data and to develop assessments.

Implementing an Activity Based Intelligence Platform

ABI is emerging as a formal method of discovery intelligence. With ABI’s foundation in spatial thinking, GIS technology is a key enabler. An enterprise GIS creates a spatiotemporal data environment capable of connecting analysts with foundation intelligence data and applications for analysis and production. These tools have been implemented successfully in many organizations and have proved to scale to even the most complex agencies.

  • If you are interested in learning more about how to leverage GIS technology and ABI methodologies in your organization, visit or contact us at

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Weekly GEOINT Community News Mon, 04 Dec 2017 18:33:29 +0000 DigitalGlobe Expands Partnership with AWS; Esri to Donate Software Licenses to Volunteers; General Dynamics Wins U.S. Army Contract; More

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Riverside Research Awarded NASIC Contract

Nonprofit Riverside Research won NASIC’s Advisory and Assistance Services, Geospatial and Signatures Intelligence contract. Riverside Research will provide the intelligence center with geospatial research and development, system acquisition assistance, and facilitation of outreach to the DoD and IC. The five-year, single-award contract is valued at $99 million and enables the nonprofit to continue a 15-year history of support to NASIC.

DigitalGlobe Expands Partnership with AWS

DigitalGlobe is now “all in” on its partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS), adopting the platform as its primary storage and analytics infrastructure. The company migrated its entire data library to AWS, providing customers instant access to more than 100 petabytes of imagery. DigitalGlobe is also leveraging the AWS machine learning suite (including new SageMaker algorithms) to build and train an intelligent database capable of predicting customers’ imagery requests based on past usage patterns.

Esri Signs Enterprise Agreement with Airbus

Esri recently entered into a global enterprise agreement with Airbus Defence and Space. The agreement will provide Airbus with spatial analytics through the ArcGIS platform, reducing costs and increasing speed to market for the company’s geographic information systems.

Esri to Donate Software Licenses to Volunteers

Esri will donate personal use licenses for its ArcGIS software to every URISA GISCorps volunteer who has taken a GIS Service Pledge to help support a good cause. Licenses, commercially valued at $6,000, will enable volunteers to address location-based issues of their own choosing. The donations will extend to recent disaster response teams including those working to assist the relief efforts following Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

General Dynamics Wins U.S. Army Contract

General Dynamics Information Technology was awarded the Mission Training Complex Capabilities Support contract by the U.S. Army. The IDIQ contract, valued as high as $975 million, enlists General Dynamics to supply simulation and live training support as well as logistical and administrative services to designated Army training complexes.

Octo Consulting Wins CMS Contract

Octo Consulting Group was awarded a $20 million blanket purchase agreement to support the adoption of agile methodologies at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Octo has already developed an agile training course and helped launch a center for enterprise agility at CMS, and will continue its support with hands-on agile coaching and policy transformation. The consulting firm previously helped implement agency-wide agile practices at the U.S. Patent and Trade Office, the Center for Disease Control, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

Peer Intel

OGSystems announced today the appointment of Peter LaMontagne, former CEO of Novetta, to its Board of Directors effective immediately. LaMontagne joins the four additional board members in advising OGSystems leadership in recruitment, investment, and employee development.

Photo Credit: Esri

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Weekly GEOINT Community News Mon, 27 Nov 2017 20:44:45 +0000 Congress Introduces Geospatial Data Act; IceEye to Provide Airborne Imagery to DoD; CA Technologies Issues Smart Government Challenge; More

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Congress Introduces Geospatial Data Act

Congress introduced federal legislation that aims to fill decades-old gaps in the governance of geospatial systems and technology. The Geospatial Data Act’s two bills, SB2128 and HR4395, would mandate the congressional oversight of the federal government’s spending on geospatial programs, encourage collaboration between agencies, and ensure public and commercial access to geospatial data through GeoPlatform. 

IceEye to Provide Airborne Imagery to DoD

Finnish imagery startup IceEye announced it will supply the U.S. DoD’s Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) unit with Earth imaging services through a new U.S. subsidiary. For now, the partnership will primarily entail the airborne collection of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data capable of persisting through clouds and inclement weather. Additionally, IceEye continues to develop SAR microsatellites, targeting a proof-of-concept launch before the end of 2017.

CA Technologies Issues Smart Government Challenge

CA Technologies announced its Smart Government Challenge, an open call for developers to submit innovative ideas for the U.S. government to use open-source software to improve the “citizen experience.” Such solutions may incorporate remote sensing into public transport systems or data banks. Up to five finalists will win $5,000 and the chance to compete for a $75,000 grand prize as well as an immersive training boot camp. Applications will be accepted through the end of December.

Airbus to Produce Digital Maps for French Defense Procurement Agency

Airbus and its four partners won a 10-year Sysnav contract to produce digital mapping components of an information system for the French Defense Procurement Agency. Called SI Geode4D, the system will be an active, one-stop portal for geography, ocean, and weather data and will enable a common operating picture throughout the Ministry of Defense.

Presagis Selects Tech Providers for GIS Data Management & Visualization

Presagis announced the selection of Esri, Vricon, and LuxCarta as technology providers for new GIS data management and visualization offerings. Presagis will leverage Esri’s CityEngine, LuxCarta’s terrain modeling, and Vricon’s point clouds and imagery to transform data into various training environments. The resulting data representations will be more realistic, responsive, and accessible.

Dewberry Hiring GEOINT Professionals

Dewberry is hiring geospatial practitioners in support of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s Multi-Intelligence Analytical and Collection Support Services and Janus geographic content management programs. Individuals with GEOINT production experience and security clearance are in demand. View current openings.

Photo Credit: IceEye

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