West Coast Geospatial Tech

A booming geospatial industry has emerged from a confluence of creativity and opportunity


Editor’s note: In this guest column, Andre Doumitt, founder and CEO of Digital AdopXion—a Los Angeles-based company that identifies emerging technology to fit the needs of the DoD and Intelligence Community—shares his insight on the geospatial science boom in the Western U.S.

Geospatial technology is rapidly piquing the interest of businesses in the Western U.S. Location intelligence and location-based services are gaining traction in many industries, and both are especially lucrative for commercial consumer marketing. Los Angeles-based Factual is changing mobile marketing with its location-specific, ad-targeting technology for mobile users. Companies such as Yelp, Groupon, and Samsung use Factual data to create user profiles with demographic, geographic, and behavioral information generated by analyzing geo-behavioral patterns.

Southern California-based CyberCity 3D is creating a real-world picture in a virtual environment, bringing context to mobility by automating the process of generating GIS-quality, 3D building models from satellite and aerial imagery. Meanwhile Telogis keeps track of mobile workforce and fleet assets for enterprise customers. Telogis provides a cloud-based location intelligence platform for companies with mobile workforces that require dynamic routing, real-time work order management, and navigation.

Geospatial technology company Locaid provides Nevada a geo-fencing capability that ensures people who use mobile devices for online gambling are doing so only within state boundaries.

University Incubation

According to Forbes, California companies receive 53 percent of venture capital funding in the U.S. Not surprisingly, many university programs in California also partner with venture capital firms. The University of Southern California’s (USC) Viterbi School of Engineering’s new Startup Garage is a business accelerator for early-stage technology companies. Recently, Startup Garage incubated Tilofy, a platform for discovery of global real-time information surrounding any geographic location. USC has also spun out ClearPath, which is developing a navigation system to find the fastest path by analyzing traffic sensor, weather, and accident data to predict traffic behavior. USC also fueled a technology called Strabo, which automatically converts map images into vector data and stores boundaries and map features as complete lines, rather than collections of pixels. The system was recently used to update voting precinct maps for Los Angeles County.

Investor Irwin Zahn funded San Diego State University’s Zahn Center, which includes two geospatial technology companies: PathGeo provides web tools for analyzing, engaging, and geo-locating social media for marketing, brand analysis, public opinions, and customer engagement; while Repeat Station Imaging specializes in rapid and automated image co-registration to support real-time change detection on-board an aircraft.

Imagin’ Labs, from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, focuses on monitoring and quantifying ground surface changes with sub-pixel accuracy. The company provides automatic registration of satellite and aerial images with accuracy one-tenth the size of a pixel, including raw imagery.

Small Satellites and R&D Rancheros

Upstream from satellite data analysis is data collection, and in this arena the combination of miniaturizing technology, declining prices, and government budget cuts have collided to create conditions where small satellites are poised for a range of new missions.

Companies such as Andrews Space in Washington state bring a range of services and technology to the SmallSat sector, but the heart of capability lies in California. Key founders of the niche include Stanford University, California Polytechnic State University, and federally funded research and development center The Aerospace Corporation. San Francisco and Los Angeles also have SmallSat clusters, with the former boasting Stanford University as well as companies such as SkyBox Imaging, Planet Labs, Pumpkin, and NanoSatisfi.

Also in Southern California are Teledyne Scientific & Imaging  (Thousand Oaks) and HRL Laboratories (Malibu), both part of the recently announced Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) Knowledge Representation in Neural Systems (KRNS) program designed to uncover new ways to help intelligence analysts probe into images, video, text, and other data sets to refine image analysis with artificial intelligence.

A Pixelshed Event

Commercial geospatial technology, combined with university programs and new ways to collect satellite imagery, has created a confluence of creativity and opportunity for future programs. The challenge is to understand how emerging capabilities can be applied to deliver value to end-users. Dual-use technology comes with broader market support that usually translates into lower costs. Perhaps it’s time to send more wagon trains West.

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