March 2016

Counteracting Climate Change

17 March 2016

Paris, December 2015, 50 000 people attended COP21 – the United Nations conference on climate change. The attending 195 countries agreed on a 1.5 degree temperature increase from pre-industrial time.

As winners in the UN Momentum for Change awards, NGIS Australia’s Nathan Eaton and CRCSI Program Manager Nathan Quadros spent five days being part of this global gathering and presented the Mapping Sea-Level Rise work they have done in the Pacific.

“The feeling during the conference was amazingly positive”, said Nathan Quadros.

“One of the remarkable speeches for me was going to the session with the leaders of the Pacific countries including Prince Albert of Monaco and Mary Robinson former President of Ireland. The message was that while other leaders had come and gone all the Pacific Island leaders were still at the conference. These people recognise climate change as their major challenge, with those least emitting nations to be the first victims of climate change. The leaders of Kiribati, Tuvalu and Tokelau all spoke passionately about the need for a resolution”.

Past conferences focused on the monetary cost of climate change in changing how humans interact with the world. At COP21, there were examples of cost savings and business opportunities. The Climate Council of Australia calculated there have been 4.7 million new jobs created worldwide in renewable energy since 2009 and clean energy investment has grown by 50% .

Business is now seeing opportunities and government are seeing savings. Bertrand Piccard invented the Solar Pulse plane which flies without fuel. Mayor Simon Richardson from Byron Shire (NSW) spoke of the LED installation in street lights that led to $600 000 a year in savings.

Nathan Quadros had some stand-out moments.

“The project which stood out for me was the Fairphone. An environmentally and ethically sourced phone. You can also change the parts and upgrade it so that you don’t have to throw it away. An amazing concept which focuses on the supply chain; accessing standard manufacturer parts from China. There were also a few projects on solar for the poor, including cheap solar for households and solar for pumping and heating water. Some of these projects are making a substantial difference to people’s lives in developing nations”.

Nathan Eaton spoke about the “optimism that we have turned the corner with reducing emissions and we are now starting to win the war against climate change. There are opportunities to generate real investment and outcomes with climate-friendly initiatives”.

This story has been adapted from reports written by Nathan Quadros and Nathan Eaton, December 2015.


The Communication Nub

With Jessica Purbrick-Herbst

It's March already and as the seasons creep towards the crack of winter, I bring you the first CRCSI News edition for 2016. It's definitely worth the wait.

We are kick-starting the year with the annual CRCSI Communication Survey. The survey takes just a few minutes and provides you with an opportunity to give us feedback on how well we are doing with our communication; content, frequency and delivery. Click here to take the survey now. Your feedback is valuable and your answers are anonymous.

Highlights this month:

  • A few more stories from the CRCSI conference journalist Karen Cambrell
  • The British Medical Journal publishes the findings from the CRCSI project on Type 2 Diabetes – click here to download the story
  • The two Nathans talk about their time at COP21 in Paris and the positive impacts in climate change
  • We farewell Ed Garvin of OMNILINK after six years on the 43pl Board and welcome new faces
  • Mental Health outcomes transfer into better support from the New Zealand Government through research conducted by the CRCSI PhD student, Daniel Hogg.

Enjoy the newsletter and as always, feel free to drop me your comments here. And don't forget to take our survey now.

Jessica Purbrick-Herbst
Communication Manager

43pl Update

From David Sinclair

The CRCSI Annual Conference 2015 held in Melbourne in November was highly regarded by delegates, providing a quality program and numerous opportunities for attendees to participate and influence.

There were some challenging presentations that set the conference mood. In essence:

  • Helen Owens, the Principal Advisor for Public Data Policy at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet set a positive and challenging vibe asking delegates to think entrepreneurial and to push spatial policy to lead innovation
  • Claire Foo, Information Services Division with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (Victoria) took up the challenge for Victoria, by pushing to grow the ICT industry via start-ups and innovation
  • Chris Boshuizen, co-founder of Planet Labs hit the spot on the changes and new opportunities in satellite technology, offering a clear expression of concepts, processes and applications. Chris moved to the Silicon Valley to pursue his dream about space and encouraged delegates to take risks to grow Australia’s space industry
  • Sanjay Kumar, founder and CEO of Geospatial Media and Communications talked of the opportunities for spatial in disruptive industries and its need for cross-sector skills. 

43pl blu rgbThe 13 panel discussions were well received and provided up-to-date information that allowed delegates direct input to the direction of programs and projects.

The discussion session on the future of CRCSI identified the priorities of the three colleges (Government, University and 43pl) and what needs to be further considered. The comments and feedback provided valuable information for setting the future direction of a new robust sustainable organisation.

The conference setting provided delegates reflection on the current work of the CRCSI, of the strong trusted relationships across the spatial industry, the bringing together of sectors in research and the new focus on innovation.

43pl has a leadership responsibility as the consortium of private sector businesses in the Australian and New Zealand economies.

In February the 43pl Board farewelled and thanked Ed Garvin from OMNILINK for his time and efforts across six years as a 43pl Board member. We welcome new Board members Nathan Eaton (NGIS Australia) and Mark Freeburn (AAM).

New Zealand R&D

LINZ Aug2012The first of its kind in the Australia New Zealand arena, the New Zealand Government, through Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) launched the New Zealand Geospatial Research and Development Priorities and Opportunities 2016 – 2020 (New Zealand Strategy) in December 2015.

Through extensive community consultation focused on end user needs with the public and private sectors, the strategy supports the CRCSI’s strategy and fosters stronger trans-Tasman collaboration.

The New Zealand Strategy is underpinned by five geospatial research themes:

  • Understanding the value of geospatial information
  • Increasing the use of geospatial information
  • Increasing the collection, validation and analysis of data
  • Improving the availability and intensity of geospatial information
  • Improving the standardisation and interoperability of geospatial datasets

The research themes have identified 40 opportunities for research and development with a further 140 specific opportunities.

The New Zealand Strategy will augment research and development to create additional economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits for both the end users and New Zealand as a whole.

The documents can be found here.

Big Innovations

Written by Karen Cambrell

Successful start-up founder, Chris Boshuizen, returned to Australia from his base in California to address the CRCSI's annual 2015 Conference. Chris grew up in Tumbarumba, near the Snowy Mountains in rural NSW and completed his PhD at the University of Sydney. He worked at NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley before founding Planet Labs with friends Robbie Schingler and Will Marshall.

PlanetLabs Portraits 052715 26411.IIQ.pPlanet Labs has pioneered developments in small, low-cost satellites and is well on the way to achieving its goal of imaging every point on Earth once a day. Each satellite is 10 x 10 x 30 cm and utilises mainly consumer-grade electronics, costing a mere fraction of major space-agency-built satellites like Landsat. The company was born of the frustration and curiosity of the founding team who wanted to know ‘why does space equipment have to cost so much?’ Early experiments involved capturing imagery with a smartphone launched into the air on a rocket in the desert, and enlisting the help of volunteers to download small packets of image data from a smartphone on board a weather balloon. Chris has described Planet’s cube-sat ‘doves’ as being like “webcams in space.” A ‘flock’ of up to 150 doves will fly in a single orbit at an altitude of approximately 400 kilometres, acting as a line scanner to image the Earth as it turns below. Planet Labs now operates the largest of constellation of Earth imaging satellites.

The company has rethought every stage of the Earth imaging pipeline. They don’t use traditional naming conventions for products because every image is available at any level of processing instantly and on demand via its website. “We keep the raw file forever and we keep a web-viewable version for people to look at. If somebody wants something like ‘orthorectified without top-of-atmosphere correction’ they can request it from our API and we’ll just generate it on the fly. It takes about half a second.”

So far the three big use cases for Planet Lab’s imagery are agriculture, resources and consumer mapping. The company is currently refreshing a whole-Earth map every 90 days, and is aiming to update this daily. The two biggest customers are Australian company Geoplex and US firm Woolpert. Both these companies use Planet Labs' data to create products that solve real problems for their customers.

One of Planet Lab’s most significant contributions will be to offer ‘change detection as a service’. Chris says that as a customer, you’ll be able to run a search query like "show me every forest in Eastern Australia that changed in the last month’ or you can just draw a circle around something you’re interested in and put a notification on it and say ‘notify me when this changes (with more than 70% confidence)’ and you’ll get an email. Instead of having to order an image, look at it and then make up your own mind whether it’s important or not, you can just mark your areas and get a notification about just the select few cases that matter and then go and look at it and say ‘no, that was nothing, that was noise… that was uninteresting… oh, ok that one was actually interesting.’ So it allows you to use your time more wisely I think.” Detecting change in lower cost, medium resolution imagery (Planet Labs' GRD is 2.9 metres) can also lower the overall cost of buying expensive high resolution data by reducing the number of images purchased.

“There’s two really big core innovations” Chris continues, “the low-cost satellites and the ability to process the information and get stuff out of it in an automated way. If we bring the volume of imagery that we might be able to bring, people can’t look at it all anymore. So it’s been a necessary requirement from the get-go that we’d be able to process images automatically, otherwise they are just locked up and we might as well not have taken them.”

Planet Labs currently captures RGB and near-infrared data and I asked Chris if there are any plans to add other sensors. “The surprising thing is we built 13 generations of satellites while I was at Planet Labs and there was always the same amount of free space, no matter how good the satellite got. We’d add a new feature, new component, new instrument and then we’d re-factor the design in the new generation and we’d get our free space back. Generation 13 has as much free space as generation 1 did and so I don’t think we’re at the end of the road.”

Addressing CRCSI conference delegates, Chris said he believes Australia needs ‘space activity’, not necessarily a space agency. He thinks we could benefit from more experimentation with low-cost technology and recommends revising regulations to make it easier to launch satellites.

Chris has recently moved on from Planet Labs to join a venture capital firm, Data Collective, as an Entrepreneur in Residence. His new role is to “help them look at other tech deals like Planet Labs. They’re one of Planet Lab’s biggest investors and they’ve lured me over to bottle up the secret sauce, they want more. Data Collective feel like they got to the party quite late at Planet Labs [and they want to get in earlier]. If no-one thinks of anything good, then I’m supposed to start it.” Watch this space.


Aligning Globe Capability with Global Challenges

Written by Karen Cambrell

“There’s no doubt there’s a revolution in spatial technology right now” says Jo Mummery, General Manager of the Open Digital Earth Foundation. "We have growing global connectivity, a huge increase in the amount of satellite data we’re collecting and a corresponding increase in computing power to process and analyse it".

QUT G20 Globe 091Jo explains we’re entering the Anthropocene – an era in which Earth’s ecosystems are significantly affected by human activity. Challenges accompanying this relate to the consequences of exponential growth in human population, changing climate patterns, ocean acidification, reducing biodiversity and growing social inequality – where gaps in income and access to technology are increasing within countries as well as between nations.

There’s a great opportunity for spatial globe initiatives to directly contribute to the global and regional challenges we face. Jo calls these digital systems that ingest, analyse and visualise spatial information ‘tools for the Anthropocene’. She says what’s needed is for globes to span scales from local to global; to be cross-disciplinary and flexible; to be accessible by the wider community; and to be capable of conducting complex analytics.

A globe’s ability to visualise information makes it a very powerful tool to communicate information so that it’s immediately and intuitively intelligible. Visualisation can help support decision-making and can overcome the barriers of specialised spatial education and jargon.

The Foundation is building on the Queensland Globe developed for the G20 Summit in Brisbane in 2014, which integrated more than 200 open datasets in a partnership across government, industry and the research sector. An innovative feature of the G20 Globe was that it visualised trade and economic data that is usually hidden away in spreadsheets. Globe users could explore, for example, supply and demand chains and trade between G20 nations. It could also be accessed in multiple ways, including through a smartphone app.

More than 170 million downloads of the Queensland Globe in one month (January 2015) demonstrated the huge demand for technology of this kind and sparked the gift of the globe intellectual property from the Queensland Government to the Foundation so it can be further developed for the public good. The Foundation promotes open data and engagement and communication between data custodians and end users. It will support research that can deliver measurable benefits and develop ready-for-use applications.

A clear priority for the Foundation is to support developing nations in terms of access to and ability to benefit from open spatial data and analysis. For example, the average cost of a natural disaster to a developed country is small, less than 1% of GDP. In least developed countries, the cost can be as high as 40%. Building capacity in these countries to use spatial information to inform prediction, response and recovery from natural disasters is one example of the work the Foundation plans to progress.

For a taste of the visual experience of interrogating a globe full of rich data, watch these two short videos (approx 1.5 mins each; note there is no audio):

If you’d like to interact with the Open Digital Earth Foundation Globe via the Google Earth interface, instructions are here.

Creating Land Surface Models, Ingesting New Data Sets and Positioning for Commercial Use

Written by Karen Cambrell

At the CRCSI's annual 2015 Conference in Melbourne, Dr Adam Lewis, Branch Head of National Earth and Marine Observations at Geoscience Australia, presented the latest developments regarding the ‘Data Cube’; a unique and innovative method developed by GA, CSIRO and the National Computational Infrastructure at the ANU, for storing and organising ‘big’ geospatial data. Adam spoke with me afterwards about three key future directions.

Developing land surface models for better decision-making

Just as there are numerical models for predicting the weather, Geoscience Australia is working on developing models that can predict land surface over time. Now that the Australian Data Cube is populated with observations through time, models can be created and tested against those observations. “So if we have a model of a cropping area... what do we expect it to look like and does it look like that? If it’s a forest and at one point it’s doing one thing, you should be able to say what it’s going to be doing at the next point in time, given that we know what it did last year and [we have rainfall and other climate data]” says Adam.

“Ultimately that’s what’s needed if you’re going to make decisions or if you want to know the impact of decisions. If we invest in growing a lot of trees or changing our water infrastructure or encouraging certain types of crops, then our ability to know whether those investments have had an impact depends on us being able to measure something. [Take for example] environmental water releases, what impact do they have? We should be able to see that in the vegetation and link water releases to vegetation responses and then start to define those water releases so they have maximum impact.”

Incorporating new data sets into the Cube

Landsat data was the first used to populate the Data Cube, but as Adam says “We’ve always been looking forward. We’ve always been thinking that this isn’t about Landsat data, this is about ‘how do we organise measurements of the land surface through three dimensions of space plus time?’”

datasets 1In adding more data sets to the cube there are a few problems to solve. One, says Adam, is dealing with multiple spatial resolutions. “To do that we’re working with the Open Geospatial Consortium to foster the idea of a discrete global gridding system, which now has a lot of uptake in the international community. We need a standardised gridding system that’s multi-resolution and allows us to cater for different data like MODIS, Sentinel-2 (all of which are different resolutions), going right down to the higher resolution data that companies like Planet Labs and SkyBox should produce.” Another hurdle is getting the calibration right between different data sets. When the measurements from two data sets are different, they need to be calibrated so they’re comparable. Algorithms also need to be worked out for each data set to remove the effects of the atmosphere.

“To progress this we’re working actively with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and NASA. They really ‘get it’, and have already introduced new terms like ‘analysis ready data’.”

Encouraging commercial uptake of the Data Cube

Adam says one of the areas GA wants to crack is how to interface with commercial data within the Data Cube. There are a couple of challenges. One question is how to get commercial end users interacting with the Data Cube so they can add value. The other is, in relation to commercial data producers, “can we help them explore the idea of data cubes as a way to store and exploit their own data to get better value out of it? Given the rapid growth in satellite image sources, the future for satellite operators may lie in marketing information that is extracted from the images, rather than in selling the images themselves. Innovations like Tomnod (now part of DigitalGlobe), which crowdsources image interpretation, indicate that we already have more images than we can actually interpret. We need more people, more computers, and more smarts to extract information in a timely manner. That suggests to me that the industry needs data cubes for high resolution data. There’s a lot of work to be done there.”


Weaving Stories into Research

Written by Luis Elneser, CRCSI PhD Student

I try to learn a new skill as often as I can, and one thing I learnt late last year was how to engage someone in my research idea, not just by presenting it but by weaving a story into it. This is a talent that comes naturally to some, as demonstrated by the great talks at last year's CRCSI Conference, but not so much for the rest of us who need guidance and practice to develop this skillset.

Student Day 2015As part of the Annual Education Day, we participated in a workshop to do exactly that, by crafting a clear and succinct three-minute pitch of our research with an underlining story to make it relatable to an audience that might not be familiar with the research topic. This is the storytelling approach done in many TED talks and mastered by our guides during the day who gave us valuable and seemingly counterintuitive feedback (I learnt not mentioning the word LiDAR when talking about LiDAR is an easy way to explain LiDAR) that helped in tailoring our talk and presenting it to a panel of business, government and university representatives.

Four of the student talks were selected to share our stories of hot & cool places, farmers’ spare time, pizza ovens, and trusting bungee ropes in the plenary session while the remaining stories were pitched during the three days of the conference to the multiple delegates. This experience has been quite meaningful for me as a first year student, first time attendee of an annual conference, first time meeting most of the fellow students and delegates, and first time presenting my research project to the CRCSI community. Throughout the conference week I not only learnt how to improve my communication skills but I also learnt some of the research stories of the CRCSI in the technical talks and in the people that drive them.


Global Trends and Stories

The recently published Geospatial World Annual Industry Insight report highlights the changing way we use technology. As the focus shifts from hardware to software and stand-alone products give way to system integration and solutions, businesses are getting impacted, ushering in an era of consolidation, collaborations and partnerships.

Geospatial industry technology trends predictions 2016Across the technology spectrum, there is a revolution in data acquisition; big data is becoming bigger, apps are becoming more popular and things are getting more and more connected in the era of the IoT. A copy of the industry insights can be downloaded from here

The February edition of Geospatial World magazine can be found here which highlights the outcomes of COP21 and an interview with CRCSI Program Manager Dr Nathan Quadros.

Conferences and Events

12 Apr 2016


1 Apr 2016

Digital Health Show

26 Apr 2016

GeoBuiz Summit USA