Everything is Cloudy in San Diego

In 1997, Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) moved its user conference from Palm Springs, CA to the San Diego Convention Center to accommodate a growing user base. From an initial 16-member user group meeting in 1981, the 2012 International User’s Group Meeting was 1,000x larger, perhaps around 15,000 attendees. The SDCC becomes a small town occupied by predominantly GIS aficionados.

Stairway to GIS Heaven

San Diego became “cloudy” for the week. The forecast calls for more clouds. I’m not talking about the large white puffy cumulo humilis clouds which foretell of nice day or the the cumulonimbus clouds which bring thunderstorms. No, ESRI has moved firmly and rapidly into the technology “cloud,” the environment of hosted services and remote racks of cheap storage space and multi-user accessibility.

ESRI and its acolytes (hmm..what to call? “esrians” (es-ree-ans) or “Dangermondites?” …I don’t know. I might want to be one some day so I want a term I’m comfortable with) are now BIG-TIME advocates of the Cloud and have partnered themselves with a BIG-TIME provider of cloud services – Amazon.

Yes, Amazon, via Amazon Web Services (AWS) is providing the back-end to ESRI’s cloud. Many people seemed to think ESRI was developing an in-house server farm to support cloud services. Nope. ESRI has contracted with Amazon and to some extent Microsoft Azure to provide back-end server and storage support of ArcGIS Online. No way ESRI could invest enough in building up-and-out a GIS specific server farm and not break the bank. Working with Amazon and Microsoft makes much more sense.

Amazon already provides ArcGIS support via AWS (link). In fact, AWS offers a complete cloud-based GIS solution for hosting both spatial data, performing GIS analysis, rendering maps, and then again pushing results to the ArcGIS Online cloud or to any user defined web site. Fantastically powerful and flexible.

Moving into the literal clouds are new consumer-grade unmanned airborne vehicles (UAV). Three such vehicles were on display. The opening plenary session demonstrated using the GPS-augmented video stream from a UAV to head’s-up digitize building and tanker truck footprints. At a distance of over a mile the video stream provided a means to capture data into a geodatabase in near real-time. The UAV sensor could be switched to thermal, as well, providing the ability to watch a man smoke a cigarette at 6,000ft. Most of these have battery-powered engines which last less than 45 minutes. Some are gasoline-powered and can stay aloft for a couple of hours. And a few are large gliders, which can be launched by hand, guided by remote control. A few DIY people have taken to making their own drones, outfitting them with iPhones or digital cameras, going so far as to “repurpose” a digital camera into a multispectral airborne sensor. Lots of talented people doing cool things these days.

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