GEOINT will Become the Most Powerful Tool for a Country

Strides in visualization technologies enable us to visualize remote geospatial data and compute progress of works and threats, and provide timely mitigative measures, says Sajid Mukhtar, Chairman & Managing Director, Roter Group of Companies.

Space 4.0, which is closely intertwined with 4IR, is going to shape the future of Earth Observation. How are modern technologies like AI, Digital Twin, Big Data influencing the geo-intelligence community?

Space 4.0, a joint work of various governments, private bodies, society and politics, is going to enable geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) to be applied to a wide variety of fields and help solve problems.

Advances in remote geospatial sensors and major strides in in computing capabilities are already being harnessed in data analytics and Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality technologies. Add ability to transfer data at lightning speeds and we would be having face to face communication in a virtual world with no pandemic bringing us to a halt.

With the increasing global geopolitical tension, how do you view the potential of geospatial services and applications in the GEOINT sector?

For years the geospatial industry has been involved in planning, collection, processing and disseminating spatial data to provide intelligence about the national security and the operational environment. Technological advancements have made it possible to add time based data so that historical and current data can be visualized and intelligent projections can be made. Strides in visualization technologies enable us to visualize the remote geospatial data and compute progress of works and threats, and provide timely mitigative measures.

How is the UAV technology transforming the geospatial industry?

With advancements in information technology and the advent of cheaper and smaller sensors, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have become the ‘go to’ solution for all surveyors and mappers. Better integration with various payloads and the ease-of-use options offered by UAVs have started revolutionizing the way geospatial data is collected in many countries.

In the field of Remote Sensing, UAVs are helping to rapidly replace traditional surveying and conventional aerial photography by providing accurate survey data and high spatial resolution aerial images (orthophotos) of the area of interest. Compared to manned aircraft, which are used in conventional photography, UAVs are cheaper to acquire and operate, and produce similar or better spatial resolution images. For now, the UAV technology is only restricted by its flight time or endurance. With imminent innovation in battery technology and sensors, this disadvantage will cease to be relevant.

Better integration with various payloads and the ease-of-use options offered by UAVs have started revolutionizing the way geospatial data is collected in many countries

There is a need for India to expand its use and manufacture of UAVs. Do you think collaboration between the industry and the defense forces can make that happen?

Frankly, the recreational and commercial UAV design, development and manufacturing process is now very mature, and the production line is being automated. India was lagging behind because of the lack of clear guideline in manufacturing, ownership and use of UAVs. But with the proactive policy of the government in the last few years, the environment is changing.

Instead of focussing on reinventing the wheel, we should learn from the leaders to manufacture the same and apply our technical prowess to improve the current UAV technology, apply it in new fields, improve upon the payloads, make it safer, make it greener, etc.

Sometimes with all the media attention that we get, we forget that this is a vehicle and the miracle happens with the sensors mounted on it. The use and application of sensors is a different field than the vehicle that carries it. With our resources in mathematics and software skills, we should invest in adding to the miracle — AI to make the best use of this technology is just one of it.

Roter Group is a very unique company offering surveying solutions and services through its own portfolio and partner network. How does Roter’s comprehensive capabilities help its customers?

As a group, we have always been committed to serving the surveying and mapping industry with our equipment, software and services.

Since the times of my grandfather (way back in 1936), we manufactured instruments as import substitute used in construction of the Ganga Canal. Later my father introduced opto-mechanical instruments for surveying and then I had the opportunity of introducing opto-electronic, GNSS and LiDAR instruments and building strong software solutions around various applications. Now I see my son, who is the fourth generation, going a step ahead in large scale surveying and mapping by introducing state of the art UAVs. We finally completed 360⁰ surveying dream (land, air and underground) like no other company in the world.

When it comes to service, we provide specialized services like making 3D models of vehicle test tracks that are accurate to sub-millimeter levels that help the automobile industry to develop safer vehicles and lower prototype cycles. One of our achievements was to map the cavity formed in the Himalayas during a tunnelling work that had stopped the project for a couple of years.

How do you foresee the future of GEOINT?

With big strides in Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, the demand for data is going to shift from periodic data acquisition to continual acquisition. We are moving from the traditional information technology to an era in which information is provided at the point of need. With the opening up of the geospatial industry and Space 4.0, there is soon going to be a demand for miniature and nano satellites that cater to specific requirements. GEOINT is going to be one of the greatest collaborations of various technologies and would make neighbours of those living on the other side of our celestial ball.

India, with its vast technical resource, is poised to be one of the primary suppliers of these services and has a great chance to lead on this road, and become a ‘Vishwa Guru’.