Geospatial is Integral to Digital Information Infrastructure
The word ‘infrastructure’ conjures up images of big buildings, bridges, highways, bus stations, airports, and railway stations. All these are interrelated. For example, a multi-storey mall accessed by a simple single lane road can lead to huge traffic snarls and can be termed as a failure of infrastructure. But what kind of failure? Did the mall designers consider the access infrastructure? Did they estimate the possible footfall and the resultant traffic? If the mall housed high-end stores, then did they consider the kind of transport vehicles that would need a parking space? Or did the municipal authorities check the location and its access and failed to widen the road to a two-lane access, or maybe even deny permission to the mall developers?
Each of these failures have a common thread running through them — lack of information. Indeed, a well-planned city infrastructure is based on comprehensive and timely information collection, storage, availability, accessibility, and flow. This is what is otherwise termed as an ‘information infrastructure’. In the analogue domain, these were paper maps, tables, and text. Digital technologies further enabled information infrastructure through computers, databases, and text processing. The digital information infrastructure encompasses every technology from the Cloud to a cellphone and impacts every aspect of human activity.
Position and time are two important elements in such an information infrastructure. These are provided by geospatial and PNT technologies, which are themselves digital. Thus, they form an important part of the digital information infrastructure. However, it would be wrong to consider geospatial infrastructure and digital information infrastructure separately because the two have a symbiotic relationship. While CAD, BIM and geospatial technologies come together to create digital models of physical infrastructure, they also depend on the Cloud and communications technologies for data access and delivery.
Physical models have been used extensively by architects but digital models, called digital twins, are far more versatile as they enable planning, monitoring, and modifications as the work progresses. Spatial conflicts and interference with the as-built construction and the surroundings can be detected at an early stage and work arounds initiated before committing labor and materials to the actual construction. This consumes limited resources and leads to a greater economy of effort.
As the world moves from a regime of profligacy to a regime of sustainability, there is a need to optimize resource utilization and move beyond to resources reuse. A very common example is the reuse of wastewater for non-potable use. Space exploration is supported by many advanced technologies which recycle waste for reuse by astronauts. Sustainability has to move in this direction because the pressure of a growing population is impacting two limited resources — land and water. The ultimate goal of geospatial infrastructure and digital twinning is to provide information to help reach a situation where a perfect circular economy will produce minimum waste by repairing, recycling, and reusing resources. This will need maximum synergy between many technologies. Geospatial infrastructure needs to be aligned to be able to support these efforts initially on earth but later, as humankind begins to commercially exploit other celestial bodies, the Moon and Mars and beyond.
Prof Arup Dasgupta has been involved in geospatial systems since 1976 and has made significant contributions in satellite imaging, Geographical Information Science and convergence of information and communication technologies for spatial planning and development through spatial data infrastructure. A former Deputy Chief of ISRO’s Space Applications Centre, he is a founder member of the Indian Society of Geomatics. Prof Dasgupta is the recipient of several awards and has many papers and articles to his credit.
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