GWPrime


Dashboards Providing Unified Access

Geospatial applications have evolved from systems of record into analytical systems of insight facilitating understanding of complex problems.

Prof Josef Strobl

A few months ago, online dashboards were considered a domain of control centers, dispatchers and supervisors of industrial installations. Now, many of us have a daily look at one of these Covid-19 dashboards to understand the status of society and economy across regions. All these state-of-the-pandemic dashboards display a map as a core element, unlike many of their traditional industrial tech counterparts.

Dashboards are facilitated by networked streams of data, bringing different sources and types of data together into one view with the aim of supporting specific decisions. Time is a critical dimension, as decisions need to be based on up-to-date current information. Location matters too, obviously: actions need to be directed at the right place. Proximity, connectivity or other spatial relations are essential contexts.

My raid application

Geospatial applications have evolved from systems of record into analytical systems of insight, facilitating understanding of complex problems. For supporting decisions and action, we today rely on systems of engagement, where the outcomes of recent action are immediately recognized and perhaps even scenarios simulating the likely outcome of potential alternative actions are presented.

GIS has a long tradition in supporting long, multi-year feedback cycles. Established methods support spatial planning, watershed management or forest harvest periods, all sharing a decadal dimension of linking action to outcomes. Sensor data transmitted in real time have contributed to significantly shortening the decision cycles – geospatial tools for logistics, traffic management, personal mobility and emergency response are taking over as the predominant application domains.

When we work with data on human individuals, we will need to consider privacy implications – Live Human Geography will need a more critical approach than Live Physical Geography.

Changing role of maps

With this, the role of maps is changing, challenging the identity of some traditional minded cartographers. Most maps today are not considered documents, but interfaces. A static map might convey valuable detail, and might even evolve into a dynamic display showing change over time. More importantly, though, maps rather serve as a frame for dialogue. Users ‘ask questions’ by touching a map location, adjusting detail and launching queries. Many of these are linked to the present or future, like navigating to a destination considering current or expected traffic volume.

With a majority of activities being set in spatial context, the focus of geography is expanding from a discipline based on records and aiming at insights towards a discipline engaging citizens and/as decision-makers in everyday mundane tasks as well as in critical policy and operational matters. These decisions only make sense when supported with timely, valid and complete information. ‘Live Geography’ answers the questions of what/when/where by bringing together the dimensions of subject, time and location.

The need for situational awareness across the what/when/where dimensions in support of the ‘why’ of insight and understanding leading to the ‘how’ to act builds a framework of engagement across all facets of managing our societies.

Framework for engagement across facets

The earliest aim of dashboards typically was to present a COP, a common operational picture to create and maintain situational awareness in military or emergency contexts. These were the original Live Geographies in rapidly changing real time and spatially explicit decision environments. Today, this paradigm has taken hold in many other settings, with the benefit of -hopefully better-informed decisions.

This need for situational awareness across the what/when/where dimensions in support of the ‘why’ of insight and understanding leading to the ‘how’ to act builds a framework of engagement across all facets of managing our societies. In this column, we will continue to explore these facets and perspectives. These range from a global framework for Earth Observation to the smart environments and controls within buildings, and cover time scales from ad hoc decisions to human lifespans and beyond.

For a common technology foundation, we rely on sensors and connected networks. Sensors – remote and in-situ, mobile or stationary, physical or social – sometimes are compared to the skin of planet Earth. They report its status through data connections, making current data accessible and available pretty much anywhere. Looking at weather data, we will agree on undisputed benefits. When we work with data on human individuals, we will need to consider privacy implications – Live Human Geography will need a more critical approach than Live Physical Geography.

The term dashboard is derived from a car’s dash where sensor readings from the vehicle report information to the driver, who then operates various controls and actuators to steer the car to its destination. Today, we face difficult decisions when we aim at autonomous driving with the human operator at least partially taken out from the loop. Continuously sensing and assessing the state-of-Earth through pervasive sensor networks, we might sometimes wonder whether better to put the planet on autopilot, or to keep humans at the controls?

Author Bio

Josef Strobl heads the Department of Geoinformatics at the University of Salzburg and is a full member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. As a GIScience educator, he co-founded the worldwide UNIGIS online program and is engaged with the design and implementation of geospatial learning pathways from schools to postdoc experiences. Josef always looks forward to meeting friends and colleagues at the annual GI Forum symposia in Salzburg.