We are facing a global health crisis unlike any in the 75-year history of the United Nations — one that is spreading human suffering, infecting the global economy and upending people’s lives. A global recession — perhaps of record dimensions — is a near certainty.” These words by António Guterres, the ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations, underline the gravity of the current situation. While humankind is no stranger to crisis, there is something different about the COVID-19 pandemic — in a very short time span, the outbreak has led to unprecedented disruption on social, economic and health fronts.
Since this is a crisis “unlike any”, it requires an “unconventional” response, powered by cutting-edge technology. And perhaps that is why, countries around the world are adopting innovative methods backed by technological advances to answer critical Covid questions. An important aspect of this trend is the increasing use of geospatial data and technologies to minimize the impact of the pandemic — be it dashboards to highlight the number of cases in different locations; maps to indicate hotspots; or apps to track people’s movements.
While every nation faces unique challenges, the larger problems associated with the pandemic are similar, leading to governments introducing policies and reforms to expedite the adoption of geospatial technologies for social and economic revival, and growth. Let us have a look at what’s happening where.
Inarguably one of the leading nations in technology and innovation, the United States came up with several policy decisions this year to ensure steady growth for its Space industry. In May, the US Department of Commerce released new regulations to improve the licensing process for private satellite remote sensing operations in the country, to ensure continued US leadership in a critical commercial Space industry. In August, the Federal Communications Commission streamlined its rules of licensing for small satellites, making the licensing and application procedure easier, faster, and less expensive. The intention was to give a push to satellites that have shorter missions, less intensive spectrum use, and lower risk of producing orbital debris.
A month later, the White House released a new Space policy directive aimed at improving the cybersecurity of Space systems in the country. The directive, called Memorandum on Space Policy Directive-5 — Cybersecurity Principles for Space Systems, focused on fostering practices within government Space operations and across the commercial Space industry that protect Space assets and their supporting infrastructure from cyber threats and ensure continuity of operations.
“Examples of malicious cyber activities harmful to Space operations include spoofing sensor data; corrupting sensor systems; jamming or sending unauthorized commands for guidance and control; injecting malicious code; and conducting denial-of-service attacks. Consequences of such activities could include loss of mission data; decreased lifespan or capability of Space systems or constellations; or the loss of positive control of Space vehicles, potentially resulting in collisions that can impair systems or generate harmful orbital debris,” the directive said.
Further, the US Space Force released its first Space doctrine, which explains why Spacepower is a vital element of US prosperity and security, and guides its employment in multidomain operations. The doctrine underlines that the United States desires a peaceful, stable, and accessible Space domain, and that strength and security in Space enables freedom of action in other warfighting domains, while contributing to international security and stability.
With the objective of strengthening the country’s defense, the Pentagon in October released the US Defense Department’s first enterprise data strategy, which is aimed at overcoming the hurdles that prevent accessible data sharing across the military services. The strategy will enable the DOD’s impetus towards Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2). It captures the principles, essential capabilities and end goals needed for DOD to become a “data-centric organization”, with a focus on joint all-domain operations, senior leader decision support and business analytics. “Data is the ammunition in the Digital Modernization Strategy and is increasingly central to war fighter advantage on and off the battlefield,” said DOD Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy in a statement.
To unlock the significant economic, social and environmental opportunities offered by location data, and boost the global geospatial expertise, the UK Geospatial Commission launched the country’s geospatial strategy in June. The five-year strategy starting 2020 aims to develop the UK’s location data framework in concurrence with the United Nation’s Integrated Geospatial Information Framework (IGIF).
“In our digital world, we are surrounded by data. Information defines who we are and how we interact with the world, as captured by the millions of phones in our pockets and other technology. Innovation is inspired and informed by data, transforming how we live our lives. Now, the government seeks to unleash Britain’s potential to lead the world in the data revolution – building on our pioneering expertise in location technology for navigation, trade, and defence,” said Lord True CBE, Minister of State.
The UK Geospatial Strategy sets out an ambitious program of activity across four key missions:
The UK has also launched a National Data Strategy and set out the action the government will take to support the use of data in the country. The strategy aims to put data at the heart of the country’s recovery from the Covid pandemic, so that companies and organizations can use it to drive digital transformation, innovate and boost growth across the economy.
A number of interconnected issues currently prevent the best use of data in the UK. These are addressed in the core pillars of the strategy. From these pillars, five missions have been defined. Further, five concrete and significant opportunities for data to positively transform the UK have been identified
The Netherlands’ Cadastre, Land Registry and Mapping Agency – in short Kadaster – has devised a multi-year policy plan with data at its core. As part of the plan, the agency aims to innovate its surveying processes through the application of 3D, and Augmented and Virtual Reality, so that the geodata in future has an added value. The five-year-plan translates its broader goals into eight spearheads, including:
Positivation: The agency is working on a Key Register Cadastre that gives users an up-to-date and a complete picture of the legal reality. A special point of attention is the location and accuracy of the boundaries on the cadastral map.
Integral object registration: Due to the complexity of the use of Space, recording on a “flat surface” is no longer sufficient, and so the agency is working on providing coherent information about spatial objects.
Environmental code: The Environmental Act replaces a multitude of laws and makes it easier to bring about initiatives in the living environment. The Kadaster has contributed to the realization of the Act, the “counter” for the provision of information. From this year, the agency will carry out tactical management for this.
Geo information for everyone: The agency continues to build its platform to further expand the possibilities for accessing and analyzing data, and uses concrete questions from the users for its development.
Quality and quality mark: The Kadaster is working on providing insight into the reliability of data and algorithms. This is in line with its growing role in monitoring the quality of data of the various source holders.
Expert in spatial tasks: To help with social issues concerning energy, climate, water, soil and the housing market, the agency uses data analysis and tools for area development such as urban redevelopment, and is working with partners who contribute substantive domain knowledge.
International orientation: The Kadaster views the international exchange of knowledge as part of social responsibility. The agency believes that global orientation is also required for geo-information standardization.
Vital and agile organization: The agency continually focuses on the agility in its way of working and the vital employees.
With the launch of 3D Singapore Sandbox in May, the Singapore government authorities made nationwide geospatial data available to businesses such as real estate developers. The virtual platform will benefit Singaporeans, as now, the developers would be able to use geospatial data and models to visualize how new constructions can fit in with the surrounding urban environment to improve overall liveability for the residents. Launched by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), the platform will make available geospatial data comprising over 160,000 3D building models to help businesses develop innovative urban planning solutions and services, including traffic route planning.
SLA has been quite vocal about the importance of geospatial technology in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the virtual launch of Singapore Geospatial Week+ in September, SLA’s Acting Chief Executive Simon Ong said, “The importance of geospatial cannot be emphasized more, especially in today’s environment.”
As part of its structural reforms to rebuild the economy and make it more self-reliant and resilient, the Indian government in May decided to allow private players to be part of the country’s larger Space program, which includes satellites, launches and Space-based services. The move will enable private companies to play a role in inter-planetary and outer Space explorations in future, apart from accessing facilities and services of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
The government also announced the creation of the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), which will provide a level playing field for private companies to use the country’s Space infrastructure. ISRO Chairman K Sivan said that IN-SPACe will “hand-hold, promote and guide the private industry in Space activities through encouraging policies and a friendly regulatory environment”.
While spelling out the Space reforms, the government emphasized on the issue of data availability, accepting that there is a lot of geospatial data in India, but it is not available to private companies. “Currently, such companies have to go abroad, but that will now change. This is a sensitive area and will follow strict guidelines, but will make information available to private players,” Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said.
The announcement came as music to the industry’s ears. “This will be a step in the right direction. If geospatial data is made available to various users in the country in a liberalized manner, it will be of immense help in economic growth and successful implementation of projects launched by the government,” highlighted Agendra Kumar, President, Esri India. Echoing Similarly views, Nikhil Kumar, Country Head – India, HERE Technologies, said, “This significantly enhances the importance of location data and intelligence, and a liberal geospatial policy in the entire continuum of capture to consume will plentifully augment efficiency and productivity in various aspects of economic activities in the current scenario, and going forward.”
India’s new Space policy will not just open up the sector to private Indian companies, but also encourage foreign direct investment and allow foreign firms to set up facilities in the country, the Department of Space said. “We are going on full steam now. Foreign firms can set up facilities to make satellites and launch vehicles here, set up ground stations and use our spaceports as long as they invest here through FDI,” K Sivan, who is also Secretary, DoS, was quoted by a leading Indian English daily.
In September, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) approved the inclusion of Geospatial Science and Technology as a subject for students competing for the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE), National Eligibility Test (NET) for Junior Research Fellowship (JRF), and lectureship in Indian universities and colleges. This will go on to benefit an increasing number of students opting for the subject at different levels, and help in the evolution of geospatial ecosystem in the country, an official statement said.
On October 11, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched property cards under the Swamitva Project, a land ownership scheme that aims to map the rural inhabited lands using drones and latest survey methods. The project, which is piloted by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, was launched in April, and is to be carried out in close coordination with the Survey of India, the country’s national mapping agency, along with the Panchayati Raj department and Revenue departments of various states. The Swamitva Project will ensure streamlined planning, revenue collection and provide clarity over property rights in rural areas.
In a series of measures to support the United Nations in playing the core role in international affairs, China in September announced its decision to sat up a Global Geospatial Knowledge and Innovation Center. Chinese President Xi Jinping said in an address delivered via video link to the General Debate of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly that the country will set up a UN Global Geospatial Knowledge and Innovation Center and an International Research Center of Big Data for Sustainable Development Goals, which will facilitate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
Ukraine in September set up the National Geospatial Data Infrastructure Council to implement a respective law that enters into force on January 1, 2021. “The National Geospatial Data Infrastructure Council is a very important body that will strategically work to improve citizens’ access to the necessary information on geospatial data. It is access to comprehensive information on natural resources: land, water, forests, minerals, protected areas, roads, cultural heritage sites, etc. Such access creates an additional control mechanism that will help monitor the decisions of natural resource managers,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal was quoted as saying.