AGI Scotland Conference Round-up

A round-up of the AGI Scotland Conference from a non-geospatial perspective.

Taking the back roads into Stirling through Bannockburn, I found myself in a battle of my own with the rush-hour traffic. Despite this, I surprisingly managed to get to the conference just on time, snatching the last seat in the room, to hear the welcome by Bruce Gittings, AGI Scotland Chair. It was otherwise standing room only in a packed and energetic room in the fantastic surroundings of CodeBase.

The conference started as it meant to go on with the first presentation from Nigel Clifford, the Deputy Chair of the UK Government’s new all-singing and all-dancing Geospatial Commission. Nigel gave an insight into how data genuinely changes everyday lives. New technologies are increasing the quality, quantity and detail of geospatial data which businesses, in any industry, can use accordingly. But, there’s also provision for it to have billions of pounds worth of economic value for the private sector, so the world is their oyster.

Dr Jasmina Lazic of the University of Edinburgh spoke about the role of data in the Scottish Space Sector. She told us that we are manufacturing more satellites than anywhere else outside the United States – impressive stuff. The Scottish space industry will really take off (sorry) when the spaceport in Sutherland, the first in Europe, sees its first launch, which is predicted will happen at some point next year. When it’s up and running it’ll host the launch of 4 satellites per week. She noted that they sell their data and that the private and public sectors working together provided a way to raise investment in geospatial. The sky really is the limit for the sector (sorry, again).

The history and geography geeks in me were really excited for the presentation by Susan Hamilton from Historic Environment Scotland.  Susan is coordinating activity to improve data to protect, promote and enhance the historic environment here in Scotland. Historic Environment Scotland’s Pastmap website is a neat way to view information about archaeology, architecture and landscapes of Scotland in one place. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t already spent hours since the conference exploring this website.

Ross McDonald from Angus Council spoke about how the council is using data to counter problems with their council tax. It turns out that for some years there have been residents who have been underpaying their council tax. So Ross and his colleagues were tasked with trying to sort it all out. They used their address gazetteer to fill the gaps with data which also proved effective in inverting the data – so, as well as finding those who were underpaying, they could also identify people who were overpaying and were perhaps entitled to discounts that they hadn’t applied for. It works both ways but the council has made a saving of £153,000, which is not to be sneezed at.

Kevin Hercock and Gareth Dackevych-Thomas from iDEA inspired the room with their presentation on 3D University Campus Mapping. I had no idea what this would entail but it was amazing. They used University College London as their first example. They collect room data for the campus buildings and convert this 2D information into 3D after they’ve assigned everything with individual ID numbers. This allows them to display the university in 3D which was incredible. The data allows them to group the university estate according to faculty, campus, energy consumption and so on. Their University of Leeds example showed how they can drill into the data even more – gaining detailed information on each room. It allows the rooms to be rated in terms of their quality like furniture for instance. Each room also has a 360 degree camera shot if the user wants to explore what the room actually looks like in real life. There is clearly endless possibility with this technology and I’m sure other sectors will start snapping this up to keep track of their estates.

Bell Ingram spoke about the future of woodland mapping and how the use of their QGIS plug-in, stored on the cloud, could give specifics about a particular woodland. For instance, the age of the trees, the species and the planting year. Instead of just a bird’s eye view of the forest, like the university example they have developed a 3D visualisation of each forest. Unlike buildings, trees grow, so they can keep track of the growth of the forest over time.

Back to buildings.

Monika Zibolyte from TRIK detailed how they provided software for the efficient use of drone photography for asset and structural inspection. It’s simple and super quick to do. Less time is spent surveying so the cost and time savings this offers are significant.

The V&A in Dundee was a highly anticipated project, not just for Dundee but the whole of Scotland. £513million was invested in the project in a bid to renew the waterfront of Dundee. As we know it is now open and is terribly popular. But, as John Tavendale from Dundee City Council noted, the results of the environmental impact assessments they had to carry out on the river gave them no option but to change the plans for the building. And what was the reason for the change? The common seal. The assessments found that because the original plans had the museum jutting out into the river a lot more than it is now, this affected the seals’ breeding season. If they were to go ahead with the original plan then construction would need to be halted during the season which is approximately 3 months. But because seals don’t have calendars, this would need to be increased to roughly 6 months. Obviously this would have a huge impact on the timescale of the project which would need to be doubled so they thought it best to change the plans and move the museum more onto the land.

The future success of the geospatial community, in my opinion, has two obstacles to overcome. I think Crispin Hoult from TrueViewVisuals really embraced what I believe, as a communications professional, as being essential to the success of the industry. Data impacts on everyone’s lives, right? So, as Addy Pope from ESRI UK also agreed, we need to make it interesting for them, we need to relate it to them, which means we need to simplify the language. Basically, cut out the jargon as much as possible, please.

Next, we need to inspire the future generation. In a bid to nurture and inspire the next generation, the Spatial Information Service at the Improvement Service recently embarked on a range of activity with local secondary schools. West Lothian Council and the Developing Young Workforce West Lothian team worked with the Service to develop a proposal for a workplace placement centred around providing an introduction to the geospatial sector. The Improvement Service is keen to host further placements and also to look at longer placements, such as 4-week mentored placements for older pupils. If you want to read more about this read my article.

The AGI are there to support graduates and students or those in the industry with little experience. They offer CPD and reach out to companies to invest in and support the future. Dr Lazic also spoke of The Bayes Centre at the university which gives students access to multidisciplinary expertise, offering access to investor networks, experts and provides business support for start-ups making their way in the world. Alex Wrottesley shared the Geovation perspective – an effort to make the UK the best place to launch and grow start-ups which use geospatial data.

These are all great initiatives but to have students in that position we need to inspire our children in primary and secondary school to join us on this journey or, quite simply, there will be no one there to fly the flag.

The Improvement Service were delighted to be a gold sponsor for the conference and I was so inspired hearing about all the real life examples and uses of geospatial data. it’s in the hands of the industry now to pass this on to the future of the industry. No pressure.

Article by Alison Clark-Dick of Improvement Service.

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