In the past, a road trip often required a front seat “navigator” to fold over a bulky, multipaneled map to determine the optimum route. By the 1990s, Global Positioning System (GPS) technology was being incorporated into car dashboards in limited locations. It was later offered as stand-alone units that attached to a car’s dashboard, before giving way to cell phone apps that didn’t require users to purchase a dedicated device.
GPS-based road travel is the application of geospatial technology that many of us are most familiar with, but the reach of geospatial technology is far broader. As with most technology, high-speed information networks have hastened advancements, and this technology has become more complex than you may realize.
Geospatial technologies deliver valuable data to mapmakers, surveyors, and those working in many areas of science, research universities, and commercial enterprises. These technologies can pinpoint everything from troop buildups to weather phenomena and disease in specific geographic areas around the world. The evolution of geospatial technology is likely to continue indefinitely. But where did this technology begin, and where is it going?
Let’s take a brief look at geospatial-related tools and technologies of centuries past.
We may not think of maps as technology, but they were about all that was available in ancient times. Cartography, or mapmaking, dates back to the B.C. era. The early cartographers drew maps based on explorers’ observations. Often, these maps depicted the world as a flat disc and included only the continents now known as Europe, Asia, and Africa. The Americas, Australia, and Antarctica were neither known nor explored at the time.
The magnetic compass was developed in China around the time of the transition from the B.C. era to the A.D. era.
Atlases, or collections of maps, were first published in the 16th century.
The first fully functional telescope is believed to have been invented in 1608.
According to Brittanica.com, the sextant is an “instrument for determining the angle between the horizon and a celestial body … used in celestial navigation to determine latitude and longitude.” It was invented in 1757 and was used primarily by sailors to navigate during overseas voyages. The sextant is still occasionally used today.
Modern Era and Beyond
The development of photography in the 19th century paved the way for more detailed and precise ways of gathering geospatial information.
As early as the 1860s, balloons, kites, and even birds were fitted with cameras, enabling people to capture views of cities and topographical features from the air. Planes were used for this purpose beginning in the early 1900s.
The first manmade satellite was launched into space by the Soviet Union in 1957. Satellites have since been used for military surveillance, cartography, and communications.
If you’ve ever seen a person standing on the side of the road, wearing a bright safety vest, looking through an instrument on a tripod, that may not have been a camera or a telescope they were using. The total station has been around since 1971 and is used to measure distance and vertical and horizontal angles. It’s commonly used in civil engineering, construction, and surveying and can assist in making maps, identifying property lines, and determining precisely where a new road or building should be located.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), GPS is “a satellite-based navigation system that helps people find their precise location on Earth.” GPS technology as we know it today began as a DOD project in 1973. It was initially reserved for military use, but in 2000 it became available to anyone with the necessary equipment after President Clinton issued an executive order.
21st Century Total Station
The contemporary total station integrates technological advances such as robotics, GPS, and remote-control capabilities. Data from these total stations can be downloaded and used with software to render vivid 3D images.
Unmanned, remote–controlled aircraft, sometimes called Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), have been used for military purposes and surveying/mapmaking for many years. 2006 marked the first use of drones for other commercial and personal purposes, such as delivery and photography.
As with many industries, artificial intelligence (AI) revolutionized the GIS and geospatial sectors. Identifying topographic features in satellite images is just one of many current AI applications, and its future potential in the geospatial field is tremendous.
Geospatial technology will hasten the collection and analysis of an immense load of data that will enable us to plan and manage cities more effectively. This will yield a more educated populace as well, as ordinary people will have access to detailed interactive maps that provide far more information than directions to a local store.
Explore Geospatial Technology and Practices
The University of Texas Permian Basin has served the GIS and geospatial industries for more than 20 years. Our close association has given UT Permian Basin an up-to-date, insider’s perspective of the industry that we’ve drawn upon in creating the curriculum for our online GIS and Geospatial Certificate. This 12-credit graduate certificate program helps you develop practical skills that can benefit individuals in the oil and gas industry, the geospatial industry, and environmentally oriented careers. In just four courses, you’ll explore the technology, practices, and principles at work in the geospatial industry today.
The Convenient Way to Earn Career-Enhancing Credentials
Delivered through asynchronous, 100% online courses, our graduate program provides you with exceptional convenience and flexibility. You can complete coursework on your own schedule practically anywhere, enabling you to learn around any job or family responsibilities you might have. Each course lasts eight weeks and is taught by the same acclaimed educators who teach the courses at the UT Permian Basin campus.
Explore today’s GIS and geospatial technology and trends as you gain a career-enhancing credential in our online GIS and Geospatial Certificate program!