With more than 1400 navigational satellites currently operational in the geosynchronous orbit, positioning of almost all the electronic equipment carrying an electric receiver capable enough to interact with the satellites’ signals, is being mapped constantly. These GPS receivers can be found on almost all the smartphones, laptops, computers, smart watches, cameras and of course, the GPS modules. This clearly indicates that the positioning of anyone in possession of such a device at any given time is being monitored. While this might raise serious privacy concerns and seem nightmarishly similar to Charles Xavier’s ‘Cerebro’ wherein the professor could monitor each and every individual on the planet through his mind, truth be told, location-based information has become an integral part of human lives across the globe. To think of it, the technology is the sole reason why we are able to navigate our way from one point of location to another, provide instant disaster management support to affected areas, issue warnings ahead of a natural disaster, map the topography of an area, detect seismic activities and perform numerous other tasks based on location etc.
It wasn’t always like this though. The GPS was first used for military activities after its origin in the United States. The transfer of this technology towards applications built to cater to the masses can be accredited to a few individuals. Kanwar Chadha, better known as Mr GPS, founded SiRF (now a part of Qualcomm) back in 1995 and achieved a breakthrough in the technology by integrating all the elements of GPS processing in small chips. Subsequently, many individuals, as well as private firms, have played crucial roles in evolving the location-based services over the years. One such individual, who to this date, propagates the agenda of locational information and its application through various platforms is Sanjay Kumar, Founder and CEO at Geospatial Media and Communications.
We had a chance to interact with Sanjay regarding the ongoing focus on geospatial data around the globe, its current applications and how the agencies, both government and private alike, are now pushing to expand the boundaries of the technology to help create a better world.
UNITED NATIONS GLOBAL GEOSPATIAL INFORMATION MANAGEMENT (UN-GGIM)
Back in 2011, the United Nations set up a group of experts under the name of UN Global Geospatial Information Management in the statistics department of the UN, which is a part of the Economic and Social Commission. The objective of the group to date is to develop a global geospatial information platform to address the development, objectives and agendas of the UN. Through this initiative, the UN recognised that geospatial information is very critical and foundational for supporting the sustainable development goals by strengthening the monitoring capabilities towards the implementation of those goals.
The group was formally approved in 2016 by then UN Secretariat, as the UN adopted 17 new sustainable development goals and handed the responsibility to the statistical department to provide information towards monitoring those goals. Essentially, United Nations supports the national governments with the framework for these goals and helps them monitor their implementation. Behind this body, is the aforementioned group of experts whose prime aim is to co-develop the structure, content and the legal and policy frameworks with regards to geospatial information and make it present as well as future technology compliant. For the latter part, the UN had to rope in private industry players as well, probably for the first time ever, in the form UNGGIM Private Sector Network (PSN).
Sanjay Kumar, who serves as the Chair of the UNGGIM-PSN, urges all the private sector companies associated with geospatial technology to share their views and objectives with the agency.
The goal is to integrate all the information systems and deliver a singular platform to work towards 6 thematic causes, which are -
Geospatial and statistical integration, legal and policy frameworks, institutional arrangements, geospatial knowledge and platform services, geospatial information for disaster management, geospatial and marine integration.
How active is India in all of this?
India has traditionally not been very active in this initiative. The country has started engaging at the global level since the last 1 year. However, to push things forward, there is a need for better connectivity between Survey of India and Niti Aayog for implementing the assigned sustainable development goals within the country.
UNGGIM will be adopting common minimum guidelines with regards to geospatial data and India should definitely be a part of this more actively.
Most of the development sector organisations face a lack of information many a time, especially while working in the developing countries, which are poorly equipped with regards to the information systems. This is a big challenge that hinders the work towards development goals at a very local level.
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Omidyar Network recognised the problem at its core and developed a joint strategy committed to tackling challenges faced by these ‘not-haves’. The initiative was termed as Radiant Earth, with the sole aim of providing geospatial information in the form of maps and imagery, software, case studies and all the other tools and knowledge that might help in any sort of development work. The objective is to create a singular platform through which this information can be availed.
Currently, Radiant Earth is expanding its reach as organisations like Amazon, HP and several others join this initiative. The information is readily available to everyone through an online portal. The information is collected from all the publicly available satellite imageries like those of NASA, ISRO and others. In addition, the organisation even buys more such information which is not available so readily and then makes it accessible at no cost.