New tools bring huge opportunity for geospatial industry, and science more widely

Dr Cathy Foley: The benefits of artificial intelligence, machine learning and quantum technologies will only be fully unlocked with open access to the research and science literature.

The fast-changing tools of science offer enormous opportunities for Australian industry and research, Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Cathy Foley, has told a conference of geospatial experts.

The industry’s conference, Locate 21 was held across several capital cities in late March to discuss trends and new applications in geospatial technologies.

The geospatial industry is seeing significant change already through advances in technology encompassing global positioning, satellites, remote sensing, digital modelling and many other areas.

In a globe awash with data, positioning and sensing technologies are increasing connectivity, enabling much more accurate mapping of the Earth and its systems, as well as mapping and monitoring the human body.

The applications are wide, from autonomous vehicles, to virtual reality, city planning, earth observation and much more.

In her presentation, Dr Foley highlighted the use of “digital twins” to plan cities and model phenomena such as the movement of waterways. Digital twins are four-dimensional models (three spatial dimensions plus time) that can be used for predictive modelling, for example of water flows and dam behaviour.

Dr Foley told the audience that artificial intelligence, machine learning and quantum technologies would bring change well beyond the geospatial industry to myriad spheres of science.

But the benefits would only be fully unlocked with open access to the research and science literature and to the data. Dr Foley, who is exploring an Open Access Strategy, said Australia lags some other nations in regard to open access, a significant challenge for those wanting to keep up with latest research in their field. Caught behind a paywall, it can cost $50 to access a single research paper.

The huge benefits of increasing digital driven science would also come with challenges, she said, pointing to the loss of social interaction, the reduced networking opportunities, and the risk of siloed work practices, which would reduce broader visibility and knowledge across the science community. In this environment, collaboration and interdisciplinary innovation are crucial, she said.