Thursday, September 16, 2010

Using Google Maps to broaden the reach of GIS: Ubisense myWorld

Readers of my blog will know that for several years I have been advocating that Google Maps and other "neogeography" systems have a strong role to play in more traditional GIS application areas. In recent months I've been quite busy working on making this a reality, and last week at the Smallworld User conference in Baltimore we announced a new product called Ubisense myWorld. I'm really excited about what we've come up with. Check out the video demo, and read on below for more information (demo video best viewed in full screen, HD, no scaling).
Our initial focus has been on using myWorld with GE Smallworld data (for those not familiar with GE Smallworld, that's where I used to work a few jobs back, and they are still the market leader for GIS in utilities and telecom). However, we are using the excellent Arc2Earth Cloud as the repository for our geospatial data in the cloud (running on Google App Engine), which has comprehensive support for uploading ESRI data, so we can integrate with ESRI too. And much of our functionality is quite applicable to other application areas. So if you might be interested in using myWorld outside a Smallworld environment, let me know!

We've had a really strong emphasis on usability - our aim is that people should be able to use the system with no training. We display all the asset data as raster tiles, which is essential for scalability - Smallworld data models tend to be among the most dense of any GIS applications, with very detailed network data, and tables often running into millions of records. But you can select anything with a single click on the map, which sends a query to the spatial database hosted in Arc2Earth (using a REST API, for those interested in that sort of thing) to get the relevant attribute information. We've found performance to be excellent with this approach.

We've implemented a very fast Google style single box search across the whole geospatial database (well, whichever tables and columns the administrator designates), so users don't need to know any technical details about table names, field names or query structures to find what they are interested in - they can just start typing a pole number, asset id, customer name, etc and we have an autocomplete capability that will show them a list of options to choose from. This uses Google's App Engine datastore, which is based on BigTable, the same technology that powers Google Search, so is obviously very fast and scalable.

Another cool feature, which I haven't seen elsewhere yet done in the same way that we've done it, is tight integration with Google Street View. When you click on an item on the map, like a pole or a customer, we calculate the best street view to show you what that looks like (where one exists - it doesn't in all cases, as not everywhere is covered by street view). So far in our testing, the data has matched up better than I thought it would, with the automatic calculation working well in most cases. However, in some cases there will be mismatches between the data in the GIS and the data in street view, so we make it easy to adjust the view and save it, so that next time you click on the same item it will remember the adjusted view. This street view capability is one of the main reasons we decided to use Google Maps rather than the various other options out there.

We also see a lot of potential for the idea of "enterprise mashups" - being able to easily pull data from other systems within an enterprise that also contain spatial data, like outage management, vehicle tracking, work management, and customer information systems, as well as data from external sources like traffic, weather and more.

Since the application is just based on JavaScript with no plug-ins, it also runs really nicely on the iPad, and on smart phones like the iPhone and Android (with a modified user interface for the phones, to accommodate the smaller screen size). We think that all of these devices have great potential for use in the field.

We are just scratching the surface with what we're showing so far - we have a long list of ideas for more things we want to do, while at the same time maintaining a very strong focus on keeping the user interface super simple. I'll post more in due course about some more detailed aspects of what we've been doing.

You also can see some of my broader perspectives behind what we're doing in the presentation I did at the Smallworld user conference in Baltimore last week:

Smallworld and Google: the best of both worlds from Peter Batty on Vimeo.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Recent presentations #2: "Don't make me think" talk at Ignite Spatial NoCo 2

Here's my 5 minute talk from Ignite Spatial NoCo (Northern Colorado) last night, on usability for geospatial applications. It was a fun event as usual. Thanks to Glenn Letham for the raw video, which I mixed with my slides to create this version.

Don't make me think: Ignite Spatial NoCo 2 from Peter Batty on Vimeo.

Recent presentations #1: "Geospatial Revolution" keynote talk at NSGIC

As mentioned previously, I've had a burst of conference presentations recently. Here's the video of my keynote talk at NSGIC, the latest iteration of my "geospatial revolution" talk. It includes a short demo of our new Ubisense myWorld product, more coming about that very shortly, and a fair bit of new material on topics like usability and the cloud.

Got some good feedback on twitter, here are a few samples to encourage you to watch :) !!

mapbutcher if you haven't watched @pmbatty then you must!
LearonDalby #gisrockies #GITR Glad yalll are getting to see that presentation. @pmbatty is a great guy and presentation was awesome, but you knew that.
DruidSmith Great talk by @pmbatty! Touched on many of my core areas of interest...
LearonDalby I am withdrawing my presentation from #nsgic after seeing @pmbatty keynote.

Thanks all! And thanks to NSGIC President Will Craig for the invitation to speak.

NSGIC keynote: The Geospatial Revolution from Peter Batty on Vimeo.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Hello again, and upcoming events!

As a few people have remarked to me recently, I haven't posted anything in a while ... have been otherwise occupied the past few months, between some interesting new work projects and some personal things. But I have quite a few talks coming up, and next week will be launching an exciting new product at the Smallworld User Conference in Baltimore, which is what I've been focused on the past few months, and I'll be blogging about a lot of interesting things relating to that in the near future.

So here's a list of upcoming events:
  • I'll be talking on "Smallworld and Google: the best of both worlds" at the Smallworld conference, on Friday September 10 (there's a clue about in the title of the talk :) !!)
  • The latest version of my "Geospatial Revolution" talk has a double outing the following week, with keynotes at the NSGIC conference in Minneapolis on Monday September 13, and at GIS in the Rockies in Loveland, CO on Wednesday September 15
  • Sneaking in between the previous two on September 14 is the second Ignite Spatial NoCo (Northern Colorado), in Windsor, CO, where the title of my talk is "Don't make me think", after the excellent book of the same name by Steve Krug, which is all about usability, something I've been working on a lot recently. I guess that's kind of a busy stretch, with four presentations at four events in four consecutive working days, plus a product launch right before that :O !! There's a good lineup of speakers for the Ignite event, with Brian Timoney, David Cole, Kate Chapman, Matt Ball and Mano Marks among those I know.
  • The week after that it's off to the UK for the Ubisense User Conference, where I'll be talking about Ubisense applications on September 22
  • I plan to stay on in the UK for the one day W3G (un)conference in Stratford upon Avon - it being an unconference there's not a formal agenda, but I hope to do a slightly expanded version of the "Don't make me think" talk there, if they'll have me
  • And for the benefit of our Danish readers, I'll be doing a keynote at the Kortdage in Århus on November 1-3 ... my mother is from Denmark so it's always nice to have an opportunity for a visit there.
In other news, Denver has been selected to host FOSS4G in 2011, the annual OSGeo conference which is being held this year in Barcelona, next week in fact. Congratulations to my friend Eric Wolf for leading the Denver bid, and I'll be one of the local committee supporting him in the organization of that.

I'm looking forward to catching up with old friends at the Smallworld conference next week, which will be the first I've been to since 2004, as I've been off roaming around other parts of the geo universe. Talking of which, I'd better get back to writing some code! Not to mention writing a presentation or two :O.