A look at the proceedings of the most important conferences in geographic information science reveals the disappearance of a topic that has been at the core of our discipline from the first day: GIS. Apparently, we either know everything about GIS, or researchers simply got bored with the topic and turned to other, more interesting research areas (I think the truth is somewhere in between).
Of course, there are still other important topics within the broader field, such as wayfinding/routing and data integration/interoperability. But in my opinion, those topics will face the same destiny – the most relevant research questions will be solved, and the solutions will be put into practice by the industry. Which brings up the question of what will be the future research topics we are going to tackle – or, to put it more drastically: will there still be a right to exist for GI science as an independent discipline?
The current hot research topics in our field suggest that the per-definition interdisciplinary GIs science community will become even more interdisciplinary. We no longer stick to the core topic of computing spatial information, but we are taking disciplines such as cognitive science (spatial cognition), AI (spatial reasoning), and – of course – ideas of Web 2.0 (trust networks) into account.
From a political perspective, the need for research on privacy becomes more and more pressing. Beyond those current topics, there is still a significant amount of research done on very basic topics, and I do not think that we will run out of such topics in the near future.
With the current state of GI science in mind, I do believe that it will continue to be an independent discipline. It will certainly get even more interdisciplinary – there are still topics that could be seen as obviously related to the field, but which have not been addressed from a GI perspective yet, such as logistics (as far as I know).
Perhaps a reason is that we are still transitioning from local GIS workstations to distributed (or centralized) GIS networks. But this development never really got off the ground. We are stuck in this transition, and we don’t really know what we can expect from the future (and therefore many people decide to put not too much research effort into it and prefer to wait).
GIS And GPS
The Global Positioning System (GPS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are the technological foundations for modern navigation systems and computer mapping. These technologies work together to make today’s methods of information gathering possible.
The GPS is a network of 24 United States Department of Defense (DoD) satellites orbiting the earth at an altitude of approximately 12,500 miles. These satellites continuously transmit navigation data via radio signal, to be used in a locating process called satellite ranging, or “pseudo ranging.”
The pseudo-engaging process involves receiving signals from a number of satellites and determining the distance of the receiver from each satellite.
The determination is based on comparing the time transmitted from the satellite’s atomic clock with the time indicated by the receiver’s internal clock. The position of the receiver is determined more completely by using signals from several satellites. If three signals are received, then a 2-dimensional fix can be determined. The satellite orbits are distributed in such a way that at any time, at any earth location, a GPS receiver should be able to receive at least four satellite transmissions under ideal conditions.
GPS accuracy can be affected by several sources of error, including unavoidable errors in the system such as those introduced by atmospheric interference or inefficiencies in the equipment used. These errors can be corrected by “differential correction” which uses a stationary GPS receiver, or base station, able to estimate the error in the signal from each satellite and apply that correction to the signal received by the user’s mobile GPS receiver. Differentially corrected GPS (DGPS) can result in an error that is usually no more than a few meters.
The kind of information one gets from the GPS includes such things as the latitude, longitude, elevation, time, speed, and direction of the GPS receiver. All of this data is essential to building computerized maps that can display a chronicle of the GPS receiver’s travels.GIS
Once GPS data is collected, there must be a way to use it. There are real-time uses for GPS data, such as using hand-held GPS receivers in hunting, backpacking or military operations. Along with using GPS for real-time navigation, there are reasons to store the information on a computer, associate it with other stored information, and use it for analysis of how a location is related to any number of variables. This is where a Geographic Information System (GIS) comes in.
A GIS is essentially a database that stores and relates categories of data in any way desired. The crucial difference between a GIS and a common business database is its mapping and spatial relation capability. A GIS allows one to enter spatial information such as GPS data, plot a map from the data, and associate other data with points on the map.
Many industries use GIS in various ways, but it’s always essentially a means of storing and using information about a location. Utilities use GIS to map the locations of power lines or pipelines. Marketers in businesses use GIS to map demographics and develop appropriate marketing plans.
Insurance companies map the locations of all insured properties. GIS is also making an entrance into agriculture as a way of archiving crop yield data and developing site-specific management strategies. Some of the most commonly used GIS programs are MapInfo and ArcInfo.
Potential of GIS For geographic information science
GIS. Sold to many as the savior from unemployment and an infinite source for research. Or at least to me and my fellow classmates in GIScience ‘back in the days.’ Despite this very intriguing view of the potential of GIS, we should open our eyes to reality and see GIS for what it is–a set of tools. This realization is nothing new to the broader GIScience community and it is no surprise to me that it reflects itself in the proceedings of current GIScience conferences.
Yes, GIS was at the core of GIScience in its beginning stage, but the field evolved and extended far beyond GIS. That is not to say that there is no research left in respect to GIS. One example would be the efforts that are undertaken in the realm of PPGIS–addressing both technical and critical questions. Some might argue that critical approaches are not part of GIScience. I do not subscribe to this view.
At the end, it all becomes a problem of semantics. What is GIScience? If one applies a broader definition, then the shift of GIS to the periphery of GIScience doesn’t really change anything about the discipline itself.