Where is Geospatial Technology Heading in 2021

By: Patrick Cunningham, President & CEO

Like all who would sit down and write their predictions for 2021, I am immediately drawn to recall what my predictions were for 2020. Certainly, they did not contain an iota or inkling of the pending global pandemic and its effect on all industries.  Widespread stay-at-home orders and dramatic changes in the way economies all over the world functioned by the spring of 2021 had both direct and indirect impacts on the day-to-day operations of geospatial businesses.  Perhaps the most visible was the almost immediate focus on COVID-19 outbreak maps, predictive epidemiology in GIS, and a sense of GIS professionals trying to do their part to warn and report for the greater good.  This effort immediately reminded me of what is often considered to be one of the first examples of  GIS analysis: mapping the cholera outbreak of London in 1854 by John Snow.

Just as I stated at the beginning of 2020, the GIS industry is continuing to ride a wave of interest in drone or UAV data collection and processing.  This will continue to move forward as the technology is compelling, affordable, and advantageous to local project work.   Software companies such as Blue Marble Geographics are working on products that expand the data processing capacity and the quality of the derivative 3D geospatial datasets from the ‘Structure from Motion’ process.   This effort and interest will continue in 2021.

Related to 3D GIS is the increased, some would say commonplace, usage of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) gaming devices in the consumer market.  The popularity of these gaming devices was evident in their robust sales during the holiday season.  There has also been an increased acceptance and growing popularity of video gaming as a form of organized competition.  Gaming is now recognized as a  “sport” and is even being offered in schools in conjunction with traditional sports such as soccer or basketball.  This expansion of the gaming market tied to the increased popularity of VR and AR in the consumer market will affirm GIS software companies’ original efforts in the area.  This trend is analogous to the Apple iPhone entering the business market.  When the iPhone was originally released, it was considered a consumer-focused product, however business professionals loved it, and eventually, the iPhone overtook the Blackberry as the dominant mobile device for professionals.   

GIS software companies are beginning to recognize the potential applications of VR/AR GIS but have been hesitant to release tools or products for this area of the market.  With the expansion and acceptance of these devices in the consumer market, they will see the affirmation they need to focus on software development efforts in this area.  Look for more GIS software releases focusing on AR/VR by the end of 2021.

The pandemic had another major effect on business in 2020: the rapid transition to a remote workforce.  Companies such as Blue Marble are now operating almost 100% remotely.  This change in the business landscape has accelerated the development of better cloud and remote GIS tools.   Blue Marble quickly responded to this challenge by adding remote desktop licensing to our software to provide remote customers easy and full access to their essential software tools.  Blue Marble also released the first generation of a cloud version of the Geographic Calculator, coinciding with an update to GeoCalc Online.  Look for more cloud versions of GIS and remote-enabled tools in 2021 and beyond as a result of changes in workforce dynamic brought on by the pandemic, as these changes will have long term effects.  

Finally, we all hope that 2021 will also be known as the year that the pandemic ended.  With the worldwide roll-out of vaccines well underway, there is cause for optimism, and that is something we can all use more of in the coming year.


Patrick Cunningham | President & CEO, GISP

Cunningham offers over two decades of experience in software development, marketing, sales, consulting, and project management.  Under his leadership, Blue Marble has become the world leader in coordinate conversion software (the Geographic Calculator) and low-cost GIS software with the 2011 acquisition of Global Mapper. Cunningham is Chair of the Maine GIS Users Group, a state-appointed member of the Maine Geolibrary Board, a member of the NEURISA board, a GISP, and holds a master’s in sociology from the University of New Hampshire.

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