Archive for February, 2013

Explorations in the Use of Augmented Reality for Geographic Visualization

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

There is a small but significant difference that could make augmented reality boom or bust when it comes to GIS. It is the same problem that architects and engineers once faced as well. Only with the advent of computers and monitors were they able to rest their neck and sit down in a chair instead of hunching over a drafting board all day. GIS, for the most part, wasn’t subjected to such a fate.

Augmented reality could change that. Even now, similar displays are available to the public in shopping malls and showrooms, using the same table top, infrared projector method outlined in the article. What sets the visitors apart from GIS users is that they only use it for a couple of minutes at a time. As any GIS user knows, geospatial analysis rarely takes a short amount of time.

In light of that, augmented reality will need to make the jump from top-down to heads-up display before it makes significant inroads into the industry.

What part of the methodology that left something to be desired was the need for the user to place a flash card down on each section of the table that they wanted to view supplementary information at. Why not just display all the data at once? If it’s a matter of computing power, that is a simple fix. If, however, it is intrinsic to the software framework, it would greatly benefit the project if, instead of viewing a small section of a large map, the exocentric viewpoint was zoomed in to a smaller…bigger(?) scale so the data took up the extent of the display. After all, whens the last time you squinted at a map of the island of Montreal when trying to figure out how far your house is from the nearest depanneur.


AR: The issues left behind

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Hedley’s article, although a great summary of the progress made in AR does not truly convey the issues of use. One of the biggest down falls for AR, currently, is that sensory feedback to the user is lacking. Although, a lot has been done to try and get input to and from the user (the creation of mice and touch screens; Both Steve Jobs inventions) that combine and provide physical (touch of tool), auditory (clicks), visual (screen illumination), nothing is 100% satisfactory. The “Holodeck” from Star Trek is an example of how feedbacks entertain all senses and provide a full range natural feedback; i.e. you can physical feel the change, hear the change, see the change, and smell the change.

Ipad screens and Microsoft connect modules may provide a link to the computer and bridge the gap in what is reality and how we can understand our surroundings, but lack that basic human need for satisfaction of a response. To elaborate even if physical objects can be manipulated to create change in the presented reality they are not perfect. The objects that are used are generic, such as balls or cubes, and do not provide a universal design for all settings or sensations. Basically, the texture of what is viewed is not necessarily the same as the object being manipulated. To correct for this an infinite amount of objects would have to be stored in order to represent the same object in reality and within an AR system. One solution I believe to this problem may be the use of non-Newtonian or electromagnetic fluids feedback mechanisms that can be altered to many states and textures.

Finally, Hedley’s article seems a little out of date as 3D no longer requires glasses and tough screen interfaces are leaps above what is discussed (Thanks to Apple’s and Steve Jobs’ push for natural interfaces). As a last note, I feel there is also a lack of discussion on digital representation of images in AR and how they can be too cartoony or not real enough.


Critical GIS: Ethics, a Ghost of the Past

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Robert Lake’s article “Planning and applied geography…” take the idea to have transcending ethics between field to the extreme. I believe that the type of ethics, or extent, is unique to a field of study and common and should not be pushed into areas where grey zones outnumber the black and white. This article seems to try and force the idea of practitioners as absent minded of ethics, void of the knowledge of technology’s impact on society. Maybe it is my “laissez-faire” attitude or ideals of “I do not care what you believe in, but just do not push it on me ” that is speaking, but I do not believe practitioners have forgotten ethics and their applicability to structuring research in the digital realm. I would argue that it is how the ethics are applied that has changed and is causing this misunderstanding. For instance equal access to GIS data is not truly flawed, as inferred by Lake, as this data can be altered by user and re-published as a modified version, i.e. multiple users can use the data and modify it for themselves to create multiple ethical data sets, that correspond to the user’s ideals and background.

When Lake talks about a means to an end, this is a theoretically flawed assumption, because any good researcher or user of GIS knows that there is no end only a variable set of conclusions that lead to more elaboration of data and a refinement of GIS systems. I personally consider GIS a dynamic tool for representing geographical data in a changing world. Furthermore is it not the idea to show the variety of data from differing backgrounds during analysis to create a mosaic of geographic data that can lead to new discoveries.

The way this article is written and the way GIS and the application of ethical thought are paired, seems disconnected to reality. To clarify the Ethical ideas that Lake speaks of are the old way, a ghost of past thought. Ethics, I believe are considered in a new way, a way that was never considered to older generations of researchers at the time. Ethics of how GIS is used is more loose today, as a global society with a million views cannot be held to the archaic structures of Freudian dynamics of how research is done and how the tools are used.


Hedley’s AR

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

**a quick post because wordpress ate my last one**

Hedley’s piece on AR provides a clear and pretty interesting, if dated, look at augmented reality, evaluating the merits of different interface designs. Eleven years on, it is interesting to look at how far AR has come.

A quick look at wikipedia shows a lot of different applications. While most of them are emblematic of everything that is wierd about the economy these days, some piqued my interest as actually pretty valuable. One such thing was workplace apps. Wikipedia explains: “AR can help facilitate collaboration among distributed team members in a work force via conferences with real and virtual participants. AR tasks can include brainstorming and discussion meetings utilizing common visualization via touch screen tables, interactive digital whiteboards, shared design spaces, and distributed control rooms”

While I could certainly put on my Critical GIS hat and problematize this on a number of grounds, I find it pretty exciting. I think that especially in a field like geography, the use of AR could make collaboration over space a lot more effective. Maybe I am drawn to it because it brings to mind my favorite geography term “reducing the friction of distance”; and that it does!


Ontology in Augmented Reality

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Reading through the paper by Azuma I could not help but get a little excited about all the sorts of AR applications we will see within as little as 5-10 years.  I envision video games that allow the gamer to feel like they are directly in and interacting with an environment by projecting it in their house.  I also see travelers wearing glasses and getting a tour of a foreign city without the help of a guide.  However, there are obviously a few limitations before Augmented Reality takes these jumps.  The one I want to focus on is User Interface Limitations.

This essentially comes down to how to display and allow interaction with the massive amounts of data that we have access to.  The amount of information that we could potentially display on a pair of glasses is astronomical in my mind.  But, how do we go about deciding what information to display, and how to display it?  To me, this comes down to an individual’s ontology of space.  Take my previous tour guide example; one person may want to know where all the museums in a city are while another would prefer to have the best bars in the area.  This is a bit of a trivial example, however it highlights how it may become a bit difficult to take this amazing technology and make it equally useful for everyone.  While this is an issue today, I agree with the paper in that there will likely be “significant growth” in the research of these problems.  It is now a matter of putting in the time, effort and money into improving the ubiquitous use of these AR systems.  With the great potential for business growth (e.g.), I do not see this being a problem.



Privacy vs. Efficiency in GIScience

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

O’Sullivan brings up three very important points when considering the direction of critical GIScience.  The one that struck home for me was the subjects of privacy, access and ethics.  It is hard to argue against Curry’s point, brought up by O’Sullivan, that the increasing availability of “spatial data forces us to reconceptualize privacy and associated ethical codes” (O’Sullivan, 2006:786).  With millions of people around the world constantly “sharing” their locational information via social networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook, it is easy to see that such information is no longer private.  The reconceptualization of privacy includes the fact that when something is shared on the internet, there is potential for that information becoming accessible to those other than the intended “target.”  We thus need to realize how easy it may be for locational information such as our home or school to essentially become public.  As a society, do we accept the fact that acquaintances (sometimes real, sometimes over the internet), will now know more about us than ever?  If not, how do we use these new applications in a way that respects individuals’ level of privacy while still allowing us to become more connected?

The traffic management is a great example of weighing privacy and increased connection.  Obviously, with increased surveillance, we will be able to detect traffic patterns better, allowing people to travel more efficiently.  However, everyone may not be comfortable with such surveillance, even if it does make their commute easier.  So, this is where the social theory of GIS meets the tool that is GIS.  We can come up with hundreds of ways to track human activity to allow us to travel more efficiently, but there may be a level at which people in a society are no longer comfortable with their location being readily available.  Furthermore, who has the right to use this information?  Is it the private businesses looking to create a useful traffic application, or is the government the only institution that should be able to use this data? It is here where critical GIS comes into play, as a way to evaluate the way different societies value privacy versus efficiency.  Again, this will be different across cultures, communities and individuals.  These issues make the application of GIS inherently tricky, as it is not just a tool that can be used objectively.



How Critical is Critical GIS?

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Critical GIS attempts to combine various types of critical human geography with methods and techniques reliant on Geographic information systems. However, the field remains somewhat of a minority pursuit due to the fact that there is little evidence of critical geographers completely embracing GIS as a tool of their trade. Sullivan acknowledges seven major themes that have made Critical GIS what it is today. One of the themes that was not discussed in great detail was the “GIS and the human dimensions of global change”. I believe this field in particular has evolved tremendously since the time the article was written.  Developments in communications technologies, especially in mobile communications, web applications, and digital media, have completely transformed the way humans access information, and communicate. In addition, they have also been crucial in facilitating the availability of data, providing users with important information that allows them to educate themselves on certain fields. One only has to look at the monumental rise in average web users who know use GIS tools in their every day lives. Spatial applications such as Google Earth have expanded the field from specialists to the everyday person- who may use the application for any sort of spatial task. Thus, even though critical GIS is a relatively new field (1997), the evolution of complex technological resources has opened up many new opportunities for research within the field.

-Victor Manuel

A Critique of the Critics

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

O’Sullivan’s critique of the critics of GIS is a good summary of the position that many people hold on the role of GIS in social sciences. The author touches on three items from a research agenda on “GIS and society,” namely the relevance of GIS in grassroots movements, GIS from a feminist perspective, and privacy issues inherent in data collection. Although there is justification for omitting discussions on the remaining four themes from Initiative 19, it would have been interesting to learn about other ways in which people are criticizing—oftentimes constructively—GIS’s role in society.

I am particularly interested in the theme of PGIS (participatory GIS), in part because I am researching VGI (volunteer-generated information) for this course. Beyond the ethical and accuracy concerns—of which I do not deny, there are many—I fail to see how PGIS might be critiqued in a social context. In fact, if the primary concern for the use of GIS in social contexts is power assertions in methods of visualization, then surely a way to collect and visualize information generated by the public is in complete contrast to this fear of authorial bias. Furthermore, if PGIS is largely volunteered (VGI), then ethical concerns are diminished, and if the data is confirmed via an objective algorithm, then the accuracy concerns are also moot. PGIS is, perhaps, the most useful method of real-time data collection possible, and it should be utilized as much as possible. As O’Sullivan notes, it is a way to empower citizens, to give them an equal voice, and I agree completely.

– JMonterey

Augment your Reality

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Azuma provides a great synopsis of some of the advances in Augmented Reality(AR) (in 2001), as well as raises some important points about future work that will be needed in the field. Augmented reality often brings to minded science fiction type technology. However, the reality is that advances in AR mean that widespread consumer products are not too far away. Indeed, many of the devices we now take for granted, especially smartphones, feature the use of AR technologies. Certain apps , such as Google Sky map- using the phones magnetometer, it project a view of the stars and planets in the sky, all based on where the phone is pointing. Other apps that come to mind include wikitudes, which can overlay relevant geographic detail information, based on where the camera on the phone is facing.

One exciting portion of the field concerns the use of Head Worn Displays (HWD). Azuma provides a great overview of the state of the field in 2001. However, as technology has evolved, some of the concerns and limitations have been resolved. Exciting technology, such as the new Google Glass, hold the potential to take AR technology to the next level. Problems such as size and weight have been resolved- these new “glasses” are extremely light, and really not that bad looking. In addition, with a projected cost of less than $1500, they are really not that far off from being a mainstream. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that these new technologies are far from perfect. Google Glass is dependent on wifi or a bluetooth connection to a mobile phone- not exactly the epitomy of mobility. However, they provide a product thats one step closer to making Augmented Reality technology…well, a reality to the everyday person.

-Victor Manuel


Augmented Questions

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Azuma et al. “update” (in 2001) the reader on advances, problems, and applications of augmented reality. Their intended audience appears to already be aware of the basics of registering objects and placing people in visible artificial environments. In contrast, the article we read a few weeks ago on eye-tracking technology explained seemingly advanced technological notions to the layperson much more nicely. Still, if the article’s purpose is to discuss AR from a multi-faceted perspective, discussing issues pertaining to the user, the augmented objects, and the environment, then the authors accomplished this well enough.

As someone with little to no experience with, or background knowledge of, augmented reality, I am concerned more with possible applications of the technology than with the technical side of things. Still, as someone approaching this article from a GIS-based perspective, I am intrigued by notions like georegistering and dynamic augmented reality. I’m sure the technology has advanced leaps and bounds in the past 12 years, including AR applications on smart phones that solve many of the weight and cost issues. I’m curious how AR is able to take an unprogrammed environment and situate its device so accurately within that space. Surely GPS is involved, as are internal sensors that collect aspect information, but beyond that, I am more intrigued and curious than critical.

– JMonterey

Augmented Reality…?

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

It seems like augmented reality was less of a reality and more of a dream for science-fiction enthusiasts in decades past, and now we are living in an era where this could become a reality. What maybe wasn’t anticipated was the ubiquity of different types of hardware, such as smartphones. The authors mention that social acceptance issues play a role, and I think the major issue here could be privacy. Since smartphones are such an available platform, but also could contain a lot of tracking information, it will take time for the ethical privacy concerns to evolve to mesh with the technology.


The fence straddle

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Another interesting paper that raises more questions for me than it answered (which likely was the point). Parts escaped me – how is feminist geography a non-spatial community? But what resonated with me the most was the advice from Goodchild that “straddle the fence” between human geography and GIS could be particularly academically lucrative. O’Sullivan interprets this statement to refer to social theory criticisms of GIS (critical GIS) and uses this anecdote to introduce the paper. I think this statement may have had broader interpretation or at least is relevant in a broader context. I think the future of GIS (and actually of many academic disciplines) may be strongest in the areas that straddle fences – with economics, with health, with resource management, with computer science, and sub-disciplines within these. And likewise, from what I understand, it seems like critical geographers do well at straddling these fences too.

[Side note: being named Pickles would be awesome (p. 784)]


Critical GIS

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

I found the paper by O’Sullivan very intriguing. I was completely unaware of the fact that research in GIS is going on in some of the directions mentioned by the paper.  I particularly found the sections ‘Gendering of GIS’ to be very interesting.  In India, there is a lot of work going on in woman empowerment. And it will be very interesting to see whether someone can use similar systems given the limited penetration of the internet.

Privacy and ethics is another part of GIS which does require a lot of research. As more and more applications take into account the location of the user as a principal component, it is becoming very important to come up with standards for privacy protection. With the number of PPGIS applications increasing, a great number of people from the society are contributing to the task of collecting Geographic data. Though this means that GIS is getting higher acceptance in society, it remains a challenge as to how to release this data while striking a balance between accountability and privacy.

-Dipto Sarkar


“The World is Not So Easily Mapped Anymore”

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Lake’s article is a discussion regarding the gap between the ascendency of GIS within geography/planning and the critique of positivism within geography. Though GIS practitioners have not ignored the issues related to ethics, privacy, accuracy of data, using appropriate methods to avoid “evil outcomes” etc., Lake argues that it only serves as “internal correctiveness” that does not remedy the positivist assumptions underlying GIS (S as system). While I agree that GIS has the ability to support the status quo by burying decisions and reinforcing power relations under the technological wall of algorithms, I think it’s equally important to be able to build these models to be able to talk about the data, and the choices made to produce the map etc. At the very least, we have a tangible artifact that can elicit a conversation between GIS practitioners and social theorist to challenge the interwoven dominant norms.

In traditional GI systems, the practitioner can easily become disconnected with the individuals that comprise of the data points. This separation implies a external vantage point, a god’s eye view where feminist geographers have critiqued because we cannot disassociate ourselves from the world we live in. Perhaps an alternative for the practitioner to reconnect with the analysis, the people, and social relations involved is through technologies such as AR where the user is physically situated to the location of study. This can provide an increased egocentric view that wasn’t previously available before. (though there are critiques with the virtual information superimposed in the AR system as well…). What methods are available to better integrate qualitative data within GIS systems? If this can be done, then observations can keep their subjectivity to a certain extent within the model compared to a purely quantitative categorization of objectified “others”.


Critical GIS or Geez-I’m-Sad

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

I found Lake’s article incredibly interesting. Lake highlights critical components of GIS that are usually—in my experience—sidelined, and offers a shift away from the techie, positivist view that GIS practitioners typically (and perhaps unwittingly) hold. Lake makes several claims that sparked many more questions, and ultimately left me with an unsettling feeling; kind of dejected, all “what is all this even good for?”. I’m going to address and expand upon the bits that jumped out at me the most.

Subject-object dualism: Lake details how “the perspective, viewpoint, and ontology of the researcher are separate – and different – from those of the individuals constituting the data points comprising the GIS database,” (p. 408). Further, Lake notes how the data points (individuals) are stripped of their autonomy, becoming passive objects in the practitioners’ project. How can this notion be applied to concepts of VGI, where people are willingly providing their information? Does data derived from VGI or participatory crowdsourcing validate this subject-object dualism? Putting this dualism in a power framework; are the subjects granted more power (think of the Power Law) now? Are their ontologies embedded in the information they provide? I want to read Lake’s (and/or others’) opinions on how this dualism can be circumvented.

Technological mystification: Lake discusses how we reinforce existing structures of influence—undeniably true. GIS disenfranchises the less technically adept. This inherent technological mystification is just another type of mystification. Mystification, I would say, is inherent in pretty much everything—there is bureaucratic mystification of planning in an opaque government, for example, and I don’t see how this is going to be fully eradicated. While trying to make things more open and available to all people, there is inadvertent marginalization of certain groups. Nothing is going to reach everybody all the time—we just need to make effective tools that attempt to reach more people, more frequently. Maybe eventually we will have enough tools to satisfy everyone… We can dream, right?

I unequivocally agree with FischbobGeo’s statement that Lake’s article talks past GIS without engaging it. At certain points, this article could be talking about a whole range of topics. It raises more questions than it answers, and–call me a defeatist–but makes it seem like we will never get it right.


Better Algorithms or Better Computers?

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Any one who is facing dilemma about the above question should see the following video from 44:20 onward:

Data Structures and Algorithms – Richard Buckland on YouTube

Actually the entire video is very useful for anyone who is interested in understanding the basic of Complexity of Algorithms.

– Dipto Sarkar

The Devil’s Software

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Robert Lake levels a scathing postpositivist criticism of GIS, as he sees it in the early 1990s, as being fundamentally ethically flawed.  His major ethical sticking point is that the underlying positivist data and analysis models of GIS by necessity objectify the subjects of research and are unable “to comprehend and respect the subjective differences among the individuals who constitute the irreducible data points at the base of the GIS edifice.”  Lake makes a note of prioritizing these deontological concerns over the consequentialist ethical considerations of the field of GIS and planning/applied geography more broadly.  Thus, the “internal correctives” to adopt ethical codes among GIS practitioners is meaningless to Lake, who calls it “insufficient on ethical grounds if it focuses exclusively on the ends to the exclusion of the means”.

Lake’s argument is grounded in the more general postmodern imperative, which holds that positivist (or even quantitative) tools such as GIS must be eliminated, or at the very least, reconstituted from the ground up.  Not even the most benevolent use of GIS can be tolerated, because of the deontological abhorrence—the mortal sin—of representing people as undifferentiated digital objects without any consideration of positionality or subjectivity.  Lake hammers at this singular point repeatedly throughout the article.

I concede that it is vitally important to identify and account for the assumptions and values implicit in any analytical tool, including GIS.  That being said, I find Lake’s argument overly alarmist, generally unconvincing, and even potentially harmful for several reasons.  First, the argument’s unyielding deontological edicts ignore potential applications of GIS in purely physical domains of geography; and even in human geography, there is nothing that precludes researchers from tying back the results of GIS analysis to more qualitative and critical considerations.  Lake dismisses the potential of participatory GIS—an incredibly pertinent and empowering field today—as capable of nothing greater than token consultation.  Second, taken as a wider postmodern assault on abstracted, quantitative record-keeping, Lake’s argument quickly becomes dubious and unwieldy: should we also tear down the subject-object dualistic institutions of paper filing systems and library catalogues?  Finally, I believe that Lake’s appeal for geographers to refrain from adopting GIS in their research is a serious mistake.  Though harping on the deontological ethics may convince academics to avoid GIS applications, it certainly won’t dissuade the militaries, governments and corporations who are waiting in the wings to use GIS for unequivocally evil ends, to say nothing of GIS’s problematic means.  Without a critical and constructive GIScience approach that actually engages with GIS instead of talking past it, there will be nothing standing in the way of these other potentially oppressive actors—now there’s a consequentialist argument worth heeding!


Augmenting the Potential of Participatory GIS

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Hedley et al’s 2002 article highlights the state of the art in augmented reality (AR) applications in geovisualization and multi-party collaboration.  Emphasizing a multidisciplinary approach encompassing computer science, human-computer interaction and geovisualization, the authors describe their 3D AR PRISM interface and its successor, the GI2VIZ interface.  Important features of the interfaces they design are representation of multi-attribute data, “support for multiple views” (i.e. ego- and exocentric), “the use of real tools and natural interaction metaphors”, and “support for a shared workspace”.  The interfaces take advantage of three different levels of geovisualization: the physical object, AR object, and even an immersive virtual reality environment complete with avatars.   This allows an arbitrary number of people to interact with an incredibly rich 3D map environment to analyze information and make decisions.  Sort of reminds me of that 3D GIS in James Cameron’s Avatar!

While the antagonist-allegorical colonists of Avatar were certainly not using it as such, this type of technology holds great promise for participatory GIS applications, particularly in urban planning.  Most design charettes today consist of a group of citizens at a table with a paper map, using markers to draw abstractions of desired features and conditions.  With some additions and modifications to the GI2VIZ feature set, it isn’t difficult to imagine citizens being able to collaboratively place markers to represent buildings, roads, landmarks, paths, public spaces and natural areas over a 3D terrain model during the participatory development of a site or neighbourhood plan.  Then, with the help of an engine capable of procedurally generating architectural features and other details, citizens could take a virtual walk through the environment they’ve just designed.  This is just one example of how this technology could produce benefits in planning and participatory GIS applications.

Seeing what the leading edge of technology was in 2002 makes me very excited about the prospects of AR for collaborative geovisualization a decade later.  With Microsoft Surface and Google Glass hardware coming down the pipeline, it is certainly conceivable that we may soon be seeing group AR workspaces become an integral part of GIS practice.  The key challenge in widespread adoption will be in crafting a user interface that rivals the power, comprehensiveness and simplicity of the good old keyboard, mouse and context menus we’re all used to.  Surmount this, and the possibilities are endless.


The near future of Augmented Reality

Monday, February 18th, 2013

After reading the paper by Azuma et. al., I am convinced of the fact that augmented reality systems of the likes shown in Science Fiction Movies are not far. However, I think the first commercial applications of Augmented Reality will use the mobile phones as the primary device. The mobile phones are already equipped with a range of sensors like GPS, Electronic Compass, Accelerometer, Camera, etc. which can be used to provide measurements of the environment. This fact is already leveraged by applications such as Google Goggles and only slight improvements to it will make the system real time, thus making it qualify as an Augmented Reality System according to the definition given by Azuma et. al.  I also feel that acceptance of these applications will be higher as they do not require clunky wearable computers.

Another thought that came to my mind is the use of ubiquitous computing for augmented reality based applications. Instead of putting all the responsibility of sensing the environment, doing calculations and displaying results, it might be useful to distribute some of the task to other smaller specialized units present (or planted) in the physical environment of the user. When a user comes in proximity of these computers, the device they are carrying may just fetch the data and display them after doing some minimal calculations.

-Dipto Sarkar


Scale: Youtube videos – National Council for Geographic Education

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

Here is a video link explaining scale from Youtube:

Hope you all enjoy the awkward scale guy!