Menu Close

By Stephen Hills,

Having recently attended a pre-retirement seminar, I was encouraged to reflect on the past in order to envision the future. This led me to realize that I’ve witnessed a staggering pace of change in spatial technology over the past few decades, as I approach nearly 30 years in the “spatial industry.”

Do you remember the golden days of 1995 when a CD-ROM was hailed as the pinnacle of technological innovation, and the sound of dial-up internet made you feel like you were trying to connect to the moon itself? Fast forward to 2023, where we’ve witnessed technology evolve faster than the shifting trends of fashion. Can you recall when a computer CPU was a 486 motherboard with 4 mb of RAM which reigned as the zenith of computer technology, and MySpace was akin to the untamed wild west of the Internet?

In the blink of an eye (or the snap of a smartphone camera), selfies transformed into a cultural phenomenon. Our social media feeds became inundated with pouty lips, peace signs, and the occasional unintended flash that made you ponder life choices. Instagram filters magically turned us all into skilled photographers with a mere swipe, and the term “selfie stick” morphed from being an odd-sounding concept to a must-have accessory.

Remember the days when finding your way around required an actual paper map and a magnifying glass? From the days of backpack sized Trimble’s to today’s GPS-powered voodoo called a mobile smart device, it’s been a ride full of unexpected turns and detours. My first experience was with a Trimble 4000ST that I am sure cost at least 60K and was powered by batteries carried in a firehose pack, lugged through the bush in northern Ontario. Today’s devices are 10 times the power and accuracy and fit in your back pocket. No more syncing and downloading base station data and running differential corrections.

In 1994-95, during my time studying GIS at Fleming College (formerly Sir Sanford Fleming), we grappled with PC Arc/Info – devoid of fancy interfaces, just lines of code that could boggle your mind faster than a chameleon on espresso. Trusty floppy disks held layers upon layers of geographic data, with a single errant keystroke capable of unleashing an apocalypse, reminiscent of a misplaced comma-induced cataclysmic geographic incident, bringing forth the dreaded ‘blue screen of death.’ In those days, color printers were mere myths, the reality was an eight-pen plotter that demanded you removed the pen caps before sending the plot command. Maps and fills were simple, ask a few of my Fleming or Lakehead peers floating around Manitoba about those times.

Fast forward three decades to the era of GIS mapping apps, morphing everyone into an overnight GIS professional. With a simple tap and a swipe, you craft your maps and applications, adorning them with layers, markers, and polygons akin to a cartographic Picasso, elegantly displayed in the cloud on a mobile device, a mere 25 miles from the nearest cell tower.

As technology soared to new heights, drones made their grand entrance into the geospatial realm, offering a perspective that would make eagles envious. No longer must we wait for contractors to fly over harvest blocks, yielding cut block photos to be painstakingly taped down and digitized, updating innumerable polygons and attribute data. Drone mapping seems like a fantasy from a sci-fi epic – flying to capture photos, uploading photos, and then heads-up digitization complete in a matter of days.

Step into the era of augmented reality (AR), where maps dance with reality in a cosmic symphony. Geospatial technology has catapulted virtual gaming into a realm of unparalleled adventure. Envision a game where your everyday surroundings transform into the canvas for epic quests and concealed treasures – enter Pokémon Go. With GIS technology, geospatial data, and AR apps at your disposal, you metamorphose into a contemporary explorer. The dawn of spatial augmented reality (AR) has revolutionized the realm of inspections into a riveting expedition. Visualize strapping on your AR headset, instantly transforming the mundane inspection process into a futuristic escapade.

From the early days of GIS code crunching to the enchanting realms of augmented reality, the rate of change in geospatial technology since 1995 has been a dizzying expedition. We’ve transcended the era of misplaced commas that triggered system meltdowns to navigate digital landscapes through drones, like a dream sequence. As we continue our journey through the ever-shifting geospatial landscape, our unyielding spirit of exploration guides us through the twists and turns of technology. Here’s to embracing the thrills of losing ourselves, finding our way, and reveling in the geospatial wonderland that never ceases to amaze! And to those that remember those early days of GIS development of the 90’s happy almost retirement!

Happy mapping, fellow adventurers!