OGC Activities and Mobile Industry Trends

Contributed by: 
Christine Perey

As readers of this blog are frequently reminded, spatial data is increasingly mobile. To remain highly relevant to users, OGC standards must take into account mobile network and platform/device strengths and limitations. As a result of several overarching OGC activities initiated back in 2011, and the contribution of its members, OGC’s standards are increasingly implemented on and designed to serve mobile platform users. Looking ahead, the OGC’s standards and value proposition are becoming increasingly attractive to mobile-only technology providers and their users.

More Horsepower

One of the trends mobile shares with all computing platforms is a steep and steady increase in processing power. Today’s smartphones and tablets can compete with the workstations of 2011, providing more than enough computational power to meet the requirements of geospatial applications. But it isn’t enough to just “crunch” the data. Processors and architectures need to be able to apply their processing power while using less electrical power. And at the same time, they need to respond in real time to inputs from multiple sources: the user, the device's sensors and data received across the network.

Mobile device processors such as NVIDIA's Tegra K1 for mobile platforms, Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 and Snapdragon 805 processors,  and Intel's Bay Trail multi-core Intel® Atom™ SoC powered by the Silvermont microarchitecture provide this combination of processing power, response and energy efficiency. This advance in hardware opens up the door to sophisticated mobile applications that require complex geospatial and 3D processing as well as real-time response. And the arrival of these devices and applications suddenly exposes other needs: the need for multiple devices to access diverse spatial data sources; the need to characterize and communicate about indoor spaces; the need to communicate among geoprocessing components; and the need for simpler ways of accessing complex geospatial services. This is why the OGC is so important at this point in the development of mobile computing.

OGC Mobile Initiative

In 2011, the OGC board recognized the emergence of mobile platforms in enterprise use cases and set up the Mobile Internet Concept Development Initiative. OGC Chief Engineer, George Percivall, began attending mobile industry events and solicited inputs from members. The outreach has resulted in the work of the consortium aligning well with mobile Internet requirements and evolution.

Portraying 3D data from diverse sources

Users are attracted to higher performing mobile platforms in order to use 3D data and models more often and in more diverse ways. In addition to 3D user interfaces, the use of 3D in advertising, entertainment and navigation is rising.

In order to take advantage of the diversity of mobile platforms for real time geospatial applications, OGC members are working on the 3D Portrayal candidate standard. Using this standard, web browser based access and visualization will be able to take advantage of the 3D resources available, providing the same or similar user experiences with scene graph rendering or image-based rendering.

The 3D Portrayal Service candidate standard enables applications to present, explore, and analyze complex 3D geodata from diverse sources in formats such as X3D, KML and COLLADA. The ability to use multiple sources of 3D data is expected to be a critical market enabler for 3D applications such as Augmented Reality that depict real-life cityscapes, landscapes, and building interiors. Equally important for enabling market growth, 3D Portrayal also permits 3D data from the same source to be used on a diversity of devices. 

While we are indoors

Mobile device users spend far more time indoors than outdoors. According to an EPA study published in 2009, Americans spend 90% of their time indoors (the exact percentage depends on demographics and geographic region). For the past 3 years there’s been an explosion of indoor location technologies for mobile platforms. The most popular solutions are based on WiFi and Bluetooth technologies.

What’s most important to users isn’t the technology used to identify where they are but how that information is used. Driving people to commercial offers and influencing their spending behavior is one of the biggest mobile trends of this decade. In order to match the user’s position with the most likely activity, advertising and other mobile service platforms need to match the user with the functional spaces and points of interest.

OGC members recognized that indoor spaces change function rapidly and a single positioning technology or a single “map” are too limiting for the numerous potential applications. The OGC IndoorGML Standards Working Group has defined a framework of indoor spatial information to locate stationary or mobile features in indoor space and to provide spatial information services referring their positions in indoor space, instead of representing building architectural components. The candidate OGC IndoorGML standard addresses requirements for indoor navigation in scenarios involving indoor LBS, routing services, and emergency response in indoor space.

Open standard for Augmented Reality

One way that powerful and network-connected mobile devices can bring value to their users is with Augmented Reality (AR). Mobile Augmented Reality permits a user to discover, visualize and interact in real time with digital information that is superimposed on and synchronized with the physical world.

Providers of AR experiences are unable to reach all of their potentially available audience when they must specify the software client with which AR content can be experienced. In order to reach maximum potential audiences with many software client applications, the ARML 2.0 candidate standard developed in the OGC defines an open scalable format for description of virtual objects in an AR scene, the objects' appearances and their anchors in the real world. Additionally, ARML 2.0 defines ECMAScript bindings to dynamically modify the AR scene based on user behavior and input. AR is inherently real-time, a fact that AR standards need to take into account.

Just-in-time services and intermittent connectivity

Another new OGC standard – the OGC GeoPackage Standard – addresses the performance requirements of mobile users' geospatial applications, and that includes the real-time requirements of Augmented Reality applications.

Users become impatient waiting for data to reach them on low bandwidth networks. Caching, storing data locally on the device, helps avoid service interruptions, and it is widely used in streaming media.  Participants in the ninth OGC Web Services testbed (OWS-9) last year demonstrated how GeoPackage facilitates caching in geospatial applications.

GeoPackage reduces the need for a device to be network-connected to access geospatial data, while at the same time making it easy to avoid redundant storing or caching of application-specific data stores. GeoPackage implementations can avoid data translation and replication and permit different map/geospatial applications to share the same world view. User interactions with GeoPackage data sets can be stored locally and then used to update a central database when the user reconnects to the network.

GeoPackage also simplifies the development of geospatial apps. Based on the widely used SQLite database, GeoPackage gives mainstream application developers an easy mechanism for accessing both GIS data and raster data in a format that can be used directly by mobile devices. Developers who are not geospatial experts can implement this standard to provide inexpensive and innovative location solutions that access any of the many geoprocessing services that are accessible via OGC standard interfaces.

The GeoPackage standard was recently adopted by the OGC membership and will soon be available on the OGC website.

Looking ahead

The OGC Mobile Initiative has addressed the several important mobile industry trends described above, but there is more to come. Work in the OGC on data quality assurance will ultimately make mobile devices and their users far more valuable in the crowd-sourcing of data. The OGC Open GeoSMS standard is already becoming an important means for communicating cell phone location in disaster situations. The OGC Moving Features SWG is tackling the overlay and integration of moving feature data from different mobile sources to create more social and business value. The GeoServices REST SWG has advanced understanding of strategies for web clients to communicate with geospatial technologies based on Representational State Transfer (REST) principles, which are important in many mobile apps.

Spatial data is indeed becoming increasingly mobile.