By Shubhendu Parth and Vimarsh Bajpai
If ambition had wings, India’s geospatial technology has already taken to the skies and will likely drive its adoption in Asia. The country is on course to prepare digital maps of all its 6,00,000 villages and pan-India 3D maps of 100 cities using geospatial technology and drones, as part of its Survey of Villages and Mapping with Improvised Technology in Village Areas – SVAMITVA initiative that was launched in April 2020. So far, drone surveys have been conducted in over 1,00,000 villages, and maps of 77,527 villages have been given to states. This comes close on the heels of the Indian government bringing in new policy guidelines for the geospatial sector last year.
This announcement of new guidelines was a watershed moment for India’s public and private sectors. The government did away with the need for prior approval, security clearance, licence or any other restrictions on the collection, generation, preparation, dissemination, storage, publication, updation and digitisation of geospatial data and maps within the Indian territory. Simultaneously, the government also updated the SpaceCom and Space Remote Sensing policies, liberalising the traditional satellite communication and remote sensing sectors. Add to this the release of new rules for drones, and you have a “trinity” of sorts that will unleash a new future of India’s economic progress.
AIMING FOR THE STARS
The global space economy is currently valued at about $360 Billion. Despite being among a few spacefaring nations globally, India accounts for only about 2% of the space economy. The SpaceCom Policy aims to promote the private sector, enabling the Indian space program to remain cost-competitive within the global space market and thus create several jobs in space and other related industries.
As part of the policy, the government has set up the National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre to act as a single-window, independent, nodal agency. The government has also enhanced the role of New Space India, which will serve as the exclusive public-sector aggregator for both demand and supply of space assets and services on a commercial basis, including imaging, communication transponders, launch services etc.
“The NSIL would be the commercial arm of ISRO. It will help facilitate the launch of satellites by the private sector. Although we are still looking for more clarity about its role as far as its interface with the private sector is concerned,” says Lt. Gen. AK Bhatt, Director General, Indian Space Association – ISpA, an industry body that is made up of space and satellite companies from the space domain. The members of ISpA include government bodies like Indian Space Research Organisation, NSIL and IN-SPACe. Its founding members include Bharti Airtel, Larson and Toubro, Nelco, OneWeb, Mapmyindia, Walchandnagar Industries and Alpha Design Technologies.
The demand for space-based services is on the rise in India and across the globe.
“The new policies will act as an enabler and allow the industry to embark on the path of innovation and create the next generation of technical workforce and prepare our youth to meet the challenges of the next century in the space domain. As ISpA, our role is to provide a conducive environment for the private sector in India to help India become a global player in the space economy,” says Bhatt.
Since the government announced the new space-sector policies, the number of Indian space technology startups have been rising consistently. According to an estimate, funding into this sector jumped 198.67% in 2021 to touch $67.2 Million across 11 rounds, up from $22.5 Million in 2020 across nine rounds. These include satellite-based services and applications start-ups Pixxel, Dhruva Space and Astrome. Space launch vehicle manufacturing start-ups AgniKul and Skyroot were also the frontrunners in fund-raising.
The demand for space-based services is on the rise in India and across the globe. While the sector is at a nascent stage, the future looks promising, with India becoming the next big frontier in offering these services to the world, and a model for other countries in Asia to replicate.
Highlighting the benefits of the liberalised remote sensing policy, Dr Subrata Nityaranjan Das, Scientist/Engineer, ISRO, said, “Satellite remote sensing is one of the most affordable techniques for carrying out development activities within the government or in the private sector. The central government mostly uses remote sensing data for regional level planning and for formulating various projects and policies at the national level. The role of the private-sector players is important as they can carry out remote sensing activities and use Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to analyse satellite data and provide to the government.”
The reforms have tasked ISRO with identifying and announcing future opportunities in selected science and exploration missions for private sector participation. Such participation will be promoted through part funding by the government. ISRO will also share best practices, protocols, and other relevant technical expertise with the private sector to enhance capacity for space activities.
IN-SPACe has received close to 40 proposals from large industries, MSMEs, startups and academia. The proposals cover a broad range of activities, cutting across both upstream – launch vehicle and satellite manufacturing – and downstream like earth observation applications and communications.
MAKING BIG MOVES IN ASIA
Geospatial technologies find application in diverse sectors such as infrastructure, manufacturing, health, agriculture, urban planning, highways and service delivery. It plays a critical role in day-to-day activities, and most of the applications we use today are significant use cases of this technology. From weather forecasting, route mapping to traffic navigation, the technology can become all-pervasive.
The demand for ready-to-use GIS-based solution products and content in forest management, disaster management, electrical utilities, land records, water distribution and property taxation are on the rise.
And the demand goes beyond just India, with counties from the Asia region leveraging the power of geospatial technology. “Countries are taking significant steps towards integrating geospatial data into their national policies and strategies. As this technology rapidly grows, these countries are also opening up international corporations. And at the same time, they are demonstrating that the socio-economic benefits of this technology are experienced at the global level,” says Barry Nagel, CTO, UP42.
Geospatial technologies find application in diverse sectors such as infrastructure, manufacturing, health, agriculture, urban planning, highways and service delivery.
According to Inkwood Research, the geospatial analytics market in Asia-Pacific is likely to grow at a CAGR of 15.71% during 2020-2028, with significant growth coming from the Asia region. The report also indicates that the demand for GIS software in Asia is expected to rise due to the transition from 2D to 3D based mapping, increase in penetration of mobility, and increase in adoption of GIS technologies in India, Japan, South Korea, and China. Moreover, the development of the Internet of Things, cloud computing, and big data is likely to augment market growth in the region.
In Indonesia, for example, favourable government initiatives to promote geospatial projects is driving the growth in corporate usage, and the government is taking further measures to develop an effective, functional, and advanced data infrastructure. In Thailand, reliable data is required for agriculture and stock farming. A geospatial data, and analytics company, Planet, has signed a deal with GISTDA, a government agency under Thailand’s Ministry of Science and Technology, to provide satellite images for regular monitoring.
The Vietnam market, too, is witnessing stable growth due to rapid urbanisation and growing initiatives towards earth observation and remote sensing. On the other hand, the Singapore government is planning to invest in the smart nation initiative, which will boost the use of geospatial technologies in the country.
BETTING ON LOCATIONAL POWER
Businesses are waking up to the power of location. Knowing the location of your customers, dealers, employees, etc., is the new form of data currency. “This realisation that you can harness the power of location, which is attached with the data, you discover the value that you can derive from it. While retail organisations use that data to offer targeted messages to their clients, the data can also help them decide where to set up their new outlets,” said Agendra Kumar, Managing Director, Esri India Technologies, a leading provider of geospatial solutions based on ArcGIS.
Similarly, logistics in e-commerce is a new ball game altogether. The sheer volume of products shipped across continents is humongous, and businesses are using geospatial technology to track and trace inventory and shipments.
Geospatial Decision Making systems accurately integrate satellite imagery, three-dimensional models, textures and video streams, road data, maps, and point data. Such systems are very effective and help handle logistics, especially container tracking. According to a survey by Vanson Bourne, mapping technology has had a significant impact on transport and logistics organisations. While 67% experienced better customer engagement, 46% improved productivity and efficiency, and 46% saw a reduction in costs.
The insurance sector uses location intelligence to better model risk, set accurate premiums and accelerate claim management. Geospatial technologies are also used to map out risk areas, anticipate potential disasters, and help with fraud detection. Companies use radar and hydrological modelling to map out areas more prone to flooding and drought. Insurance companies are getting good at determining risk using geospatial technologies.
Another use case in the insurance sector includes monitoring driving habits with usage-based car insurance. Car insurance technology equips your car with GPS and telematics equipment. These GIS tools examine your driving habits every step of the way and supply data back to insurance companies to assess the risk and premium. With the rise of insurtech, companies are using data enrichment and geospatial analytics to provide information on policy coverage in minutes.
The geospatial analytics market in Asia-Pacific is likely to grow at a CAGR of 15.71% during 2020-2028, with significant growth coming from the Asia region.
GIS, coupled with a global positioning system, is very useful for search and rescue missions in the disaster relief phase. “If you go back 15-20 years, in case of a cyclone, the death toll would be high. However, with the use of geospatial technology, local administrations can move people to safer locations and results in saving lives,” says Kumar.
Businesses worldwide are using geospatial data that helps them make the right decisions at the right time. It is high time companies in the Asia region leverage this technology to optimise their strategic decisions for efficient operations and sustained business growth.