Skip to main content

Does the future of spatial data lie in open-source point cloud ecosystems?

Spatial data is a hot topic today: more and more parties and applications use location-based data.

Kasvokuva blogin kirjoittaneesta Harri Kaartisesta.

We can talk about a trend and even an "explosion of spatial data". Finland wants to be a part of the development. In the report on spatial data policy, which is being circulated for comments, the aim is that Finland will become the world's leading country in the use of spatial data.

What does the report on spatial data policy look like from the point of view of the Pointcloud project? The Finnish Parliament's Committee for the Future asked the leader of the project, Harri Kaartinen, to submit an expert's report and to be heard in a meeting of the Committee. The minutes from the meeting and the expert's report are available (in Finnish) on the Parliament's website.

In the report they have identified the same development needs as we search solutions for in our project: what will the new technology and spatial data that is more and more precise and collected in a decentralised manner enable?

In the meeting of the Committee for the Future there was also discussion about how to secure user orientation, reliability, correctness of data and safety of use in the development of spatial data and how to find the synergy between the work done by the public administration and the private sector.

3D digitalisation of the environment changes society

Spatial data collection methods are experiencing a period of transition. Formerly, mostly only a few companies and some organisations within the public administration collected spatial data, and the data collected could only be used by the chosen few. Other users were offered finished products, such as various maps. Today, more and more parties have the possibility to collect and use spatial data thanks to new methods and open data. Often those who collect spatial data do not realise or understand that they are collecting some kind of data, for instance with their phones.

In future, the number of systems and equipment that collect spatial data will increase more and more when various sensors will be installed in vehicles and mobile phones.

Open spatial data will create opportunities as long as security is taken into account

A decentralised data collection offers the possibility of more current and precise 3D data of the environment. Easily accessible open data creates opportunities for new services and businesses. This development also brings challenges: how do we secure the reliability and compatibility of data from different sources without endangering the security of the individual and society?

In addition to the development of technologies and platforms, we need guiding legislation.

Could an automatically updated point cloud ecosystem be the spatial data ecosystem of the future?

3D point clouds can be collected by laser scanning or by photographing from an aeroplane, drone, car, train or boat and with equipment worn on one’s back or in one’s hand. Point clouds obtained from several sources create a point cloud ecosystem, which we are studying in our Pointcloud project. One area of development mentioned in the report on spatial data policy is the creation of a spatial data ecosystem. The point cloud ecosystem is a part of this spatial data ecosystem.

We suggest that a dense and up-to-date 3D point cloud lays the foundation for the national topographic database, and this way it creates the foundation for the entire spatial data ecosystem. The advantages of ecosystem-based operation have been identified in the report as well. It creates better preconditions for companies to develop their services and competitiveness. The authorities will be able to plan and maintain society's basic structures and functions more efficiently. Communities will have better possibilities of using spatial data in new ways, and the public will benefit when the quality of decision-making improves and the resources saved by society can be reallocated.

Spatial data skills and awareness of opportunities are needed

Increasing skills and awareness of the opportunities and threats of spatial data technologies is one of the most important areas of development in the report on spatial data policy, the Pointcloud project and the statement of the Committee for the Future. As has been noted, spatial data technologies are experiencing a period of transition, and the development is particularly rapid. Therefore, training is needed so that various organisations can utilise spatial data effectively. The Pointcloud project offers research data and development of methods by the following principle: "The right information to support the right decisions".


The blog was written by Harri Kaartinen and Heli Honkanen. Harri Kaartinen works as Research Professor at the Finnish Geospatial Research Institute of the National Land Survey of Finland and leads the Pointcloud/Combat project funded by the Strategic Research Council at the Academy of Finland. Heli Honkanen works as Project Coordinator at the Finnish Geospatial Research Institute and coordinates and handles project communications.

Spatial data
Laser scanning