From Digital Twins to the Metaverse
Digital twins have long been used in manufacturing to visualize, model, and predict vehicle performance in both time and space. As digital twins are moving from the factories to the streets, we have an opportunity to leverage these developments as a forcing function to create a truly integrated global system of systems. Under development are digital twins of cities, states, nations, regions, the atmosphere, oceans, and as Europe has envisioned, the Earth itself, with their DestinE program. Academia, government organizations, private-sector entities, and others are building these digital representations of some part of the Earth System. Envision each of these digital twins, regardless of their source, being integrated in order to visualize, model, and predict changes occurring in, on, and around the Earth. This digital representation of the universe would, indeed, ultimately deliver on the true definition of the Metaverse – ‘something about’ (meta) the universe in which we live.
Under Barbara Ryan’s leadership, millions of satellite images and other Earth observation data have been made available publicly at no charge, allowing scientists, planners, and policy makers to make better-informed decisions on problems that transcend political boundaries. Her work addresses critical issues in agriculture, biodiversity, climate change, disaster planning, energy, health, and water.
Barbara career began in 1974 when she joined the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the nation’s largest natural resource science and civilian mapping agency. She advanced steadily in the USGS, earning master’s degrees in geography from the University of Denver and in civil engineering from Stanford University. As associate director for geography at the USGS, she was responsible for the agency’s remote sensing, geography and civilian mapping programmes, including the Landsat satellites. From 2008 to 2012, she was Director of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Space Programme, and from 2012 to 2018, Ryan was the Secretariat Director of the intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations (GEO) in Geneva, Switzerland. In January of 2021, Barbara became the second Executive Director of the World Geospatial Industry Council (WGIC), a not-for-profit trade association of private-sector companies working in the geospatial and Earth observation ecosystem – a position from which she just recently (October 2023) retired.
Ryan has served as chair of the international Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS); awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree from her alma mater, the State University of New York at Cortland; named an Honorary Fellow of the American Geographical Society, and in 2017 she was one of 10 global Leaders to be named to the Geospatial World Forum’s Hall of Fame.
A biographer for Mother Earth, using satellites and drones as my scientific illustrators. I share my experiences drawn from 25 years as a geospatial scientist in academia, military, industry, and small business to help people discover science beyond lab coats and test tubes. But I have an ulterior motive. I am passionate about how we can use drones and geospatial technology to watch over our environment and its changes. So the more people I can inspire to join me, the faster we can put plans in place to help keep our environment healthy into the future.
How Will AI Transform Urban Observing, Sensing, Imaging and Mapping?
Observing, sensing, imaging, and mapping urban environments are essential for effectively understanding and administering cities. Advances in computing and information technologies have led to a new paradigm based on artificial intelligence (AI) and Earth observation (EO) data from various platforms, such as satellite, aerial, and ground-based sensors, enabling more detailed and extensive sensing of urban environments. Street-level and nighttime light imagery as well as geotagged data capture urban forms and environments more directly from a human perspective and provide rich information from physical entities, socio-economic characteristics, and human perception. By leveraging multi-modal data, urban sensing, imaging, and mapping capabilities can be expanded, and previously obscure information (including landscape fabric, socio-economic activities, and human behaviours) can be rendered visible. This newfound efficacy enables human beings to undertake tasks previously deemed inconceivable. This paper provides an assessment and commentary on how AI reshapes the research paradigm of EO and how the EO and AI technologies integrate to offer advancements in many aspects of urban studies and applications. We conclude that AI will provide a deeper and more comprehensible interpretation of the fundamental principles underlying urban issues, a powerful tool for autonomous identification and solving of urban issues, and the creation of customized urban designs, which can align more closely with the goals of sustainable urban development established by governments and the United Nations. Nevertheless, open issues in GeoAI, especially integrating diverse geospatial big data, data security, and developing a general data processing and analysis framework, warrant further exploration.
Qihao Weng, a Foreign Member of The Academy of Europe (Academia Europaea), and a Fellow of IEEE, AAAS, AAG, ASPRS and AAIA, is currently a Chair Professor at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and worked as the Director of the Center for Urban and Environmental Change and a Professor of Geography at Indiana State University, 2001-2021, and a Senior Fellow at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration from 2008 to 2009. He received his Ph.D. degree in geography from the University of Georgia in 1999. Weng is the Lead of GEO Global Urban Observation and Information Initiative, 2012-2022, and an Editor-in-Chief of ISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing. Additionally, he serves as the Series Editor of Taylor & Francis Series in Remote Sensing Applications, and Taylor & Francis Series in Imaging Science. Weng has been the Organizer and Program Committee Chair of the biennial IEEE/ISPRS/GEO sponsored International Workshop on Earth Observation and Remote Sensing Applications conference series since 2008, a National Director of American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing from 2007 to 2010, and a panellist of U.S. DOE’s Cool Roofs Roadmap and Strategy in 2010.