GEOINT 2016: The growing GEOINT revolution

June 9, 2016  - By

A few weeks ago, I attended GEOINT 2016. It was quite different from my first GEOINT in 2007. Back then, GIS and imagery were the focus of most exhibitors and presentations, with points, line and polygons plotted on paper being the norm. This year the tradecraft seems to have evolved exponentially to a broad and significantly more sophisticated collection of technologies both on the EXPO floor and in most presentations.

New terms have solidly entered the geospatial lexicon: big data, big data analytics, exploiting social media, machine learning, activity based intelligence (ABI), predictive analytics (see my column last month), the internet of things (IoT) (see my January column), small sats, object based intelligence (OBI), cyber, human geography, open source, deep learning, machine to machine tipping & cueing, survivable space assets and the list continues to grow.

I was pleased to hear something I believed for quite a while. There is a growing consensus that Cyber attacks need to be displayed as events with geospatial components (location of servers, nodes, networks, etc.). That kind of visualization should provide valuable insight into these growing and complex attacks.


National Intelligence Director James Clapper.

National Intelligence Director James Clapper.

The 75-year-old Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper poked fun at himself indicating that this would be his last year as DNI and he was counting down the days. He said that he was taught to always respect his elders but finding one was getting increasingly difficult. He also highlighted the same feeling I had that the GEOINT community has gone through some significant changes.

Computers have evolved from IBM’s 1997 Deep Blue winning only one of four chess games against Gary Kasperov to the recent contest of Google AlphaGo against the world master of the much more complex Chinese board game “Go.” AlphaGo won four of five games primarily with moves that experts called inspired genius. It did that because it was programed not to just play but to learn as it played. So “machine learning” was a frequent topic at GEOINT with it becoming a real game changer in national intelligence work.

Even imagery, the long standing bread and butter of GEOINT, is going through a revolutionary change. Citing NGA Director Cardillo, DNI Clapper indicated that we will soon evolve from limited overhead imagery available in certain locations at certain times to imagery of every spot on the globe every day of the year. You can watch Director Clapper’s full keynote.

NOTE: More than 127 GEOINT related videos are posted on the USGIF website from the 2016 conference and the previous year with additional videos posted almost weekly.

USGIF Award Winners

The five USGIF award winners for 2016.

The five USGIF award winners for 2016.

Five awards were presented for 2016. Two of them had special interest for me — the Industry award winner ABACO Group shown in the EXPO section below and GeoHuntsville. Here is more information about the five USGIF award winners.

Community Support Achievement Award for the GeoHunstville Exemplar City program


The GeoHunstville Exemplar City program helps cities deal with disasters using new technology. Shown receiving the award for the GeoHunstville team are Chris Johnson and Joe Francica.

I was thrilled to see my adopted geospatial city, Huntsville, win the Community Support Achievement Award. The GeoHunstville Exemplar City program which assists local governments in preparing, responding, mitigating and avoiding natural and manmade disasters using new technology.

The system leverages geospatial tools including the new NGA open source collaboration environment GeoQ, UAVs and a broad array of internet accessible sensors through the IoT.

Exhibit Hall Expo

The conference attendance was over 4,000 with 250 exhibitors on the EXPO floor. You can view the full list of exhibitors at the GEOINT2016 website or by downloading the GEOINT 2016 smart phone app. The app has more information about the exhibitors including descriptions of their technology, contact info and website links. Here are samples of booths I found especially interesting.

ABACO Group: ABACO of in the United Kingdom and Italy, was given the 2016 USGIF Industry Achievement Award. ABACO received the award for their augmented reality (AR) “Farm Visor,” to help farmers access big data. One aspect that caught a lot of attention was their very elegant “X-ray” tablet viewer. The user holds the tablet up and adjust the “Transparency” of the wall they are viewing and it looks like you are looking through the wall. In reality you are viewing a geo-registered image of the surrounding area that seems like you are looking through the wall. Because of exhibit hall lights and screen reflections the

CYVIZCYVIZ builds easy to configure tactical operations centers that can display mixed media both classified and unclassified content in a common environment.

DIFFEO: DIFFEO is an automated search assistant that uses proprietary algorithms to speed searches of Big Data even if the operator does not know what key words need to be searched.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise Software: HP had a virtual off road driving experience. IT was not as enjoyable as Birdly, a little sickening in fact. I was told by one of the users that the reason was poor synchronization between the goggle imagery and head movement.

International Spy Museum: The International Spy Museum, currently located on F Street in Washington DC will soon be building a much larger facility just south of the mall. They have also received considerable new material and collections for their exhibits.

Lead’Air: Lead’Air shows several hardware configurations to capture lidar, ortho and oblique imagery.

LizardTech: LizardTech highlighted the new ability to handle LiDAR data and display it in various ways including DEMs.

PitneyBowes: PitneyBowes was showing their latest lossless imagery compression tools along with extensive business intelligence data.

PLW Modelworks and Birdly: Most users consider PLW Modelworks the gold standard of digital 3D models. The PLW booth combined their superb 3B models with a virtual reality “flying machine” called Birdly. The machine uses Occulus Rift goggles with earphones for sound and even a fan blowing wind in your face to create a fairly realistic urban flight experience. The user can bank and turn or soar by flapping the wings. I tried it and it was nice.

SigmaSpace: SigmaSpace was showing their single photon LiDAR. Their system is supposed to do a much better job discerning first and second level returns so collecting true ground elevation under a tree canopies is faster, more accurate with greater point density. Being a green laser it may also prove more effective in littoral work.

TerraGo: TerraGo was demonstrating Edge as a tool to simplify data collection in the field using mobile devices.

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About the Author: Art Kalinski

A career Naval Officer, Art Kalinski established the Navy’s first geographic information system (GIS) in the mid-1980s. Completing a post-graduate degree in GIS at the University of North Carolina, he was the Atlanta Regional Commission GIS Manager from 1993 to 2007. He pioneered the use of oblique imagery for public safety and participated in numerous disaster-response actions including GIS/imagery support of the National Guard during Hurricane Katrina; the Urban Area Security Initiative; a NIMS-based field exercise in Atlanta; and a fully manned hardware-equipped joint disaster response exercise in New York City. Kalinski retired early from ARC to join Pictometry International to direct military projects using oblique imagery, which led to him joining SPGlobal Inc. He has written articles for numerous geospatial publications, and authors a monthly column for the GeoIntelligence Insider e-newsletter aimed at federal GIS users.