GIS Day:  A mind-blowing journey into geography and data

by • November 19, 2016 • GIS, Partnership/Plan

By Shari Fenn, Content Contributor

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is integral part of our daily life.  Many of us don’t realize how much we use the technology.

This is what GIS Day 2016 is all about!

GIS Day events around the world educate millions of children and adults in more than 80 countries on the benefits of geography and GIS technology.

This article shares some of highlights from the 2016 GIS Day celebrations on November 16 hosted by the Calgary Regional Partnership (CRP), Alberta Geomatics Group (AGG) and SAIT Polytechnic at the Glenbow Museum.

There was an excellent turn out at the event with lots of fascinating displays.


Here are 5 highlights of the evening:


 1. A life size satellite by Planet

Satellite by Planet
Image credit: NASA

A highlight of the event was the display by Planet, formerly Planet Labs.

It featured a life-sized satellite resembling a toner cartridge.

These satellites, produced by Planet, are surprisingly small and pack the latest technology found in consumer products like cell phones.

Would you think that a satellite can be held in your hand?

According to Andrew Pylyphuk, Account Executive, Planet, “people are amazed at the small size of the satellite.”

miniature satelliteAndrew had a captive audience all evening as he shared the stories on how these small satellites work.

The satellites are launched on a Russian Dnepr rocket or an Antares headed to the International Space Station (ISS).

Planet’s product is imagery coming from their own low-cost imaging satellites, known as Doves.

Since the first satellites were launched in 2013 – joining the more than 1,100 active satellites in orbit – more than 135 others have followed and more to come by the end of the year.

They have been designed, engineered and deployed at a breakneck pace.


Three examples of how these cool satellites are used for imaging earth include:

  • Disaster response
    Just like Lawrence taking pictures of post-earthquake San Francisco, satellites have been imaging events such as Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013 and the Nepal earthquake in April 2015.
  • Forestry including deforestation
    If you take pictures of forest areas, you can catch people logging in the wrong place and send the co-ordinates to response team to stop them.
  • Providing farmers with information about their fields
    Alerting them of potential issues before the damage is irreversible.
    Looking through images in time, a farmer can understand the land in an objective manner. Planet Doves are one of many satellite technologies that help feed families around the world every day.


2. The Calgary Regional Partnership’s open data site

Jessica Letizia, the Regional GIS Program Lead for the Partnership, was on hand to provide a sneak peak of some of the online maps and apps that will be available as part of the CRP’s ArcGIS Online launch.

She also showcased the Calgary Region’s Open Data catalogue.

The catalogue provides free and open access to hundreds of datasets from all over the Calgary Region.

More are being added all the time. This data is freely available to everyone in one or more open and accessible formats.

If you’d like to learn more about some of the awesome GIS activities and initiatives in the Calgary Region, you can join the Regional GIS mailing list or follow the Region’s GIS program on Twitter @CRPGIS.


3. Mind-blowing 3-D augmented reality sandbox

Augmented reality

Abacus Datagraphics featured a hands-on, 3D augmented reality sandbox.

It’s the one display everyone kept going to back to.

Young and old alike equally enjoyed the timeless tactile joy of sand in one’s hand, plus a dollop of whiz-bang tech to top it off.

A kinect camera mounted above the sandbox tracks the physical activity below.

As visitors young and old go about their terraforming, a projector throws a dynamic topographic map on top of it all, updating contour lines and elevation colors in real time.

Then, the fun part:

A virtual rainstorm, also supplied by the projector, sends a torrent of blue water cascading down the peaks, showing runoff and watershed on the landscape created moments before.

Liquids flow over the surface with realistic motion.

The exhibit was presented with minimal instruction. Play, curiosity, and self-driven learning were encouraged.

There’s just no better way to teach how topographic contour lines work, or how water flows over a landscape, than building whatever terrain you can imagine.

As you witness the contours and the water react in real time to any changes you make, the results are simply breath-taking!

For more than 20 years, Abacus Datagraphics has been a leading provider of Internet mapping services to the Western Canadian Energy Industry.


4. Drone for personal and professional use


Wade Hawkins, Instructor at SAIT Polytechnic, walked viewers through a compelling overview of drones and their use in day-to-day business.

He brought to life the major components of drone mapping including:

  • Data Capture – digitizing, editing, geocoding, remote sensing and image analysis, global positioning systems and mobile mapping.
  • Data Management – databases, data organization, data translations, geodatabases and enterprise systems.
  • Data Manipulation and Analysis – data processing workflows, geoprocessing operations and how to automate those operations.
  • Data Output – communicating with maps, posters, report figures and web mapping applications.

The geospatial industry is rapidly expanding, as an increasing number of companies are exposed to the benefits of integrating GIS into their day-to-day business.

One interesting fact Hawkins shared about drones is that they are not capable of going into no-fly zones such as the Calgary International Airport.

SAIT Polytechnic offers two programs related to GIS:

Bachelor of Applied TechnologyGeographic Information Systems (BGIS) program at SAIT Polytechnic in Calgary.

It’s an Applied Degree program, which means that a significant part of the student’s learning experience happens on the job during a work experience practicum.

Certificate in GIS Data Management Certificate of Achievement.

Here’s a great video on the GIS programs at SAIT:


gis-day-story6. GIS and Snapchat

Ashley McHale, a 10-year-old student and self-proclaimed master of Snapchat stole the hearts of everyone on Wednesday night.

She did a brilliant job of demonstrating to the crowd how GIS is the foundation of the popular social media app.

Her proud Dad, Scott McHale, IndustryUs, and Vice President of the Alberta Geomatics Group, was there to support her.


A little history on GIS Day

GIS Day booth

The first formal GIS Day took place in 1999.

Esri President and Co-founder Jack Dangermond credits Ralph Nader with being the person who inspired the creation of GIS Day.

He considered GIS Day a good initiative for people to learn about geography and the uses of GIS.

He wanted GIS Day to be a grassroots effort and open to everyone to participate.

GIS is rapidly expanding in the Calgary Region as an increasing number of companies are exposed to the benefits of integrating GIS into their day-to-day business.


Thank you

A big thank you to the Calgary Region Partnership, Alberta Geomatics Group and SAIT for hosting such a brilliant event.

You’ve dispelled the myth that GIS is boring – rather it’s a fascinating adventure!

Shari Fenn is a Canadian storyteller, inbound content writer and owner of Cross Communications Inc.

One Response

  1. Chrisanna Fagan says:

    Technology today is absolutely mindboggling !!!! How did we ever manage without cell phones, computers, satellites and all the other gadgets available to us ????
    We all have to keep up with new technology, otherwise we will be left behind.
    Very interesting article Ms. Fenn !!!!

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