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Observe, Measure and Send: Seek the Future Tense of GIS -- Syunji Murai

Interview / Advanced interview

Observe, measure and send ?? Seek the future tense of GIS


Emeritus professor at The University of Tokyo/ Honorary Member of International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing

Interviewer: Kiyoshi Itao (The supervisor of Nature Interface)

Challenges of Remote Sensing

---- Recently, even in cellular phones, devices with GIS (Geographical Information Systems) functionalities integrated appeared, the technology called GIS became generally known. From now on, we think that it will be used in daily life more and more, but what made you start research on GIS?

MURAI -- In 1966, I moved from a private corporation to a university, where I was engaged in photogrammetry, particularly the field of analysis using computer, formerly called °»analytical photogrammetry°…. The subject was how to make automatic road planning or land leveling by the use of photogrammetry, and I made research on the application for public work planning of Digital Terrain Model (DTM).

---- Do Digital Terrain Model and GIS differ?

MURAI -- Now, DTM became a basic element of GIS, but at that time it was not called GIS. It is said that the concept of DTM itself was presented by Professor Miller from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1970, but the word of GIS appeared in the 80°«s. Therefore, at that time no people were aware of DTM into GIS, though the concept already existed indeed.

---- At that time DTM and GIS were still different kinds of tools, weren°«t they?

MURAI -- Exactly. The main strength of DTM was its usefulness in road planning, although GIS was thought of using a different way and the concept rather came from a 2 dimensional world. As for taking height into account, I mean 3 dimensional thinking, it was not yet considered into GIS.

In fact, in about one month in 1970, I visited 39 facilities from various research establishments in America, Europe, and other places of the world. I think it was an enormous effort. When I visited the American navy and army for the first time, I knew the technology called remote sensing that was used satellite pictures taken by an astronaut, and then I started to challenge remote sensing. Two years later, Landsat 1 was launched and it was possible to record digital data on a magnetic tape for the first time.

---- Until then, it was not processed in digital but analog format such as film or photography, wasn°«t it?

MURAI -- Yes, it was only way to be done. So, I bought with my pocket money the magnetic tape containing digital data collected by this artificial satellite, and indeed operated computer analysis on this data. Actually, I was the first person in Japan to operate computer analysis on this data.

---- You have high clairvoyance, as may be expected. You bought it with your pocket money, but at that time how much did it cost?

MURAI -- It was 180 dollars.

Even on the types of printers there were only line printers, so I was often painting the printed out graphs with color pencils. The people around me were saying, °»It is not imaginable for Japanese to be able to use something difficult like a computer. So, it°«s not necessary to do such a thing. Let°«s analyze the pictures!°… but I started it to oppose to them. I am proud that I am the pioneer of remote sensing because there is the sequence of events. Because before Landsat 1, only me and Dr. Joji Iisaka who was working for IBM at that time were doing remote sensing in Japan.

Coming across remote sensing and GIS

----Then the situation has changed from °»the period of obscurity°… little by little, hasn°«t it?

MURAI -- In 1974, the National Land Agency was inaugurated and began the movement, so that Japan also started to collect land digital information. LIS (Land Information Systems) were built, and it also brought the controversy between LIS and GIS, but thinking about it now, it was clearly the birth of GIS.

---- What kind of technology was land digital information collected with?

MURAI -- By using remote sensing or satellite data, I input, analyzed and formed a database with nation-wide land-use data and the like. At that time it was a terrible database you know. At the same time, National Land Agency spent 3 billion yen on national color aerial photography. I was originally studying photogrammetry, then, I indeed carried on research to fusion it with remote sensing and GIS. It was my own concept that let°«s make together photogrammetry, remote sensing and GIS and use them for land management.

---- It°«s an extremely large-scale research, isn°«t it? Did GIS become recognized in those days?

MURAI -- Entering the 80°«s, the word GIS appeared gradually in conferences etc. One of the motives to start a remote sensing including DTM was computer mapping, though I had the intuition that computer mapping and GIS would join on spatial analysis.

Around the mid of the 80°«s, in America, the researchers switched from a university, developed GIS software based on private institutions and became able to sell it. At that time, as there were no personal computers, it was obviously executable on workstations. When we entered between the second half of the 80°«s and the 90°«s, the software became available on personal computers. Simultaneously, around that time, the situation of remote sensing also changed from the model of America°«s monopoly. France launched a satellite, then Japan, India, Canada, and various countries also came to mark their entries into the market. Thanks to this development competition, remote sensing technology grew and SPOT satellite with a 10-meter resolution appeared.

---- The situation you could only use a small reduce-scale map has changed rapidly hasn°«t it?

MURAI -- When the °»cold war°… finished in 1990, in the USA the commercialism became the driving force. Moreover, in 1993 on the GIS as national information base, the American president ordered to complete Clearinghouse (search software to clarify the attributes of spatial data) and it was taken. Of course personal computer development was also very important. Because of them, it spread quickly.

The possibility to extend -- bring spatial information into a network

---- With such a rapid growth, don°«t you think an evolution in GIS concept itself happen?

MURAI -- Indeed, from the end of the 80°«s, GIS definition stopped to be only °»Geographic Information System°…. It was defined not as the technology of Information System simply, but °»Geospatial Information Science°…, in other words, it took its independence as information technology field of study.

It is not a mere aggregation of technologies, nor a problem of system, but a real study. And because if the word GIS has 2 meanings °»Geographic Information System°… and °»Geospatial Information Science°…, it makes confusion. °»Geomatics°… and °»Geoinformatics°… appeared as the name of a new field of study based on remote sensing, what we came to translate into °»Spatial Information Science°…. Then, the °»Spatial Information Science Research Center°… was created at the University of Tokyo for the purpose of making the synthesis of it in a study group dealing with the shape and quality of land environment with remote sensing, GIS, GPS. It was really an epoch-making event.

---- Till then, remote sensing and GIS were separated subjects and you made the effort in order to synthesis it, didn°«t you?

MURAI ? I am thinking that remote sensing is the tool that collects the most recent information on environment or national land, and that GIS is a tool to operate spatial analysis or treatment on it and organize it in a database in order to support decision making.

In regard to them, because GPS give the support for position information, the Geographic point of view is very important. In China, they say the °»3S Technology°… for the S of RS in Remote Sensing, the S of GIS and the S of GPS, though this integration of the 3 S is surely Geomatics and Geoinformatics. After this, with the plus of multimedia and communication technology, I am getting closer to your research domain, Professor Itao.

---- Going to build a network from wearable machinery?

MURAI ? With remote sensing we analyze the earth, get the position, and put it in network. After doing, our Geomathics and Professor Itao°«s Wearable Information Network are docking. Now, it sounds exaggerated to take it as a new paradigm, but I would like to talk about the concept.

From 1984 to 2000, for 16 years I served the Council of International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote-Sensing (ISPRS), including as the President from 1992 to 96. At that time, the international society was originally dealing with photogrammetry and remote sensing, but it resulted in a big debate if it should handle GIS or not as scientific field of an official society. As a result, it came to handle it officially and the photogrammetry group of remote sensing officially married with GIS. That is to say, GIS and remote sensing are one identical study system.

The concept is to °»observe, measure and send°…

---- What is the point of remote sensing?

MURAI -- The best key point is the slope between our own position sensing with movement and sensors. If it is not accurately measured, you cannot have a good sensing, and after, it happens to cause a great difficulty for image processing or data treatment. Even if wearable sensors are cheap, in counterpart processing part requires time and money, becoming something expensive as a result. Therefore, I decided to adopt RTK (Real Time Kinematic) GPS for position measurement. By using it, it becomes possible to put out your own position moment by moment with a precision of 10 to 20 centimeters. If the sky is clear, thanks to GPS it is possible to measure in real time your own position almost every second.

---- And what becomes a problem here?

MURAI -- It is the attitude measurement. Once the cold war between Soviet and America was over, the technology measuring roll, pitch and yaw angles was released by the military affair technology and rapidly developed. It is called Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) or Inertial Navigation Sensor System, but to measure the attitude on 3 axes with high precision, Gyroscope was developed and put on the market.

---- Didn°«t this kind of technology exist till then?

MURAI ? It did exist, but technologies that were not military technologies had only the efficiency to measure °»in minutes°…. In fact it was a wonderful thing though, it reached the point where it can put out a precision °»in seconds°… of 10 seconds to 20 seconds with the military technology. Being able to measure an angle with a precision of about 15 to 20 seconds was really a revolutionary technology you know.

Nevertheless, there was another neck. On the wearable sensor, for example, in the case you put an image sensor taking pictures, if you put the sensor on a moving body, as it naturally shakes, the image moves. So, even if you send an image of a disaster scene in real time, it is extremely difficult to look at. If you have position and attitude data I told a little while ago, you can repair it into a smooth picture after treatment, though you loose the real time property.

---- To take a good image, it is necessary to make the sensor stable and take off the image swing, isn°«t it?

MURAI -- If there is no stabilizer in order to eliminate the swing provoked by an engine vibration or a body in movement, perhaps it will not be popular and practical. However, of course, there was indeed a stabilizer in military technology. To stabilize and see from a moving tank to the target I want to shoot down is a requirement for military technology. To be able to see a clear image of such a thing is always due to the stabilizer system.

---- Recently, this system came to be embedded in devices like video camera and so on used by general users.

MURAI ? It°«s as you said. Because if you don°«t attach this kind of things to wearable sensors and make a wearable network, it does not become something usable. You acquire the stability of the screen with a stabilizer, measure the angle with a sensor, and finally put out the position. GPS, the IMU, the stabilizer, communication equipment and image sensor should be integrated into a wearable system. Something that combines all into one is necessary, you know. In brief, observe, measure and send. This is the concept.

---- The concept is very easy to understand indeed. Observe, measure and send. This is to say measure the angular and position information and send it with a wearable information network. Professor MURAI, you made GIS being nationally and internationally recognized as a domain of science. With that, remote sensing, photogrammetry and GIS indeed married, didn°«t they?

MURAI -- From there, thinking of geomatics and geoinformatics appeared.

---- And then, in what way will you withdraw this real time property? If you pull it out with after treatment, the real time property is lost.

MURAI -- Because in that situation, it°«s useless even if you send it. The world demand is not such an easygoing thing. There are a lot of urgent things.

---- Finally, it is sent. If your technology and the wearable network driving force of WIN NPO could unite, furthermore the usefulness of these technologies will spread, won°«t it? I°«d like to make growing the technology of such a new concept in cooperation with each other. Without fail let°«s realize it!

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