Beware of the Bluetooth Gnomes and Other Stories from GISRUK 2017

Gorton Monastry, GISRUK 2017

The 2017 GIS Research UK (GISRUK) Conference took place last week in Manchester, and Pixalytics sponsored the Best Early-Career Researcher Prize.

I was looking forward to the event, but I nearly didn’t get there! I was planning to catch the train up from London on Wednesday. However, the trackside fire at Euston station put paid to that, as my train was cancelled. Instead I was at the station bright and early on Thursday morning.

The first presentation I saw was the inspiring keynote by Professor Andrew Hudson-Smith. He talked about ‘getting work out there and used’ and using the Internet of Things to create a ‘census of now’ i.e., rather than having census data a number of years out-of-date, collect it all of the time. Personally, I also enjoyed hearing about his Bluetooth gnomes in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which talk to you about cyber security. A visit to his gnomes is definitely on my list for the next spare weekend in London!

I spent the rest of the afternoon in the Infrastructure stream of presentations where there were talks on spatially modelling the impact of hazards (such as flooding) on the National Grid network, human exposure to hydrocarbon pollution in Nigeria, deciding where to site, and what type of, renewable energy and investigating taxi journeys.

In the evening, the conference dinner was at ‘The Monastery’, also known as Gorton Monastery. Despite the name, it was actually a friary built by the Franciscan monks who travelled to Manchester in 1861 to serve the local Catholic community. It was one of the first churches to be completed by the Franciscans in England after the Reformation. It became derelict in the mid 1990’s and ended up on the World Monuments Fund Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World. Since then it has been restored and is used as a spectacular community venue.

Friday started with the morning parallel sessions, and I picked ‘Visualisation’ followed by ‘Machine Learning’. Talks included ‘the Curse of Cartograms’ (and if you don’t know what these curses are, have a look here!), land-use mapping and tracking behaviour at music festivals using mobile phone generated data – which won the best spatial analysis paper. However, my favourite talk was given by Gary Priestnall on the projection augmented relief models, which use physical models of a location’s terrain that are then overlaid with imagery/videos shown using a projector. The effect was fantastic!

Our closing keynote, ‘The Great Age of Geography 2017’, was from Nick Crane, known to UK TV viewers as the ‘map man’. He reflected on the role of geographers throughout history and then into the future. He equated the breakthrough in printing, from wood blocks to copper plates that could be engraved in more detail and updated, to today’s transition from analogue to digital.

The conference finished with the awards. I was delighted to present Alyson Lloyd and James Cheshire with the Best Early-Career Researcher Prize for their presentation on ‘Challenges of Big Data for Social Science: Addressing Uncertainty in Loyalty Card Data’. Unfortunately, as it was on Wednesday afternoon, it wasn’t one I’d seen personally. However, I’ve downloaded the conference paper, available from here, and I’m look forward to reading it.

It was an excellent conference, and I was really enjoyed my time in Manchester. Looking forward to GISRUK 2018!

Pixalytics Going 200 Miles An Hour

Landsat 8 Image of Abu Dhabi from the 10th November 2014. Image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Landsat 8 Image of Abu Dhabi from the 10th November 2014.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.

One of the keys to growing a small business is to say yes a lot. It might be yes to a new contract, or yes to being part of a bidding consortium or yes to an unusual marketing opportunity. We’ve recently said yes to such a marketing opportunity, and this weekend our company name will adorn two Formula 1 cars as they compete in the final F1 Grand Prix of the season in Abu Dhabi. Pixalytics has sponsored an F1 racing team!

We’re part of the community that’s helped the Caterham F1 team to race in Abu Dhabi. Caterham F1 is based in Oxfordshire in the UK, and sadly went into administration in October 2014 resulting in them missing the races in Brazil and the USA. In November they started a crowd-funding initiative, using the Exeter based Crowdcube platform, to raise over £2M to enable them to race in Abu Dhabi.

A number of rewards were offered to those who supported the #RefuelCaterhamF1 project, and one of them caught our eye; we felt the opportunity to have our name on the car was an opportunity not to miss. As regular blog readers will know we are fans of Formula One and at the final Grand Prix of the season this weekend, our company name will appear on the tradebar on both sides of the two participating Caterham CT05 F1 cars. Hopefully during Thursday and Friday practice, Saturday qualifying and Sunday’s race, Pixalytics will be hitting speeds of almost 200mph and with a bit of luck, may be visible to an audience of billions.

An Earth observation company sponsoring an F1 team may not at first appear to be a natural fit, but Caterham is a British company working in the STEM sector, like us. We need highly skilled organisations like Caterham to thrive in this country, vibrant STEM companies are vital to encouraging the next generation to see the opportunities in these areas. There is a long way to go before Caterham even survives, especially with the recently announced redundancies, but we wanted to give them our support.

Early this year we wrote a blog about how we hadn’t been able to see the night-time Grand Prix in Singapore without using high resolution satellites. As soon as we knew we were going racing, the question raised its head again – could we see the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix circuit from space? It takes place on the Yas Marina circuit, the circuit is five and half kilometres long, but it is a L-shaped loop with a footprint of about three kilometres.

After searching the Landsat 8 images archive, we found the image at the shown top of the blog from the 10th November 2014 where you can clearly see the circuit. What do you mean you can’t see it? It’s in the bottom left quadrant, about a third of the way in from the left and a third of the way up from the bottom. It is there!

Zoomed in Landsat 8 Image of Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Circuit from the 10th November 2014. Image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Zoomed in Landsat 8 Image of Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Circuit from the 10th November 2014.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.

If  you are still to see it, it’s worth knowing the Yas Marina circuit has a second interesting feature. The circuit loops around the Ferrari World theme park and this building has a bright Ferrari red roof, making it easier to spot. You can see it  clearer in the zoomed in image on t right. but it is also in the image at the top.

Running your own business, or any business, is hard work. A lot of time is spent winning customers, completing contracts and worrying about cashflow and profit. Sometimes you have put the business aside, and take a moment to enjoy what you do. We’re doing that this weekend. Will we get new business out of our sponsorship? Unlikely. Will anyone see Pixalytics on the car? Probably not – unless the TV cameras zoom in! But for us, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to sponsor an F1 car. So watch the coverage over the weekend, and let us know if you see Pixalytics flying past.