The world of open source geospatial gathered itself together again last week, as Boundless joined almost 900 developers, users and managers at FOSS4G 2014 in Portland, Oregon. This is the ninth such gathering I’ve attended, and they all have a special local flavour: in this case the flavour of locally-sourced ingredients and micro-brewed beer.
Each year also has it’s own favored technology, the topic that packs rooms and spills attendees into the halls: in the early days, MapServer and then PostGIS; Java technology like GeoServer and GeoTools; the first open source slippy maps like OpenLayers; new server technologies like Node.js. This year the topics that I observed drawing in the big crowds were vector tiles and drones.
Vector tiles are close to home, a technology I understand and have experimented with, and if PostGIS, GeoServer and OpenLayers are not producing and consuming vector tiles within a year I will be surprised. There’s lots of demand for the technology, a solid use case in mobile clients, and a clear implementation path forwards.
Drones, on the other hand, represent a whole new opportunity for open source since, like open source software, cheap drones and sensors democratize information about location. Cheap tools and open software are a great match. Aaron Racicot shared his experience building a quadrocopter for image acquisition for under $700, and Stephen Mather described how he processes drone photos from imagery into a 3D point cloud and textured terrain mesh using open source tools. From here it’s not hard to imagine a future where a digital model of a city could be automatically and continuously updated from the cameras of hundreds of personal drones swooping around.
In talks there were some great examples of Spatial IT: building tools that integrate spatial thinking with existing IT architectures and data flows. For example, the improved MapFish Printing module, which may find its way into OpenGeo Suite over the next year, is centered around producing reports (which might contain maps) rather than producing maps (that may have some reporting).
Similarly, practical and incremental transformation stories from proprietary to open source were common. Sara Safavi presented basic case studies and patterns for integrating open source into proprietary shops: web first, database first, or desktop first, but never all at once. Karl-Magnus Jonsson shared the story of his city’s move from 100% proprietary to 100% open source over several years of gradual transformation: first the web, then the database, and finally then the desktop.
On the show floor was the usual collection of companies like ourselves supporting particular open source projects for enterprises, but a few companies in different but important categories: Amazon and OpenShift, promoting the deployment of open source geospatial systems on their platforms; and PlanetLabs, talking about their new sources of earth imaging. As the open source economy grows, the number of companies that generate value indirectly from and for open source is growing along with it.
Next year FOSS4G will be in Seoul, South Korea, which will give international attendees a great opportunity to learn what is happening in Asia in general and the Korean technosphere in particular. I’m anticipating seeing some truly outstanding work that would otherwise be very hard to discover, it’s going to be a must-attend event.
Thanks to the organizers in Portland for a seamless and enjoyable event! And thanks for putting a bird on it!