2023 Esri User Conference Highlights

“What kind of world do you want to see?” That was the question Esri Founder and President Jack Dangermond posed at the 43rd annual Esri User Conference at the San Diego Convention Center on Monday. The event attracted nearly 18,000 in-person attendees and more than 20,000 people watching online.

In helping to solve some of our most complex challenges, Dangermond told the crowd of mostly geographic information system (GIS) professionals that their work is essential to creating a more sustainable, equitable, and prosperous world.

Dangermond paraphrased US President John F. Kennedy who had talked about a changing world in his 1961 inaugural address, noting that humans were at a crossroads and held, “the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.”

“Now, it’s about sustainability,” Dangermond said. “Sustainability starts with geography.”


GIS — Creating the World You Want to See

Monday’s presentations made it clear that geography is central to strategies for shaping the world. Several organizations demonstrated how they are using GIS to shape the future:

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), one of the largest and oldest electric and gas utilities in California, has infused GIS across its operations and put it in the hands of its 26,000 employees. From warning workers how to safely check the meter on a property that has an unfriendly dog, to consolidating more than 16 million images of assets and making 3D models of some, the utility demonstrated several uses of its location intelligence tools. A 24/7 online Hazard Awareness and Warning Center includes the real-time locations of employee trucks and nearby weather or environmental hazards. Their Public Safety Power Shutoff Portal, shared with 3,000 partner agencies, includes data about vulnerable populations amid planned outages during wildfire weather conditions.

Orange County, California uses AI techniques to help streamline workflows including a self-service mapping review app that allows outside uploads of property maps. The app alerts the uploader of any defects before they’re corrected, then automatically routes the map to the GIS department after its corrected. At the county’s John Wayne Airport, modern mapping techniques are used to create a 3D digital twin of terminals. When recent rains resulted in a leak, staff were able to remotely investigate the indoor location and subsequently deploy a drone to search the roof, pinpointing the source without searching in person.

Cambridge, Massachusetts has collaborated with MIT and Harvard to build a citywide 3D system of record, perform analysis and create greater engagement with the community. The public can crowdsource suggestions into the 3D rendering, such as where to add crosswalks or stop signs. The city’s Department of Public Works manages an urban forest that includes approximately 30,000 trees within parks and city-owned spaces in Cambridge and uses ArcGIS Pro to determine where it could plant as many as 1,000 new trees each year. The city also uses 3D to analyze roof types and building locations to determine which to convert to cool roofs.

Electrify America, pinpoints the best locations for its growing network of EV chargers. Using ArcGIS Business Analyst, the company performs suitability analysis to identify target locations. The company showed how simply moving a location across a street near Palm Springs, California, could boost the project’s viability. In another example, GIS information was used to show how hilly terrain and a driver’s air-conditioning usage might require a charger to be built in closer proximity than normal to increase electric range confidence.

Foster + Partners (F+P), which is designing a new city in Kuwait called South Sabah Al-Ahmad, researched the historical geography of other major global cities to shape this new one. “In order to design the world we want to see, we need to understand the world that is today,” said Bruno Moser, head of urban design. The firm wants every resident of this new city to live within 400 meters of greenspace and have ample shade via trees and surrounding structures. F+P has been using ArcGIS City Engine to visualize their plans.

Lockheed Martin developed the Global Emergency Operations Center (GEOC) as a 24/7/365 solution to monitor threats around the world using data collected in a GIS. The center identifies potential threats such as severe weather, fire, earthquakes, or civil unrest and analyzes proximity of Lockheed Martin’s global employees to these threats. Lockheed Martin watch officers then monitor the GEOC, performing an assessment and reaching out to employees to conduct wellness checks if needed, like when a train derailed in the Netherlands in April or when Hurricane Ian hit Florida in September 2022.

National Geographic Society announced the next iteration of National Geographic MapMaker, produced with Esri, to encourage geographic curiosity in classrooms. Three sixth-grade students from Foulks Ranch Elementary School in Northern California demonstrated how they could zoom into and out of a map to see demographic changes or explore historic hurricane paths.

PCL Construction paired GIS with weekly drone flights to monitor its part in building the CA$1.7 billion new St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. Using Site Scan for ArcGIS, PCL mapped an excavated boulder the size of a large pickup truck, estimating the volume before removal. When it came time to pour concrete, GIS was used to plan the position of multiple pumps that would be linked to 550 cement trucks driving in and out for 12 hours. On the day of the cement pour, “everything fit like a jigsaw puzzle with precision and accuracy,” said Bilal Yasir, integrated construction technology specialist.


Keynotes Highlight How GIS Tools Can Create a Future We Thrive In

National Geographic Explorer Steven Boyes shared details about his multi-year journey navigating Africa’s rivers and how GIS could help protect the primary source of water for the vital Okavango Delta. His National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project team recently published a paper that defined the boundary of the Angola Highlands Water Tower for the first time. The team determined that 95 percent of the delta’s water begins as rain above the area. These new insights into the ecosystem will ultimately help in securing a conservation designation for the water source essential to much of the continent’s survival. Boyes and his team also discovered 143 new species during his journey. They recorded everything they saw on their path with ArcGIS Survey123.

The future the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration foresees is the New Blue Economy, a knowledge-based economy that leverages growing amounts of data about the ocean to inspire action and solutions. Predictions, forecasts, and projections from this data are already helping show where fish habitats may be shifting because of a warming world, said Richard W. Spinrad, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere & NOAA Administrator. It’s why Pacific Cod ended up at a Nome, Alaska, fishery that normally deals solely with halibut, salmon, and crab. NOAA can also see that habitats for snow crab are likely to shift further north, away from the Bering Sea, by the end of the century. Using ArcGIS Pro, NOAA created habitat suitability models that will help others plan for the future. Predictions from this data can help smooth supply chains, determine the best places to site offshore wind projects, designate national marine sanctuaries, or warn people before an algae bloom.

The US State Department worked with private industry and academia to launch the Conflict Observatory to document location-based proof of atrocities in the Russian-led war with Ukraine. The Conflict Observatory used satellite imagery and spatial analytics to identify a blast to a hospital, as well as key sites where Russia was using filtration exercises to interrogate, detain, and deport Ukrainians. Aerial mapping also helped document the forced relocation of Ukrainian children. A dashboard tracks potential damage to Ukrainian cultural heritage sites, using a database maintained by a consortium of public institutions of 28,000 cultural heritage sites. The Conflict Observatory has since been deployed to document recent threats to civilian life in Sudan amid the country’s military conflict.


New Products and Capabilities:

The ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World now has a 3D basemap for the entire planet, including buildings and terrain.

In ArcGIS Pro: GIS professionals can change the look of a map without changing underlying data, set drawing priority based on attributes, and visualize data at-a-glance with new pie and donut charts. The new geomorphon landforms tool uses an algorithm to classify terrain and automatically derive features based on the digital elevation model. A new hot spot analysis comparison tool analyzes the differences between two maps and understands where and what changes have occurred.

In ArcGIS Online: There is now support for uploading scalable vector graphics (SVG) files to add personal cartographic style in a format that scales as the map is explored. The new Places layer from the ArcGIS Living Atlas can be added to see points of interest. Arcade enables users to create on-the-fly pop-ups to provide additional details about locations. The Enrich Layer tool helps users better understand variables in data, and analysis history in each tool enables others to build on work previously done. Historical maps can be added through the new media layer option.

ArcGIS Reality is a new suite of reality mapping products designed for creating foundational layers from imagery and elevating 2D GIS into a photorealistic 3D GIS experience. ArcGIS Reality is also available as an extension in ArcGIS Pro, leveraging the Reality Studio engine. Users can also create true orthomosaics using 3D information..

Using ArcGIS for Excel and the ArcGIS for Microsoft 365 suite of applications, users can automatically geocode and dynamically map points in a spreadsheet, geoenrich data with ArcGIS functions, and add layers from the Living Atlas or their own organization.

Atlas, a new Instant Apps offering, creates an interactive web experience based on curated maps and layers.

ArcGIS Monitor helps simplify monitoring and troubleshooting system performance, allowing a GIS system administrator or IT department to track the health of a GIS.

Briefings from ArcGIS StoryMaps will allow users to communicate information in a slide-based presentation that can be accessed offline in a native tablet application with the ability to be shared with anyone, anywhere, anytime. It’s expected to be available for Beta testing by August. Also new is a monthly digital magazine called StoryScape, highlighting published StoryMaps.

In mobile capabilities: ArcGIS Dashboards now support mobile configurations, with optimized views for mobile devices. When using ArcGIS Survey 123, AI Smart Assist can allow a user to take a photo of assets and have those assets identified automatically through the common object detection assist available in the Living Atlas.


Leaders Share Lessons Learned on Tackling Climate Change on a National Scale

At a press conference on Tuesday, Jack Dangermond discussed the importance of shared, authoritative climate data alongside NOAA Administrator Richard W. Spinrad and Richard Bevan, chief technology officer for the United Kingdom’s national weather service the Met Office.

“Particularly, with the climate challenge, we think making sure people have access to the right data, to the best data, is critical to enabling them to make the best decisions,” said Bevan.

Both NOAA and the Met Office used Esri technology and data to build the Climate Mapping for Resilience and Adaptation (CMRA) portal in the US and the recently launched Climate Data Portal in the UK.

“Today, given the challenges of climate change, it’s not enough to measure this or measure that, it’s bringing it all together and seeing it in context,” Dangermond said. “It’s about this breakthrough of integrating everything we know so we all understand that we’re part of one ecosystem.”

When asked if they shared Dangermond’s optimism about solving the challenges posed by climate change, both Spinrad and Bevan expressed similar sentiments of hope.

“I am an unabashed optimist…because I’m a climate realist,” said Spinrad. “I see the power and effectiveness of knowledge and geography. And when those are combined, I see the power of building real solutions.”


For more from the 2023 Esri User Conference, check out videos from the plenary session online.

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