ArcGIS Insights is well designed, very user-friendly, and intuitive. It will help us get the most out of our data as quickly as possible and in a way that is of the greatest benefit to our customers.
Detroit Software Company Supports Client Drone Operations with Data and Analysis Software
From emergency response to wildlife conservation and the shipping of goods, the use of drones has become more mainstream because of their ability to reach destinations safely and efficiently by land, sea, and air. Airspace Link is a Michigan-based technology company with a mission to provide the resources that drone pilots and communities need to ensure safe drone activities.
According to Colby Free, vice president of operations at Airspace Link, there is a need for digital infrastructure to support the operations of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). This includes a combination of data and technology to enable UAS activities and ensure that they are in harmony with federal, state, and local stakeholder concerns. The team at Airspace Link strives to provide the data that clients need to help them fly safely and legally. For example, a pilot may need infrastructure and elevation data to avoid obstructions, and a Federal Aviation Administration UAS facility map to ensure that the drone flies legally in controlled airspace.
The AirHub platform, a solution from Airspace Link that is powered by Esri, is compatible with most state and local government users out of the box. The geospatial data required to support AirHub capabilities and analytics is gathered from many authoritative sources and processed in a manner that allows it to be rapidly combined in any number of geostatistical models and calculations.
"Airspace Link's AirHub platform is a UAS digital infrastructure that provides capabilities to support the management of a UAS ecosystem and the tools for those who would like to operate in that ecosystem in harmony with the community they're flying over," explains Free.
Not long after building the robust repository of AirHub Insights data, Free began a search for a new solution to rapidly generate and publish meaningful analytical products from the data. The Airspace Link data team implemented analysis software designed for iterative data analysis, which has yielded positive benefits across the company and improved service to customers.
Quickly process and analyze large volumes of data
Streamlined data modeling and delivery
To fully support safe and legal UAS operations, the Airspace Link data team has been sourcing and aggregating an abundance of authoritative data over the past year and needed a solution to help enable the team's talent toward rapidly generating data models and analytics with the shortest learning curve possible.
"We've been very busy sourcing and processing large volumes of relevant data and have started to think seriously about the best available tools that are well suited for quickly analyzing geospatial data in order to identify what sorts of insights they can generate as fast as possible,"
says Free. "What tools are best suited using the data to answer key questions and quickly prove out the methods? What is the learning curve of the tools? How accessible are the end products of the tools for those who would value them most?"
Free says that data scientists bring a lot to the table when it comes to getting the greatest value out of traditional data, but they may face a steep learning curve in using a GIS to work with geospatial data. As such, a new solution was needed to bridge that gap.
Free says, "I was in search of tools with key analytical functions that are familiar to data scientists and applicable to our GIS data."
Free says that oftentimes data scientists are caught between roles, such as a data pipeline engineer who must source, process, and grant them access to data while also needing a solutions engineer or developer to put the data into an application and share the results. These challenges have impacted Airspace Link's goal to be hyperresponsive to the market and deliver rich analytics to clients, says Free.
"We have to move quickly in answering fundamental questions about UAS operations," Free says. "Where are ideal takeoff and landing locations? What are the optimal areas for specific UAS operations and use cases? What is the level of risk? It takes a pile of data and complex spatial analytics to answer all of these tough questions."
ArcGIS Insights is analysis software that fuses location analytics with open data science and business intelligence workflows. Free, who was familiar with ArcGIS Insights, chose to work with the tool partly because of his familiarity with the Esri suite. He says it's ideal if his team doesn't have to leave the familiar Esri ecosystem to be able to create rich charts, graphs, and figures. To understand the tool, he watched Insights training videos on YouTube posted by Esri.
"So I watched Esri's videos and thought, 'Wow, I think [Insights] might be a good candidate for generating rapid analytics.' So I went ahead and fired up the application and used [Esri] product resources. All the features and functions were well documented, so it didn't take long before I was generating results on our AirHub data," says Free.
To test how well Insights can be applied at Airspace Link, Free did some proofs of concept on top of the team's data repository that showed how different types of data models can be applied. He says that, in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee, he was able to generate "really meaningful analytics" and build out compelling pages of metrics that were dynamic and interactive.
After receiving positive feedback from the business development team to validate the concept, he then brought in the data scientist to perform further analysis. Free says "The uptake was pretty quick for her to start consuming the content directly." He explains that he gave her access to a few of the workbooks he created and several online courses to learn Insights, which was enough for her to begin some preliminary work within a matter of hours.
"[Esri has] done a really good job in kind of picking and choosing those features and functions and capabilities that are well-suited for her modeling and analytics," says Free.
One early use case of Insights is with VyrtX, a medical logistics platform focused on optimizing and simplifying the logistical hurdles associated with human organ transport. As the company considers using drones as a more economical option for transport, VyrtX partnered with Airspace Link for a proof-of-concept demonstration. In the future, data from Insights may be used to efficiently plan safe and reliable routes for the UAS, potentially cutting down transport time from 19 hours to 6 hours or less and saving lives.
Alice Cummings, VyrtX president, says, "Insights data, like population density or traffic volumes, are very valuable for the drone/UAS and CAV planning. The tool is great for if we're trying to continue to evolve in the drone space."
The use of ArcGIS Insights has empowered data scientists, improved analysis, and enabled Airspace Link to provide faster results to clients. With the initial implementation of this product, Free notes that it was simple for the data scientists to learn Insights, and it helped rapidly bridge "the divide between our data science talent and GIS data."
"Insights [provides] an environment that's well designed for those data scientists. It didn't take [ours] that long to figure out how to bring the data in from our AirHub data repository and then apply that fundamental layer of relevant GIS capabilities," he says. "When you're doing data analytics and data modeling, it presents the tools and results in a very effective way."
Insights has also given the Airspace Link team the ability to aggregate data from multiple sources. Free says it gives the team members the means to bring in all the data they already have, which includes about 50 to 60 sources of authoritative data that are ready to be applied.
"There's a tremendous value in being able to build relationships from all these different data sources to answer some pretty complex questions quickly and just prove out that it can be done," says Free. "Now we can just take these data and do quick experimental data analytics and modeling. Insights provides us a way to be able to validate concepts fairly quickly."
The use of Insights has given Airspace Link's data scientist autonomy. Free explains that she isn't dependent on anyone upstream in terms of accessing the data and downstream in terms of provisioning her product to the people that could put it to use, allowing her to perform work more freely.
"Insights is a tool that enables her to do things that she had the potential to do but maybe not the resources available to do it," says Free. "I think it's helping us enable our employees with the tools that they need to be able to express their talents, their gifts, their professional acumen in the most effective and efficient way when it comes to data analytics."
The delivery of results to clients has also been streamlined. Free says his team can get the data and start doing rapid models in fairly short order by manipulating the data, generating metrics, and sharing results.
"It gave us the ability to generate rapid prototypes of data analytics and metrics and make them accessible for our customers to review using web-based applications," says Free.
Insights has enabled the Airspace Link team to validate data analytics concepts faster and more affordably. Free says the previous workflow was "awkward and expensive in time and effort" and involved bringing data into an environment that works for the person that's doing the modeling, and then exporting that model back into an environment that's better suited for publishing. Now, all tasks can be performed in one system.
"Insights brings the cost down; it brings the timeline down; and it allows us to prove these things out a whole lot faster and, frankly, more effectively," says Free.
In addition to streamlined data modeling and deliverables, Insights has also given the Airspace Link marketing department the power to tell a compelling story with striking visualizations, graphs, and charts, according to Gianluca Pesce, the marketing coordinator at Airspace Link.
Free echoes this sentiment and says, "If you're in a demonstration and you're able to pull up an example of what you're talking about—like how many drones are operating within your community—that's powerful, and the account manager didn't need to be a GIS professional to do that. That's a big win, and that's going to enable our company to be able to hit our goals."