Q&A Dec 12, 2021

Q&A: Talking with David Kelly, Technical Director Geospatial Solutions

Our Technical Director of Geospatial Solutions for APAC David Kelly talks about geospatial science, the emerging digital trends impacting this field, and its role in promoting sustainable development.

Meet David Kelly

We’re living in the era of digital disruption, and we need bold digital and technology leadership now more than ever before. Leading this change demands knowledge, imagination, new thinking, an appetite to reinvent and the courage to challenge conventions.

In this series, we're celebrating our team of digital and technology experts and visionaries, spearheading the development and delivery of our technology-forward solutions for smarter working, and better living in Asia Pacific (APAC).

For this feature, we caught up with David Kelly, our technical director of geospatial solutions for the APAC region, to talk about the emerging trends in this field, their importance in promoting sustainable development, and how digital technologies are shaping the geospatial world in which we live.

Tell us about your role at Jacobs.

I am the Technical Director for Geospatial Solutions in the APAC region. This role has a couple of driving elements. The first, critical but operational, is supporting consistent quality delivery of our work. The second is building the culture and technical capability across our teams to deliver on the potential of Jacobs to challenge today and reinvent tomorrow while solving the critical problems our clients and communities face.

What sparked your interest in the geospatial field?

From an early age, the connection between people and places stood out to me. I also had the good fortune of having access to home computers from near the start of their rise. From this, I developed a keen interest in geography's human and natural components and a fascination with technology.

I then discovered the geospatial field, a perfect mix of these two themes. I jumped into it at university and have continued to learn how this field sits at an intersection of disciplines, questions and approaches to solve the significant challenges in our world.

There is tremendous anticipation around data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning. How do you foresee the future impact of these digital technologies in your field?

The geospatial field relies on location-enabled data. As a result, it has always leveraged new and emerging technologies that facilitate data processing. Analysis has been a core capability of this field, with machine learning being natively integrated into vendor products for many years, particularly in processing remotely- sensed data.

We continue to generate data at an ever-increasing rate and are well past the point where one person can consider every piece of relevant data. The increasing maturity and sophistication of these technologies have driven an inflection point in the breadth of their application. From identifying trends or characteristics of interest in raw data to leveraging digital twins to model or simulate the resilience of our cities, integration of these tools will continue across the workflows and lifecycles throughout our societies.

With an eye to the future, what are some of the emerging trends in the geospatial world?

The strength of geospatial technologies has always been its characteristic as a platform that enables an integrated view and its ability to unlock insights into the relationships between different elements. The key trends I see build on these themes, with geospatial technology supporting greater integration of various data sources and platforms and enhanced sophistication of analytical capabilities.

From understanding the social, environmental and economic context of a project or program to increasing the transparency and accountability of actions taken to address problems and maximize opportunities, geospatial technologies combine all these elements in a highly visual and intuitive medium that supports effective communications and engagement. They help realize the benefit of smart cities and digital twins.

I also see the increasing availability of highly variable spatio-temporal data sources from IoT sensors, crowdsourcing, high-resolution imagery, open data policies from authoritative sources, combined with machine learning and immersive visualizations helping comprehend and unlock previously unavailable insights.

Rapid urbanization is a global phenomenon. How is Jacobs using spatial technologies to promote sustainable development?

Geospatial technologies are a fantastic medium for integrating information, unlocking, and visualizing insight. It has been common practice to overlay environmental, social, infrastructure andeconomic datasets to explore a problem space in geospatial for decades. Increasingly, this capability helps realize sustainable, resilient and equitable development opportunities and potential.

One of the capabilities that have risen to prominence is Geodesign, an approach to planning that leverages quantitative analysis of KPIs, iterative design, and scenario testing in a location-enabled environment. It allows us to model and optimizes the outcomes across multiple domains, including access to green space, public transport, employment, cost, the risk to sensitive environments and the potential impact of natural hazards.

Tell us about an exciting project you have worked on or are working on.

We’re involved in many significant infrastructure and digital enablement projects that will deliver measurable improvements to how we live and improve the sustainability and resilience of our cities. However, there are several projects where we are investigating how various states and organizations can decarbonize through investment in renewable hydrogen production. These projects support several water utilities and government departments to identify, analyze and assess the viability of integrating hydrogen production with the water supply network. While at the same time, minimize the impact of water scarcity and derive secondary benefits, such as oxygen use, by connecting to alternative water sources like stormwater and wastewater treatment plants. The work we are undertaking seeks to provide more information to support policymakers, asset owners, and proponents of renewable hydrogen schemes to maximize economic, environmental and social value.

If you aren’t in the office, what would we most likely find you doing?

It has been quite the year(s) – for many people, including me, “the office” has become a corner of the living room. The distinctions are blurry right now as my desk at “the office” is also the desk used for anything else. However, I enjoy learning about the design and development of technologies surrounding us and the ever-evolving possibilities that technologies present.

People would be surprised to know that …

I was an avid fan of Lego as a kid, but I parted ways with the family collection through moves and pursuing other hobbies and eventually drifted away. However, with my older son moving into the age range for Lego, I have rediscovered the joy of building. The double enjoyment of playing with him as he learns to follow the instructions and let his imagination go in “free-play” and as a creative and technically challenging activity for myself. I’ve been particularly excited to see the announcement of the recent partnership between Lego and Raspberry Pi to promote STEAM education.

I look forward to observing its impact and getting hands-on to explore new possibilities.

What’s something you learned in the last week?

The other day, I was listening to the 99% Invisible podcast channel, and the episode I was up to was about an item Kodak produced as it rolled out the 1-hour photo printing labs in the 1950s. They were called Shirley Cards, named after the white woman pictured on the cards, Shirley Page. The card was designed as a calibration tool for the printers. Test prints would be validated against the card to make sure they were printed correctly. The result was that for decades, photos did not represent people with darker skin tones accurately. This racial bias persisted till the 1980s.

It is a powerful reminder that without the intentional inclusion of diverse perspectives in the design, development, and application of new technologies, these can cause or exacerbate harm. As Roman Mars concludes the podcast, he says, “no technology is ever neutral. There will always be choices, and trade-offs, and aesthetic judgments. The camera is an amazing tool but creating a beautiful image…that part is up to us.”

What do you enjoy most about being part of #OurJacobs?

Two things stand out for me when I think about Jacobs – firstly, the incredible people and culture. We are an amazingly talented, welcoming and passionate group with solid leadership deeply engaged in making a positive impact. And secondly, Jacobs' extraordinary scale unleashes the passion for driving a more connected and sustainable world.

Join #OurJacobs team

What drives you drives us as we work to build a better world – together. At Jacobs, every day is an opportunity to make the world better, more connected, more sustainable.

We’re always looking for dynamic and engaged people to join our team. Bring your passion, your ingenuity and your vision. Let’s see the impact we can create, together.