NORTH51 Highlights & Recap

This month we had the privilege of gathering with thought leaders and innovators from all around the world at the NORTH51 Conference in Banff, Alberta.  

It was an honor to partner with Sparkgeo to bring back this event for its fifth year. During the conference we were immersed in a wealth of knowledge, innovation, and inspiration, as keynote speakers, panelists, networking events and conversations gave way to the sharing of deep insights into the current trends and future of our geospatial field. From the practical and cultural implications of melting sea ice to value creation through big data and the smart grid, our speakers covered a diverse range of topics, taking us deep into the innovations and developments leading the industry forward.  

We could go on and on about all the fun we had, but we’re not here to brag about our good time, we are here to share our highlights from the week and some of the valuable insights we gained from the conference. 

The Ultimate Showdown – Humans vs. AI

One of the conference’s most anticipated events was the annual NORTH51 debate. This year’s topic revolved around the timely question of humans versus AI in geospatial. Rachel Olney, founder and CEO of Geosite, argued the side of human need and capabilities, while Andrew Pylypchuk, senior account executive at EarthDaily Agro, took the side of AI. The debate sparked a lively discussion and many moments of laughter, especially during the lightning round when the debaters had to ‘ring in’ with squeaky pig toys! Each speaker presented compelling arguments while casually throwing shade at each other and the Maple Leafs playoff run. Rachel took an unexpected left turn in her closing statement suggesting that we scrape remote sensing all together and embrace a more hands on approach. “If we have to map a mountain in Italy, we have to actually go there to do it – really the best way to map these places is with our own eyes.” Though it seemed like a hard sell in a room full of geospatial and mapping experts it helped her secure the win.  

Insurance Companies Need Data

On day two, Todd Barr delivered an insightful presentation that showcased how valuable geospatial data is in the industry. Through cat-ivating graphics, a detailed history and compelling arguments, Todd highlighted the crucial role geospatial data plays in helping insurance companies better understand and prepare for climate related disasters. Last year alone global insurance losses surpassed $100 billion. The acquisition and analysis of geospatial data can aid the insurance companies in significantly mitigating the impacts of climate change on our world. Various talks on the second day looked at the intersection of geospatial and finances and provided interesting insight into how geospatial data can be further leveraged.

Big Data & Open Source

Big data and open source data were among the hot topics at this year’s NORTH51 as attendees were excited for the panel discussions surrounding the topics. One panel discussed open source data and provided unique perspectives on both the current and future state of. Moderator Matt Hanson lead Kevin Booth, from, Maggie Cawley, from OpenStreetMapUS and Mike Jeffe a geospatial technical expert in this riveting panel. The conversation saw panelists addressing pressing questions from both Matt and the audience around accountability, standards and diversity as it pertained to open source. Panelists challenged each other with differing opinions, and each shared firsthand experiences, including what their own companies are doing with open source data. Despite some back and forth when it came to next steps in moving the industry forward across-the-board the panelists agreed there is a necessity to create more accessible and globally diverse datasets. 

Offset Emissions & An Environmental Focus

While planning this year’s conference we remained conscious about our environmental footprint. With this in mind, we (along with Sparkgeo) wanted to offset our carbon emissions. With the help of Tarin Resource Services as one of this years sponsors, we were able to offset the conferences carbon emissions. With attendees flying in from around the world, as well as all the energy it takes to put on this event, we knew it important to monitor and reduce our footprint. The conversation around reducing our footprint became an underlying theme this year as various speakers and conversations addressed it in some way. Many of the talks touched on or looked at the impacts of climate change and how geospatial data is helping to understand it, as well as allowing us to better reduce emissions. Leanne Beaulieu and Dr. Lynn Moorman from SmartICE discussed the pressing issue for many, especially Northern Inuit communities surrounding the melting Arctic and its impacts on sea ice and the lives and culture of Inuit people. Suzanne Schmitz discussed how nature, climate, and finance are all tied together, while ICEYE VP Shay Strong discussed her companies work with satellite technology in assessing flood risk and damage.

Networking With Views

Networking has always been an integral part of the NORTH51 Conference, fostering innovation and valuable connections. This year was no exception. With dedicated networking events on both nights and various coffee breaks throughout the day, attendees and speakers could connect meaningfully. On night one, Element84 sponsored the Welcome drinks, giving way to long-awaited reunions of old co-workers, new connections and engaging conversations. For night two attendees were shuttled to the Bison in downtown Banff where everyone came together for another night of networking. Sitting out on the patio in the fresh mountain air and outstanding views, people debriefed on the thoughts and insights shared from the first day. The conference took place at the Rimrock Hotel, which offered awe-inspiring views of the Rocky Mountains. It was the perfect backdrop for this year’s conference as many of the speakers’ talks reminded us how geospatial work can help us to preserve the endless nature that was right outside the windows. 

A Snapshot of NORTH51