In 1803, Merriweather Lewis began the famous Lewis and Clark expedition on the shores of the Allegheny River, from what would eventually become downtown Pittsburgh's Golden Triangle. To record data along this monumental journey, he and his team used the most advanced, state-of-the-art geospatial technologies of their time; an octant to observe the stars, a chronometer to record accurate time, a surveyor’s compass to determine bearing and direction, a pole chain for measuring distance, and elk skin journals for recording notes. Even though their tools sound like something out of a steampunk novel, their mapping methods covered all the necessary principles of mapping that are still in use today: a coordinate system, distance and bearing, survey points, metadata, and attribute information.
Fast forward a few hundred years and Pittsburgh is again at the epicenter of a mapping revolution. Emerging technologies born from the creative minds of spatial thinkers are changing the way people engage with location-based information. Pittsburgh is quickly becoming a globally recognized center of innovation for geospatial technology; the tools, products, and services launching from here are once again changing the world.
Pittsburgh is quickly becoming a globally recognized center of innovation for geospatial technology; the tools, products, and services launching from here are once again changing the world.
As a co-founder of a Pittsburgh geospatial tech company, I have spent a significant amount of time researching and meeting with other area companies working in this technology space. Our team has been involved in the mapping and geospatial industry since the mid 1990's and have witnessed several technological paradigm shifts over the past 25 years. We can confidently say that what's happening in Pittsburgh is special.
One major driver of the mapping boom in Pittsburgh is via the collective efforts of companies like Aurora, Argo AI, Aptiv, Uber ATG, and Locomation who are creating geospatially aware data, hardware, software, and artificial intelligence used for developing and testing autonomous vehicle technologies. Not only are these companies attracting best-in-class scientists and engineers from around the globe, they are fueled by injections of local talent from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.
Aside from these autonomous vehicle heavy-hitters, smaller businesses are also doing very big things. Innovative, mission-centric, and geospatially-aware companies in Pittsburgh are creating modern methods to harness the ancient power of maps. What follows is a quick tour of the many other impressive tech businesses leveraging geospatial technologies in Pittsburgh. Please note that this isn't an exhaustive list, and if I left anyone out, please introduce yourself in the comments! Also, if there are exciting geospatial projects happening in Pittsburgh's public and government sectors, please share!
Innovative, mission-centric, and geospatially-aware companies in Pittsburgh are creating modern methods to harness the ancient power of maps.
Let’s begin with companies that are creating new tools and data systems that improve the way we map and characterize the built environment:
Additionally, several businesses are using maps as a medium for communicating location-based analytics and for visualizing unique customer data:
In true Pittsburgh fashion, we also have several non-profits that have been major innovators in the use of maps to implement their mission.
While I have mostly focused on small Pittsburgh businesses and organizations leading the geospatial revolution, it’s equally important to recognize the numerous big businesses that have long provided mapping and geospatial development to the region by maintaining a strong local presence here. For example, companies like BAE Systems and Bentley Systems are creating geospatial intelligence solutions and spatially enabled tools for engineers and planners. Other major engineering companies like AECOM, Arcadis, Michael Baker International, HDR, Mott MacDonald, Rettew, JMT, Tetra Tech, HRG, Jacobs, CEC, and several others have provided GIS and mapping solutions for decades, and continue to create value added geospatial services to meet the unique needs of their municipal and B2B client base.
Finally, the many energy companies in the Pittsburgh region have brought new kinds of mapping expertise to our city through oil and gas exploration and production activities. Thanks to the shale gas boom, the work of geologists and GIS professionals at these E&P companies has led to the creation of some of the most detailed and precise parcel, pipeline, and geologic maps ever created in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. There is no doubt that geoscientists and mapping professionals working in energy have valuable skills that are easily transferable to the emerging geospatial market.
Perhaps it is this innate complexity that inspires innovation here. As we move forward from our "Steel City" past, we are galvanized to create new tools that can help build a brighter future.
Any other city in the US would be hard-pressed to find so many varied types of geospatial innovators within one area code. It’s just one of many reasons that makes the 412 so special. Geographically, Pittsburgh is a complex city, full of twisting roads, steep hillsides, idiosyncratic neighborhoods, and a troubled industrial history. Perhaps it is this innate complexity that inspires innovation here. As we move forward from our "Steel City" past, we are galvanized to create new tools that can help build a brighter future. Like Lewis and Clark, we too are embarking from Pittsburgh with exceptional geospatial technology, confident that our journey will once again change the world.
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