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Remote sensing for resources development and environmental management
Damen, M. C. J.

Symposium on Remote Sensing for Resources Development and Environmental Management/Enschede/August 1986
© 1987Baikema, Rotterdam. ISBN 90 6191 674 7
Remote sensing applications: An outlook for the future
Herman Th. Verstappen
International Institute for Aerospace Survey and Earth Sciences (ITC), Enschede, Netherlands
ABSTRACT: To minimize the risk that predictions on the future of remote sensing applications are mere specu
lations, the author first analyses the developments in this field during the last few decades and specifies
present trends. Thereafter some extrapolations to a period of approximately equal length in the future are
given. In the context of this 7th symposium of Commission VII, ISPRS, it is considered appropriate to use the
1st symposium, held in Delft, 1962, as a starting point and to look forward to the 14th symposium in the year
The author tries to weigh the future role in resource surveying of high-resolution satellites, low-resol
ution satellites and aircraft of various kinds. Recording systems in the photographic, thermographic and
microwave bands are treated separately and the changing relationships between resource surveyors and photo-
grammetrists also are touched upon. The growing importance of optimal organization and utilization of the
massive amount of data gathered by way of geographic information systems (GIS) is indicated and finally the
necessity of matching space technology with the immediate and future needs of the human race is emphasized.
Summarizing the outcome of a large Symposium, like
the present 7th symposium of Commission VII, of the
International Society of Photogrammetry and Remote
Sensing (ISPRS) is a difficult task, particularly if
it has to be done at the closing session and thus
without the possibility of data analysis, selection
and compression provided by the filtering process of
quiet contemplation. Venturing an outlook for the
future may even be considered hazardous under such
conditions if there are no clear-cut trends of de
velopment. Fortunately in the field of remote sen
sing applications, at least some indications can be
detected that may serve as a basis for extrapolation
into the future. Although this fact makes my task
today somewhat easier, I prefer to take two precau
tions to limit the chances of arriving at erroneous
First, I think it is wise to briefly view the
developments during the last quarter century by com
paring the state-of-the-art in 1962 when the 1st
symposium of Commission VII was held at ITC, then in
Delft, with the present situation as reflected in
the papers presented and the discussions held during
this 7th symposium in Enschede, 1986.
I will then, as a second precaution limit my at
tempt to extrapolate these trends to another period
of similar length, as will be reflected —assuming
that itty guesswork is correct— in the proceedings of
the 14th symposium of Commission VII in the year
2014. A longer prediction period seems rather un
Thereafter I will try to refine the extrapolation
by introducing present technological trends and
users' needs as factors affecting directly the fu
ture course of development. Not all of us will play
an active part in that 14th symposium. Some may even
already be engaged in an interesting study on "ange-
lo photogrammetry" and —although I have high hopes
for the technological advances of the next century—
I am strongly convinced that in that case oral pre
sentation will be a major obstacle.
The 1962 symposium was still just in the era domi
nated by stereoscopic interpretation of aerial
photographs using simple conventional methods that
had been established three or four decades earlier.
This is clearly reflected in the papers presented:
only five of the 75 papers of the transactions deal
with technical and méthodologie matters, the re
mainder being straight-forward applications to
specific fields and areas.
The winds of change, however, were already begin
ning to blow and in part were also reflected in the
programme. Airborne geophysical surveying, particu
larly magnetometer surveys, but also EM and scin
tillometer surveys, using low-flying aircraft had
become common practice in the 1950s, but these non
imaging remote sensing methods had developed inde
pendently and had rather escaped the attention of
photo-interpreters: There was no paper presented
about this subject during the 1962 symposium.
Some textbooks on photo-interpretation in those
days already pointed to the fact that the visible
spectrum, in which aerial photography is rooted, is
only a small portion of the electro-magnetic spec
trum and that other wavelengths, particularly the
microwave and thermal IR bands, awaited explora
tion. Although vertical PPI (plan position indica
tor) radar had been extensively used during World
War II, the strip-wise sensing by SLAR was develop
ed only in the 1950s and was not yet commercially
available in 1962. Thermographic remote sensing had
just made its entry in the scene and although air
borne applications were not referred to during the
symposium, two papers dealt with early satellite
applications of this type of sensor installed in
the TIROS (Television and Infra-Red Observation
Satellite) low-resolution weather satellites. These
two papers thus also mark the advent of> satellite
remote sensing and it is of interest to note that
each of them highlighted a subject that is still a
focus of interest, namely: surveillance and moni
toring through repetitive satellite passes, and
computer applications in semi-automatic satellite
image interpretation systems (mentioning, for exam
ple, pattern recognition, man-machine communication
and the need of a (photo) data base). Obviously in
1962 photo-interpretation was on the threshold of
the new era of "remote sensing" that in the past 24
years has stunned the professional world by a mush
rooming of new tools, methods and applications.