Geospatial Technology

Geospatial technologies abound, really. While consumer-grade geospatial products, like ESRI's ArcGIS for Desktop, are common throughout most economic sectors, some open source solutions do exist.

Most social media apps contain embedded geographic content, usually in the form of maps. The clue an app is "spatially enabled" is the phrase frequently seen on mobile devices: "[App Name] would like to use your current location." Some of the parent companies of the apps provide an application programming interface (API). An API provides a way of writing some code to access different parts of the app and provide a means of providing a new user experience. An example of an API being used to create a new user experience is the ability to map Tweets.

The social media passed around today contains metadata, information usually hidden from users but is necessary for the social element of communication. Knowing where a restaurant is, or a gas station is, or where your children are requires a location. Knowing where you are in relation to the restaurant or a gas station helps both parties achieve some end, eating, filling up, etc. The technology making this happen requires some spatial elements. An API helps access interesting portions of the app "metadata" and provides information useful for mapping. Some Tweets, for instance, have a geographic coordinate included. People on Twitter may also include a #hashtag. The Twitter API can help developers grab the geographic coordinate and the #hashtag, providing two essential components to create a Twitter map.

The links provided do not represent a exhaustive list of geospatial technologies. Resources include software, developer tools, and useful data.

No endorsement of any resource is implied. No support for any of the resources is offered. Users are encouraged to peruse the licensing and fair use of each site, company, organization, or agency.

Open Source GIS Software


Quantum GIS (QGIS) is a powerful and user friendly Open Source Geographic Information System (GIS) that runs on Linux, Unix, Mac OSX, Windows and Android. QGIS supports vector, raster, and database formats. QGIS is licensed under the GNU Public License.


GRASS GIS, commonly referred to as GRASS (Geographic Resources Analysis Support System), is a free and open source Geographic Information System (GIS) software suite used for geospatial data management and analysis, image processing, graphics and maps production, spatial modeling, and visualization. GRASS GIS is currently used in academic and commercial settings around the world, as well as by many governmental agencies and environmental consulting companies.


The MapWindow GIS project includes a free and open source desktop geographic information system (GIS) with an extensible plugin architecture; a GIS ActiveX control; and C# GIS programmer library called DotSpatial.

Open Source Remote Sensing Software

Within the realm of remote sensing, little is available for free. The discipline is fairly esoteric in both development and academic exposure thus the potential user community is fairly small. However, a couple options do exist. 


Quantum GIS (QGIS) is a user friendly Open Source Geographic Information System (GIS) licensed under the GNU General Public License. QGIS is an official project of the Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo). It runs on Linux, Unix, Mac OSX, Windows and Android and supports numerous vector, raster, and database formats and functionalities.


The System for Automated Geoscientific Analyses (SAGA) was developed by a team working at the University of Hamburg; Hamburg, Germany. The software grew from a need to analyze raster data, specifically digital elevation models (DEM). 

Open Source or Free Database Solutions

Besides learning some fundamental GIS / mapping skills, having some knowledge of current database software and systems can go a long way towards getting good employment. Fortunately, most database vendors see providing free tools as a way to educate, develop, and promote a sophisticated user society.

Commercial Database Software (free to develop, deploy, distribute) 

Open Source Database Software

  • MySQL (The world's most popular open source database)
  • PostgreSQL (The world's most advanced open source database)
  • Firebird (The world's true open source database)

Mapping APIs

Mapping APIs provide a way to access location information contained within the metadata of lots of different web sites and mobile apps. A few links below have been provided to points users in a direction. Many good tutorials exists. Finding them is about as simply as googling "geolocation" and "tutorials." 

Developer Tools

Many of the new geospatial technologies can be enhanced, developed, or customized using a variety of programming tools. For instance, customized tools or user interfaces can be created for ArcGIS Desktop using a little bit of programming know-how. Spatially enabled web apps and mobile apps can also be developed using some free programming tools. A little bit of programming knowledge can go a long way towards developing a successful career.

  • Microsoft Visual Studio 2010. MSVS 2010 comes with Visual C++, Visual C#, and Visual Basic.
  • Microsoft Visual Studio 2012. MSVS 2012 has a few options for developers, for the "web," for Windows 8, for Windows Desktop, and for Windows Phone. 
  • HTML5. Hypertext Markup Language can be created with any text editor and viewed with any browser. There is no software download. Coders may opt for a better text editor, such as NotePad++.
  • JavaScript. JavaScript is another web scripting language. No software download is required, as all modern browser can interpret JavaScript, though some better than others. Only a text editor is required.

Geospatial Companies

Many large companies have geospatial systems. Starbucks, Target, UPS, FedEx, Ford, and a million other places, utilize GIS and geospatial technologies. The list of private companies below is by no means exhaustive, and no endorsement is implied. The list has been compiled merely to show the spectrum of companies involved in geospatial technology.


Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) has been the world leader in geospatial application design, development, and consulting for three decades.


Intergraph is a provider of engineering and geospatial software for business and industry. Intergraph is part of Hexagon, a global provider of geospatial technologies. Intergraph is home to ERDAS Imagine, ER Mapper, GeoMedia, LPS, and ImageStation.


Autodesk is a global company whose primary focus is computer-aided design and drafting, especially within architecture, construction, and utilities management.


MapInfo, a division of Pitney Bowes, provides desktop, server, web and data GIS products.

BAE Systems

BAE Systems is a global defense, aerospace and security company. BAE delivers a full range of products and services for air, land and naval forces, as well as advanced electronics, security, information technology solutions and support services. BAE is home to the "Socet" collection of geospatial software, popular among government contractors.


SAS (pronounced "sass") once stood for "statistical analysis system," and began at North Carolina State University as a project to analyze agricultural research. As demand for such software grew, SAS was founded in 1976 to help all sorts of customers - from pharmaceutical companies and banks to academic and governmental entities. Today, SAS is know for analyzing Big Data for a wide range of economic sectors.


SPSS is a statistical analysis, a/k/a "predictive analytics," software package. SPSS was once a stand-alone company and is now part of IBM.


Though best known for GPS technology, Trimble integrates a wide range of positioning technologies including GPS, laser, optical and inertial technologies with application software, wireless communications, and services to provide complete commercial solutions. Its integrated solutions allow customers to collect, manage and analyze complex information faster and easier, making them more productive, efficient and profitable.


Garmin produces GPS hardware and software for the automobile, aviation, marine, outdoor, and sports and leisure industries, with 35 offices worldwide.


NAVTEQ is a company working behind the scenes to develop the spatial data necessary for other companies to use in their mobile devices and dashboard navigators. NAVTEQ has offices worldwide and develops data for populated places the world over.

Google (Maps/Earth)

Google, while a company based on a search engine, has evolved into a geospatial technology company. Google has many jobs specifically aimed at the geospatial field.

Microsoft (Bing)

Microsoft is better known, perhaps, for operating systems and office productivity software. Microsoft also has a significant geospatial investment in Bing and Bing Maps.


Apple develops maps in-house, and, sometimes, by purchasing small specialized mapping companies.

Digital Globe

DigitalGlobe is a leading global provider of commercial high-resolution earth imagery products and services. Sourced from its own advanced satellite constellation, DG imagery solutions support a wide variety of uses within defense and intelligence, civil agencies, mapping and analysis, environmental monitoring, oil and gas exploration, infrastructure management, Internet portals and navigation technology.

Rand McNally

Rand McNally specializes in maps, navigation, road travel, and trip planning. Founded in 1856, the company provides products and services for consumers, the trucking and commercial transportation market, and educators. Rand McNally's products and services include IntelliRoute® truck routing software and GPS devices, a leading geography-based online subscription service for schools, printed maps and atlases including America's #1 Road Atlas.


Sanborn offers a full suite of photogrammetric mapping and geographic information system (GIS) consulting services.


Pictometry is an imagery company, providing clients with high-resolution nadir, off-nadir, and low oblique aerial imagery for use in many different applications.


MakePath is an Austin, Texas, data science company with a specialty in geospatial technology and full-stack application development.

PenBay Solutions

PenBay Solutions uses ArcGIS (and perhaps other platforms) to develop applications for facilities management and operations.


Accuweather provides a number of GIS-based services for agriculture, air quality managers, utility companies, and probably even sports companies.

Little Caesars Enterprises

Divisions within LCE use GIS to analyze and develop retail business solutions, which really means GIS is used for the analysis of neighborhoods, consumer spending, and location/site analysis for store location.

Royal Dutch Shell

GIS is used throughout the Energy sector, from managing equipment and operations, to exploration and and analysis.

Atkins Global

Atkins Global is a design, engineering, and project management consulting group with offices around the world.

Take the next step

© Murray State University Department of Web ManagementWe are Racers.