Interview with Prof. Abdul Rashid Bin Mohamed Shariff
Malaysian remote sensing expert supports satellite application in Malaysia and beyond to the Asia-Pacific region.
You worked in the remote sensing (RS) and geographic information system (GIS) fields and you have been involved in Space Applications for Environment (SAFE) for some years. What is the situation regarding RS/GIS and other space application use in Malaysia?
RS/GIS are commonly referred to as geospatial science, and is gaining increasing prominence in academia at both the undergraduate and post-graduate levels. Using the geospatial dimension of the definition, a relationship is also established with GNSS and to some extent with communication technology.
In the undergraduate curriculum, geospatial subjects have now progressed to be offered beyond the traditional geomatics arena. For example, these subjects are now part of the curriculum in agriculture engineering, agronomy, forestry, environmental science, etc., just to name a few. University top management with far sighted thinking helps these changes to materialize faster. I am grateful that Universiti Putra Malaysia, my home university, has been supportive and accelerated the absorption of these spatial science and technologies when upgrading the curriculum.
The uptake of these subjects beyond the traditional geomatics field is a reflection of its importance as a multi-disciplinary subject that has benefits across different disciplines.
From the application perspective, usage is on an up-trend, these technologies have been interpreted into the work processes in several departments and agencies such as forestry, town and country planning, surveying and mapping. The level of integration differs, and there is much scope to increase its utilization to achieve greater efficiency and productivity.
Recent interest by state governments in Malaysia to use this technology for the monitoring of environmentally sensitive areas, illegal logging, etc. is also a promising sign of its greater use.
You contributed to the SAFE initiative of APRSAF. How do you evaluate the activities of SAFE?
SAFE is an active and dynamic program that has helped catalyzed tangible and intangible benefits. From the onset, it triggers the imagination of potential applicants to think of useful, creative and beneficial cases of space technology applications. In preparing a SAFE proposal, the applicant in the host country begins to communicate with relevant departments and agencies in their country.
This triggers an impact activity in communication that otherwise may not have happened. This discussion is important as it helps rationalize the problem and leads to ideas on potential solutions. The evaluation of the proposal and whether it is to selected for presentation is another important activity. Applicants received valuable feedback on their proposals immaterial of whether they are selected for approval or not. The review board is well constituted with relevant experts invited to provide their evaluation and feedback.
The subsequent stakeholder meeting and project launching again brings the relevant parties together and creates a bond that will have positive effects even after project completion. The project implementation stage is also good, with local participants gaining from involvement by international experts through which the experts get to understand and appreciate local problems. This leads to enrichment for all parties involved, and satellite agencies such as JAXA benefit through the creation of new indigenous databases involving the problems being addressed.
The downstream benefit will be realized when the project is implemented at the practical level. The philosophy of aiming for practically implementable projects is that the SAFE initiative by JAXA is unique and clearly identifiable from university-based research projects.
What are your thoughts on the future possibilities of RS or GIS and other space applications, especially for people in Asia-Pacific countries?
Geospatial applications are already here and having a great impact on society, not only in the Asia-Pacific region but around the world. One good example is Uber ride sharing.
Combining Earth observation (EO) with GNSS, GIS and communication technologies creates a great synergy.
In Malaysia, there is a labor shortage, for example, in the oil palm plantations. There is a greater need to automate processes to reduce dependency on human labor.
I foresee, for example, EO imaging the canopy of oil palms, which will be followed by GIS analysis to determine the nutrient requirement of the trees. Tree position is determined by tree’s location coordinates. The plantation owner can then call an “Uberized” variable fertilizer spraying service that can take care of applying the correct amount of fertilizer, at the correct location, at the correct time.
I foresee examples such as these being applied for pesticide control, farm maintenance, harvesting, etc. for these crops as well.
The well planned and efficient use of such technologies will lead to a better and higher standard of living for the people in the Asia-Pacific region. This will help in the realization of the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Do APRSAF and its activities, including SAFE, contribute to Malaysia?
Without hesitation, my response is a big YES.
A major benefit of APRSAF is that it keeps countries in the Asia-Pacific region connected in space activities. Countries that lack high-level implementation of RS benefit through interaction support and sharing from the more advanced nations of space-imaging technology. This is a good example of the support of the principles relating to the U.N. resolution “Remote Sensing of the Earth from Outer Space” (Resolution 41/65 adopted by the General Assembly on Dec. 3, 1986).
SAFE helps in the uptake and assimilation of space technology in Malaysia as mentioned earlier.
Malaysia has hosted an APRSAF annual meeting and sends delegates to APRSAF. What does APRSAF mean to Malaysia or to your activities?
Among the EO and geospatial community in Malaysia, APRSAF is a well-known forum that contributes to global cooperation in space-related activities.
APRSAF is important to Malaysia as it enables participation and staying in touch with international space development. This enables a better and stronger understanding of programs being planned and implemented.
In my job as an academician and researcher, APRSAF is a very useful platform for interacting with like-minded professionals and to exchange opinions and thoughts. Through various presentations, I have a chance to highlight our research approaches to find solutions to help our society.
Interaction with various satellite agencies helps catalyze research collaboration and cooperation.
In your opinion, how can the expertise/knowledge about space application be shared among Asian-Pacific countries? How can APRSAF contribute to it?
APRSAF can play an important role in being an enabler in the sharing of expert knowledge among Asia-Pacific countries by creating an expert/knowledge-sharing web page on its portal.
Countries that are organizing courses or training can have their events listed on this web page. For participants requiring travel support, APRSAF could help arrange or sponsor it.
APRSAF also could play a matching role by matching experts from different countries to address a particular need in some other country. Countries that require expert support should be encouraged to submit a proposal through APRSAF. In addition, APRSAF can help to arrange student mobility and internships with international space agencies.