Looking back at the last four decades, the technologies that have been developed for Earth observation and mapping can shed a light on the technologies that are trending today and on their challenges. Forty years ago, the first digital pictures decided the fate of remote sensing, photogrammetric engineering, GIS, or, for short: of geomatics. This sudden wave of volumes of data triggered the research in fields that Big Data is plowing today: this paper will examine this transition. First, a rapid survey of the technology through the succession of selected terms, will help identify two main periods in the last four decades. Spatial information appears in 1970 with the preparation of Landsat, and Big Data appears in 2010. The method for exploring geomatics’ contribution to Big Data, is to examine each of the “Vs” that are used today to characterize the latter: volume, velocity, variety, visualization, value, veracity, validity, and variability. Geomatics has been confronted to each of these facets during the period. The discussion compares the answers offered early by geomatics, with the situation in Big Data today. Over a very large range of issues, from signal processing to the semantics of information, geomatics has made contributions to many data models and algorithms. Big Data now enables geographic information to be disseminated much more widely, and to benefit from new information sources, expanding through the Internet of Things towards a future Digital Earth. Some of the lessons learned during the four decades of geomatics can also be lessons for Big Data today, and for the future of geomatics.
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