30 May

Company Spotlight: CARTO

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with Mr. Tobin McGilligan conducted by Scholar-Intern Chiara Ryals

About CARTO

CARTO stands out in the geospatial technology landscape as a cloud-native platform specializing in geospatial analysis, development, and visualization. The company’s approach reflects a broader transition in the tech industry from traditional, siloed IT systems to distributed, cloud-based architectures. CARTO leverages this shift to offer innovative solutions that are designed for the cloud, enhancing the capabilities and accessibility of geospatial data.

As a project manager at CARTO, Tobin McGilligan witnesses firsthand how geospatial analysis can transcend traditional boundaries, offering insights and solutions across a diverse range of applications. Originally drawn to civil engineering at the start of his academic journey, Mr. McGilligan soon realized he was more interested in understanding the wider context of how people and goods flow within built environments, rather than individual infrastructures. His landing on geography and GIS as a focus brought him to CARTO, where he coordinates engineers and developers, translating client objectives into operating projects. 

When asked what he enjoys most about geospatial, Mr. McGilligan highlights how applicable geospatial is to other disciplines. He enjoys figuring out how to apply geoanalytical principles and draw parallels across branches. In doing so, he finds that the geospatial field can be conducive to innovation, and he emphasizes that adding a location component to any kind of data analysis is always worthwhile. Working at CARTO has only deepened Mr. McGilligan’s appreciation for the geospatial community and the many applications of geospatial technology. 

A key aspect of CARTO’s work is its democratization of geospatial data, which sets it apart from traditional IT infrastructure. The platform’s user-friendly graphic interfaces enable individuals who may not consider themselves geospatial or data analysts to bring their business or use case perspectives without deep technical expertise, like they would need in a traditional IT approach. Artificial intelligence further enhances this accessibility. CARTOs own AI Agents allow users to interact with maps through a dialogue box, making complex analyses more intuitive. For instance, for route planning and service coverage analysis, users could simply type their criteria into a dialogue box to find the optimal set of routes based on specified locations and delivery cost parameters. For risk management and emergency response use cases, users could identify patterns in risk exposure from the most important factors and generate asset deployment plans for a rapid and dynamic response. CARTO’s technologies facilitate interactions between users, maps, and big data across a wide spectrum of technical skill sets.

 

CARTO Projects

CARTO works with a range of stakeholders and clients to meet their objectives with its geospatial analysis, application development, and geovisualization solutions. One arena of focus is climate change, where extreme weather events, sea-level rise, and shifting precipitation patterns create consequences for both human society and economic growth.  Geospatial technology’s biggest opportunity is optimizing human use of resources. CARTO promotes sustainable practices by enabling the planning and analysis of renewable energy sources and aiding in the sustainable development of infrastructure. AI technology facilitates straightforward communication to their clients, many of which aim to weave complex, live datasets and shifting spatial understandings into a clean interface. 

A CARTO project of note was the Hawai’i project Mr. McGilligan presented in a lightning talk at the Geography2050 conference in 2023. He is proud of the innovation that CARTO conducted, making many leaps forward in providing clear, up-to-date, and easily communicable climate datasets to the Hawaii Department of Transportation and local stakeholders. These datasets on climate trends helped make decisions on infrastructure prioritization and investments. The climate impacts on the Pacific archipelago are significant, and thus, being on top of this data and being able to present it to a wide audience in a streamlined manner is important, particularly for emergency response and infrastructure repair.

When asked about the importance of AI in his geospatial projects, Mr. McGilligan highlighted a few use cases in the public sector, particularly attuned to Smart City developments. AI-trained models are now able to identify and predict when safety risk increases, so resources can be deployed in those locations – historic traffic camera data can adjust to be able to understand roadway conditions, etc, and when you translate that into a live feed, you can set up a system to notify when conditions have a certain level of risk, before adverse conditions happen. He mentioned the use of sensors in municipal trash cans that can sense when they are full, optimizing trash collection routes to be attuned to their fluctuating use. He also highlighted CARTO’s work with the Minnesota Department of Transportation to enhance safety, and a variety of site selection projects for electric vehicle charging stations and offshore wind farms with energy companies and local jurisdictions.

Traditional data infrastructure often cannot handle AI training and models, because the computation power required to manage them is immense. Therefore, CARTO’s cloud-native platform operationalizes those data analyses and visualizations. There are many applications related to logistics organizations/companies in determining optimal routes and increasing efficiencies, particularly by connecting a variety of sensors in place in a smart city approach so the AI systems can help allocate resources based upon shifting conditions. This type of clarity and communicability in representing complex, interwoven datasets which aim to capture an ever-changing world is what McGilligan is most proud of at CARTO. 

 

Messages for Students

When prompted for recommendations for skills within the geospatial technology field young people should focus on, Mr. McGilligan underscored the importance of communication. Some of the most in-demand skills are going to be the need for excellent communicators, particularly in the fields of technology and science. With every advancement, there comes to be a need to bring people along in order to engender trust in these new types of technologies and solutions. Building this bridge between technology and the wider world will enable policy makers and other decision makers to use that technology safely and responsibly to its fullest extent. 

With regard to the transition from traditional IT to cloud computing, the people who are going to be most in demand are those who can interpret the technologies and discuss them in order to focus on solutions that are most useful and needed for a wide range of stakeholders. Among AI safeguards, informed consent is one of the most important to keep in mind. Communication plays a big role in maintaining this ethical balance around geospatial analysis, by better informing people as consumers of data and consumers of products that may use their data.

For college students interested in the geographical and geospatial realm, he suggested joining a student organization at school, and launching into a project you are passionate about. It’s never a bad idea to add a location component to whatever you’re interested in, as he reminded us of the famous geography motto, “everything happens somewhere.” Being a self-starter and delving into case studies, diving into a cause you’re passionate about, and helping people solve problems by putting data on a map are all ways you can start making a difference in your community and start practicing your geospatial skills and building your own portfolio. There are plenty of free sources online to help make those connections, and you can work yourself into a position to showcase those skills. 

As he stated throughout the conversation, the geospatial field provides a vast breadth of opportunities to connect with many disciplines, apply yourself toward an array of objectives, and connect with diverse, global networks of people. CARTO sets an example by optimizing geospatial analysis and geovisualization through the latest technological advancements to support a better world, and exploring a wide range of geospatial platforms and refining communication skills are key pieces of advice for students who are inspired by its innovative work.