Ph.D. Student Yiqun Xie Receives Best Vision Paper Award at ACM SIGSPATIAL 2019

Ph.D. candidate Yiqun Xie
November 25, 2019

Ph.D. candidate Yiqun Xie, along with his advisor McKnight Distinguished Professor Shashi Shekhar, Professor Richard Feiock of Florida State University and Professor Joseph Knight from the Department of Forestry Resources at the University of Minnesota, received the Best Vision Paper Award (Blue Sky Idea Award) at the 27th ACM SIGSPATIAL International Conference on Advances in Geographic Information Systems. They were honored for their paper, “Revolutionizing Tree Management via Innovative Spatial Techniques”, which included a $1000 award for the conference travel. The best vision paper was sponsored by the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) Blue Sky Idea initiative and lauded on the CCC blog which reaches many computing research community leaders. It will also be featured on the CCC’s Great Innovative Ideas website.

The paper by Xie, Shekhar, Feiock and Knight envisions a revolution of tree management by automatically mapping trees and their properties using innovative spatial techniques. Unawareness of tree locations and their spatial relationships with urban infrastructures (e.g., electricity powerlines) has caused many historic fires and power blackouts, including the 2018 Camp Fire, the largest wildfire in the history of California.

In Minnesota, there is also an urgent need to map ash trees (as per a Star Tribune cover story on October 20, 2019), which have died in millions due to the invasive species of Emerald Ash borer. The problem is challenging since signatures of trees of different species are barely known in common types of remote sensing data that are available at large scales (e.g., most trees appear as similar green blobs in satellite imagery).The research team introduces new research directions and opportunities to help the research community tackle this challenging and urgent problem. One novel idea is to use tree shadows in high-resolution (7cm pixels) aerial imagery for species classification. During leaf-off season, tree shadows captured by unmanned aerial vehicles present clear branching structures of trees that are distinct among different species. Several other ideas include time series features, domain-theory based training data reduction, etc. This research was supported by an NSF Smart and Connected Communities grant (1737633).

Example of tree mapping

ACM SIGSPATIAL is a top conference in the fields of spatial computing, spatial data science, spatial databases, etc. Sponsors for 2019 include Microsoft, Apple, Here, DiDi, Esri, Oracle, Lyft, Google, etc. Spatial computing and spatial big data have already enriched billions of lives via pervasive services (e.g., navigation and ride-sharing apps), ubiquitous systems (e.g., geographical information system, spatial database management system), and pioneering scientific methods (e.g., spatial statistics).

CCC Blue Sky Idea initiative aims at helping conferences seek out papers that present ideas and visions that can stimulate the research community to pursue new directions and stimulate significant new research. The mission of Computing Research Association’s Computing Community Consortium (CCC) is to catalyze the computing research community and enable the pursuit of innovative, high-impact visionary research. CCC communicates the importance of those visions to policymakers, government and industry stakeholders, the public, and the research community itself.

This is Xie's second best paper award this year. He also received the Best Paper Award at the 16th International Symposium on Spatial and Temporal Databases (SSTD 2019) for the paper, “Significant DBSCAN towards Statistically Robust Clustering”. 

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