Overview of Current Activities:
China and Elsewhere

At the time of this writing, I am in the Beijing, China, airport, returning from a trip that has brought me to Taipei—where I met with the local Chapter and the Taiwan Group on Earth Observation—and to Shanghai, Beijing, and Changchun—where I visited local Chinese Chapters and institutions. During my stay, I learned more about the numerous activities they are undertaking and the problems they have encountered, which tend to be different from those in other parts of the world (Figure 1).

Over the past few years, participation at the International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium (IGARSS) by attendees from Asian countries, and particularly from China, has increased at sustained levels; in fact, the number of IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society (GRSS) members from China reached 556 as of 31 January 2018. Only two years ago, at IGARSS 2016 in Beijing, China, for the first time, became the country represented by the greatest number of IGARSS delegates. This was repeated last year in Fort Worth, Texas, and all indications suggest that it will happen again this year in Valencia, Spain, because about one-third of the accepted abstracts are from China, more than twice the number of contributions from the next-ranked country. These numbers provide clear evidence that the quality of submissions from China has reached a significant level of maturity: this is good news for the remote sensing field because China has very strong Earth observation and navigation programs, and researchers there are developing state-of-the-art sensors and techniques. We expect that other emerging countries will follow this trend in the coming years, although this process takes time as well as a sustained investment from government agencies.

FIGURE 1. GRSS President Adriano Camps (front row, fourth from left) attends the IEEE GRSS China Chapters Annual Meeting in Changchun, 16 April 2018.

REGIONAL IGARSS OPPORTUNITIES

During the trip, my hosts and I had time to discuss the potential for organizing what we call regional IGARSSs as a way to reach out to the numerous members who, either for economic reasons or because of the difficulties in getting a visa, cannot regularly attend IGARSS. These regional IGARSSs could also be organized in other regions, constituting a simpler entry point into GRSS activities. While the format of these regional conferences will mimic that of the IGARSS, it could be adapted to regional differences.

We need to work out the details of the implementation, but if the appropriate champions are found to lead them, these regional conferences could start as early as 2019 or 2020. However, Chapter chairs and members made it very clear that one of the values of our current IGARSS model is that it fosters international connections and collaboration. IGARSS organizers have also discussed the need to complete the review process and mail invitation letters earlier, allowing more time for people to get their visas approved (which can take three to four months, depending on the country and even depending on particular institutions in the same country).

RESPONDING TO CHAPTER NEEDS

Regarding Chapter organization, the large membership and vast geography of current IEEE Chinese Sections could benefit from the creation of additional Chapters. However, IEEE regulations as of now formally limit the number of Chapters to one per Section. Therefore, we have discussed potential opportunities to effectively implement a parallel structure of satellite Chapters that, while complying with IEEE regulations, will provide more internal flexibility, along with the benefits of being a Chapter. Of equal importance is the fact that governance and Section-to-Chapter problems are also of concern to China members. I found similar problems occurring in the first stop of my visit and in some European countries as well.

STUDENT CHAPTERS

It was particularly rewarding to meet representatives from the two Student Chapters formed at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Wuhan University. I should note that, to date, there are only two additional GRSS Student Chapters— in Brazil and Colombia—and a third that has just been approved in India.

The enthusiasm these Chapters show for undertaking new challenges and activities was very exciting, and participants expressed considerable interest in the new GRSS Student Grand Challenge. Proposals were due by mid-May and then evaluated and ranked; the top five will be awarded US$6,000 to purchase the necessary hardware and attend IGARSS 2019 to present their results in a dedicated half-session. I think that this will be a good measure of our student members’ activity level, and we hope that many new Student Chapters will be created so that we can fund their activities and contests in the coming years.

OTHER MATTERS DISCUSSED IN CHINA

The new joint IEEE Journal of Miniaturized Air and Space Systems was also very well received because there are many institutions developing hardware in China, and, at present, no appropriate venue for this type of paper is available within the GRSS. Similarly, the webinars and the fact that they are archived in the IEEE GRSS Resource Center as well as the IEEE GRSS DataPort were viewed as valuable resources offered to GRSS members. Similarly, the new Technical Committee on Standards for Earth Observation was perceived as an opportunity for international collaboration and a key step toward the integration/interoperability of systems produced by different agencies or companies.

FURTHER TRAVELS

During the 11 days preceding this writing, I have visited four cities and 12 institutions (universities, research laboratories, and companies), in addition to delivering seven technical talks as requested by Chapters. The meeting at the Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth, Chinese Academy of Sciences, with Dr. Qiu Yubao also allowed me to continue my role as chair of the IEEE Technical Activities Board (TAB) ad hoc committee for IEEE in the North and South Poles (INSP). We have verbally agreed to encourage closer collaborations among the International Workshop on Observations and Understanding of Changes in High Mountain and Cold Regions (which Dr. Qiu Yubao organizes) and the two smaller INSP spinoff conferences: the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Forum (ASOF), co-owned equally with the IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society, and the Arctic and Northern Ocean Forum (which is still under discussion). Dr. Yubao and I have also agreed to seek support for dedicated winter schools on the topic by bringing faculty and distinguished speakers through local Chapters and possibly offering student travel grants. During our conversation, a connection between the GRSS and the digital belt and road initiative (the digital Silk Road) was also established.

It is also worth noting that, in addition to our 50% participation in ASOF, last March in Mallorca the GRSS Administrative Committee (AdCom) (Figure 2) approved the 100% financial sponsorship, i.e., not just technical, of the successful series of GNSS+R workshops. This is part of a strategic initiative to increase the portfolio of the GRSS topical conferences.

I will continue my trips by traveling to Seattle to attend the Arctic Encounters 2018 meeting as part of my duties as IEEE INSP chair. This initiative, initiated by Prof. Marina Ruggieri, 2017 TAB vice president, is intended to establish collaborations among IEEE Societies and “identify ways in which the IEEE can efficiently contribute to the different on-going and planned initiatives to study and address changes that the North and South poles are experiencing from the environmental, communications, transportation, educational, and outreach points of view.” We will keep working to consolidate these activities in the longer term, finding new opportunities for collaboration among GRSS members and those from other Societies willing to contribute to this endeavor. I will be reporting on the outcomes in future columns.

FIGURE 2. The GRSS AdCom before dinner in Mallorca, Spain, 3 March 2018.

While trying to recall all of the new initiatives begun by the GRSS during the past year and a half, I can only say thanks to the GRSS AdCom members who have worked hard to make them happen and to all the GRSS members who have contributed to them. Special thanks to Dr. Yin Qiang, GRSS Asia Pacific chair, for her valuable support in organizating my trip. We are here to serve our community, so please do not hesitate to contact us to share your ideas, concerns, suggestions, and anything else to help make the GRSS better.

Last but not least, I am happy to inform you that IGARSS 2018 has received more than 2,700 submitted abstracts and that the Technical Program Committee has worked hard to prepare an outstanding conference. The IGARSS 2018 team will build on the experience from Fort Worth, with an enhanced industry-related program. We expect a high-quality, well-attended conference and look forward meeting you in Valencia this July!

Prof. Adriano Camps
2018 IEEE GRSS President