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Dale Lutz on Captain Kirk, Cellphones, and FME

A chat with co-founder Dale Lutz on the past, present, and future of our industry and technology.

“The original Star Trek(TM) is on Netflix! I can’t believe how good it still is.” Dale Lutz, VP of Development and co-founder of Safe Software, is grinning from ear to ear as he talks via a hands-free cellphone in his electric car, through the Internet to a Vonage VOIP connection, on the other end of which is your editor, who happens to be sitting two countries over at the time. Though we’ve planned this interview to talk about the evolution of FME as Safe nears its 20th anniversary, we do need to enthuse over our common love of sci-fi television for a few minutes first.

FME Insider: Doctor Who vs. Captain Kirk. Go.

Dale Lutz: Captain Kirk, hands down. Look at the technology that Star Trek predicted. Communicators, the electronic Captain’s Log, Uhura’s earpiece, doors that knew you were approaching… this was pure imagination in the sixties. It would have boggled their minds back then to see our cellphones, iPads(R), Bluetooth(R) earpieces…

FI: What would have boggled your mind back in 1993, as you and Don were starting out?

DL: The power of mobile technology. Awesome maps in your hand – everywhere. Ubiquitous Internet access. And the effect of all of this on our lives as spatial professionals. Spatial exploded beyond its old boundaries as a tool just used by specialists. It touches everyone’s lives now.

FI: You once said “We’ll never do raster.” What else comes to mind you wouldn’t have predicted?

DL: I don’t think I’ll ever live that down. The fact that FME has such a beautiful GUI, that we do raster, yes, and now point clouds – back in the day, 40,000 features was an unbelievable target. Today it’s billions, on a regular basis. And that there would be more than, say, ten or fifteen supported data formats – we’re right around 300 now! Databases on the Internet, Google Fusion Tables(TM), ArcGIS(R) Online – the fact that we have this kind of processing power and storage in the cloud now is a game changer.

FI: What else do you see out on the “frontier” that’s making its way into our professional lives?

DL: I think we’re right on the edge of daily use of 3D. We’ve been talking about it for a while, and it seems the hype is dying down and we’re moving into the quiet adoption phase. The tools are becoming more powerful, and commonplace. And the democratization of data collection – like UAVs that operate at a fraction of the cost of an aircraft or satellite. I think we’ll see the time, soon, when highly accurate laser scans are available to anybody.

FI: How does Safe keep on top of what’s coming next?

DL: We spend a LOT of time listening – and reading, and talking to customers. We have to stay on top of trends and emerging technologies, and try to evaluate which of those are going to make their way into our users’ lives, and which are still in the “transporter phase” – really really cool, but not likely to be a part of your professional life any time soon. There’s a fine balance between speculative R&D and continuing to make FME the best it possibly can be for the users who rely on it everyday.

FI: Thanks for spending your morning commute with us.

DL: Lutz out!

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