Name the country – Djibouti
Name the river – The St. Lawrence River
Name the country – Djibouti
Name the river – The St. Lawrence River
Over the past few months, the Blue Marble team has taken on the challenge of collecting drone imagery of our property for testing exciting new features coming soon to Global Mapper. As we began to step into the fairly new commercial UAV field, we realized that there are few assumptions we can make. First of all, there is a learning curve that comes with simply flying a drone to take pictures or collect imagery. There are also a number of legal hurdles, safety concerns, and practical challenges to consider. We needed guidance as we began this initiative, from which we learned a few important lessons.
Though it appears to be a relatively simple technical challenge, flying a drone has legal and safety considerations that were readily apparent to us but may not be common knowledge. Our first concern was that the Blue Marble headquarters are only about a mile and half, as the crow (or should I say UAV) flies, from the Augusta State Airport. Small planes fly overhead frequently and quite low at times. We were not sure if our building was located near banned airspace. Our second concern was that our property abuts the Hall-Dale elementary school playground. A location that is full of children three or four times a day during business hours. What if we crashed in the school yard while children were at recess? What a PR nightmare.
These concerns about the airport and school property were enough to stall us from simply buying or building a drone, and prompted us to seek guidance. Fortunately for us, the University of Maine at Augusta offers an unmanned aerial vehicle training course taught by certified pilots. A quick call to one of the faculty members for more information resulted in the gentlemen visiting our offices to conduct some test flights and to share a bit of their knowledge with us. We learned a great deal even from our first test.
Certified pilots Dan Leclair and Greg Gilda joined us at our office on a beautiful, clear and wind-free day in early October. They confirmed that we could fly over our property with some stipulations, despite our location near a commercial airport. As a precaution, the gentlemen brought with them a hand-held radio to monitor pilot communication in the area as we set up our flight path. They also reassured us that there was little chance of the drone flying off of our property during school recess, since the drone would be programmed and flown on autopilot. Dan and Greg shared a litany of information about how the drones now have homing devices, automatically avoid collisions with structures, and fly on a pre-programmed flight pattern. If, for some reason, it did fly over school property, we could manually fly it back. We also learned that the drone must stay within our view to remain in compliance with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulation, which was no problem. We weren’t flying a large area anyway.
As we chose and programmed the drone flight path with a laptop, the pilots focused on a very common issue for us GIS folks — proper elevation above ground. Since we are located in the descent path of planes landing at the airport, we needed to keep the drone relatively low to avoid any potential, and of course unwanted, collisions with an aircraft. We decided that we would fly at 100 feet above ground on a path that was 1,793 feet long and would take about 3 minutes.
The software the pilots used had some short comings in that the user had to manually select points for the back-and-forth flight path we wanted. As a software guy, this seemed tedious. I would rather draw a quick polygon or box around my area of interest and have that converted to a flight pattern. Perhaps that could be a new feature for Global Mapper Mobile in the future? In this case, our area of interest was our building, so it did not take long to manually designate the flight pattern by selecting waypoints for the drone to fly back and forth. We also set up the drone camera for the light conditions, and programmed it to capture an image every two seconds during the flight. One practical lesson we learned was that a good staging area for the laptop is preferable on a sunny day. We used the back of an SUV for the shade, so we could see the laptop screen and comfortably program the software.
After a bit of work we were ready to fly.
We set the drone on a circular landing pad made of nylon near the back of our property. Greg attached the rotor blades, very carefully I might add. The blades attach rather easily to the quad copter by snapping into place. Dan explained that this step was done before turning the drone on, saying something to the effect of “you don’t want to lose a finger”.
Once the UAV was ready to fly we all stepped back. Dan launched it into the air with the touch of a button or two, and the drone began its pre-programmed flight path. For those experienced pilots, you might notice that we did not discuss ground control. More on that in a later blog entry, I suppose, but these early tests were not including that. The flight went seamlessly and Dan only took over manual control as he brought the drone in for a landing — a personal preference of his.
Everything seemed to progress well but we quickly learned that the drone ended up capturing only video (see below) and not still photography. A few more attempts later, we sadly learned that we would not be able to collect still imagery that day. Apparently there was some incompatibility with the flight planning software and the drone. Not to fear, they agreed to return another day after a software update to collect the imagery. So perhaps the most important lesson of the day was that, despite the best laid plans of mice and men, things do not always go as planned with drone data collection. If you’re interested in learning some more about the foils and follies of drone data collection visit this handy resource: http://knowbeforeyoufly.org/
We’ll have more to share with you on this process and, of course, what we are doing with the data soon.
Patrick Cunningham is the President of Blue Marble Geographics. He has two decades of experience in software development, marketing, sales, consulting, and project management. Under his leadership, Blue Marble has become the world leader in coordinate conversion software (the Geographic Calculator) and low cost GIS software with the 2011 acquisition of Global Mapper. Cunningham is Chair of the Maine GIS Users Group, a state appointed member of the Maine Geolibrary Board, a member of the NEURISA board, a GISP and holds a masters in sociology from the University of New Hampshire.
In my first couple of weeks as graphic designer at Blue Marble Geographics in 2016, I heard my coworkers use an unfamiliar term in our marketing meetings. They said things like: “do we have bee-muck speakers yet?”; or “when is the bee-muck e-mail going out?”; or “the bee-muck numbers are looking good so far.”
What the heck is a “bee-muck“?!
I figured it was one of dozens of conferences that Blue Marble attends each year, like AUVSI or InterGeo, and not a term used to describe mud on a yellow and black insect pollinator. “Bee-muck” is actually how the Blue Marble team pronounces the acronym BMUC for Blue Marble User Conference, and BMUC is not just another event the company attends. It’s a series of conferences organized by Blue Marble in cities around North America (and sometimes the world) to show appreciation for the users of Blue Marble software. The one-day conferences offer users a chance to chat face-to-face with Blue Marble team members, to hear success stories from GIS peers, and to share a meal with everyone. I admit, I was skeptical when I heard the “share a meal” part. But when Blue Marble hosted a BMUC in Maine, I had the opportunity to take part in the rich experience the conferences actually have to offer.
At every BMUC, Blue Marble software specialists give talks on the latest product news. During the presentations at the Maine conference, I noticed one phrase that prefaced most of the announcements about new software developments — “We received requests for this feature.”
Global Mapper and Geographic Calculator have evolved into the cutting edge software they are today because of user feedback. Whether a user emails, calls, sends a Facebook message, or speaks to a staff member at a BMUC or other conference, the team at Blue Marble hears and considers what that user has to say. A couple of examples of user-requested features that were highlighted at the Maine BMUC were Global Mapper’s advanced attribute editor, which allows for streamlined editing of data assigned to map features; and the real-time hillshading feature, which allows for dynamic positioning of a light source by clicking and dragging a sun icon.
When asked about what new features of Global Mapper v19 came from user requests, Product Manager Sam Knight began listing them off:
After giving this handful of examples, he stopped himself and said, “Actually, literally every significant new feature is a user request.”
The point I’m trying to make is that the product news shared at BMUCs not only keeps users in the loop, but it also fosters the collaborative culture that makes Blue Marble software great. It lets users know that they have a hand in improving these already powerful tools.
There are at least two guest speakers at every BMUC, who share their real-life experiences using Blue Marble products. These professionals come from a variety of GIS backgrounds — from oil and gas to filmmaking; from city planning to conservation. While members of the Blue Marble team bring their software expertise to the BMUC agenda, the stories from others in the GIS community add valuable outside perspectives.
At the Maine BMUC, attendees heard from GIS Specialist Thea Youngs, who uses Global Mapper for Portland city projects. She explained how the software fits in her workflow, and how fast it is to view and select an area of interest from a large point cloud. “Global Mapper helps with making LiDAR data play better with drafting software.” She also commended Global Mapper for its extensive list of supported file formats, since her work sometimes deals with older and less common formats.
Attendees also heard from GIS Specialist Alex Gray of GEI Consultants Inc., whose presentation focused on a hydrology analysis for which he created digital terrain models from a combination of LiDAR and sonar data in Global Mapper.
While both speakers use Global Mapper and the LiDAR Module for their powerful point cloud processing functionality, both work with very different workflows and could provide unique ideas on how to use the software. The presentations, as well as the variety of occupations in the BMUC audience, exemplified how versatile Global Mapper is and how BMUCs are a great place to share tips on how to use the software.
It’s probably safe to say that the word “lunch” elicits a positive reaction from more people than the word “networking”. I mean, who can’t bond over a good sandwich?
During lunch at the Maine BMUC, attendees had the opportunity to share their own stories, ask more questions, discuss projects with their peers, and to make connections in their local GIS community. I was able to hear from attendees about what developments they’d like to see from Blue Marble in the near future, like the ability to create point clouds from drone imagery, which is actually something that Blue Marble is currently testing.
Other than providing lunch, Blue Marble also offers opportunities to win prizes such as T-shirts and a license of the latest version of Global Mapper. At the Maine BMUC, this opportunity came in the form of a “Name That Country” game, in which attendees had to identify countries from a series of slides.
After the conference, two thoughts struck me as I drank a beer with my co-workers and BMUC attendees who were able to join us for happy hour. My first thought: How cool is it that this small company can serve customers all over the world and still have intimate events like BMUCs? Second: BMUCs truly embody the user-focused mission of Blue Marble.
They are an affordable opportunity (only $25 to register) to gain insights from company experts and other GIS professionals; to meet new people in the GIS community; to win a copy of the latest version of Global Mapper; to have an opinion about a Blue Marble software and to have it heard; and did I mention lunch?
As I write this entry, the Blue Marble team is planning its BMUC 2018 schedule. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to see this experience come to your neck of the woods, and keep an eye on the BMUC page to find out where we will be next.
There’s an abundance of knowledge to be shared in the GIS and Blue Marble community, and BMUC is a tap on the barrel. Cheers!
Chelsea Ellis is a graphic designer and social media manager at Blue Marble Geographics. Her responsibilities range from creating the new button graphics for the redesigned interface of Global Mapper 18 to editing promotional videos; from designing print marketing material to scheduling social media posts. Prior to joining the Blue Marble team, Ellis worked in page layout and graphic design at Maine newspapers, and as a freelance designer and photographer.
October’s newsletter focuses on Global Mapper and highlights the new features of recently released version 19. We introduce the latest blog post from Katrina Schweikert, one of Blue Marble’s Applications Specialists, in which she describes how Global Mapper helped resolve a drainage problem around her house. We also hear from Global Mapper Guru, Mike Childs who recently contributed to the Blue Marble blog with an entry in which he eulogizes about one of his favorite subjects: free online data. Finally, and as always, we challenge your geographic aptitude in the Where in the World Geo-Challenge with a brand new copy of Global Mapper v19 up for grabs for the lucky winner.
2017 marks twenty years since the aforementioned Mike Childs responded to a request from the USGS to develop a simple viewing tool for their burgeoning collection of public-domain datasets. In the intervening years, Global Mapper, into which the freeware application would eventually evolve, has established itself as a key player in the worldwide geospatial industry. Late last month, we proudly unveiled version 19 of this remarkable software with upgrades and improvements throughout the application.
Significant new functionality includes:
One of the benefits of the increased availability of local LiDAR data is the prospect of conducting high-precision analysis of terrain variability, especially in the context of drainage. This was the impetus behind a project recently undertaken by Blue Marble’s Katrina Schweikert. Having recently purchased a house close to Blue Marble’s headquarters in Hallowell, Maine, Katrina soon found out that there was a stream literally flowing through her unfinished basement. Read how Global Mapper was used to create a simulated model illustrating how the problem could be resolved.
In a world in which streaming has become the norm, it is not surprising that much of the map data that we consume is increasingly being delivered through the internet. The benefits are obvious: real time updates and no local storage requirements. Did you know that Global Mapper includes easy access to immeasurable quantities of data from countless sources that are readily, and often freely, available within the Online Data component of the software? For the Global Mapper 19 release, we expanded the built-in online data services to include data for all 50 U.S. states and several Canadian provinces. Recently, we convinced Mike Childs to take a break from coding so he could share some insights into the online data options in Global Mapper.
On Thursday, October 12th, Blue Marble Application Specialists will be conducting a live webinar showcasing the highlights of the Global Mapper 19 release. This hour-long presentation is scheduled to begin at 2:00 p.m. (U.S. Eastern Time), and it will provide an opportunity to see the latest tools and to ask questions about the new functionality. Space is limited, and registration is required so be sure to sign up today.
Thank you to all who submitted an entry in September’s Where in the World Geo-Challenge. Check out the answers here. The randomly drawn winner and the recipient of a copy of Global Mapper is Ray Romano, Chief Designer at Persu Property Fund Pty Ltd in Australia. This month, another copy of Global Mapper is being offered to the winner so why not take the challenge.
Thinking of heading to the Blue Marble User Conference in Los Angeles? Now there’s another reason for you to sign up. Several attendees will be given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tour the city from the air. Scheduled for November 15 and held in partnership with Blue Marble partner, GEO1, the event will include an onsite drawing to select the lucky participants. After the close of the meeting, the winners will accompany GEO1 technicians on a helicopter ride as they simulate their aerial data collection workflow while flying over the famous landmarks of LA. Space is limited and the registration deadline to be included in the drawing is October 13, so sign up today.
2017 AUSA Annual Meeting & Exposition | Washington DC | October 9 – 11
NYGEO Conference | Lake Placid, NY | October 17 – 19
Global Mapper & LiDAR Module Training | Ottawa, Canada | October 17 -19
Maine GIS User Group Meeting | Bangor, ME | October 20
2017 Texas GIS Forum | Austin, TX | October 23 – 27
Commercial UAV Expo | Las Vegas, NV | October 24 – 26
Fall Northeast Arc User Group Conference | Newport, RI | November 5 – 8
Global Mapper and LiDAR Module Training | Atlanta, GA | November 7 – 9
Name the capital city? – Seoul
Name the Country? – Bosnia and Herzegovina
Name the Island? – Maui
Name the Body of Water? – The Strait of Gibraltar
Name the Desert? – The Namib Desert