Blue Marble Monthly – December 2017 GIS Newsletter

Satellite imagery

Product News, User Stories, Events, and a Chance to Win a Copy of Global Mapper Every Month

If you detect a hint of excitement in our tone this month, it may be because of the upcoming holiday season, which gives us reason to look back at what was a very successful year for Blue Marble. It is more likely, however, that our spirits are heightened due to the recent release of the Global Mapper LiDAR Module version 19, which includes a powerful new photogrammetric point cloud generation tool.

In December’s newsletter, we formally introduce this new Pixels-to-Points™ tool with a video showing it in action. Also in this edition, we share a holiday shopping tip and unveil part one of the definitive “Brief History of Global Mapper”. Oh, and as always, we give you a chance to win a copy of Global Mapper with our ever-popular Where in the World Geo-Challenge.

3D model of snowman in Global Mapper

A Word from the President

This is Patrick Cunningham, Blue Marble President, and I’d like to take this opportunity on behalf of the Blue Marble staff, to thank you, our loyal and enthusiastic customers, for another fantastic year. A year in which we continued to focus on our core belief that GIS can and should be easier, more affordable, and better. Needless to say, we couldn’t have done it without you. Not only because of your enduring support for Blue Marble’s products, but also because you inspire us to continue to innovate.

Direct interaction with our customers has been the Blue Marble maxim from day one and as we approach our 25th anniversary in 2018, this is still the foundation of our development philosophy. Warmest wishes from all of us to all of you for the holiday season and a safe and prosperous 2018.

Above Image: A 3D model of a snowman designed by Blue Marble’s Stephanie Martini is now available in the latest build of Global Mapper.

Point cloud generated using the new Pixels-to-Points TM tool

Product News | The LiDAR Module v.19 with Pixels-to-Points™

The version 19 upgrade to the LiDAR Module is arguably one of the most eagerly anticipated releases in recent memory with its new Pixels-to-Points tool. Employing the basic principles of photogrammetry, Pixels-to-Points analyzes the relationship between recognizable objects in multiple images to determine the three-dimensional coordinates of the corresponding surface, from which it creates a point cloud and, optionally, a raster orthoimage.

The integration of Pixels-to-Points into Global Mapper, with its vast array of point cloud, raster, and vector processing capabilities creates the most complete mapping software for UAV operators. Download the latest build of version 19 and try it out for yourself.

 

Screenshot from Pixels-to-Points TM video

Webinars and Webcasts | Introducing Pixels-to-Points

If you haven’t had a chance to try the new Pixels-to-Points tool for yourself, check out the latest webcast, in which we walk through this addition to the Global Mapper LiDAR Module. Using an array of drone-collected images, we first show how they can be loaded as clickable picture points in the map view before exploring the steps required to transform the images into a high-density point cloud.

This data and process can also be viewed here on our blog.

 

Screenshot of dlgv32

Projections | A Brief History of Global Mapper

During a recent meeting to discuss new functionality soon to be added to Global Mapper, it was pointed out that its predecessor, dlgv32, was first conceived in 1997, 20 years ago this year. In recognition of this anniversary, we thought it would be fitting to take a look back at some of the highlights of this eventful journey. Check out part one in the latest blog entry from Blue Marble’s David McKittrick, which also features a group of middle-aged Microsoft executives dancing around a stage. Now you really do have to read it, don’t you?

 

Blue Marble shirt store

Did You Know? | Blue Marble Makes T-Shirts

Still haven’t figured out what to stuff in Uncle Jack’s stocking this year? Check out Blue Marble’s online store – the Blue Marble Emporium – where you will find branded and (occasionally) amusing geography t-shirts for your favorite geospatially aware loved ones.

 

Geographic Calculator

Geographic Calculator Users | We Need Your Feedback

As previously noted, direct input from our customers is instrumental in helping ensure that our products continue to address the requirements of the industries that we serve. For Geographic Calculator users, we have compiled a short survey to give you an opportunity to share your thoughts on how the current software is meeting your needs as well as any suggestions that you might have for future functionality.

 

Geo-Challenge

Where in the World Geo-Challenge

November’s Where in the World Geo-Challenge was supposed to be somewhat more, well, challenging. Seemingly not challenging enough, however, judging by the number of respondents who managed to correctly identify all five locations. Check out the answers here.

The randomly drawn winner of a copy of Global Mapper is Joost van Dijk of VBMS. Check out the final Geo-Challenge of 2017 by clicking the link below. If you guess all five of the geographic features correctly, you’ll be in the running to win a copy of Global Mapper 19. So why not take the challenge?

 

See complete terms and conditions here.

Blue Marble shirt store

Training | Maine is First Location on 2018 Global Mapper Training Schedule

So far, we are scheduled to have training in the following cities:

  • Hallowell, Maine
  • To be determined, Australia
  • Seattle, Washington
  • San Diego, California
  • Houston, Texas
  • Orlando, Florida

Some venues and dates still need to be verified for some of these locations, so please check our Public Training page here for updates.

Registration is open for our Maine training in January. Click the link below to reserve you seat.

A Brief History of Global Mapper Part I

Global Mapper Disco Logo
The Global Mapper logo before the 2016 redesign is lovingly called the “disco logo” at the Blue Marble office.

In the beginning…

As a Global Mapper user, have you ever contemplated the important role that the release of Windows 95 had in the early development of your favorite GIS application? I thought not! There’s a strong possibility that many of you readers were but a twinkle in your parents’ eyes when Bill Gates and his cohorts borrowed a classic Rolling Stones number and awkwardly frolicked around the stage while our Windows 95 computers beseeched us to “Start Me Up”.

It seems that the folks at the USGS were looking past the ungainly dancing and paying close attention to this personal computing innovation. The newly revamped, graphics-friendly computers now sitting on everyone’s desks were the inspiration that the agency needed to embark on a project to develop a freeware application for viewing their burgeoning collection of data. The lead developer on this project, which would culminate in a product entitled dlgv32, was a certain Mike Childs, whose name would become synonymous with Global Mapper over the subsequent two decades.

If the truth be told, dlgv32 is not a name that smoothly rolls off the tongue, but there is a certain 1990s logic to the moniker.

DLG = Digital Line Graph was the name given to the USGS vector data files

V = Viewer 

32 = 32-bit operating system which the application supported

Compared to today’s Global Mapper, dlgv32, which was released in June of 1997, was bare-bones, to say the least. Supporting just one file format and with no analysis, editing, or even exporting capability, it really lived up to the “V” in its name. It was a viewer. That’s all. Nonetheless, dlgv32 was a resounding success. According to USGS statistics, the application was downloaded on average 100 times each day with a total of 60,000 copies in circulation after the first two years.

Just a month after version 1.0 was released, version 1.5 was completed boasting support for the USGS DRG data, the agency’s raster topographic maps. This rapid functional upgrade was the first example of what would later become one of the defining characteristics of Global Mapper: its continual state of development.

An elevation grid in dlgv32 Pro

Dlgv32 Evolves into Global Mapper

Subsequent releases of dlgv32 added support for newly available USGS terrain datasets, including the option to apply a shader to represent variations in elevation. They also introduced an innovative and, at the time, unique reprojection function that applied the active projection parameters to all data layers as they are loaded — a function that users of the current release of Global Mapper still appreciate.

With this enhanced functionality and expanding format support, it became clear to the folks at the USGS that dlgv32 was developing beyond the agency’s original directive, so they made the decision to release the source code for commercial development. Who better to take up the mantle than Mike Childs?

Basic digitizing in dlgv32 Pro

Spurred on by the fact that tens of thousands of satisfied downloaders were already using dlgv32, Mike recognized the potential market for an advanced version of the software and so began the real story of Global Mapper.

It is worth recalling the nature of the GIS industry at the time. As a technical discipline, GIS very much belonged in the hands of a relatively small group of highly skilled and trained people. Applications such as Global Mapper, into which dlgv32 would soon evolve, succeeded in opening the field of spatial technology to an increasingly wider audience.

September 2001 saw the release of dlgv32 Pro for the modest price of $79. More significantly, it opened the door for Mike to independently address the needs and requirements of the growing user community and to create software in direct reaction to customer input, with no bureaucratic overseers. Technically this first commercial release was version 4.0, a numeric naming sequence that continues to this day.

Early Highlights of Global Mapper

Over subsequent releases, many of the capabilities that were seen in today’s Global Mapper were sequentially introduced:

Global Mapper HistoryChelsea E | Projections

After just three years of focused development, Global Mapper had already begun to gain considerable attention in the GIS community, not only within the U.S. but throughout the world. This occurred in spite of the fact that there was no formal marketing or proactive business development effort. Most early users cited word-of-mouth recommendations from colleagues or clients as the primary reason that they initially found out about the software.

These early users were also instrumental in steering the continued evolution of Global Mapper. Reacting to requests from individuals, Mike would often create an update to the software and deliver a unique build to the requester, often within a few hours of the initial contact. This was a mutually beneficial arrangement: Mike was able to develop functionality that specifically targeted the needs and requirements of a particular industry, and was able to lean on the requester to test the new functionality before it was incorporated into the general release version. The requester benefited from the fact that they received a version of Global Mapper that was customized to meet their needs. While Global Mapper has matured considerably since these early years and now follows a more formal development process, this underlying reactionary development philosophy is still prevalent today.

In part two of this Brief History of Global Mapper, we highlight the milestones from 2005 to the present, including the acquisition of Global Mapper by Blue Marble Geographics.


David McKittrick is a Senior Application Specialist at Blue Marble Geographics in Hallowell, Maine.  A graduate of the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland, McKittrick has spent over 25 years in the field of GIS and mapping, focusing on the application and implementation spatial technology. McKittrick has designed and delivered hundreds of GIS training classes, seminars, and presentations and has authored dozens of articles and papers for a variety industry and trade publications.

Pixels-to-Points™: Easy Point Cloud Generation from Drone Images

Point cloud generated from 192 drone images using the Pixels-to-Points tool
A point cloud generated by EngeSat’s Laurent Martin using the new Pixels-to-Points™ tool in version 19 of the LiDAR Module. The LiDAR Module tool analyzed 192 high resolution drone images to create this high-density point cloud.

When we have a new product release like the version 19 of the LiDAR Module that comes with the Pixels-to-Points™ tool, it’s always exciting to see that feature in action for the first time outside of the Blue Marble office. Our South and Central American reseller Laurent Martin from EngeSat was quick to try the new Pixels-to-Points tool for himself using drone data collected by his peer Fabricio Pondian.

The new Pixels-to-Points tool uses the principles of photogrammetry, generating high-density point clouds from overlapping images. It’s a functionality that makes the LiDAR Module a must-have addition to the already powerful Global Mapper, especially for UAV experts.

Below, screenshots captured by Laurent illustrate the simple step-by-step process of creating a point cloud using the Pixels-to-Points tool and some basic point cloud editing using other LiDAR Module tools.

1. Loading drone images into the LiDAR Module

The collection of images loaded into the LiDAR Module must contain information that can be overlapped. The Pixels-to-Points tool analyzes the relationship between recognizable objects in adjacent images to determine the three-dimensional coordinates of the corresponding surface. In this particular example of the Pixels-to-Points process, 192 images are used.
The flight path of the UAV and the locations of each photo can be viewed over a raster image of the project site.

2. Calculating the point cloud from loaded images

192 high-resolution images are selected in this particular example. The tool will give an estimated time of completion, which depends on the size of the images and number of images.
The Calculating Cloud/Mesh dialogue displays statistics of the images as they are analyzed and stitched together by the Pixels-to-Points tool.
An alert window pops up when the process is complete.

3. Viewing the generated point cloud

A new layer of the generated point cloud is now in the control center.
A close up of the final processing result with the orthoimage.
A close up of the final result with the new point cloud generated from the 192 images.
A 3D view of the resulting point cloud.
A view of the point cloud colorized by elevation
A cross-sectional view of the point cloud using the Path Profile tool

4. Classifying the point cloud

Points can be reclassified automatically or manually using LiDAR Module tools. Here, the point cloud is reclassified as mostly ground points.

5. Creating an elevation grid and contours from the point cloud

With the point cloud layer selected, a digital terrain model can be generated by clicking the Create Elevation Grid button.
A cross-sectional view of the digital terrain model using the Path Profile tool
Contours can be generated from the digital terrain model by simply clicking the Create Contours button.

A quick and easy process

In just a few steps, Laurent was able to create a high-density point cloud from 192 images, reclassify the points, and create a Digital Terrain Model. It’s a prime example of how easy version 19 of the LiDAR Module and the new Pixels-to-Points tool are to use. Check out EngeSat’s full article on the release of LiDAR Module.

Where in the World November 2017 Answers

Name the country – Swaziland

Swaziland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the capital city – Dili

Dili

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the island – Mallorca (Majorca)

Mallorca (Majorca)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the body of water – Sea of Azov

Sea of Azov

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the national park – Serengeti National Park

Serengeti National Park

Blue Marble Monthly – November 2017 GIS Newsletter

Satellite Imagery

Product News, User Stories, Events, and a Chance to Win a Copy of Global Mapper Every Month

After the Global Mapper 19 release, Blue Marble refocuses its efforts on the next item on the docket — the LiDAR Module. In November’s newsletter, we give users a sneak peek of what to expect from the upcoming release of the module. We also take a look at what happens behind the scenes of software development, such as the “foils and follies” of collecting drone imagery described in a blog entry by Blue Marble President, Patrick Cunningham. Finally, and as always, we challenge your geographic knowledge in the Where in the World Geo-Challenge with a brand new copy of Global Mapper 19 up for grabs for the lucky winner.

LiDAR data

Product News | Drone Imagery to Point Cloud

The saying “you usually have to wait for that which is worth waiting for” couldn’t be more true for the version 19 release of the Global Mapper LiDAR Module. Since its introduction in version 15 the LiDAR Module has offered an increasingly powerful set of tools for editing, classifying, and extracting features from LiDAR and other point cloud formats.

The pending release of the version 19 edition will elevate the module to the next level by offering a simple tool for generating a dense point cloud from overlapping imagery. Tailor-made for the rapidly emerging professional UAV market, this powerful feature was previewed at the recent Commercial UAV Expo in Las Vegas and received universal acclaim.

Keep an eye on your inbox for an announcement about the availability of the Module.

Drone at Blue Marble headquarters

Projections | Foils and Follies of Drone Data Collection

Recently, the Blue Marble team took on the challenge of collecting drone imagery of their headquarters for the purpose of testing some exciting new features coming soon to Global Mapper. Stepping into the fairly new commercial UAV field comes with a handful of lessons and hurdles, from actually flying the drone to understanding legal and safety concerns. In this blog entry, Blue Marble Geographics President, Patrick Cunningham describes the most important lesson learned from the team’s UAV experience — things don’t always go as planned.

 

Hyperlinks in Global Mapper

Did You Know? | Hyperlinks in Global Mapper

Did you know that Global Mapper offers a tool for embedding a hyperlink within any point, line, or polygon, allowing you to associate an external file or even a website with a defined geographic location? The linked file or files are accessed using the Feature Info tool and will trigger the launch of whatever software is associated with that file type. Adding a link can be done manually by typing the file path or URL as an attribute value when creating or editing a vector feature, or by clicking the Add File Link(s) button in the Modify Feature Info dialog box. For a creative and extremely useful application of this functionality, try linking to a Global Mapper workspace file from a point feature that has been placed at the location of the corresponding job site or project location. This a great way to streamline data management by providing one-click access to all of your workspaces in a single reference map.

 

Screenshot of Attribute Editor

Webinars | What’s New in Global Mapper 19

Our latest webinar, which was recorded live in October, showcases the highlights of Global Mapper 19.

As with all previous releases, version 19 includes numerous functional enhancements and performance improvements throughout many areas of the software. Among the specific topics covered in the webinar were:

  • New Attribute Editor
  • Interactive Hillshade Control
  • Drag and drop window docking
  • 3D Viewer improvements
  • New online data sources
  • Several new built-in raster calculation formulas
  • And much more

This and previous Blue Marble Webinars and Webcasts can be viewed at Blue Marble YouTube Channel and on the Webinars page on the Blue Marble web site.

 

November 2017 Geo-Challenge

Where in the World Geo-Challenge

Thank you to all who submitted an entry in October’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 Ian James from HiSeis Pty Ltd. This month, in response to several comments that the challenge is “too easy”, we upped the ante just a little. A copy of Global Mapper is being offered to the winner so why not take the challenge.

 

See complete terms and conditions here. 

 

GEO1 Hangar

BMUC LA Rescheduled | Conference to be Held in June

Due to reasons beyond our control, the Blue Marble User Conference planned forNovember 15 at the Hawthorne Municipal Airport in Los Angeles had to be rescheduled to June 8, 2018. The conference will be held in partnership with GEO1 and will include an onsite drawing for attendees to win a helicopter tour of the city. At the end of the event, winners will accompany GEO1 technicians on a flight over LA as they simulate their aerial data collection workflow. Space is limited, so sign up today. Look out for announcements about the BMUC 2018 locations and schedule.

Upcoming Events

Visit Blue Marble at the following events:

Fall Northeast Arc User Group Conference | Newport, RI | November 5 – 8

Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) | Orlando, FL | November 27 – December 1

GeoData 2017 London Showcase | London, UK | November 30

Where in the World October 2017 Answers

Name the country – Djibouti

Djibouti

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the river – The St. Lawrence River

The St. Lawrence River

<

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the island – Borneo
Borneo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the capital city – Lisbon
Lisbon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the mountain range – The Pyrenees
The Pyrenees

The Foils and Follies of Drone Data Collection

Drone collects imageryChelsea E | Projections
A drone flies over the Blue Marble Geographics headquarters in Hallowell, Maine collecting imagery to be used in software testing.

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.

Drone Flight Concerns and Considerations

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.

Programming drone flight pathChelsea E | Projections
Certified UAV pilot Dan Leclair uses his laptop to set up a flight path for a drone to fly over the Blue Marble Geographics headquarters in Hallowell, Maine.

Setting Up the Drone for Flight

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.

Drone cameraChelsea E | Projections
We also set up the drone camera for the light conditions, and programmed it to capture an image every two seconds during the flight.

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.

Rotors are attached to droneChelsea E | Projections
Certified UAV pilot Greg Gilda puts the rotors on the drone before it’s sent on a flight path over the Blue Marble headquarters.

Flying the Drone and Collecting Data

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


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.