DroneMapper: Using Global Mapper for UAV Data Processing

Once the GRID generation is completed you have a bare earth DTM which can be exported as a GeoTIFF or any other elevation format via Global Mapper.

DroneMapper is one of the success stories in the fledgling field of UAV data collection and processing. After several decades of experience working in the aerospace industry, CEO Pierre Stoermer was quick to recognize the potential for drones as a viable low-cost alternative to manned aircraft for this purpose. Serving customers in a wide variety of industries and business sectors, including agriculture and mining, Stoermer recognized the importance of efficient data management and processing, both for their internal processes and for the value added products that the company delivers to their customers. This lead Stoermer to Global Mapper for UAV data processing.

CHALLENGES

Like most small businesses, one of the main challenges faced by DroneMapper was finding tools that provide the right level of functionality but that fit within the company’s inevitable budgetary constraints. As with any business expenditure, investing in technology must bring some degree of assurance that there will be a return on this investment. Traditional GIS applications are notoriously complex and cumbersome, requiring an inordinate amount of time and a high degree of training and expertise to effectively operate, which significantly impacts the overall cost of any project.

Without a dedicated GIS technician at DroneMapper, the operation and maintenance of the GIS data processing workflow is the responsibility of the current staff. The selected software must therefore be easy to learn and easy to apply.

DroneMapper has an expanding client and customer base, whose needs and requirements necessitate an efficient data processing platform that can generate deliverables in a wide variety of formats and with varying specifications.

A 3D view of piles in Global Mapper that were measured to give the viewer perception of their relative sizes.

SOLUTIONS

Unlike most companies who, when faced with a technology decision, evaluate multiple software alternatives, DroneMapper found Global Mapper first and has stuck with it. The range of functionality in tandem with the unparalleled format support were enough to convince them that Global Mapper was an ideal solution for their needs.

A visualization of what has been filtered from an initial point cloud and digital elevation model.

This versatile, fully functional GIS application has been steadily gaining an eager and dedicated worldwide following among geospatial professionals. Recent development work has focused on the visualization and analysis of 3D data, especially LiDAR and other point cloud formats. According to Stoermer, “Global Mapper provides an outstanding set of tools for efficiently assisting us and our client base in an affordable manner”.

GLOBAL MAPPER FOR DATA PROCESSING

Global Mapper is at the core of most of DroneMapper’s data processing workflows. The company employs the software’s intuitive 2D and 3D visualization tools to provide initial quality control of ortho-rectified imagery and DEMs.

Further along the production line, Global Mapper is the go-to application for filtering point cloud data to create accurate, bare-earth Digital Terrain Models. These DTMs allow the company to generate customized contour lines that can be exported in shapefile or virtually any other vector format. Global Mapper’s powerful cut and fill analysis capability and volumetric calculation tools are used to precisely measure volumes, providing DroneMapper’s clients in a variety of industries with site-specific intelligence that is essential for efficient project management.

Employing Global Mapper’s powerful raster calculation functionality, DroneMapper is able to quickly and accurately analyze vegetation patterns by generating NDVI grids. This provides an invaluable service to clients in the agriculture and forestry industries.

BENEFITS

DroneMapper’s decision to settle on Global Mapper for its spatial data management allows the company to perform both internal data processing as well as customer services on one powerful and easy-to-use platform. The application’s SDK will also provide an opportunity for future custom development projects and will allow DroneMapper to adapt Global Mapper to more specifically meet their needs.

ABOUT GLOBAL MAPPER

Global Mapper is an affordable and easy-to-use GIS application that offers access to an unparalleled variety of spatial datasets and provides just the right level of functionality to satisfy both experienced GIS professionals and beginning users. Equally well suited as a standalone spatial data management tool and as an integral component of an enterprise-wide GIS, Global Mapper is a must-have for anyone who deals with maps or spatial data. The supplementary LiDAR Module provides a powerful set of tools for managing point cloud datasets, including automatic point classification and feature extraction.

ABOUT BLUE MARBLE GEOGRAPHICS

Trusted by thousands of GIS professionals around the world, Blue Marble Geographics is a leading developer of software products and services for geospatial data conversion and GIS.  Pioneering work in geomatics and spatial data conversion quickly established this Maine-based company as a key player in the GIS software field.  Today’s professionals turn to Blue Marble for Global Mapper, a low-cost, easy-to-use yet powerful GIS software tool. Blue Marble is known for coordinate conversion and file format expertise and is the developer of The Geographic Calculator, GeoCalc SDK, Global Mapper, LiDAR Module for Global Mapper, and the Global Mapper SDK.

LiDARUSA: Using Global Mapper to Analyze Stream Morphology for Erosion Control

LiDARUSA uses Global Mapper to analyze stream morphology for erosion control.
LiDARUSA team needed the LiDAR processing tools functionality of Global Mapper to process extremely high amounts of data in an accurate and efficient manner.

LiDARUSA employs a variety of airborne and terrestrial data collection and processing technologies to provide clients with accurate terrain models and volumetric measurements. The stream study project, which was spread across several non-contiguous areas in Western Tennessee, initially required the acquisition of a series of high-density point cloud datasets, each containing billions of points. This data was then processed to identify and reclassify ground points, which were filtered to create a high-resolution ground model.

As part of an ongoing analysis process, additional data will be captured over a prescribed time series and incremental changes in the stream morphology will be measured and analyzed to instigate erosion control procedures.

CHALLENGES

Because of the nature of the terrain and vegetation cover, neither traditional survey methods nor fixed wing- or helicopter-based data collection were viable options in this project. Instead, LiDARUSA technicians employed a UAV mounted LiDAR collection platform, which is quick and relatively inexpensive to deploy.

While the raw data accurately represented the surfaces that were encountered, there was no distinction made between bare earth and any non-ground features such as tree cover or other obstructions. In order to be of value in the terrain analysis and ultimately in the change detection process, the nature of the surface detected by each point had to be identified and those points representing anything other than ground had to be removed before creating a ground model.

Because a UAV-mounted collection platform was in relatively close proximity to the target surface, the concentration of points and subsequently the volume of data was enormous. Each point cloud contained billions of points with over 1,000 points per square meter so the LiDARUSA team needed to find LiDAR processing software that was able to process extremely high amounts of data in an accurate and efficient manner.

SOLUTIONS

Global Mapper and the accompanying Global Mapper LiDAR Module were chosen by LiDARUSA because they included all of the required point cloud processing capabilities and they provided the means to maximize the return on investment in LiDAR data.

This versatile, fully functional GIS application has been steadily gaining an eager and dedicated worldwide following among geospatial professionals. Recent development work has focused on the visualization and analysis of 3D data, especially LiDAR and other point cloud formats. Global Mapper has allowed LiDARUSA to meet the challenges of processing large amounts of raw data into a usable commodity for its clients.

LiDARUSA uses Global Mapper to process large amounts of raw data
Global Mapper has allowed LiDARUSA to meet the challenges of processing large amounts of raw data into a usable commodity for its clients.

GLOBAL MAPPER AT WORK

Global Mapper played an essential role in the stream morphology project. The automatic ground point detection process provided the necessary data intelligence to allow non-required points to be quickly and easily removed from the point cloud. Using a customizable algorithm applied to the geometric structure and other attributes of the unclassified data, ground points were identified and isolated prior to creating an elevation grid.

An innovative cross-sectional viewing function in Global Mapper was used to display a cutaway view of a swath of points and to allow manual reclassification or removal of erroneous points. The extent of the swath from a defined linear path was adjusted to allow a more focused view of a target area.

Global Mapper’s powerful gridding tool was then used to convert the ground points into a terrain model, forming the basis for many of the software’s terrain analysis functions. The resolution of this gridded raster layer was optimized from the average point spacing in the original data. Tools in Global Mapper allow the raster layer to be cropped, feathered, tiled, or reprojected before being delivered to the client in any one of dozens of elevation data formats.

To analyze the degree of change between current and future collection periods, LiDARUSA’s technicians will be able to create a model of the difference between two gridded layers by subtracting the Z-values embedded in the pixels of each overlapping layer. The result will be a difference model in which areas with the most change are easily distinguished using either a stock or custom elevation shader. Furthermore, Global Mapper’s volume calculation capability will be used to provide precise measurements of the degree of erosion over the time period.

BENEFITS

The choice to use Global Mapper was an easy one for LiDARUSA. According to Daniel A Fagerman, Chief Technology Officer, the most important considerations were the low cost of the software, the availability of the LiDAR Module, and the ease-of-use of the required tools.

ABOUT GLOBAL MAPPER

Global Mapper is an affordable and easy-to-use GIS application that offers access to an unparalleled variety of spatial datasets and provides just the right level of functionality to satisfy both experienced GIS professionals and beginning users. Equally well suited as a standalone spatial data management tool and as an integral component of an enterprise-wide GIS, Global Mapper is a must-have for anyone who deals with maps or spatial data. The supplementary LiDAR Module provides a powerful set of tools for managing point cloud datasets, including automatic point classification and feature extraction.

ABOUT BLUE MARBLE GEOGRAPHICS

Trusted by thousands of GIS professionals around the world, Blue Marble Geographics is a leading developer of software products and services for geospatial data conversion and GIS.  Pioneering work in geomatics and spatial data conversion quickly established this Maine-based company as a key player in the GIS software field.  Today’s professionals turn to Blue Marble for Global Mapper, a low-cost, easy-to-use yet powerful GIS software tool. Blue Marble is known for coordinate conversion and file format expertise and is the developer of The Geographic Calculator, GeoCalc SDK, Global Mapper, LiDAR Module for Global Mapper, and the Global Mapper SDK.

Service Hydrographique et Océanographique de la Marine: Mapping the Coastal Zone (Litto3D®) with the help of Global Mapper

Elevation model of the coastline of France
In order to efficiently process the huge amount of acquired data, technicians at SHOM need a versatile and powerful tool that supports all of the required data formats including the raw point cloud data as well as DTM and other raster files.

Operating under the administration of the French Ministry of Defense, the Service Hydrographique et Océanographique de la Marine (SHOM) provides a public service in the fields of hydrography and maritime cartography. Working in partnership with IGN (Institut national de l’information géographique et forestière), SHOM has embarked on an ambitious project to create a seamless, high-resolution elevation model incorporating both bathymetric and topographic coverage for the entire coastline of France as well as French Overseas Territories. Utilizing both airborne LiDAR and multibeam data collection techniques, the Litto3D® project generates enormous quantities of raw data covering the swath of coastline from 10 meters above to 10 meters below sea level and extending at least 2 kilometers inland.

CHALLENGES

In order to efficiently process the huge amount of acquired data, technicians at SHOM need a versatile and powerful tool that supports all of the required of data formats including the raw point cloud data as well as DTM and other raster files.  To streamline the data processing and production workflow, the software must be accessible to both experienced GIS professionals as well as those who are relatively new to the field.

Beyond simply visualizing the data, the application must be capable of performing both routine data processing tasks and more involved analytical procedures that improve and add value to the data.

In the current fiscal climate with departmental budgets being significantly trimmed, the initial cost as well as the long term return on investment are important considerations. In order to satisfy this requirement, these costs must not only meet the initial budgetary constraints but the software must add a tangible and quantifiable value to the overall project.

Raster imagery of the coastline of France
With the implementation of Global Mapper into the Litto3D project, hydrographers at SHOM have been able to meet the challenges of processing large quantities of data and of exporting the required files for delivery to the project partners, and more largely to the public under an open data license.

SOLUTIONS

To meet these challenges, the hydrography team at SHOM selected Global Mapper, the versatile GIS application from Blue Marble Geographics. To supplement the application’s point cloud processing capabilities, the team also employed the LiDAR Module, a powerful set of tools for performing advanced editing and analysis of LiDAR data.

Global Mapper has developed a loyal following within the worldwide GIS community because of its inherent versatility, its affordability, and its interoperability with support for over 250 spatial data formats. With the implementation of Global Mapper into the Litto3D® project, hydrographers at SHOM have been able to meet the challenges of processing large quantities of data and of exporting the required files for delivery to the project partners, and more largely to the public under an open data license. Access to this data is available through an online viewer (http://data.shom.fr) and through direct download of the files (http://diffusion.shom.fr).

GLOBAL MAPPER AT WORK

The value that Global Mapper provides to the Litto3D® program is evident throughout all phases of the project; from mission planning to field activity management to data processing to file export and delivery.

Initially, Global Mapper provides a platform for visualization of the project area and for the establishment of optimal flight paths. This step involves the analysis of nautical charts, aerial imagery, and coastal surveys. Shoreline buffers are created to delineate the extent of the project area.

In the post-collection phase and in tandem with an array of dedicated tools, Global Mapper is employed in the visualization and processing of the raw point cloud files to guarantee quality and coverage. Global Mapper’s intuitive scripting process ensures that many routine and time-consuming procedures are streamlined saving time and ensuring consistency.

As the implementation and utilization of Global Mapper in the Litto3D® project expands, technicians are exploring the viability of adapting the LiDAR Module’s automatic ground point detection and reclassification process for creating a more precise model of the near-shore sea floor. This powerful tool applies a series of algorithms to an unclassified point cloud to determine which of the points are likely to constitute bare earth. This effectively identifies anomalies in the surface allowing straightforward filtering and cleanup of the data. While primarily intended for topographic applications, technicians at SHOM are examining the use of this tool for bathymetric analysis.

BENEFITS

The value that Global Mapper provides to the Litto3D® project can be summarized as follows:

Interoperability

Ease of use

Advanced data processing functionality

SHOM selected Global Mapper for the Litto3D® project because it offers powerful data processing functionality in an affordable and easy-to-use package. According to Yves Pastol, a senior hydrographer in charge of the bathymetric LiDAR activities, “Global Mapper is a perfect tool for our needs. It is both easy to learn and to use and it provides a surprisingly powerful collection of data processing tools.”

ABOUT GLOBAL MAPPER

Global Mapper is an affordable and easy-to-use GIS application that offers access to an unparalleled variety of spatial datasets and provides just the right level of functionality to satisfy both experienced GIS professionals and beginning users. Equally well suited as a standalone spatial data management tool and as an integral component of an enterprise-wide GIS, Global Mapper is a must-have for anyone who deals with maps or spatial data. The supplementary LiDAR Module provides a powerful set of tools for managing point cloud datasets, including automatic point classification and feature extraction.

ABOUT BLUE MARBLE GEOGRAPHICS

Trusted by thousands of GIS professionals around the world, Blue Marble Geographics is a leading developer of software products and services for geospatial data conversion and GIS.  Pioneering work in geomatics and spatial data conversion quickly established this Maine-based company as a key player in the GIS software field.  Today’s professionals turn to Blue Marble for Global Mapper, a low-cost, easy-to-use yet powerful GIS software tool. Blue Marble is known for coordinate conversion and file format expertise and is the developer of The Geographic Calculator, GeoCalc SDK, Global Mapper, LiDAR Module for Global Mapper, and the Global Mapper SDK.

Thurber Engineering Ltd.: Engineering with Global Mapper

3D terrain model by Thurber
To map and characterize landslides, Thurber looks for the distinct terrain characteristics, such as an arcuate, bow-like or curved shape near the crest of the slope along the steep sloping section below.

Thurber Engineering Ltd. is a Canadian consulting firm wholly-owned by senior practicing professionals. The company was founded in 1957 and has grown to employ over 300 engineers, geoscientists, and technologists in nine offices across Canada. The company provides a variety of geotechnical, geo-environmental, and construction materials engineering and testing services taking a multidisciplinary approach to work on problems related to earth, environmental, and materials science in a variety of industries across Canada. Thurber staff includes a core group of senior principals, specialists, and practicing professionals who have many years of practical experience in a variety of technical specialties, as well as project staff including engineers, scientists, and technologists.

Challenges

The engineers at Thurber use AutoCAD for drafting but also need a Geographic Information System for viewing data, pre-processing, and preparing data for use in AutoCAD and for analysis. They are strong believers in putting the computing power into the hands of the engineers; however this is not possible with expensive and complicated commercial GIS software.

One of the major components of the analysis work that Thurber undertakes is identifying geological landforms and assessing their suitability for a specific purpose. A GIS application is extremely useful for the following aspects of this terrain analysis:

  • Aerial photo interpretation and landform mapping
  • Site investigation
  • Terrain visualization using digital elevation models and LiDAR
  • Route selection for pipelines, roads, and power transmission lines
  • Slope stability and setback lines
  • Geo-hazard mapping and risk analysis
  • Aggregate mapping and testing
  • Field investigation (drilling, test pitting, geophysics)

Thurber needs an affordable GIS solution that can assist with all of these tasks.

Solutions

For over a decade, Global Mapper has developed a loyal following within the GIS community because of its ability to import and export over 250 data formats, including the AutoCAD formats that Thurber uses. Thurber has been a loyal customer since the earliest versions of the software and the number of users within the company has grown steadily over the years.

In addition to converting data for use in AutoCAD, Thurber uses the Global Mapper tools for site assessments, project planning, and for the terrain analysis tools, which are described in more detail in the example below. They have found that Global Mapper provides a better return on investment compared to other commercial GIS applications and with its flexible network licensing options, all of Thurber’s engineers have access to the application when they need it.

Example

Thurber Engineering uses Global Mapper to analyze LiDAR data to identify and assess the risk of hazards such as earthquakes, landslides, snow and rock avalanches, and debris flows. LiDAR (LIght Detection and Ranging) is a remote-sensing technique that uses laser pulses to sample the earth’s surface. The result is a dense set of points consisting of x, y, and z measurements that correspond to the objects encountered by the laser in the survey. A USGS study of the Seattle coastline (http:// landslides.usgs.gov/docs/schulz/lidar_enggeo.pdf ) determined that the total number of landslides mapped using LiDAR is about four times that of previously published maps produced using aerial photographs, and the LiDAR-mapped landslides include all landslides depicted on those maps.

To map and characterize landslides Thurber looks for the distinct terrain characteristics, such as an arcuate, bow-like or curved shape near crest of the slope along with a steep sloping section below. They are also looking for irregular topography and overridden features.

Starting with LiDAR data, Thurber can generate digital elevations models in Global Mapper. These models are continuous surfaces of elevation data derived from the LiDAR elevations. If non-ground points are filtered from the dataset, the result is a terrain model that allows analysts to ‘see through’ the trees and view the landforms below.

Identification of the distinct landslide characteristics can be accomplished using Global Mapper’s analysis tools, such as generating contours and finding ridgelines. Thurber engineers can qualitatively assess the data as an oblique view with the 3D Viewer and by applying hill shading and varying the azimuth of illumination, they can generate a different perspective of the terrain to view in the 2D and 3D maps.

The elevation models are quantitatively analyzed using the Path Profile tool to generate cross-sectional views and by generating slope maps with the configurable shader options, including the Slope and the Slope Direction Shaders.

Hill shading in Global Mapper's 3D Viewer
Thurber engineers can qualitatively assess the data as an oblique view with the 3D Viewer and by applying hill shading.

Benefits

Thurber has found the three most important things about Global Mapper to be: • Cost • Ease of use • Speed Thurber chooses to use Global Mapper above other products because of these reasons along with the powerful functionality that it offers. This single application meets all of the GIS needs of the organization. Bob Saunders from Thurber has found Global Mapper to have a “Huge return on investment compared to other commercial GIS applications.

We can put Global Mapper on a desktop for around $500 compared to $10,000. Site licensing means all engineers have access.” Combined with ease of use, the speed of analysis and the functionality available, Global Mapper provides the most benefit for the cost.

About Global Mapper

Global Mapper is an affordable and easy-to-use GIS application that offers access to an unparalleled variety of spatial datasets and provides just the right level of functionality to satisfy both experienced GIS professionals and beginning users. Equally well suited as a standalone spatial data management tool and as an integral component of an enterprise-wide GIS, Global Mapper is a must-have for anyone who deals with maps or spatial data.

Key features in this case include: data conversion, 3D processing/analyzing tools (generating elevation models, contours, and ridgelines), configurable shaders, and the 3D Viewer.

About Blue Marble Geographics

Trusted by thousands of GIS professionals around the world, Blue Marble Geographics is a leading developer of software products and services for geospatial data conversion and GIS. Pioneering work in geomatics and spatial data conversion quickly established this Maine-based company as a key player in the GIS software field. Today’s professionals turn to Blue Marble for Global Mapper, a low-cost, easy-to-use yet powerful GIS software tool. Blue Marble is known for coordinate conversion and file format expertise and is the developer of The Geographic Calculator, GeoCalc SDK, Global Mapper, LiDAR Module for Global Mapper and the Global Mapper SDK.

 

Pilbara Ports Authority: From Just Getting Started with Global Mapper to Saving Millions in Project Management

Dredging concept to expand port capcity
Lumsden Development Project – dredging concept to expand port capacity. Existing data manipulated in Global Mapper to develop ideas into a workable concept.

On 1 July 2014, the Port Hedland Port Authority in Western Australia merged with the Dampier Port Authority to form Pilbara Ports Authority. Pilbara Ports Authority stretches from the Port of Ashburton near Onslow in the south, to Port Hedland in the north, and includes the future Ports of Anketell and Cape Preston East.

The merging of these ports to form Pilbara Ports Authority incorporates the largest bulk export tonnage port in the world focused on the export of Australia’s rich mineral resources as well as world-class oil and gas operations. Pilbara Ports Authority has responsibility for safe and efficient shipping within its waters and for the overall planning and development responsibility for port lands. Its purpose is to facilitate and grow trade while protecting the environment and working with communities for the benefit of all Australians.

Pilbara Ports Authority is governed under the Port Authorities Act 1999 and operates as a corporation with a board of management that reports to the State Government of Western Australia’s Minister for Transport.

Challenges

Pilbara Ports Authority is the largest bulk export tonnage port in the world. With this responsibility comes a variety of coastal and harbor engineering challenges. While all are important, the most critical stage to maintaining or expanding a port is accurate dredging.

In late 2012 Frans Schlack, Dredging Manager for Pilbara Ports Authority was tasked with the Lumsden Development Project. The project involved designing a workable concept to expand port capacity. With over 40 years of experience as Dredging Manager, Schlack had managed several dredging projects over the year however he found himself in a unique situation where he could not depend on a survey department to carry out any survey or GIS work.

Challenges included the ability keep GIS work in-house and to work with data provided by surveyors using expensive marine application. Pilbara Ports Authority needed a software solution that did not cost tens of thousands of dollars but would work as a non-terrestrial, marine application and be able to handle highly accurate projection transformation for converting marine charts from WGS84 to GDA94. The tool needed to meet all of these requirements, without having a steep learning curve so Schlack could do the project himself.

“Being a non-surveyor or GIS trained person, I started from scratch with this program but its interface is so simple and makes so much ‘sense’, I learned very quickly.”
– Frans Schlack, Dredging Manager Pilbara Ports Authority

Solutions

Schlack first discovered Global Mapper because he needed a program that could change charts from WGS84 to GDA94 and then realized it could also be use on the Lumsden Development project. During the course of the project Schlack had some difficulties opening data created by other applications. He contacted the Blue Marble Technical Support Team and received a customized update of the software within 24 hours.

Using the enhanced version of Global Mapper, Schlack proceeded to change the original design of the Lumsden Development Project and was able to improve the design so that it complied with the targets and made sense from a dredging and reclamation perspective. He quickly became efficient with the software and was able to keep the entire project in-house due to Global Mapper’s simple and intuitive interface. The results were a savings of around $70 million in dredging costs alone but the overall savings compared to the original design came to $160 million.

About Global Mapper

Global Mapper is an affordable and easy-to-use GIS application that offers access to an unparalleled variety of spatial datasets and provides just the right level of functionality to satisfy both experienced GIS professionals and beginning users. Equally well suited as a standalone spatial data management tool and as an integral component of an enterprise-wide GIS, Global Mapper is a must-have for anyone who deals with maps or spatial data.

Key features in this case include: 3D processing/analyzing tools, ability to import over 250 data formats, Volume Calculation Tools, and Global Mapper’s renowned data handling capability allowed files from multiple sources to be converted and reprojected to ensure consistency and interoperability.

About Blue Marble Geographics

Trusted by thousands of GIS professionals around the world, Blue Marble Geographics is a leading developer of software products and services for geospatial data conversion and GIS. Pioneering work in geomatics and spatial data conversion quickly established this Mainebased company as a key player in the GIS software field. Today’s professionals turn to Blue Marble for Global Mapper, a lowcost, easy-to-use yet powerful GIS software tool. Blue Marble is known for coordinate conversion and file format expertise and is the developer of The Geographic Calculator, GeoCalc SDK, Global Mapper, LiDAR Module for Global Mapper and the Global Mapper SDK.

RealSim Ltd.: How a Leading Gaming Engine User Creates Terrain Models and More in Global Mapper

Global Mapper Terrain Tile
A Terrain Tile placed in the Unity 3D Terrain Editor.

RealSim provides highly realistic interactive 3D environment simulations for a range of clients and applications, including urban planning, marine simulation, and historical environment re-construction.

RealSim is passionate about the empowering potential of merging the technology of high-end gaming engines with 3D survey data and graphic design. The success of RealSim is built upon the skills and expertise of a talented team who collectively have over 20 years of experience in various 3D visualization and spatial technologies.

Challenges

RealSim environment simulations are built upon a popular middleware game engine, Unity3D, which is used by over 1 million game environment professionals around the world. RealSim has customized the platform to be equipped with various simple-to-use yet insightful spatial, lighting and scenario analysis tools.

One strength of gaming engines is their ability to process large volumes of 3D vector and raster information in real-time. When allied with physics engine technology for simulating environmental effects, gaming engines are an ideal platform for real-world environment simulation.

Gaming engines are not, however, equipped with gridding tools and thus do not readily import standard GIS terrain data. Height maps are required as a method of processing elevation data for a terrain surface in Unity3D. The height map is a top-down image mapping a specific area, but instead of using color photography, each pixel is a shade of gray. This gray does not contain an absolute elevation value, but represents a relative scale where a linear relationship is determined between the height of the terrain, and the shade of gray which is used. There are several ways to generate terrain data for use in Unity3D. The most accurate (loss-less) method of transferring spatial data into Unity3D is to export the data directly from a spatial mapping application, where this is supported. RealSim needed to find an application that could minimize the number of steps to convert from the 3D vector data available for a given location to the specific height map format required by Unity3D, while maintaining the integrity of the data and streamlining the process.

Solutions

RealSim started using Global Mapper in 2013 to develop a workflow to generate height maps for project locations, by gridding a terrain surface from 3D vector data. Video graphics cards, which are integral to how game engines efficiently process image data, work most efficiently when images contain pixels in ratios of 2 to the power of n, i.e. typically 512, 1024, 2048 and 4096. Terrain tiles are exported to fit one or more of these dimensions depending on the terrain resolution and area to be covered. The workflow also includes rescaling the terrain grid elevation values to fall within the range of 0 and 32767 and applying the Gradient Shader, without Hill Shading, to display the elevation values in greyscale. The data is exported as 16-bit GeoTIFF files, which are then converted to RAW files in Photoshop. RealSim also uses Global Mapper to export orthophotos that are tiled to the same spatial extents as the terrain tiles, so that both sets of data are aligned when imported into Unity3D.

“Pound for pound Global Mapper is the best value comprehensive terrain manipulation tool on the market.”
-Gavin Duffy, Managing Director at RealSim LTD

At the request of RealSim, Blue Marble Geographics has recently developed a tool to streamline this process. This new tool automatically scales the elevation values and directly exports the terrain data into RAW format. The resulting data is thus ready for immediate use in Unity3D. This custom enhancement to Global Mapper is available to all users and has significantly improved the process and minimized the number of times data is exported, thus maintaining the quality of the original data.

Benefits

“There are many GIS and geospatial software solutions on the market, but we chose Global Mapper because its terrain and gridding manipulation tools are at the core of its functionality,” stated Duffy. RealSim compared several products and found that pound for pound, Global Mapper has the best value for price. Global Mapper’s ease of use means that all of RealSim’s team, including non-GIS professionals, can easily start working on the project at hand. Since purchasing, they have expanded their use of Global Mapper to include creating terrain grids and applying custom shading, scaling data, generating tiles and creating customized coordinate systems.

3D simulation
RealSim created an interactive 3D simulation of Northern Ireland’s seabed using Global Mapper.

Example Project

RealSim was commissioned by Titanic Belfast in 2014 to create an interactive 3D simulation of Northern Ireland’s seabed, on display at the Ocean Exploration Centre. The simulation allows users to freely explore the seabed and some of its fascinating features, such as shipwrecks, giant sand waves, and a submerged lagoon, and shows how these features are mapped by modern survey technologies.

Using a large volume of seabed survey data collected off the coast of Northern Ireland, RealSim developed the 3D simulation using Global Mapper to process and import the data into Unity3D. The simulation is controlled by joysticks and contains two windows. The main window is a 3D seabed module color-shaded to reflect the depth. The seabed data contains a 5m resolution terrain model over the entire model area (approximately 80km by 5km). Within this there are areas of ultra-high resolution terrain gridded at 20cm to highlight particular points of interest on the seabed, including shipwrecks and unusual morphology like giant sandwaves. RealSim is currently in the process of extending the model to the east coast, visitors will soon be able to navigate the seabed along the entire coast of Northern Ireland. Almost 50GB of bathymetry data will be gridded and tiled using Global Mapper to create RealSim’s largest terrain model to date. To view this amazing project, watch this video titled “Titanic Ocean Exploration Centre Interactive 3D Seabed Simulation demo” below.

About Global Mapper

Global Mapper is an affordable and easy-to-use GIS application that offers access to an unparalleled variety of spatial datasets and provides just the right level of functionality to satisfy both experienced GIS professionals and beginning users. Equally well suited as a standalone spatial data management tool and as an integral component of an enterprise-wide GIS, Global Mapper is a must-have for anyone who deals with maps or spatial data.

About Blue Marble Geographics

Trusted by thousands of GIS professionals around the world, Blue Marble Geographics is a leading developer of software products and services for geospatial data conversion and GIS. Pioneering work in geomatics and spatial data conversion quickly established this Mainebased company as a key player in the GIS software field. Today’s professionals turn to Blue Marble for Global Mapper, a lowcost, easy-to-use yet powerful GIS software tool. Blue Marble is known for coordinate conversion and file format expertise and is the developer of The Geographic Calculator, GeoCalc SDK, Global Mapper, LiDAR Module for Global Mapper and the Global Mapper SDK.