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.

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

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.

What is BMUC? | An Embodiment of Blue Marble Values

Sam Knight speaks at BMUCChelsea E | Projections
Blue Marble Geographics’ Product Manager Sam Knight presents the latest features in Geographic Calculator 2017 to Blue Marble User Conference attendees in South Portland, Maine.

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“?!

BMUC Amsterdam
Blue Marble Geographics took the BMUC experience to Amsterdam in spring of 2017.

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.

Product News that Fosters a Collaborative Culture

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.”

Patrick Cunningham speaks at BMUCChelsea E | Projections
Blue Marble Geographics President Patrick Cunningham welcomes attendees to the Blue Marble User Conference in Maine.

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:

  • The new attribute editor function
  • Playing multiple videos attached to a feature
  • The dynamic hillshading control
  • All the new raster band math formulae, which include Normalized Difference Snow Index (NDSI) and Advanced Vegetation Index (AVI)
  • Drag and drop docking for the 3D viewer and path profile
  • Exporting/importing flythrough paths

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.

Alex Gray speaks at BMUCChelsea E | Projections
GIS Specialist Alex Gray of GEI Consultants Inc. presents on a hydrology analysis for which he used Global Mapper to create digital terrain models.

Peer-to-Peer Learning in the GIS Community

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.

Thea Youngs speaks at BMUCChelsea E | Projections
GIS Specialist Thea Youngs presents on how she uses Global Mapper for LiDAR processing in city projects for Portland, Maine.

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.

Let’s Call it Lunch, not “Networking”

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?

BMUC lunchChelsea E | Projections
Attendees line up for lunch at the Maine Blue Marble User Conference.

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.

An Affordable and Rich GIS Experience

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 bmuc@bluemarblegeo.com 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


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.

Blue Marble Monthly – October 2017 GIS Newsletter

Satellite Imagery

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

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.

Global Mapper 19 Release

Product News | Global Mapper 19 Released

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:

  • A new table-based attribute querying and editing tool
  • An innovative interactive utility for adjusting the terrain hillshade
  • Drag and drop window docking for improved multiview management
  • New support for online data for Canada and all 50 U.S. states
  • And much more

 

Watershed Analysis in Global Mapper

Projections | Estimating Property Modifications in Global Mapper

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.

 

Online Data Access in Global Mapper

Did You Know? | Free Online Data in Global Mapper

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.

 

Hillshade Rendering in Global Mapper

Webinars and Webcasts | What’s New in Global Mapper 19

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.

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

 

October 2017 Geo-Challenge

Where in the World Geo-Challenge

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.

 

See complete terms and conditions here. 

 

GEO1 Hangar

BMUC LA | Win a Helicopter Flight Over Los Angeles

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.

Upcoming Events

Visit Blue Marble at the following events:

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

Estimating Property Modifications in Global Mapper

Connecting to the US NAIP high-resolution imagery.
Connecting to the US NAIP high-resolution imagery.

 

I recently purchased a house in Hallowell, Maine, where the Blue Marble Geographics office is located. Hallowell is a teeny tiny city with lots of historic homes that sit on a rather large hill overlooking the Kennebec River. One aspect of my historic fixer-upper property that needs some work is the drainage. I have decided to explore drainage solutions by estimating property modifications using Global Mapper and publicly available data.

Finding Data in Global Mapper

The first step is finding the right data. So, to start with, I use the search tool in Global Mapper to create a point feature at my address. I also change the projection to something that works for the area, such as the State Plane projection for Maine. Next, with the online data tool, I easily connect to the US NAIP high-resolution imagery.

The State of Maine GIS site, MEGIS, has a number of other helpful layers that can be added. Vector data can be downloaded as shapefiles using a web browser and can be loaded into Global Mapper by simply dragging the files into the software. Like a lot of states, Maine’s GIS site also offers web services that can be added to the list of online sources in the software. For my project, I need the outline of my individual property, so, I first download the property parcels layer for the entire city and drag the downloaded zip file onto the map to import it. I use the Digitizer to select my property and then use CTRL+C and CTRL+V to copy it to a new layer.

Using the Digitizer tool
I use the Digitizer to select my property and then use CTRL+C and CTRL+V to copy it to a new layer.

What I really need for this analysis is some high-resolution terrain data, and luckily my property is close enough to the coast to be included in the NOAA coastal LiDAR data. I use the online data source tool again to search the Digital Coast for data that matches my current map bounds.

Cleaning up LiDAR Data in Global Mapper

A quick look at the LiDAR data confirms that it contains preexisting point classifications, including a lot of points marked as noise that look fine to me.

Raw LiDAR Data
Cleaning up and improving the classification of LiDAR points with the Automatic Classification tool.

My first task is to clean up and then improve the classification with the Automatic Classification tools. Using the Path Profile tool, which renders a lateral view of the point cloud data, I can clean the data up even more with some manual editing, since it is such a small area that I am interested in.

Classified LiDAR Data
Note the edges of the property boundary in blue on the profile window. There are some trees on both sides.

Applying Colors to a Point Cloud in Global Mapper

The Maine GIS site also provides 4-band ortho-imagery that was collected in a similar time frame to the publicly available LiDAR data. From that imagery, I apply the RGB color values to my point cloud using the Apply Color tool, which improves the point cloud analysis capability and creates an interesting visual perspective of the data. The imagery is leaf-off, so it does not match up perfectly with the point cloud, but it adds some detail that can help with identification and analysis.

View From the House in LiDAR Data
Looking down at the Kennebec River from my property with 3D colorized LiDAR points.
CIR
False color infrared (IR) display of the points highlights the coniferous vegetation and other late autumn greenery in red.
House Profile in False Color IR
Profile of the false color IR with the house in the middle.

Estimating Property Modifications with Global Mapper

After creating a terrain surface from the classified and filtered LiDAR data, I estimate the modifications that are needed to improve the drainage around the base of the house.

Using the new Breakline and Hydro-flattening tools, I create a flattened foundation by applying a height to the buildings in the terrain modeling process. Next, using the Watershed tool, I see the current drainage problem.

Drainage area that flows through the house and garage
Drainage area that flows through the house and garage shown in pink.

By using the digitizer tool and calculating the elevations, I create a line for a back drainage that would allow water to flow from start to finish. Then using buffering and site planning tools, I create a modified terrain surface that will calculate the necessary terrain modification.

I create a line for a back drainage that would allow water to flow off of the property.

Finally, I measure the volume of soil to be removed, and calculate the benching and terracing for the back retaining wall.

Site Plan Volume
Measuring the volume of soil to be removed for the drainage plan.

After the modification, the drainage from the back of the house to the road is much better. I am also glad to have some warning of just how much dirt removal a plan like this will involve.

Cross sectional path profile view of property
A cross sectional path profile view shows the new drainage line compared to the original terrain and classified LiDAR data.

 

Modified Drainage Watershed
Flow modeling shows how the terrain modification improves the flow of water around the back of the house.

 

I am still considering options for creating a small pond, ending with a tile drain, and many other possibilities. But thanks to freely available data and some quick calculating and visualization with Global Mapper, I have a much better sense of the scope of this project and what the final results might look like.


Katrina Schweikert
Katrina Schweikert


Katrina Schweikert is an Application Specialist at Blue Marble Geographics. She provides technical support, training, and software documentation. Katrina has over five years of professional experience in GIS, a GIS certificate from University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a degree in Geography from Middlebury College. She is happy to be working in technology back in her home state, as well as meeting GIS users across the globe.

A World of Free, Quality GIS Data: Global Mapper’s Online Data Access

The Online Service Now Includes Data for all 50 States

Global Mapper Online Data access
The Online Data access in Global Mapper™ provides streaming access to over 100 built-in sources of imagery and terrain data as well as topographic, geological, and land cover maps.

Starting a GIS project can often seem like a daunting task. When presented with a blank canvas or low resolution background map you may wonder how to get started. In a typical case, you have a few small data files in some format (like one of the 300 or so that Global Mapper supports) for your project area. However, just a few lines and points on a blank background do not provide much context and certainly nothing you would want to present to a customer. Where does one go for online data access to find additional high quality data?

Global Mapper’s Online Data Access

Luckily there is a vast quantity of free online data ready to stream right into your project to give it meaning. The Online Data services in Global Mapper provide streaming access to over 100 built-in sources of imagery and terrain data as well as topographic, geological, and land cover maps. For the Global Mapper 19 release, the services were expanded to include data for all 50 U.S. states and several Canadian provinces.

Online terrain data in Global Mapper
What is unique about Global Mapper is that you also get access to multiple sources of streaming terrain data for the entire world.

Access to streaming raster map data is pretty standard stuff. After all, everyone has used Google Maps or another online mapping service at one time or another. What is unique about Global Mapper is that you also get access to multiple sources of streaming terrain data for the entire world. These are not pre-rendered hill-shade images of terrain, but the raw terrain data itself, ready for use in any terrain-enabled function, like contour generation, view shed, path profile, 3D display, and stream generation.

We have built in access to the following terrain data sources, hosted right on our servers in the hyper-efficient GMG (Global Mapper Grid) format for maximum speed:

  • SRTM 1-arc-second (30m) – Worldwide Terrain Data (excluding polar regions)
  • ASTER GDEM 1-arc-second (30m) – Worldwide Terrain Data (including most of polar regions)
  • USGS NED 1/3rd Arc Second (10m) Resolution – Terrain for the Entire Continental US
  • [COMING SOON] US 3DEP 10m Resolution – Terrain for Entire US (Including Hawaii and Alaska)

For users working in environmental and wind power fields, we have tiled and hosted a number of land cover data sets for streaming, including the CORINE data for Europe, the NLCD data for the US, and ESA CCI data for the entire world. The NASA GIBS sources provide daily updates from several NASA satellite sensors, allowing you to pull in things like global-scale imagery, snow and sea ice cover, and temperature data for any desired date. You might pull in a couple of different dates and use the Image Swipe Tool to compare the conditions at different times or perhaps you will want to conduct some more complicated change detection analysis using any number of appropriate tools in Global Mapper (raster calculator, volume calculations, etc).

Online imagery in Global Mapper
Pre-tiled imagery and terrain data sets are also supported using the OSM (OpenStreetMaps), TMS (Tiled Map Service), and Google Maps tile schemas. You simply need to select the appropriate source type and provide the service URL from the data provider and Global Mapper should handle the rest.

Add Your Own Data Sources to Global Mapper

While Global Mapper has a huge variety of built-in sources, we can’t even begin to include all of the streaming data sources available. We provide a mechanism on the Online Data dialog to add your own sources to the built-in list, allowing you to stream data from them just like any other source. All of the OGC standard source types are supported, like WMS/WMTS for streaming raster maps, WFS for vector data sets, and WCS for downloading individual data files for a defined area. Pre-tiled imagery and terrain data sets are also supported using the OSM (OpenStreetMaps), TMS (Tiled Map Service), and Google Maps tile schemas. You simply need to select the appropriate source type and provide the service URL from the data provider and Global Mapper should handle the rest.

Finally, if you have your own collection of data that you want to host as a streaming source, Global Mapper provides the means to distribute your data in to the tiles that GIS software can handle. The web export option allows you to export any loaded data to JPG or PNG tiles (as appropriate) with the appropriate folder and filename structure for upload to a server for streaming access on an internal or external network. Support even exists for creating an OSM tile set with GMG (Global Mapper Grid) tiles so you can create your own streaming terrain (or other gridded) data source in Global Mapper. User-created streaming sources provided a way for you to host your data once and allow your colleagues and customers to browse the data quickly without needing to download many GB (or TB) of data. You can even choose to create a sample web page for embedding your data in the Google Maps or Bing Maps interface in a web page, or browse it in WorldWind!

We are constantly adding to our default list of free online data so if you have a particular dataset that you think others would like to have access please let us know. We will do our best to add it in the release version as soon as possible.  And remember to stay current with our updates to Global Mapper so you always have the latest data and fastest way to consume it.  Happy mapping!

NOTE: For more blog entries on Global Mapper, see:
Got LiDAR? Now What?,
  Global Mapper for UAV Operations,  The Myth of Free GIS — A Lesson from Nelson


Mike Childs

Mike Childs is currently the Global Mapper Guru at Blue Marble Geographics. Mike was the original developer of Global Mapper and has over 20 years of experience developing mapping/GIS applications. He has been with Blue Marble Geographics since 2011, when Blue Marble acquired Global Mapper.

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.