Blue Marble Monthly – Are You Ready for Global Mapper 20?

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

Here in New England, the summer heat is finally waning, the leaves are beginning to show some color, and most of the tourists have headed south (Hooray!). This seasonal transition precipitates a major event here at Blue Marble: a new release of Global Mapper is on the horizon. This month, we offer a sneak peek at some of the highlights of version 20, we shine the spotlight on our Indian partner, Schnell Informatics; we hear from the USFWS about protecting vulnerable habitats in Florida; we offer students a chance to win a $500 scholarship; and we give everyone a chance to win a copy of Global Mapper 20 in the Where in the World Geo-Challenge.

NEWS | Win a $500 Scholarship

Are you a student using Global Mapper? Would you like to win $500? If you answered yes to these questions, you’ll probably be interested to learn that Blue Marble is introducing the Global Mapper Scholarship Program. To enter, simply share the details of the work you’ve been doing with Global Mapper and, after reviewing all of the submissions, Blue Marble will select the winner.

 

USER STORY | Monitoring Mouse Habitat with Global Mapper

Sea level rise is generally regarded as one of the most significant environmental problems that we will face in the coming years. With the help of Global Mapper, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service scientists have been studying the impact of sea level rise on the habitat of several mouse species on the Gulf coast of Florida.

 

PRODUCT NEWS | Global Mapper 20 Coming Soon

Subscribers to this newsletter will recall a series of articles that were published earlier this year highlighting some of the key milestones in the history of Global Mapper. Later this month, the saga continues with the release of Global Mapper 20, which includes an extensive list of new tools, functional upgrades, and performance improvements. As a sneak peek, we offer a preview of the top five highlights of this release.

 

DID YOU KNOW? | NextMap One in Global Mapper

The release of version 20 of Global Mapper includes a new online data option. NextMap One from Intermap Technologies provides seamless, one-meter resolution elevation data for the entire world. Available as a subscription-based online service, the data is available as a DTM or DSM providing unparalleled worldwide 3D analysis capability.

RESELLER | Schnell Infomatics in India

The Indian subcontinent represents a rapidly emerging market for geospatial technology and it is critically important for Blue Marble to have a competent and reliable partner in the region. Schnell Infomatics fits the role perfectly. In the latest Reseller Spotlight, we learn how the company has succeeded in introducing Global Mapper to a wide variety of business sectors and government departments in the region.

 

 

VIDEOS | Sign Up for Our Live Webinar

Coinciding with the release of version 20 of Global Mapper, Blue Marble applications specialists will be conducting a live webinar showcasing the highlights of this version. Scheduled for September 27, the live format offers an opportunity to see the software in action and to ask questions of the presenters. Registration is required and space is limited so be sure to sign up today.

This and 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.

 

Where in the World Geo-Challenge

When asked to name the bridge in September’s Geo-Challenge, the entrant mononymously named John suggested, and I quote, “I think I’ll name it Clarence, Clarence Bridgingsworth the Third.” Much as the judges would delight in accepting this answer, we feel it would establish an unhealthy precedent so unfortunately for John, we have to defer to what most consider to be the correct response: Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Janet Hoskings from Spookfish, an imagery processing company in Western Australia, wins a copy of Global Mapper for being the randomly drawn entrant who correctly recognized all of the locations. Click here to see how well you did and click below to try your hand at September’s Geo-Challenge.

 

See complete terms and conditions here.

EVENTS | Conferences, Training, and BMUC

October and November are particularly busy months in Blue Marble’s events calendar. Look out for company representatives at conferences and trades shows from Las Vegas to London. Click here for details.

 

There are still some spaces available at the Global Mapper training classes in Houston in October and Orlando in December. Reserve your seat here.

 

Before all that, we are delighted to be hosting the Blue Marble User Conference in our home state of Maine. Join is on September 21st for a day of presentations, company news, and networking.

The Top 5 New Features of Global Mapper 20

point cloud from 3D mesh
Global Mapper 20 not only offers the ability to create point clouds from 3D meshes, but also offers the option to create a flattened orthoimage derived from the colors in the mesh.

What’s New in Global Mapper version 20?

If you are like most people, it’s unlikely that you take the time to read the plethora of dialog boxes that appear when installing software but if you did, you might actually learn some interesting details about the application. In the case of Global Mapper, one of the windows that beckons for your attention is the “What’s New…” list. While we understand the eagerness of most users to repeatedly click the Next button and finish the installation process so they can “play” with their new toy, it might be worth pausing on this one for just a moment.

Blue Marble’s development process requires each new tool, functional upgrade, bug fix, and performance improvement to be meticulously documented and archived. What you are presented within the “What’s New …” list is an abbreviated version of this archive. In a sense, the list offers a summary report of what the development staff has been working on over the preceding weeks and months. It can make for some interesting reading.

For the soon-to-be-released Global Mapper version 20, there are more than 200 individual changes that have been noted. Given the dynamic nature of the development process, this number will likely increase by the actual date of release.

For those of you who do not have the time or the wherewithal to peruse the entire list, what follows, in no particular order, is a summary of five of the most significant new features that you will find in Global Mapper 20.


Map Layout tools have been streamlined in Global Mapper 20.

1) Improvements to the Map Layout function

One of the surprising findings from last year’s Global Mapper user survey was the importance of map printing. For years, the prevailing opinion has been that printed maps would eventually bite the proverbial dust, but this has not been the case. Global Mapper’s Map Layout functionality was completely redesigned a couple of years ago and it has been undergoing continual improvements ever since. For this release we have introduced a new tool for creating a map book or atlas from selected features;  a new option to filter the legend by layer; and a custom macro function that allows you to create title blocks with name, company, etc. Suffice to say, if your workflow requires the printing of maps, Global Mapper 20 has all the tools you need.

2) Support for Windows Tablets with improved touchscreen functionality

While Global Mapper has always been supported on Windows-based touchscreen devices, certain actions and UI procedures have been difficult. In version 20, there have been significant improvements that allow a wider range of actions to be controlled with your fingers. Pinching to zoom the map is now supported as well as swiping with two fingers to pan the map in both the 2D and 3D views. Previous enhancements to support touchscreen interaction include, touching the screen to activate contextual menus and tapping on the screen with any of the digitizing tools enabled to place points or vertices.

3) Ability to create a point cloud or flattened orthoimage from a 3D mesh or model

Creating a point cloud, similar in structure to LiDAR data, from an existing 3D model or mesh may seem like an inverted procedure. It is the reverse of what would be considered a normal workflow. It does, however, open up a number of interesting 3D analysis workflows, in which the source data is an existing 3D mesh. For instance, the point cloud created from the model can be readily classified, edited, and filtered using Global Mapper’s LiDAR processing tools, and points representing ground can be used to create a DTM. Version 20 of Global Mapper not only offers this new point cloud creation tool but it also offers the option to create a flattened orthoimage derived from the colors in the mesh.

4) Speed improvements when loading large vector files

Citing any type of performance improvement as a new version highlight is often perceived as subjective and difficult to quantify or validate. In the case of Global Mapper 20, the improved speed when working with larger vector files is tangible. During our internal testing, the load time for a specific large shapefile was measured at just over four minutes in version 19 of Global Mapper. In version 20, on the same multi-core machine, the load time was shaved to 2.5 seconds. That’s almost 100 times faster. Improvements have also been made to the rendering of large vector files in the 3D View.

Global Mapper 20 now offers a color picker option, with which users can simply click the section of a raster image that they want to extract color from.

5) Eyedropper tool for accurate color selection

Perhaps not a major functional upgrade, however, when considered in the context of one of the author’s favorite Global Mapper tools, it is a godsend. The tool in question is a feature informally referred to as “Raster Vectorization” or, to give its proper name, “Create Area Features from Equal Values”. The premise is simple: By identifying a specific color in an image, you can create polygons that enclose the extent of the pixels of that color or you can expand the tolerance to accommodate similar colors. Previously, fine-tuning the color selection involved manually entering the required RGB values. In version 20, there now is a color picker option, with which you simply click the section of the raster image that you want to extract. This color picker is also available when choosing a transparent color for a raster layer.

And a couple of bonus highlights for LiDAR Module users:

Tool for creating a 3D model or mesh from selected LiDAR points

The underlying technology that enables the creation of an orthoimage was incorporated into Global Mapper within the Pixels-to-Points tool, introduced in the LiDAR Module in version 19. As a byproduct of the photogrammetric 3D point cloud generation process, there is also an option to generate a flattened raster representation of the area in question. Previously, the only way to create either of these data outputs was from drone images. With version 20 of the LiDAR Module, there is now an option to create a mesh or orthoimage from selected points in an existing LiDAR file or point cloud.

Version 20 of the LiDAR Module will come with a new function to spatially thin a LiDAR layer. This tool allows users to specify a target resolution for the point cloud which eliminates redundancy, reduces file size, and improves performance.

Option to spatially thin a point cloud

The LiDAR Module offers an extensive array of point cloud filtering and editing tools. Among the options are: deleting selected points, geographically cropping a point cloud, removal of noise points, manual or automatic reclassification of points, and horizontal or vertical shifting of the point cloud layer. Added to this list in version 20 is a new function to spatially thin a LiDAR layer. This tool allows the user to specify a target resolution for the point cloud which eliminates redundancy, reduces file size, and improves performance.

Version 20 Coming in Mid September

Global Mapper 20 is scheduled for release in the second half of September 2018. Check your inbox or visit bluemarblegeo.com to find out when it is available for download. As always, you can activate a free two-week trial and if you have time, check out the full What’s New list to see what improvements have been made to your favorite Global Mapper tools.

Where in the World Geo-Challenge – September 2018

View the form at Google Forms >

Where in the World August 2018 Answers

How Well Did You Do?

Name the river – Rhine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the capital city – Manama

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the bridge – Sydney Harbour Bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the country – Georgia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the island – Hokkaido

 

Reseller Spotlight: Schnell Informatics

Pan India clientele of Schnell

Tell us a little bit about Schnell Informatics.

Started in 2006 as an entrepreneurial venture, Schnell has grown into a turn-key solution provider in the field of Geographical Information System (GIS) & geotechnical engineering. During its early years, the company explored opportunities in various fields such as GIS & GPS product sales, implementation of weather monitoring systems, geographical product sales to educational Institutions, and GIS services to various government departments.

In March 2010, Schnell Informatics Private Ltd. was floated as a private limited company with a special focus on providing complete range of solutions in GIS & MIS by leveraging its industry knowledge and business expertise. Schnell has carried out GIS-based projects for various government departments in India from 2010 to 2013. During these years, we began to realize we needed a product partner which we can bundle with GIS Services. This was the beginning of our association with Global Mapper which would eventually come under the control of Blue Marble Geographics. Global Mapper is widely regarded as a low cost GIS software with rich functionality and this has helped us to capture GIS product space quite fast as compared to other companies who were trying to expand their customer base with other costly GIS products.

Extensive demos to prospective clients in various fields such as education, government & private sector were well received and ultimately helped in establishing a foothold in their product portfolio. Now Schnell is major supplier of Blue Marble Products to Indian Army, Indian Navy & Indian Airforce. Schnell has introduced Global Mapper to large number of educational institutes throughout India. Also, many private companies are clients of Schnell and are using Blue Marble Products. We cater to companies in various sectors including mining, wind energy, telecom, forestry, irrigation, utilities, surveying and infrastructure.

How many people currently work for the company?

Schnell has a strong technical team of eight people who are engaged in pre-sales, sales and marketing, post-sales training & technical support.

The Schnell Informatics team at a geospatial conference

How have you been in business?

Schnell is currently led by its two Directors, Bhushan Khomane and Satyawan Jadhav. Both of us worked with few renowned software companies in India early in our careers from 2000 to 2006. At this time, we understood the need for low cost, yet feature GIS software for the Indian market. Global Mapper was an excellent fit. We understood this opportunity and hard work throughout the years as well as excellent products like Global Mapper has helped Schnell to achieve a prominent position in GIS field in India.

Tell us a little about your background in GIS?

Prior to Schnell, Bhushan has worked with a top Indian IT company in CAD/CAM and GIS. This helped him to understand the GIS market within India and gave him the opportunity to learn various GIS products. Satyawan also worked with an Indian IT company, which is considered as pioneer of GIS in India. Extensive experience is Sales and Marketing of GIS products has laid the strong foundation for sales of Blue Marble products within India.

What are your target markets?

Target markets include defense (Indian Army, Navy, and Airforce), mining companies, the telecom sector, infrastructure companies, survey companies, companies working in agriculture, educational and research institutes, and various government departments including irrigation, forestry, PWD, electricity and land records.

What geographic area do you cover?

Schnell covers entire country of India as well as neighboring countries like Nepal and Bhutan.

How long has Schnell been reselling Global Mapper?

We first added Global Mapper to our product offerings nine years ago.

Why were you originally interested in reselling Blue Marble products?

Blue Marble products are feature-rich, low-cost, and user-friendly.

Excellent technical as well marketing support by Blue Marble has inspired our team to achieve exponential growth.

What are your favorite features of Global Mapper?

  • Access to raster data, vector data, 3D elevation data and satellite imagery using one simple dialog box.
  • The Pixels-to-Points tool and LiDAR QC functionality in the LIDAR Module
  • Watershed and Viewshed analysis
  • 3D path profile creation

What has been your most interesting or challenging sales or support experience?

There was one particularly challenging sale to a leading telecom company in India, which we closed last year. The company had been using MapInfo for several years and we had conducted series of demonstrations of Global Mapper at various levels within the management of the company. After eight months of effort, we finally convinced them to buy Global Mapper. The highlight of this sale was the introduction of the Floating License of Global Mapper. Since this company desperately wanted to be able to quickly move their Global Mapper license from one machine to another, we discussed their issue with members of Blue Marble staff several times, which ultimately resulted in the introduction of a floating license. Interestingly, in past few sales we have noticed that clients have been preferring the floating license option over a standalone license of Global Mapper.

Other than reselling Blue Marble software, what other services do you provide?

Over the last several years, Schnell has been providing GIS services to clients based on Global Mapper. We also resell other geotechnical engineering software products like GEO5. GIS services include digitization of the road networks of various Indian cities as well as digitization of land records for government irrigation departments.

How has your partnership with Blue Marble benefited your business?

In early years of the company, Schnell was carrying out GIS digitization projects mainly for government departments. After we established a partnership with Global Mapper and later Blue Marble, Schnell started offering Global Mapper as commercial off-the-shelf product. With Global Mapper, Schnell was able to expand its client base to educational institutions as well as Indian defense and major private companies. This has given excellent boost to the top-line as well bottom-line of Schnell.

Timely co-operation by the Blue Marble team has always kept us motivated to grow our business every year. Also collaborating with Blue Marble at GIS Conferences within India has helped Schnell to build its brand within the regional GIS community. We are very proud of the fact that we are Indian partner of Blue Marble Geographics.

How do you see your business growing with Global Mapper? New markets?

We can anticipate 30 – 40% annualized growth in revenue every year for next 8 to 10 years. Global Mapper has successfully penetrated the Indian market and with innovative sales strategies, we can achieve bigger targets.

Any final words?

We are happy and proud partner of Blue Marble Geographics for its software products in India. We wish to grow with growing company like Blue Marble and wish to contribute our best. We desire to be number one reseller of Blue Marble across the globe and we are trying hard to achieve that position.

Blue Marble Monthly – LiDAR vs PhoDAR and Becoming a Pilot

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

For many, summer is a time for relaxing, for taking your foot off the gas, for being lazy. Not at Blue Marble. We are busy preparing for the next major release of Global Mapper in just over a month, planning our hectic autumn travel schedule, and making the final preparations for our 25th anniversary user conference here in Maine. In this edition of Blue Marble Monthly we formally invite you to join us at BMUC. We also hear from Sam Knight about becoming a licensed drone pilot; we discuss the differences between LiDAR and PhoDAR; and we challenge your geographic prowess in the Where in the World Geo-Challenge.

NEWS | BMUC is Coming to Portland, Maine

We hereby cordially invite you to Blue Marble’s home state for our User Conference (BMUC), as we continue to celebrate our 25th birthday. Not only will you have a chance to meet other users and learn about the latest software developments, but you’ll also hear from some interesting presenters including Ron Chapple who will be speaking about his work in the Pulitzer Prize-winning project, “The Wall”.

 

PROJECTIONS | Becoming an UAS Pilot

Ready for the kids to go back to school? Sorry, we can’t help you with that, but we recently sent our own Sam Knight back to school to learn what it takes to become a licensed drone operator. As we continue to develop tools for the UAV industry, it is essential that we have the first-hand knowledge of what is required. For Sam, this was a journey into unknown territory.

 

PRODUCT NEWS | Call for Beta Testers

Blue Marble’s development process has always relied on direct input from users and now you have a chance to be part of that process. Sign up as a beta tester today and we’ll let you know when a beta version of either Global Mapper or Geographic Calculator is available for you to put through its paces.

 

DID YOU KNOW? | LiDAR vs Photogrammetric Point Clouds

The Pixels-to-Points tool has caused quite a stir in the UAV industry. Creating a high-density 3D point cloud from a drone would have been unheard of just a few years ago. While the data may look and feel like traditional LiDAR, there are significant differences between the two formats. In a recent blog post, we outlined some pros and cons of each.

USER STORY | Planning Truck Stops with Global Mapper

In the latest Global Mapper case study, we hear from Michael Frings, General Manager of MFBI Technologies about how the LiDAR Module’s point cloud processing tools played a critical role in planning autobahn truck stops in Germany.

“The fact that the LiDAR Module is so powerful, giving us the ability to handle large point clouds, was the killer argument for us to go with Global Mapper.” – Michael Frings

 

 

VIDEOS | Can Your GIS Do This Without Extensions?

Simply stated, Global Mapper gives you more functionality for less money. Need proof? Take a look at this short video highlighting some of the terrain processing tools that are available out of the box in Global Mapper. No extensions required.

This and 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.

 

Where in the World Geo-Challenge

The geographic sleuths were once again hard at work in July. Most of you were able to identify all five locations in the Where in the World Geo-Challenge. The randomly selected winner of a copy of Global Mapper is Roy Mayo, a land surveyor from Mackay, Mackay, and Peters. If you are one of the handful whose response to the capital city question was, “Haven’t a clue” or words to that effect, check out the correct answers here then click the link below to see if you can do any better in August’s challenge.

 

See complete terms and conditions here.

EVENTS | Global Mapper Training in Houston

The Blue Marble training team will be hitting the road again in October with the next three-day Global Mapper class scheduled for Houston. Typically our Houston classes fill up fast so be sure to sign up as soon as possible to reserve your spot.

“Without a doubt, one of the most informative and enjoyable technical training classes I have ever taken.”
– Recent Global Mapper trainee

 

LiDAR vs Photogrammetrically Generated Point Cloud Data

A 3D mesh created using Global Mapper’s Pixels-to-Points tool displayed in the 2D and 3D views

While both LiDAR and PhoDAR are 3D point cloud formats, the process of creating each is completely different. The nature of the collection process dictates the structural characteristics of the data and its usefulness for specific applications.

In this blog entry, we look at some of the distinct differences between each collection method, and their ideal uses.

A screenshot showing conventional LiDAR data in Global Mapper colorized to represent elevation

LiDAR – The Good

Active Collection Process

Individual 3D points are collected and processed in real time.

More Return Data

Each point includes a range of useful data including return intensity, return count, and classification (added as a post process).

Data Sharing

Data structure has been standardized providing optimal conditions for data sharing and interoperability.

Wide-Area Collection

Scanners mounted on aircraft allow for a wide-geographic area to be captured relatively quickly.

Compact Equipment

Unlike early LiDAR hardware, scanners are now relatively compact and can even be mounted on a UAV.

Ground Detection

LiDAR can penetrate foliage and similar obstructions providing a complete 3D representation of the target area. This allows for ground detection even in heavily forested areas.

Rapidly Evolving Tech

For instance, Geiger-mode LiDAR can provide point densities of 100/sq m or greater.

Accuracy

The points are theoretically more accurate, especially the height value.

DTM Generation

LiDAR is ideal for generating Digital Terrain Models because, unlike photogrammetry, it can “see” through canopies to ground.

LiDAR – The Not So Good

High Cost

Traditional LiDAR requires a manned aircraft to house the necessary hardware.

Sensitivity to Flight Conditions

Collection requires optimal atmospheric conditions for flying. The altitude and speed of the aircraft can also effect the point density.

Poor Anomaly Identification

Raw LiDAR cannot recognize anomalies in the data (e.g. birds underneath the flight path)

Inconsistency in Processing

It is not uncommon to encounter publically available LiDAR files that have been erroneously classified

 

A split image showing a photogrammetrically generated point cloud on the left and a 3D mesh created form this point cloud on the right

PhoDAR – The Good

Minimal Technical Requirements

It’s a more accessible way of creating a point cloud with hardware that can cost as little as $1,000.

On Demand & Versatile Collection

Data can be collected on demand, in a relatively confined area, and with minimal preplanning required.

Greater Point Cloud Density

Point densities are typically much greater than those of traditional LiDAR

Classifiable Data

While not natively LiDAR, a photogrammetric point cloud can have classification values applied and can be exported to a las or laz file.

Raster-Colorized Points

Each point automatically inherits the color from the corresponding images.

DSM Generation

Ideal for Digital Surface Model generation since it is unable to penetrate vegetation like LiDAR can.

PhoDAR – The Not So Good

Requires Distinct Features

Points derived from image analysis require distinct visible features in the geographic area of focus.

Requires Surface Variety

Photogrammetric point cloud generation doesn’t work well when there is a lack of variety in surface texture in images, such as the surface of a desert area or large parking lot.

Requires Sufficient Light

Unlike LiDAR, photogrammetry depends on sufficient ambient light. Clear images are required for generating a point cloud, so shooting images in low-light conditions is not ideal.

Poor Ground Detection

Photographs cannot “see” through canopies like LiDAR can.

Shadows and Sky Don’t Work

Point cloud generation doesn’t work well with images that contain large shadows or a lot of sky.

Accuracy Depends on Ground Control

Horizontal accuracy and elevation values are not as accurate unless ground control points have been used in the processing phase.

Coverage is Usually Limited

Photogrammetric point cloud generation isn’t as practical for large area coverage.

Inconsistent Colors

There is often inconsistent coloring across a surface area due to variations in the color balance of the individual images

More Cleanup

Reflective surfaces can sometimes cause more noise points or anomalies in the data, which would require manual removal. Finer features, such as power lines, may not show up as well as they would in LiDAR data.

Ideal Uses for LiDAR

LiDAR is ideal for collecting data of larger areas and of finer details, such as power lines, pipe lines, and the edges of objects. It’s also ideal for creating digital terrain models, since sensors can penetrate vegetation, allowing for the collection of real ground points.

Ideal Uses of Photogrammetry

Photogrammetry is ideal for surveying smaller areas that contain minimal vegetation. Since it can’t penetrate vegetation like LiDAR, photogrammetry is often better for generating digital surface models, rather than terrain models.

Ideal Software for Both LiDAR and Photogrammetry

Whichever point cloud generation method you choose, Global Mapper and the LiDAR Module are well-equipped to efficiently and effectively process the resulting data. The extensive list of editing, visualization, and analysis tools include point cloud editing and filtering, DTM or DSM creation, feature extraction, contour generation, volume calculation, and much more.

Where in the World Geo-Challenge – August 2018

View the form at Google Forms >

Where in the World July 2018 Answers

How Well Did You Do?

Name the country – Monaco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the mountain – Denali (Mt McKinley)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the body of water – White Sea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the UNESCO World Heritage Site – Acropolis of Athens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the capital city – Canberra

 

The Path to Becoming a UAS Pilot

Chelsea E | Projections
Dan Leclair, one of the flight instructors of the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) program at the University of Maine at Augusta, prepares to fly a drone over the Blue Marble Geographics headquarters in October of 2017.

A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.
-William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act 5, Scene 1


With any new endeavor, you often start out with little idea of the depth of your lack of knowledge until you get going. Last year, as we started working with drone imagery for the Pixels-to-Points tool here at Blue Marble, we realized we were going to need to actually do our own flying to really generate the kinds of quality testing data we wanted to be working with for developing structure-from-motion tools and other new processes that take advantage of drone generated data. To fly commercially, we knew we needed a Part 107 certified remote pilot on staff and after some discussion we decided that I would become that pilot. We all knew there was a knowledge test involved and that it would be a good idea to take a prep course, but we were at the point where we didn’t know what we didn’t know.

Luckily, we are about a mile from the University of Maine at Augusta, which happens to be developing an Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) program within the Aviation department. We had met Dan Leclair, one of the flight instructors, at a local conference and realized we had some knowledge to exchange. He and Greg Jolda, another of the instructors, came over to the Blue Marble headquarters with one of their drones to do a flight around our grounds collecting images that we could run through early versions of the Pixels-to-Points tools. Now, where we are located specifically, just happens to be on the approach to the Augusta State Airport. Dan and Greg gave us a crash course in wind speeds, flight waivers, radio communication, and airspace ceilings … or roughly enough to make a GIS practitioner’s head spin in under five minutes. The drone wasn’t even out of the case yet!  There’s an old saying that an expert is someone who knows a lot about a little. We know maps, geodetics, and data analysis here and we were realizing that this was going to have a large learning curve ahead; I was going to need to become an expert in a whole other field.

Chelsea E | Projections
Greg Jolda, an instructor of the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) program at the University of Maine at Augusta, adjusts a rotor on a drone at the Blue Marble Geographics headquarters in October of 2017.

Class: Learning to become a pilot at night

Fast forward to my first night of class. The course would be two nights a week for eight weeks, in three-hour class meetings, led by Dan and Greg.  It had been rather a long time since I had been on the other side of the lectern in a classroom. Let’s just say laptops were not common the last time I took a class. I was rather excited; I love learning new things and applying that knowledge. The room started to fill up and we started getting to know each other with some introductions. We were from many different fields: foresters, engineers, radio tower operators, real estate agents, photographers, media company producers, scientists, and even some self-starters looking for a new line of work. Basically, everyone there was looking into a new area. Going over the course syllabus and reading materials, it was readily apparent what we didn’t know: A LOT.  General regulations, pilot certification, airspace classification and restrictions, aeronautical chart interpretation (Yay, maps!), airport operations, weather, weight and balance, aircraft performance, radio communications, aeronautical decision-making, emergency procedures, maintenance, pilot physiology, on and on.

Every topic comes with vocabulary specific to flight operations, even getting into nitty gritty stuff such as how to pronounce numbers over a radio and how to read a weather report written in shorthand code. Throughout the weeks, we covered all of these topics and more. Every time we entered a topic it was a good education in just how little you can imagine is involved outside the things you already know. We found that everyone in the class had their own challenges. Being a generally spatial thinker, the mapping sections and airspace designations I found simpler than some of the more abstract bits of weather such as the different types of clouds and how to read them. Others struggled with airspace but had no trouble with the physics-heavy sections of loading, altitude density of air, etc. There’s a wide variety of topics involved and it takes time to assimilate the sheer breadth of new information that’s covered on the exams.

Chart of airspace
A chart illustrating airspace published in the Federal Aviation Administration’s Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge.

One of the questions a lot of my friends and colleagues have asked me is: “How do you practice flying at a night class?” It makes sense, it’s a drone pilot class, you’re going to learn to fly, right? Well, no. You don’t actually have to have flown a single minute to become a Part 107 certified pilot. The test is purely knowledge-based, and is intended to ensure that drone pilots know how to operate safely within the federal airspace. In our class we did actually spend some time flying small Blade Inductrix drones indoors with full size Spektrum DX8 transmitters towards the end of the course. We also spent some time talking about the basic mechanics of fixed-wing and multi-rotor builds, and their control systems. This is not really essential to prepare for the Part 107 exam, but it is good material to cover.

So, at the time of writing, I’ve arrived at the end of the course. Tomorrow morning I go on for my exam. I have been taking practice exams on the Gleim test prep system until I’ve started to recognize some of the 900 practice questions. I have never failed a practice exam, so I’m feeling good.

Testing: Knowing your airspace, safety, and weather

I passed.

From the questions on the exam, it’s very clear where drone pilots have been having issues:  airspace & operations! The breakdown of questions I encountered was about 50 questions on airspace and general safety practices and the last 10 questions on weather. I did pretty well on the test, passing comfortably. Going back through the review of things I missed (which it lets you do upon completion), I knew which questions I was shaky on. There was one question on an airport-related topic that I know I had never seen the answer to before. The test procedure itself is pretty simple, if you’ve taken practice tests on Gleim, you’ll be right at home on the FAA test system, it looks and feels pretty much exactly the same. The difference is that in Gleim, you work off of digital graphics for the charts and diagrams, and in the actual test you’re working out of a paperback copy of the Airman Knowledge Testing Supplement for Sport Pilot, Recreational Pilot, and Private Pilot (FAA-CT-8080-2G), which honestly, is easier to read than the digital practice graphics.

If you aren’t familiar with either, you have a simple panel-based interface on screen. Down the left you have your list of questions 1-60, and the main part of the screen has your questions and possible answers which are multiple choice and three options. You can mark questions to come back to later, which is very handy for taking a pass through and answering the ones that you are 100% confident in and then going back to spend more time on the others. I found two questions that I knew I would need to spend more time, because of the tricky wording. Even after spending some time looking through the book for some hints on those two, I was done in under 40 minutes. Having an hour and 20 minutes left, I used the opportunity to read through the entire test again and double check all my answers. I didn’t find any that I disagreed with myself on, so confidently I ended the exam to submit, the results go straight to the FAA, and I was immediately notified that I passed. All in all, a relatively procedural exam process after much preparation.

Getting the certification card in the mail was a relief after all that time studying, preparing, and then ultimately waiting.

Certification: Waiting for the card after weeks of preparing

You walk out of the testing facility with a stamped certificate that you passed the test, then the waiting starts. This certificate only states that you passed the test, it’s not actually your Part 107 certificate. You can follow your certification progress through the FAA’s IACRA website. In about 48 hours, it updated to show that it knew I passed the test, then over the next few weeks it updated as my results were passed around in the FAA systems, until eventually, I was granted a printable temporary certificate I could fly with. With this temporary certificate, there is no certificate number you can use to fill out waiver applications, but at that point I could legally fly. My certificate card arrived about six weeks after I took the test, backdated to the test date. Getting the card in the mail was a relief after all that time studying, preparing, and then ultimately waiting. I learned more than I could have imagined at the start and like I mentioned at the beginning of this entry, I now have a better idea just how much more there is to learn.

 


Sam Knight

 

Sam Knight is the Director of Product Management for Blue Marble Geographics. With Blue Marble for more than 14 years, Sam has lead hundreds of GIS and Geodetics courses and is a frequent speaker at industry conferences, trying to make tricky geodetics concepts accessible at a practical level.