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.

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 it was 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.

Rendering Vector Data in Global Mapper

Data visualization is one of the fundamental functions of a GIS. The display characteristics of features on the map can convey a wealth of relevant information about the data, its relationship with other geographic information, and its inherent spatial patterns. In the latest Global Mapper webcast, we explore the various options that are available for visualizing or customizing the display of vector data.

The specific topics covered in this presentation include:

  • Manually adjusting the display of a layer or of a select group of features (06:57)
  • Using Feature Types to automatically assign colors to frequently mapped objects (19:58)
  • Assigning random colors to features in a layer (29:52)
  • Applying colors to reflect instances of a recurring attribute (31:47)
  • Applying colors to reflect numeric values (42:41)
  • Visualizing data using a Density Map (54:21)
  • Visualizing numeric attribute data in a graph (59:56)
  • A quick look at labeling (1:04:26)

If you have questions about any of the workflows or topics covered in this presentation, email: geohelp@bluemarblegeo.com.

For licensing or sales questions, email orders@bluemarblegeo.com.

To download an evaluation copy of Global Mapper, visit: www.bluemarblegeo.com/products/global-mapper.php

The Value of Global Mapper: No Extensions Required

The 3D Viewer in Global Mapper displays a digital terrain model with a custom shader applied to the surface. Global Mapper is a powerful GIS application right out of the box, with no extensions required.

Say that you are about to invest in your first GIS software license.
You need software that can do it all; from basic thematic mapping to terrain analysis, and GPS tracking to 2D/3D digitizing and visualization. But when you take a look at big-name products, you find that single-user licenses cost about $1,500. You also discover that you’ll have to purchase extensions to get all the functionality you need. You’ll probably be spending thousands of dollars. Whether you have the money or not, you might be asking yourself if there’s an alternative software that provides more value.

There is.

In this blog entry, we highlight some of the out-of-the-box functionality of Global Mapper— a robust, easy-to-use, and genuinely affordable alternative. Priced at about $500, Global Mapper doesn’t need expensive extensions to deliver what you’re looking for.

Here are just a few of the powerful functions and tools Global Mapper has to offer with no extensions required.


Creating an elevation grid from LiDAR data in Global Mapper
Creating an elevation grid from LiDAR data in Global Mapper.

Terrain Creation – Generate Elevation Grids from 3D Vector Data

Even though Global Mapper’s online service provides access to data resources, such as the USGS National Elevation Dataset and the ASTER Global Digital Elevation Model, sometimes the appropriate digital terrain data isn’t readily available. In such instances, generating a DTM from 3D vector data can be a solid alternative. With a few clicks, Global Mapper can generate an elevation grid from XYZ files or LiDAR data, allowing for the immediate examination and visualization of the surface model in the 3D Viewer.

Global Mapper also provides a number of terrain analysis tools, such as the ability to display a vertical profile along a path, creating a view shed or watershed analysis, combining terrain layers, and volume calculation.


The cut and fill volumes calculated for a road project in Global Mapper.

Volume Calculation – Measure and Visualize Cut and Fill Values

Modifying terrain is a necessary preliminary step in many construction projects. It requires determining how much of a surface needs to be cut and filled, which helps estimate the cost of materials and labor before beginning a project.

Global Mapper offers the ability to quickly calculate volumes of piles, depressions, and between two surfaces. Along with providing cut and fill measurements, the software uses these calculations and other specified parameters to generate 3D visualizations. For example, Global Mapper can simulate the leveling of terrain to make way for something like a new road. This calculation and 3D visualization is a powerful way to illustrate the preliminary plans of an engineering project.


Contours generated in Global Mapper, showing elevation with vector lines.

Contour Generation – Create Vector Lines from an Elevation Grid

Contours are the fundamental feature of a topographic map. Generating contours is also a simple task that requires only an elevation grid and a few clicks of the mouse. Global Mapper has the ability to analyze terrain and generate vector layers of contour lines that can be edited for a map, or exported to a CAD system or other software.


NDVI grid created in the Raster Calculator in Global Mapper.

Raster Calculation – Pull Information from Color Values

Satellite images can offer a lot of visual information, from patterns in terrain to geological changes over time. With the right tools, imagery can offer even more data that is not immediately apparent. RGB (red, green, blue), as well as multispectral values of pixels, can be plugged into formulae that calculate characteristics such as the “greenness” of vegetation, snow cover, or how much land was burned in a forest fire.

Global Mapper has a raster calculator that comes with predefined formulae for producing and highlighting this information. The health of vegetation on a farm, for example, could be calculated and visualized by using the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). If the available predefined equations in the raster calculator aren’t tailored to a user’s needs, the calculator also allows for the use of custom formulae.


Global Mapper supports more than 300 file formats.

Format Support – Support for 300+ Formats

File support might not sound like the most exciting feature, but it’s absolutely an invaluable one when a mapping project deals with older or uncommon files.

Global Mapper’s support for more than 300 formats provides users the ability to open and convert virtually any geospatial file. And, it’s list of formats is constantly growing, adding more value to Global Mapper as the software continues to mature.

Global Mapper – An Easy and Affordable Choice

Global Mapper not only disproves the idea that GIS has to be a complex discipline, but also that it has to be an expensive one. Blue Marble Geographics’ mission for Global Mapper is to provide GIS novices and professionals alike with the ability to create high-quality maps at a genuinely affordable price.

It’s powerful right out of the box, with no extensions required.

See the value for yourself by downloading a free trial today.


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.

Reseller Spotlight: Our French Distributor Géom@tique

A screenshot of a flythrough video that follows the potential path of a ski lift, showing the visible areas of a famous peak in the Maurienne Valley (Aiguilles d’Arves), France.

The translation of Global Mapper into French in 2016 significantly expanded the potential market for the software, not only in the country of France itself, but also throughout the French-speaking world. This monumental task was undertaken by Blue Marble partner and reseller, Géom@tique. In the latest Reseller Spotlight, we hear from company founder, Alain Olivier about how this partnership has helped his company grow over its 20-year history.

Tell us a little bit about Géom@tique?

Géom@tique has been a GIS software reseller just over two decades. Our twentieth anniversary was on April 7th, 2018! The company is based in one of the most beautiful mountain regions of France: Savoy. We provide a combination of geomatics expertise and a high level of service, which has proven itself to many French-speaking customers around the world, particularly in technical support and training. Our business involves the distribution of software as well as related consulting, support, and training services in the use of both vector data and raster data (satellite, aerial, LiDAR, etc.). Géom@tique is the exclusive distributor of Global Mapper in France and for the French language version throughout the world.

How many people currently work for the company?

Three people currently work at Géom@tique in well-defined roles: sales, technical support and training, communication. The company relies on partnerships whenever necessary and plans to continue recruiting in the near future.

How did Géom@tique get started?

Alain Olivier

As a young agricultural engineer who had just become a Doctor of Geography (PhD), for me, it was an easy transition from university life to the business of distributing innovative tools for geomatics and cartography. Spotted by the software company, Avenza, via a professional forum (a relatively new online gathering place for like-minded individuals at end of the 1990s!), a simple mail exchange accompanied by a brochure from the SVM MAC magazine (number 91, “MAPublisher: entre cartographe et dessinateur”) was enough for the MAPublisher adventure in France to begin. This was a risky venture as there were only a handful of customers at the time! The company timeline illustrates the expansion of the company’s business with new products being added and, most importantly, the establishment of close links with their creators in order to always meet the needs of customers as efficiently as possible.

The history of Géom@tique.

Tell us a little about your background in GIS?

The company benefits so from my experience and expertise as a doctor in geography who is also passionate about computer science. My PhD thesis focused on the implementation of an innovative raster mapping methodology for the study of agricultural spaces. My taste for cartographic tools goes back a very long time with an extremely diversified use of geomatic tools at the beginning, and then a specialization on the tools that Géom@tique would eventually resell, notably Global Mapper! The company has also recruited a PhD student geographer who has good experience with GIS tools, including Global Mapper and MAPublisher.

What are your target markets?

Our target markets are extremely varied and include cartographic publishing, spatial planning, defense, energy, environment, archaeology, transport, risk prevention, meteorology, communication, and spatial analysis.

What geographic area do you cover?

Historically the company has sold products to organizations of very diverse geographical origins that extend from Madagascar to Tromsø, but generally in metropolitan France or in French-speaking countries.

Distribution of Géom@tique customers in France and around the world.

How long has Géom@tique been reselling Global Mapper?

Géom@tique was officially appointed as a reseller (Certified Reseller) in the early 2000s with the distribution of Geographic Calculator and Global Mapper. We are very proud to have translated Global Mapper into French in 2016 (version 17) following a request from the French Ministère des Armées. In the same year, one of our employees became a certified trainer for Global Mapper. As an ongoing project, we are also working on the major task of translating all of the Global Mapper documentation.

Why were you originally interested in reselling Blue Marble products?

 We were interested in reselling Blue Marble products for the originality and the quality of its products as well as for the very good reputation of the company.

What is your favorite feature of Global Mapper?

 Choosing just one tool is difficult. Here are my three favorites:

  • The 3D Viewer allows visualizing terrain data in an extremely simple and powerful way. We have seen its usefulness in many situations especially when they work with the LiDAR Module.
  • About the LiDAR Module, the new Pixels-to-Points tool is a “little gem” since it allows integrating real photogrammetry treatments in Global Mapper. We know that many of our customers use UAV images and this tool is perfect for them.
  • Finally, the Viewshed tool is very important to many French users. It is used in a wide variety of fields (energy, defense, research, etc.).

The video below was produced by one of our employees as part of a Master’s research project. It follows the potential path of a ski lift and also shows the visibility areas of a famous peak in the Maurienne Valley (Aiguilles d’Arves). In a research context, this video clearly demonstrated how a particular visualization method could help decision makers communicate with their citizens.

 

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

Our most challenging sale was with the Ministère des Armées and especially with the implementation of a multi-year contract for Global Mapper. It was a big challenge that took a long time to negotiate but resulted in a very favorable outcome for both parties. As a result of this contract, Global Mapper gained its spurs in the military field and with the continued development of the LiDAR Module and the SDK, we are confident it will have relevance for years to come.

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

We are a reseller of other software complementary to Global Mapper like MAPublisher for example – and we provide training (online or on-site), technical support, and some research or consultation services.

How has your partnership with Blue Marble benefited your business?

Our partnership with Blue Marble Geographics has allowed us to increase our level of professionalism and to significantly expand the scope of our business. Geom@tique brings its in-depth knowledge of the French and Francophone market, including cultural considerations. This mutually beneficial relationship will, of course, be continued and strengthened, in particular by reciprocal visits.

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

We believe that there is a huge opportunity to spread the word about Global Mapper to universities and to introduce students to an alternative GIS software. The more they can be trained at the university on Global Mapper, the more it is great for the promotion of the software in many markets.

Any final words?

The diversity of software tools and the wide variety of users that the company works with every day is a real strength that helps the company to provide better services. In October 2017, Geom@tique embarked on a research project under an Industrial Research Training Agreement which will allow it to deepen its knowledge on the use of the tools, with the goal to better meet the current and future needs of the customers.

Géom@tique was present at the beginning of July at the GeoDataDays 2018, the first digital geography show in Le Havre, France.

Navigating the Datasource in Geographic Calculator

The Datasource in Geographic Calculator contains information on all coordinate systems, datums, transformations, and associated components. Understanding the structure of the Datasource and how to access it are key to fully utilizing Geographic Calculator’s capabilities. This video will walk through the structure of the Datasource, covering how and where objects are stored and will address navigation when choosing coordinate systems and transformations within a job (selection mode), after first getting into the details of the Datasource’s structure in edit mode.

The examples covered in this video can be applied to any object in the Datasource. If you have questions about any of the workflows or topics covered in this presentation, email geohelp@bluemarblegeo.com.

For licensing or sales questions, email orders@bluemarblegeo.com.

To download an evaluation copy of Geographic Calculator, visit: www.bluemarblegeo.com/products/geographic-calculator.php

5 Features of Geographic Calculator That Didn’t Exist 25 Years Ago

The year 2018 marks a significant milestone in the Blue Marble Story. A quarter of a century ago, a group of enterprising geospatial technologists, recognizing the importance of geodetic accuracy and precision in a wide variety of fields, initiated a project that would result in the first version of Geographic Calculator. Little did they anticipate that 25 years later – a veritable eternity in the world of technology — the application would still be going strong and would have established itself as the go-to coordinate management tool for countless companies throughout the world.

The basic premise behind Geographic Calculator is to ensure the maximum possible degree of accuracy in any type of spatially referenced data when it is assigned to a different frame of reference. In short, it is a geodetic toolkit. Built on the foundation of the world’s most extensive and up-to-date database of coordinate system and transformation parameters, the Calculator, as it is often idiomatically referred, has been adopted by many major companies and government departments. It is deployed both as a standalone application and increasingly as an embedded component in third party applications through its SDK variant, GeoCalc.

Needless to say, an application that has been in existence for 25 years has undergone significant changes since its early versions. To help put this in perspective, we asked Sam Knight, Director of Product Management and universally recognized Calculator guru, to take a trip down memory lane and come up with the five most significant differences between the first release of the Calculator and today’s version.

Vector and Raster Data Conversions

Blue Marble Geographics
Raster processing in Geographic Calculator 2017

The first several releases of Geographic Calculator dealt exclusively with numeric data, lists of coordinate values if you will. If you needed to apply a conversion to raster or vector files, you would have to wait few years for that to be available. When it was finally introduced, the raster processing component was actually a completely separate application called Geographic Transformer. Eventually it was integrated into a complete suite of tools under the title, Blue Marble Desktop. The name of this suite of tools would eventually come full circle and once again be branded Geographic Calculator.

Coordinate Transformations (Datum Shifts)

Blue Marble Geographics
The late-binding transformation dialog box in Geographic Calculator 2017

The complicated, multi-parameter computation that is needed to assign data to a differed horizontal datum, usually referred to as a datum shift, was a much more basic process in the first release. Referred to as early-binding, the transformation parameters were predefined within the Datasource.  When you selected a datum, it came with transformation parameters to WGS 84.  With the introduction of late-binding in 2006, it became possible to select a single or multi-step transformation method with any datum as the intermediary, not just WGS 84. This opened the possibility of more accurately transforming between regional or specialized systems.

Batch Processing

Blue Marble Geographics
Batch processing in Geographic Calculator 2017

After the initial release of the Calculator, it quickly became apparent that users were interested in processing multiple files simultaneously using the same conversion settings. Unfortunately, batch processing, such as is seen in today’s release, was not available. Files had to be managed individually. Today’s batch processing tool is easy to set up and saves much time and effort. Simply define the specific parameters for a certain type of job and use this job as the basis of the batch process.

Ability to Save Work on Projects

Blue Marble Geographics
Calculator project in Geographic Calculator 2017

In any application, efficient file and project management is essential, but unfortunately, the development of the early versions of the Geographic Calculator focused more on the fundamental geodetic processing capabilities, while relegating workflow efficiency to a lower priority. The current method for saving projects, which allows users to establish templates containing commonly used conversion and transformation jobs, was finally introduced in 2006.

EPSG Database

Blue Marble Geographics
EPSG datasource in Geographic Calculator 2017

At the heart of the Calculator is the extensive Datasource, a vast library of coordinate system and datum parameters. In the early releases, this was largely derived from a publication that was managed by the U.S. Defense Mapping Agency (DMA), which would later become the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). This offered no more than a few hundred coordinate systems. The emergence of the European Petroleum Survey Group (EPSG, now known as IOGP) Geodetic Parameter Registry was the basis for a significant expansion of the Datasource which now provides users with over 5,000 coordinate system definitions, over 2,000 datum transformations, and much more.

Ensuring Geodetic Accuracy for 25 Years

Having been in development for 25 years, it is little wonder that Geographic Calculator has established itself as the preeminent geodetic software. While much has changed since the first release, its fundamental function is the same: to ensure geodetic accuracy and precision.

Reseller Spotlight: South Africa-Based SMC Synergy

SMC Synergy
Dirk Pretorius (second from left), Blaise Kumba (third from left), and Renier Balt (center at a recent customized Global Mapper training session.

Thus far, our Reseller Spotlight series has taken us from Northern Europe to South America. This month, we shift our focus to the African Continent as we hear from Renier Balt from South Africa-based SMC Synergy. Widely regarded as a challenging market to penetrate, Africa has seen a significant expansion in the use of Global Mapper over recent years thanks in no short measure to the efforts and endeavor of Renier and his partner, Dirk Pretorius.  We convinced Renier to take a short break from his Global Mapper outreach efforts to share some insights into his experience working with Blue Marble.

Tell us a little bit about your company, SMC Synergy?

SMC Synergy based in South Africa, was accepted as a Reseller of Blue Marble Geographics in May 2013 and is the preferred distributor of Global Mapper GIS software in Africa. Our experience in the fields of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing applications in all sectors (such as Agriculture, Environment and Mining) spans more than 30 years.

SMC provides Global Mapper training, accredited by Blue Marble and the South African Geomatics Council (SAGC), and provides maintenance and support for specific requests and requirements.

Global Mapper is the preferred GIS software for SMC as well as many other organisations. The reasons are ease of use, affordability, excellent mapping tools, links to online data, many import and export formats, the availability of the LiDAR module, the release of Global Mapper Mobile and the excellent support from the Blue Marble staff.

Being a reseller of Global Mapper software enables SMC to establish strong relationships with clients, both locally and globally, and integrate the products, services and expertise of this excellent GIS software into our whole product and service offering.

How long has the company been in business?

SMC has been in business since 2002 starting with GIS consulting and focusing on mineral exploration. South Africa is a mineral rich environment, which provides many opportunities in this field.

What are your target markets?

We target many markets including:

  •         Agricultural Development (Land capability assessments and farm land use planning projects in South Africa and Nigeria)
  •         Environmental monitoring and evaluation including various environmental monitoring projects for the Department of Environmental Affairs in South Africa
  •         Mining and exploration including diamond exploration
  •         Civil engineering projects
  •         Infrastructure development
  •         Academia including various projects with the North West University (NWU) and University of the Free State in South Africa
  •         And many more…

What geographic area do you cover?

See map below – Expanding our footprint into Africa has been an important objective, and it grows continuously. Providing complete product support and service to clients is key. Clients need training and we have found the webinars and online tools available from Blue Marble are excellent for this purpose. Usually our African clients also need public or customised training to complement this. Training therefore is a key component of our marketing strategy to expand the Global Mapper footprint in Africa.

SMC Synergy
This map of Africa shows SMC Synergy’s growing customer base.

How long have you been reselling Global Mapper?

SMC was officially appointed as reseller in 2013. Prior to that we were long-time users of Global Mapper and have been using and recommending the software since version 8.

Why were you originally interested in reselling Global Mapper?

The combination of functionality and price – the catch phrase then was “Your GIS Swiss Army Knife”, and it lived up to the promise. Being able to create print quality maps within a day of first contact with Global Mapper software speaks volumes of the intuitive and user friendly interface.

There are many other key features: 3D visualisation has been impressive and unique and the continued improvement and updating of this functionality ensures this remains a key product differentiator.

What is your favorite feature of Global Mapper?

It is impossible to choose, but we can highlight the 3D functionalities and analyses available, and most are nowadays available with one click icons.

The ability to easily access Web Map Services and datasets from many sources globally was a reason why we found Global Mapper an attractive option – and the options keep growing steadily for free or affordable data.

Then the LiDAR Module grew in stature and functionality; the recently added Pixel to Point option is, in our view, a game changer.

With the recently improved attribute search functionalities none of the alternative GIS platforms can compete at this price point.

Add to this Global Mapper Mobile available on both IOS and Android devices, and the Global Mapper platform provides a full suite of tools that fits the pocket of our target market segment.

By using the software in practice in our many projects, we have made many recommendations to the developers of Global Mapper and have been impressed with the responsiveness. Many of our proposals for improvement are now available in the software. Kudos to Blue Marble and the developers.

SMC Synergy
A Global Mapper training session lead by the team at SMC Synergy.

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

Our focus, in addition to Reselling Global Mapper, is GIS consulting. The Global Mapper software remains our primary communication and implementation tool.

Training is key for providing a complete product and service for our clients. We are able to support clients in French speaking countries, which helps to expand our footprint for the whole of Africa. Countries in West and North Africa are responding well to our ability to service them in their language of choice.

Our expertise extends to data and we know where Satellite imagery can be sourced, while considering its timeliness, availability and cost implications. We can therefore support clients to make decisions how and where to get affordable and fresh data for their applications.

With the advent and growth of available Drone imagery and LiDAR data, we are able to advise clients about these new technologies, both for visionary and creative applications as well as supporting mainstream clients.

How has your partnership with Blue Marble benefited your business?

Global Mapper is an important focal point of most of our business activities:

  •         It complements most of our projects.
  •         It links with our spatial database applications (Intermon – the NRM Intervention and Monitoring System) which makes use of cloud based database applications to support the Natural Resource Monitoring Program of the Department of Environmental Affairs. (http://www.intermon.co.za/ for more information).
  •         Capacity building and training of interns is a crucial activity. Exposing the next generation of GIS experts to Global Mapper is the most affordable GIS training option available. We also support post-graduate initiatives at the Northwest University and other academic institutions.

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

Global Mapper, through our reselling efforts, must become the GIS software of choice in all African countries. We want to increase sales and support to all African countries with a 100% footprint on the continent. We aim to present training courses on Global Mapper in the major cities on the continent and to promote the visibility of this GIS software to all of Africa.

SMC Synergy
The team from SMC Synergy and Agence Congolaise des Grandes Travailles (ACGT) collecting data at a construction site for the Pixel to Point Tool in Global Mapper.

 

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