A Brief History of Global Mapper Part III

This screenshot of Multiview in Global Mapper 19.1 is a prime example of how far the software has come since its days as dlgv32.

The final chapter in the saga of this venerable software’s two-decade long adventure, picks up where we left off in the second installment. The year was 2011 and if you recall, our hero — the dashing and indefatigable Global Mapper — had seemingly been kidnapped by the ruthless and malevolent Blue Marble Geographics. At least that was the impression of many of the software’s most loyal disciples at the time.

“Global Mapper has been swallowed by some faceless, uncaring corporate behemoth. Gone are the days of the freewheeling, interactive development philosophy of the early years.” Or so they feared. In reality, nothing could have been further from the truth.

Global Mapper Becomes a Team Effort

While many of our detractors at the time assumed that Blue Mable looked loftily down on its customers from its executive offices atop some gleaming glass and steel skyscraper, the reality was that the company’s entire staff could have fit comfortably into one of the aforementioned building’s elevators. Spurred by the addition of Global Mapper to the company’s software offerings, Blue Marble would eventually see an expansion of its workforce but at the time it numbered no more than 20.

Sam Knight
A hand full of the Blue Marble crew at a company outing in summer 2017.

For you as a Global Mapper user, the most significant consequence of this transitional period and the years that followed was a rapid acceleration in the software’s development. Reaping the benefits of a supporting cast, Mike Childs was able to singularly apply his talents to the development of Global Mapper. Routine and mundane tasks, such as selling the fruits of his labor to customers, were left to a group of dedicated specialists. If the truth be told, one of the most difficult aspects of this transition was convincing Mike that he no longer needed to respond to each and every inquiry.

Needless to say, relinquishing control over something that you have caringly nurtured for many years is not always easy, but Global Mapper was becoming a team effort with each developer significantly contributing to the software’s functionality. If it were possible to quantify and graph Global Mapper’s evolution, 2011 was the year that the slope of the line began to steepen and the release of version 14 the following year proved this and served to silence the cynics.

Global Mapper Development from 2012 to Present

The bulleted list of new functionality, updated tools, performance improvements, and various bug fixes for version 14 alone was 10 pages long, a trend that has continued with successive releases. Condensing this into a manageable size for this Brief History does a disservice to the software. If you have a couple of hours to spare and you want the unabridged version, read the What’s New section in the software’s Help files. I guarantee you will be introduced to features and functions that you did not even know were included.

Chelsea E | Projections

In late 2016, Global Mapper would undergo what was arguably the most significant update in its release history, at least from a superficial perspective. Out went the old “disco” logo, and its idiosyncratic interface design and in came a fresh new look with updated graphics, a more intuitive layout, and a bold new logo. What didn’t change was the powerful capability of the software and the continued improvements that were being made to its functionality.

Chelsea E | Projections

While it’s fun and sometime enlightening to look over your shoulder and marvel at how far you have come, Blue Marble’s philosophy is very much focused on looking forward. Plans are already in the pipeline for Global Mapper version 20 and beyond. Thanks to the continued support of our growing customer base and their eagerness to participate in the collaborative development process that is unique to this remarkable application, we have a long list of new functionality that will be added over the coming years. Global Mapper is a project that will never be complete.


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

Reseller Spotlight: Laurent Martin from EngeSat

EngeSat

 

Laurent Martin of EngeSat

Blue Marble’s worldwide customer footprint could not have been achieved if it weren’t for the hard work of our network of business partners and software resellers. These dedicated individuals and companies provide a local presence in areas of the world that would otherwise have been out of reach. For their part, these partners have been able to establish successful businesses, both reselling and providing services on behalf of Blue Marble. This is certainly the case for EngeSat, a Blue Marble partner based in Brazil. For the latest in our Reseller Spotlight series, we recently chatted with EngeSat’s Director, Laurent Martin.

Tell us a little bit about EngeSat.

EngeSat was established in Curitiba, capital of the state of Paraná, southern Brazil. We began our business as a satellite image reseller in July 1997, nearly 21 years ago. At that time, the best commercially available imagery had a spatial resolution of 10 meters. That is still our core activity, but we now also sell software, develop some thematic applications, and offer data processing according to client specifications.

Chelsea E | Projections
EngeSat was established in Curitiba, capital of the state of Paraná, in 1997.

What are your target markets?

Our goal is to serve any potential user from all economic sectors: private, public, academic, and non-profit, whether they be in the geoprocessing industry or not. The common thread is their need to manipulate geographic information and to have direct access to data (satellite imagery, DEMs, etc.), tools (software, training), and to be able to apply this technology in their day-to-day activities. Of course, we have many long time well-established geoprocessing, consultancy, and engineering companies among our clients. Every day, new clients discover how easy it is to use Global Mapper for their projects and do geoprocessing on their own instead of depending on an external labor force.

What geographic area does EngeSat cover?

We basically serve Latin America — Mexico to Argentina, and some other Portuguese and Spanish speaking countries around the world.

I understand that you are a native French speaker. How challenging is it to work in Spanish and Portuguese?

I am a dual French and Brazilian citizen so Portuguese is not a problem. I began speaking Spanish in 1986 on a trip to Mexico, and my Spanish is getting better every day because I use it constantly and I love this language. However, I will confess that I rely also on a partner in Mexico, Ignacio, to proof read and edit text I write in Spanish for marketing, technical circulars, and publications. For everyday activities, I work in Portuguese, Spanish, English, and French.

Why were you originally interested in reselling Global Mapper?

My first contact with Global Mapper was in 2007, through a Brazilian business partner. We began using Global Mapper to help in preparing technical and commercial proposals for satellite imagery for our clients. We started offering Global Mapper to our clients as well but just as a data delivery tool.  By 2010, the sales volume had increased and we needed a strategy to meet the demand. At that time, we placed orders for Global Mapper directly through the online electronic commerce system. Now we work directly with Blue Marble to manage the ordering process. In recent years, because of my personal interest in developing efficient solutions, we realized we could do much more than what we were doing with Global Mapper and also with the LiDAR Module when it was added, so it has become an increasingly important part of our business.

Chelsea E | Projections
EngeSat’s Laurent Martin says that he loves everything about Global Mapper and often tells his clients “Global Mapper will do everything you need, except serving you a cup of coffee”.

What is your favorite feature of Global Mapper?

I love it all. It is intuitive, straight forward, powerful, and solid. I love Global Mapper because I am able to do everything I want to do in terms of data processing in our projects. I often say to my clients, “Global Mapper will do everything you need, except serving you a cup of coffee”. But who knows, maybe Mike Childs is already working on that feature. Among so much functionality, the challenge is sometimes finding the right tool in the extensive menus and remembering how to find it again when needed. But as I use Global Mapper every day and I attended an official Global Mapper training class, it seems very straightforward.

You have translated Global Mapper into both Spanish and Portuguese versions. What effect has this had on your business?

The translation to Spanish has been available since version 17. Thanks to my partner Ignacio in Mexico who keeps updating new versions. The Portuguese version is a work in progress since I began working on it last year. It is about half way done and I want to complete the Portuguese version in the next few months.

The Spanish version is very much appreciated among Spanish speaking countries and it is definitely an excellent marketing asset, as it helps Spanish speaking users to fully explore the technical potential of the software. Thanks to the Global Mapper Sales Team who redirect inquiries from Latin America, sales have increased significantly and many clients even ask to migrate from a recently purchased English version to the Spanish version.

I would recommend to other Blue Marble partners around the world that they develop a version in their native language in order to get full access to their local market and create additional value for their business. Initially, it represents a significant quantity of work and time but it will provide immediate and permanent benefits.

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

We provide training in Portuguese and Spanish. We offer application development and turnkey projects as well using satellite imagery, drone data, data processing and interpretation. We maintain a Portuguese language web page focusing on Global Mapper and a YouTube channel called Global Mapper Class South America, which helps keep the user community and customers informed of the last developments.

To complement Global Mapper, we offer satellite imagery from major satellite imagery providers worldwide. Selling software is a profitable and fast growing part of our business and we will keep investing in that direction as it still offers great potential.

How has your partnership with Blue Marble benefited your business?

Blue Marble is the best company I have worked with for supporting partners in a commercial network. We talk every month about commercial and technical issues, not to mention the day to day support from the sales team. My questions are usually answered in just a few hours, sometime in minutes. In this context, business is made very easy because the communication is ongoing, information reaches me quickly, and orders are fulfilled on the same day or the day after. Being responsive is undoubtedly a great advantage and it helps us win the full satisfaction of our clients. Blue Marble provides many commercial leads within our region, and I am able to take care of those immediately. To say it in a few words, the level of commercial confidence and technical collaboration is very high, which has a direct benefit for sales.

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

As new versions of Global Mapper are being released with new functionality, such as the recently launched Pixels-to-Points tool in the v.19 Lidar Module, the market expands to new areas. Many of our clients in the energy and urban planning fields are now using Global Mapper, and agriculture and environmental management are strong business sectors.

We offer Global Mapper and the LiDAR Module as an affordable and complete solution to a large variety of users, from independent consultants to large corporations. As geoprocessing is becoming more and more widespread and used in many different sectors, Global Mapper will continue to be a must have tool.

For more information on EngeSat, visit www.engesat.com.br

A Brief History of Global Mapper Part II

Chelsea E | Projections

As any 5-year-old will attest, every good story begins with, “Once Upon a Time…”. For Global Mapper, that time was 1997, when its predecessor, dlgv32, was conceived by the USGS and brought to fruition by Mike Childs. Continuing with the storytelling analogy, dlgv32 was the ugly duckling that would eventually transform itself into the beautiful swan that is Global Mapper. Devotees of Hans Christian Andersen will concur that the transition from cygnet to swan was a slow and often arduous process; an experience that can also be applied to Global Mapper.

In the first part of this brief history of Global Mapper, we chronicled the software’s formative years from its first fleeting steps as a simple viewing application to its adolescence as a fledgling GIS tool. In the second part, we continue the story as Global Mapper undertakes a remarkable evolution, establishing itself as a preeminent player in the geospatial software space.

It is worth noting that for much of this journey, Global Mapper remained under the singular charge of Mike Childs. Many users have expressed amazement that the software gained a worldwide following with just one individual at the helm. Mike was somehow able to concurrently develop, distribute, and support Global Mapper with minimal assistance. Stories of Mike responding to customer questions at ten o’clock on a Saturday evening, during which he would not only provide one-on-one assistance, but would often tweak the code and deliver a custom build, are the stuff of legend. While Global Mapper has developed significantly since these early days, this direct interaction with customers is still an essential part of its development process.

At the conclusion of part one of the Brief History of Global Mapper, we had reached 2004 and version 5.09 of Global Mapper. By that stage it was already apparent that it was beginning to turn heads in the worldwide GIS community. On a personal level, it was around this time that I first encountered the software. Working in cartographic production for DeLorme, a company renowned for its Atlas and Gazetteer series, I needed a tool that would allow me to manipulate some of the datasets that were used in the company’s paper and digital products. As with most Global Mapper aficionados at the time, my introduction to the software was through word-of-mouth recommendation from a colleague, who in turn had learned of Global Mapper from a client at a former workplace. I subsequently recommended it to many of my geospatial comrades. And so on and so forth.

Global Mapper Development Accelerates

Global Mapper version 6, released in late 2004, saw the introduction of several significant new features and functions including the 3D Viewer for rendering a three-dimensional model of terrain data, support for displaying online data (initially limited to TerraServer imagery), the introduction of the batch conversion tool, and support for several new formats including JPEG2000. As a consequence of this expanding functionality, version 6 also saw a price increase from $99 to $199. This rapid development cycle continued with each successive release:

Global Mapper History Part IIChelsea Ellis

 

 

Blue Marble Acquires Global Mapper

At the end of 2011, Global Mapper would undergo its most significant transition since its inception, 14 years previous. Maine-based Blue Marble Geographics, a modest geospatial software company, widely known for its expertise in coordinate conversion and geodetics, acquired Global Mapper. Thankfully to all concerned they also acquired the services of Mike Childs. While there were some murmurs of discontent among long-time Global Mapper users who mistakenly thought that Global Mapper had been gobbled up by some faceless corporation (Blue Marble had just over 20 employees at the time), this acquisition proved to be a win-win-win arrangement.

  • Blue Marble won (obviously) because they were able to add Global Mapper to their suite of software offerings.
  • Mike Childs won because he was able to utilize Blue Marble’s sales and support team allowing him to devote more of his time to developing the software. Rumor has it he may have also benefited financially.
  • Finally, Global Mapper users won because, in the ensuing years, the software’s functionality and prominence would grow exponentially, emboldened by an expanding crew of Global Mapper developers, an eager and enthusiastic support team, and a dedicated group of globetrotting sales and marketing specialists.

In the final installment, we conclude this saga and recount the Global Mapper development highlights over the last seven years, culminating in the recently released version 19.


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

Reseller Spotlight: Andreas Haux from screen & paper GmbH

screen & paper logo
screen & paper GmbH is a Global Mapper reseller that focuses on data processing and GIS-based cartography.

Blue Marble’s global network of partners and resellers are an essential component of the company’s business development strategy. With just over thirty full time employees, most of whom are based in the company’s headquarters in Maine, Blue Marble’s worldwide reach would be severely inhibited if it weren’t these dedicated companies and individuals. Partners are selected, not only because they have demonstrated an ability to expand the company’s business, but also because of their genuine enthusiasm for Blue Marble’s products. Besides simply selling the software, most resellers are actively involved in the GIS community in their region and often offer training and other professional services to their customers and clients.

Andreas Haux of screen and paper
Andreas Haux of screen and paper GmbH

As an acknowledgement of important role played by these partners, over the coming months we will be publishing a series of reseller spotlights in which each partner company will have an opportunity to share some information about their business in a question and answer format. We begin in Germany with screen & paper GmbH, whose Managing Director is Andreas Haux.

1. Tell us a little bit about screen and paper?

screen & paper is a company that not only distributes GIS and digital cartography software, but also uses the products itself, with a focus on data processing and GIS-based cartography. Software development for the internet has established itself as an additional focus of the company.

2. How long has the company been in business?

screen & paper was founded back in 1993 so it is almost as old as Blue Marble Geographics.

3. What are your target markets?

The great scope of Global Mapper is one of the reasons why the product is aimed at a wide range of users. Surveying, cartography, industry, supply, as well as government and education are screen & paper’s core markets.

4. What geographic area do you cover?

Germany, Austria and German-speaking Switzerland are the areas in which screen & paper operates.

5. How long have you been reselling Global Mapper?

2004 was when we first discovered Global Mapper and we were so enthusiastic that we immediately requested and were approved to become a reseller of the software.

6. Why were you originally interested in reselling Global Mapper?

First of all, Global Mapper was the ideal tool for preparing data for further processing in cartographic tools such as MAPublisher. Since we also distribute this software, we have included Global Mapper as an addition to our product offerings.

7. What is your favorite feature of Global Mapper?

Like most users, I am amazed by the enormous range of geospatial data that Global Mapper can read and write. But going deeper into the functionality of the software, my favorite feature is the ability to control so many functions via scripting.

Script Processing in Global Mapper
The Run Script command allows users to run a Global Mapper script file that they have created. This is a powerful option that allows the user to automate a wide variety of tasks.

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

We provide German language support for the software and offer training and workshops, focused on the special demands of the customer. We are also developing web-based software and support customers in preparing their GIS data fulfilling their special needs.

9. How has your partnership with Blue Marble benefited your business?

Global Mapper has become the primary focus of screen & paper’s software distribution since the beginning of sales activities in 2004. Due to the large range of functions of the software, the continuous development, and the fast and reliable support in the sales and support area, a steadily growing base of satisfied customers has established itself. In addition, by translating Global Mapper into German and constantly dealing with the software, the company’s own knowledge grows continuously.

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

We expect new markets to develop, especially in the processing of UAV-collected imagery and more generally in the generation and processing of point cloud data. Again, the wide range of functionality will help open the door to new markets in the future.

11. What motivated you to undertake the task of translating the software into German?

We were quite familiar with the English language and the special technical terms of GIS. However, Global Mapper offers a range of text-based functions so a German user interface is simply more accessible to the German-speaking users. And to us as well!

12. Any final words?

I’m quite tempted to share many more words about Global Mapper. But actually, I can summarize by saying that I’m nothing more than a satisfied and enthusiastic customer!

For more information on screen & paper, visit www.screen-paper.de.

A Brief History of Global Mapper Part I

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

In the beginning…

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

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

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

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

V = Viewer 

32 = 32-bit operating system which the application supported

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

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

An elevation grid in dlgv32 Pro

Dlgv32 Evolves into Global Mapper

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

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

Basic digitizing in dlgv32 Pro

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

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

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

Early Highlights of Global Mapper

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

Global Mapper HistoryChelsea E | Projections

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

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

In part two of this Brief History of Global Mapper, we highlight the milestones from 2005 to the acquisition of Global Mapper by Blue Marble Geographics in late 2011.


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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Loading drone images into the LiDAR Module

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

2. Calculating the point cloud from loaded images

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

3. Viewing the generated point cloud

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

4. Classifying the point cloud

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

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

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

A quick and easy process

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

Navigating a Volcanic Wilderness Using Global Mapper Mobile

Backpacking Trip in Haleakala National ParkJeffrey Hatzel
After earning a MSc. in GIS, gaining experience working in the GIS industry, and most importantly, having Global Mapper Mobile, I was prepared for my honeymoon — a backpacking trip in the Summit Area of Haleakalā National Park.

At the end of my very first week working for Blue Marble Geographics, the company had a small party. This gathering was to celebrate the successful release of our latest application for a mobile device, Global Mapper Mobile. As an active, outdoors-oriented person, I could immediately envision how useful an app like Global Mapper Mobile would be; mapping new running routes, hiking, hunting, camping, and of course, backpacking.

On my first trip into the back country six years ago with my wife (then girlfriend), I decided to make our trail maps, as we would be heading into the wilderness. As a GIS student and enthusiast, I was confident I could take what scant data I could find available from others’ trips into the Sage Creek Wilderness of Badlands National Park and make a decent reference map for our trip. While the trip was a phenomenally enjoyable success, I will say we could have saved a few miles with a better map. This memory was fresh in my mind as we planned part of our honeymoon — backpacking the Summit Area of Haleakalā National Park in Maui County, Hawaii. However this time, after earning a MSc. in GIS, gaining experience working in the GIS industry, and most importantly, having Global Mapper Mobile, I was prepared!

The Goal: A Custom Reference Map

While the summit of Haleakalā Volcano is a wilderness, it is nowhere near as vast or remote as the back country in Badlands National Park. Trails of varying quality and some signage would be present throughout the volcanic crater, providing guidance to hikers. What I needed was a custom reference map for our planned hike. I wanted base imagery, with contour lines, our proposed hiking route, way-points, and a way to organize data I recorded from my device’s GPS.

Preparing the Data: Creating a Package File

Global Mapper Mobile requires a package file (Global Mapper Mobile Package or GMMP) in order to transfer data from PC to mobile device. The file is created on the PC in Global Mapper, exported to GMMP format, and sent to the mobile device. In planning for this trip — and really any use of Global Mapper Mobile — I had to organize my goals and properly create the package file to reflect my needs. Having found vector files of the trail we planned to hike, they were the first bit of data loaded into the Global Mapper desktop application. Using them as a reference, the Online Data Tool allowed me to download both base imagery and a terrain layer for the area.

Obtaining Terrain Data and Imagery from the Online Data ToolJeffrey Hatzel
The top screenshots show a view of the terrain data and imagery obtained from the Online Data Tool in Global Mapper, displayed with a vector line feature (red) representing our planned hiking route in the bottom screenshot.
Map in Global Mapper MobileJeffrey Hatzel
The map, when initially loaded into Global Mapper Mobile, zoomed in to show a portion of the first day’s hike.

At this point I was able to generate the final features for my map; contours and waypoints. When generating contours, it is important to understand scale. With the increasing popularity of high-resolution LiDAR data, fine scale terrain layers and contours are becoming the norm for many workflows. However, for a map covering over 4,000 feet of elevation change, high resolution contours would have been overwhelming. Since this map is being used for reference purposes and not high-precision work, I felt generating contours every 500 feet was appropriate.

In addition to contours, I wanted to represent our halfway point for this first day of our hike, along with our campsite location. I chose to stylize the campsite in Global Mapper with a built-in point style (Campground). Styles can be retained on export to GMMP, so I would have it on my device.

The last thing to consider, which again can be applied to any use of Global Mapper Mobile, is data recorded in the field and how that will be stored within the application. By default any data created in the field, whether manually or via GPS, will be saved to a default layer. The user also has the option to save it to another loaded layer, however, this has the potential to become confusing if multiple feature types and large amounts of data are being recorded, causing a headache when it comes to layer management. To address this, Global Mapper Mobile utilizes Feature Template layers. The Feature Template layer is created in Global Mapper and can then be exported as part of the GMMP, retaining any pre-determined styling, attributes, and other settings. Recorded field data can be added to the proper Feature Template layer as appropriate. The usefulness of such functionality is workflow- and use case-dependent. When initially creating my GMMP I decided that since I would not be recording a large amount of data in the field, it was unnecessary to create any Feature Template layers. I was comfortable using the default layers created when recording data.

In the Field: Quick Rendering and Recording GPS-Based Data

Standing on top of the Haleakalā Crater at roughly 10,000 feet was breathtaking. It felt as if we were standing on the edge of an alien world. After absorbing the majesty of it all for a few minutes, I decided to put Global Mapper Mobile to the test. The app responded quickly, easily loading the 400MB GMMP. I was able to pan across the entirety of the map, effortlessly zooming to the immediate trail ahead, with the application smoothly rendering my vector data, terrain layer, and the relatively high resolution imagery used for my base map. This seemed the perfect opportunity to record my first GPS-based piece of data, a picture point of my view.

Picture Point | GPS LocationJeffrey Hatzel
Left: The first GPS based picture point, taken at the top of the trail before heading into the crater. Right: Global Mapper responded efficiently, immediately displaying our location as I panned and zoomed into our first rest stop location.

At this point, the phone was packed away for the descent into the crater. As we made our way down the trail, miles of sand contrasted with the green of lush slopes along the crater, as clouds spilled over the crater rim. We approached our rest stop about 4 miles later, after having travelled over 2,000 feet down into the crater. Zooming in to our first rest stop as we approached allowed us to clearly see our location along the trail and even how the vector trail aligned to the bit of trail visible in the base map.

Two miles on from our rest stop, we had scrambled up and over a sandy rise. With another two miles to go before camp, I knew I’d have to put Global Mapper through some more tests today, as our hike out of the crater tomorrow would be much more challenging, requiring my full attention. I decided to create a picture point at the start of our last leg, and then begin recording our trail as we hiked. Global Mapper Mobile quickly opened up and centered on my location, reporting a strong GPS signal from my phone. A quick GPS-based picture point, the start of an auto-recorded line, and we were off. I had strapped my phone to my pack and set the GPS to beep with each recorded vertex, allowing me to “hear” the app running in the background as we hiked. The wind over the edge of the crater drowned it out, but I left the app do its job as we covered the final two miles.

The app successfully recorded the entirety of the last leg of our hike for the day. In the image above, the black picture point can be seen at the start of the recorded trail (black line) as we hiked northwest to Hōlua, where we would camp for the night, before the climb out of the crater the next morning.

Once our tent was set we sat down for a glamorous meal of what I like to call back country chicken curry, which is delicious after a day of hiking. I was able to sit and reflect on the day and all we had accomplished; the personal achievements and experiences … and of course Global Mapper Mobile.

Picture Point and Recorded Route in Global Mapper MobileJeffrey Hatzel
Top: Another picture point taken as the trail began to track through black sand, volcanic rock, and reddish hills. Bottom: After setting the app to automatically record our route based on GPS as we hiked the final leg of our first day, we could see the path we hiked (black) in relation to our proposed route (red).

Takeaways: A Successful Trip with a Versatile GIS Application

This was my first time using Global Mapper on a backcountry trip. The application’s versatility was perfect for all I threw at it. The app operated without any issues the entire day. It responded swiftly while zooming and panning across the map. Picture points were created and saved based on GPS locations. The app accurately tracked our path while strapped to my pack via automatic GPS recording for the few miles I had it running. I consider it a success.

Before saving my map, shutting the phone off, and packing it away for the remainder of my vacation, I thought, “Why not, one more picture point?”.
The last picture point of day. Sunset at our camp, located at the base of a nearly 1,300-foot climb we would have to make the following morning.

Last Picture Point of the DayJeffrey Hatzel
The last picture point of day. Sunset at our camp, located at the base of a nearly 1,300-foot climb we would have to make the following morning.

Jeffrey Hatzel


Jeffrey Hatzel is an Applications Specialist at Blue Marble Geographics. He provides technical support, training, and leads demos and talks at industry events. Prior to joining Blue Marble in 2016, Hatzel earned his M.Sc. in GIS at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has experience teaching and studying GIS theory, along with utilizing GIS applications across a variety of real-world settings.

What’s in a Name? | The North American Terrestrial Reference Frame of 2022 is Replacing NAD83

Four new reference frames of 2022Chelsea Ellis

There are going to be four new reference frames that will be introduced in 2022: One each for the Continental US/Canada/Mexico; the Mariana [tectonic] plate; the Pacific plate; and the Caribbean, each with similarly abbreviated names.

For the past five years, the folks at the National Geodetic Survey (NGS) have been speaking at events around the country and around the internet about the 10-year plan under which they are operating. Among the items on the list are a few that we in the geospatial industry need to start thinking about. We’ve been hearing presentations on GRAV-D, HTDP Replacement, NSRS Modernization, and many other acronyms. A couple months ago, there was a new one: NATRF2022. This was one of the main takeaways from the NGS Geospatial Summit, held in Silver Springs, Maryland near the agency’s headquarters. The NGS folks say NATRF2022 as “Nat-reff” in a way that makes you think “National Reference but that’s not actually what it stands for. Let’s dig in.

Why Terrestrial Reference Frame and not Datum?

NATREF2022 stands for “North American Terrestrial Reference Frame of 2022”. It is going to be the new national reference, replacing NAD83. So why “Terrestrial Reference Frame”, and not “Datum”? On the NGS web site, the page that has all the information about the new systems is titled “New Datums”, so one might infer that they mean pretty much the same thing; they do. The difference is at an academic level. Geodesy is an interesting field because there are subtle nuances to word definitions, and slight differences to how those words are used in other mathematical sciences such as geometry. “Datum” in a mathematical sense, is simply a singular form of “data”. In geodesy, this indicates a single point from which to begin measurement in a relative measure. Classically, our geodetic datums are formed from the location of a single place of reference such as an astronomical observatory. In modern systems, they are formed by a network of points that are geometrically related into a single collective, a sum of many parts, rather than relying on the single point as an anchor definition. So rather than defining it by a single point out of many, it is recognized as a geometric network, and the reference that network provides is a Geometric Reference Frame.

I’m going to say it: Conceptually, a geometric reference frame is just a new datum.

To the GIS practitioner, map maker, or surveyor, they provide the starting point and context for our relative descriptions of location. Geometric Reference Frame is currently the popular term in geodesy. It is academically appropriate and conveniently serves as a way to make the new name different from the old, which in this case I can get behind. Can you imagine reading someone’s sloppy handwritten field notes of NAD27 vs NAD22? It would invite disaster. Sometimes, change for the sake of change is not a bad thing. So aside from a mouthful, what are we getting?

From “Fixed” to Time-Based Reference Frames

There are actually going to be four new reference frames: One each for the Continental US/Canada/Mexico; the Mariana [tectonic] plate; the Pacific plate; and the Caribbean, each with similarly abbreviated names. We’ve never had that kind of unified coverage before, so that’s pretty cool. Each of these frames will be plate-fixed, but also, at the time of realization, geocentric. This gets right to the heart of why this is happening now. As it turns out, NAD83 wasn’t as geocentric as intended when it was created. That is to say, the middle of the datum should theoretically have been at the geocenter but it wasn’t; it was off by about two meters.

NAD83 diagramChelsea Ellis
The middle of the datum NAD83 should theoretically have been at the geocenter when it was created, but it wasn’t. It was actually off by about two meters. As tectonic plates moved over time, the effect of this offset grew and could no longer be ignored.

Over time, with tectonic motion, the effect of this offset grew and its effect on surface positions could no longer be ignored. What does that mean? Well, most of our positioning work in modern times is done based on GNSS devices (Global Navigation Satellite System), GNSS by nature is geocentric since the positions are calculated from satellites which orbit the center of mass of the planet. If our national reference frame is not geocentrically related, then it is not directly compatible with GNSS. As motion continues into the future, the new models will acknowledge this and will dynamically change over time following the rotations and motions of the plates. This is necessary because if we are working on the surface of a plate that is moving relative to the geocenter, we need to track that motion if our survey devices stay with the geocenter. So once again, the new models are fundamentally different from the old and a significantly different name will really help to acknowledge that. This is going to require a new mindset for a lot of GIS users. Right now, many still deal with coordinates in “fixed” reference frames where we may acknowledge a reference epoch (date), but that date isn’t actually used for anything other than metadata. Time-based coordinates are inevitable in the future, so it’s time to start getting comfortable with them.

One question I heard directed to the NGS at the Summit was along the lines of, “If we’re just going to have to update again in a few years, why don’t you fix the problem at 2022 so we don’t have to deal with it again?” The problem here is not with the system that needs to be updated (with the implication being that it is flawed now), but in our understanding of the system we’re moving to. We are currently using a system in which we don’t acknowledge that things move and a lot of people have come up through their careers comfortable with there being a fixed relationship between any two given coordinate systems. We are moving to a system where time is not only a factor, but is fully acknowledged as necessary in a moving system. Data epoch is no longer optional. We need to know where our data was and when it was there in order to know where it is a few years later.

Under the hood of this new name NATRF2022, we are adding an entire dimension of measurement, and that’s far more exciting than adding a few new words in the name of the datum.

Preparing for the New Reference Frames of 2022

Over the next few years, we will need to make a few fundamental changes to GIS in order to be ready. First and foremost, we need to make sure our colleagues are comfortable with the new terminology and the concepts of time itself as being an important part of position. After the new systems are in place, we will likely also have new projected coordinate reference systems to deal with. It is very likely that we will have new versions of the US State Plane coordinate system zones. Furthermore, many states are undergoing a push to support new Low Distortion Projections such as the efforts in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oregon, Iowa, and others.  With 4 new plate models, we’re also going to have new Coordinate Transformations to relate them to each other and the older systems, the new reference frames will require it.

As a key player in the geospatial software industry, Blue Marble is already working on changes to our software in preparation for the upcoming new reference frames. Much of this will be invisible in our tools for the time being, while other components are already there, such as epoch settings, transformations that are not stuck to WGS84, and the ability to dynamically bring in new parameters to the database. We have been paying attention and are ready for the coming changes and will strive to help our users be ready, too, as we all learn exactly what these new reference frames will look like over the next five years. As an industry, we have grown very comfortable and perhaps complacent with our systems and transformations in the US for some time. Change is coming, and the time to prepare is now.


Sam Knight


Sam Knight is the Director of Product Management for Blue Marble Geographics. With Blue Marble for over 13 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.