Got a Drone? Now What? — Using Global Mapper with Your UAV

Let’s start with a question. How many of you currently own a Segway? Unless you moonlight as a mall cop or run an urban tour company, you probably decided not to jump on that gyroscopically-controlled bandwagon. If the hype that surrounded the release of this ‘revolutionary technology’ was to be believed, we would long since have abandoned our cars, redesigned our cities, and be living much more fulfilling lives. Alas, the reality has fallen a little short.

The emergence and proliferation of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or Drones, on the other hand, while not accompanied by a cacophony of hyped-up fanfare, promises to have a much more profound impact on our lives. If current speculation is to be believed, within a few short years, the skies overhead will be swarming with delivery drones, traffic monitoring drones, and even people-moving drones.

For those of us in the mapping industry, this eye-in-the-sky technology effectively addresses one of the perennial challenges that we face: where do we get data, and more specifically, where do we get current data? Traditionally, we have depended on often inadequate and outdated public geospatial data archives or expensive commercial sources. With the advent of readily accessible UAV technology, on-demand data is within anyone’s reach.

The rapid growth of UAV ownership has resulted in an interesting dilemma for some would-be pilots. Having purchased the hardware and collected some data, many are often unclear as to what exactly they can do with it? Over the last couple of years, I have attended several UAV-focused tradeshows and a question that I am often asked is, ‘What can I do with Global Mapper?’ The answer: many things.

Initial Flight Planning

Among the freely available online data services in Global Mapper are high-resolution aerial imagery, Digital Elevation Models (DEMs), aviation charts, and topographic maps.

Before hitting the launch button, it is a good idea to virtually reconnoiter the project area. What possible obstructions are in the vicinity, what are the terrain characteristics, are there any nearby buildings or other facilities that might have overflight restrictions, what is the coverage area? These questions and more can be answered by loading the relevant data into Global Mapper and conducting some rudimentary pre-flight analysis. Among the freely available online data services are high-resolution aerial imagery, Digital Elevation Models (DEMs), aviation charts, and topographic maps. Global Mapper’s drawing tools can be used to delineate the extent of the project site to determine coverage area and to draft an initial flight plan to optimize the data capture process. All of this data can be transferred to an iOS or Android device running Global Mapper Mobile to allow field checking of the flight plan parameters.

Geotagged Image Viewing

Images can be loaded into Global Mapper as picture points creating a geographic photo album. Derived from the coordinate values embedded in the image files, the location at which each photo was taken is represented by a camera icon in the map view.

One of the most basic functions of a UAV is taking photographs and as we will discuss below, with sufficient overlap, these images can be processed into a 3D representation of the local area. Before proceeding with this more advanced functionality, the images themselves can be loaded into Global Mapper as picture points creating a geographic photo album. Derived from the coordinate values embedded in the image files, the location at which each photo was taken is represented by a camera icon in the map view. Using Global Mapper’s Feature Info tool, each photo is displayed using the computer’s default image viewer. Viewed in the 3D Viewer, the camera icons will appear above the terrain or ground providing a precise representation of the drone’s altitude when each image was captured.

3D Reconstruction

The functionality of the Pixels-to-Points tool transforms simple drone-collected image files into a dataset that can be used for countless 3D analysis procedures.

Incorporated into the optional LiDAR Module, beginning with the version 19 release of Global Mapper, the Pixels-to-Points tool is used to analyze an array of overlapping images to create a 3D representation of the environment. This powerful component identifies recurring patterns of pixels within multiple photographs and employs the basic principles of photogrammetry to determine the three-dimensional structure of the corresponding surfaces. While the underlying technology is extremely complex, as is typical in Global Mapper, the user’s experience is very straightforward. Simply load the images, apply the necessary settings for the camera system, add ground control points if available, click the Run button, and wait while it creates a high-density point cloud and, if required, a 3D model or mesh. The functionality of the Pixels-to-Points tool transforms simple drone-collected image files into a dataset that can be used for countless 3D analysis procedures.

Orthoimage Creation

A byproduct of the aforementioned point cloud generation process is the option to create an orthoimage. Defined as a raster layer in which each pixel’s coordinates are geographically correct, the orthoimage is generated by gridding the RGB values in the point cloud. Given its inherent accuracy, this 2D imagery layer can be used for precise measurements or as a base layer for digitizing or drawing operations.

DTM creation and Terrain Analysis

Global Mapper can generate a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) from point cloud data.

As mentioned previously, the Pixels-to-Points-generated point cloud represents the raw material for numerous analysis procedures in Global Mapper. As with any unprocessed dataset, some QA, cleanup, and processing will be required before embarking on any meaningful workflow. Fortunately, the software offers a plethora of editing and filtering options, including noise point removal, spatial cropping, ground point identification, and automatic reclassification. After isolating the points representing bare earth, the gridding tool is employed to create a Digital Terrain Model (DTM), a 3D raster layer that depicts the ground surface. In turn, this terrain layer can be used to create custom contour lines, to calculate volume, to delineate a watershed, to conduct line-of-site analysis, and, if overlaid on a previously created DTM, to identify and measure change over time.

Video Playback

Aside from capturing still images, most UAVs are equipped with the necessary hardware to record video. Beyond simple recreational use, this functionality is useful for building or asset inspection, strategic reconnaissance, forestry inspection, and in countless other situations where a remote perspective is needed. Global Mapper includes an embedded video player that will play this recording while displaying the corresponding position of the UAV in the map window. The determination of position is derived from the per-vertex time stamp recorded in the track file recorded during the flight. After loading this file as a line feature, and associating it with the corresponding video file, the playback is initiated from the Digitizer’s right-click menu.

LiDAR Processing

The Global Mapper LiDAR Module offers a set of tools for identifying, reclassifying, and extracting these features as vector objects.

Not too long ago, it was generally accepted that, due of the size and weight of the required equipment, LiDAR collection could only be carried out using a manned aircraft. This simple fact contributed to the high cost and logistical challenges of the LiDAR collection process. Today, miniaturization of the LiDAR apparatus has reached the point where it is within the payload capacity of many larger drones. Given the limited range of the aircraft, drone-collected LiDAR is only viable for small, localized projects however it does allow frequent re-flying of a project site and is thus ideally suited for change detection. Global Mapper, along with the accompanying LiDAR Module, offers a wide range of tools for processing LiDAR data. As previously mentioned, points can be filtered and edited before creating a surface model for terrain analysis. Compared to photogrammetrically created point cloud data, LiDAR provides a more complete three-dimensional representation of non-ground features such as buildings, powerlines, and trees. The LiDAR Module offers a set of tools for identifying, reclassifying, and extracting these features as vector objects.

Fundamentally, UAVs and maps have much in common. Both are intended to provide a remote, detached perspective of an area of interest and allow us to see spatial distribution and patterns in our data that would not otherwise be detectable. It is understandable, therefore, that one of the primary functions of a drone is to provide data that can be used for creating maps and other spatial datasets. Global Mapper is ideally suited for this type of workflow and it provides an extensive list of tools that can be used by drone operators.


A thirty-year veteran in the field of GIS and mapping, and a lifelong geographer, David McKittrick is currently Outreach and Training Manager at Blue Marble Geographics. A graduate of the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland, McKittrick’s experience encompasses many aspects of the geospatial industry, including cartographic production, data management, marketing and sales, as well as software training and implementation services. McKittrick has designed and delivered hundreds of GIS training classes, seminars, and presentations and has authored dozens of articles and papers for numerous business and trade publications.

 

Register to Watch GeoTalks 2019

Here’s a little taste of the presentations from this year’s GeoTalks — the online geo-conference that was recorded live on March 21, 2019.

Register online to access the recorded presentations: http://bit.ly/geotalks-2019-videos

There were presentations from:
Anthony Beach, BSP Engineers, Inc
Using UAS Technology in Combination with Global Mapper and the LiDAR Module

Michael Frings, MFBI Technologies
Optimal Positioning of Advertising Poles in Topographically Challenging Environments

Dan Martin, The National Geodetic Registry
Preparing for Change: New Coordinates Coming in 2022

Daniel Fagerman, LiDARUSA
Scanning the Past: A Look at the Ancient Mayan Pyramid at Uxmal

Blue Got Mail – Finding the coordinates of a point from a loaded point cloud in Global Mapper

Billy Noble, Applications Specialist at Blue Marble Geographics, answers questions that come into the technical support inbox. In this video, Billy demonstrates how to find the coordinates of a point in a loaded point cloud in LAS format using Global Mapper.

Blue Got Mail: Changing the Color of Map Labels in Global Mapper

Billy Noble, Applications Specialist at Blue Marble Geographics, answers questions that come into the technical support inbox. In this video, Billy demonstrates how to customize the color and fonts of labels in a layer of a map in Global Mapper.

Webinar: What’s New in Global Mapper v20.1

For a minor release, Global Mapper version 20.1 offers a surprising collection of new features and functions. In addition to the usual performance improvements and code tweaks that are typical of these minor releases, version 20.1 includes new Digitizer tools, significant upgrades to the Path Profile tool, enhanced LiDAR querying, and much more. In the latest live Global Mapper webinar, we showcase some of the highlights of this release.

Among the specific topics covered in the webinar are:

  • New zooming function in the Path Profile window
  • Legend display for multiple profiled surfaces
  • Option to set the default projection
  • New vector edge-matching tool

Support for Esri RESTful data sources And in the LiDAR Module:

  • New point proximity search tool for encroachment detection
  • Improved point cloud thinning options
  • And much more

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

Five Reasons to Sign Up for Global Mapper Training

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Product Manager Katrina Schweikert leads a Global Mapper training course in Hallowell, Maine in January of 2019.

Blue Marble Geographics® offers several training options to help users get the most out of their all-in-one geographic information system (GIS) software, Global Mapper®: Customized training for companies or organizations needing tailored instruction based on specific workflow needs; self-training that are comprised of a series of lessons that users can tackle at home at their own pace; and public training courses that cover the extensive functionality of Global Mapper and the LiDAR Module®.

While all three options have their benefits, the public training courses that take place at a variety of locations around the world, come with a handful of perks on top of being great opportunities for users to increase the return on their Global Mapper investment.

Here are the top five reasons why you should sign up for a public training class:

1. GIS training for both beginners and professionals

Public training that molds to the GIS skill levels and knowledge of the attendees.

A couple of weeks before the class, attendees receive a Getting Started package, which includes the following resources:

  • PDF of the training manual
  • Data files that will be used in the course
  • Links to the Getting Started Guide and video
  • Self-training materials

While it’s not required for attendees to look at these resources, the package gives them the opportunity to see the topics covered in the courses. It also gives attendees time to reach out to Blue Marble’s training team with any specific questions or concerns they may have about the material.

This pre-course communication helps trainers understand attendees’ skills in GIS, ensuring that all attendees get the most out of their individual training experience.

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Trainees listen to instructions in the Global Mapper training course that took place in Hallowell, Maine in January of 2019.

2. Hands-on instruction from GIS experts

In a public training class, Blue Marble’s applications specialists walk through workflows that attendees follow, and provide plenty of opportunities for attendees to ask questions.

Introducing functionality that attendees may not have previously known, this hands-on experience allows trainees to apply new knowledge with real data and in meaningful ways. Their earned skills — ranging from basic Digitizer usage to more advanced functions such as a variety of terrain analysis functions — can later be remembered and practiced at home with the training manual and data files trainees will take with them.

See the agenda for the Global Mapper class here.

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Outreach and Training Manager David McKittrick gives an overview of the Global Mapper toolbars in a training course in Hallowell, Maine.

3. A resume builder with an official certification

The complete Global Mapper training course is a three-day program incorporating two separate courses that attendees can sign up for, either individually or as one continuous program. The first two days are dedicated to the core functionality of Global Mapper, and the third day focuses on the LiDAR Module and point cloud processing.

Individually, the courses are great resume builders. When taken together, they earn attendees an official Global Mapper User certification. If an attendee is just starting their GIS-related career, a certificate can be a valuable credential proving their broad range of terrain analysis, 3D data editing, LiDAR processing skills, and more.

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Trainees are given data sets to follow along with workflows during the training courses.

4. An introduction to LiDAR and point cloud processing

With increased access to affordable ways of collecting LiDAR and point cloud data, it’s become more important for GIS professionals to understand what to do with this data and to have access to tools that can efficiently process it.

The third day of training focuses on point cloud processing, covering a range of topics, including: LiDAR filtering and editing techniques, photogrammetric point cloud creation with the Pixels-to-Points® tool, feature extraction, and more. Whether trainees are just starting to use point cloud data, or if they are experienced, this one-day intensive class will cover everything they need to know about Global Mapper and the LiDAR Module’s capabilities.

See the full LiDAR agenda here.

5. A networking opportunity – connecting with GM users

Supplementing the learning experience, the public training courses also offer the opportunity for trainees to meet other members of the Global-Mapper-user community and to network within the industry. A broad range of professionals — from government workers to UAV pilots — attend and benefit from Blue Marble’s training courses, which makes these courses rich in a different way every time.

Public Training – A valuable GIS experience

Whether it’s to boost a burgeoning GIS career or to re-energize and enrich a mature one, Blue Marble’s public training is a valuable experience that provides insight into the basics of Global Mapper, lesser known software features, certification, and networking opportunities.

View Our 2020 Training Calendar

Top Five New Features and Functions in Global Mapper Version 20.1

Interim releases of Global Mapper typically offer the Blue Marble development staff an opportunity to fine-tune some of the functionality that was introduced in the most recent major release. While the upcoming version 20.1 release includes its fair share of performance improvements and code tweaks, it also offers a surprising collection of new tools covering everything from the Digitizer to scripting. With the release just a few weeks away and the final edits being applied to the underlying code, we take a sneak peek at some of the more significant additions.


Using the new Zoom tool in the Path Profile View.

Path Profile Zooming

The importance of Global Mapper’s Path Profile tool has grown immensely since the introduction of the LiDAR Module. While it is most commonly used to render a cutaway view of a terrain layer, it also displays a cross-sectional view of points in a point cloud and can used to edit or delete selected points. New in version 20.1 is the option to zoom in the profile view – a function that ensures that even the most densely-spaced points can now be individually identified and selected.

Profile Legend

Continuing the theme of improvements to the Path Profile tool, a new option has been added to more clearly define the individual surfaces when rendering profile lines for multiple layers. A legend, which can be placed anywhere within the Path Profile window, shows each line style along with the corresponding surface layer. This is particularly useful when visualizing and analyzing multiple layers representing change over time.


Selecting a default projection.

Default Projection

Global Mapper’s projection management is universally acknowledged for its simplicity. Load any layer and the inherent projection parameters associated with the layer define the display projection. Each successive layer is then automatically reprojected on the fly to adhere to this system. No questions asked. Change the display projection and each exported layer will ultimately include these new projection parameters. In Global Mapper 20.1, an even simpler approach to projection management can be enabled with the assignment of a universal default projection. With this new configuration setting, a specified projection will be automatically applied when creating or importing any new layer.


Gaps between areas before applying the new “Close Gaps Between Adjacent Features” function
The areas after applying the “Close Gaps Between Adjacent Features” function

Vector Gap Closing

When creating abutting polygons, Global Mapper’s snapping functionality helps ensure that the features’ shared vertices are a perfect match, without overlap or gaps. When importing external files, however, such precise geometric integrity is not always the case. A new Digitizer tool available in version 20.1 can be used to automatically correct these errors. The “Close Gaps Between Adjacent Features …” function allows a maximum distance threshold to be established allowing the boundary lines to be perfectly matched.


The “Select LiDAR by Distance” tool can be used to select a particular point type within a defined distance of a feature

LiDAR Proximity Selection

A common use case in point cloud or LiDAR analysis is the detection of encroachment, and a new point selection option in the LiDAR Module provides this functionality to Global Mapper users. The “Select LiDAR by Distance” tool can be used to specify a particular point type (such as powerline), a distance threshold, and a target point type (such as high vegetation). In this case, running the search will highlight vegetation points that are encroaching within a defined distance of powerlines. This tool can be applied in many other workflows and includes the option to detect points within the proximity of 3D line features instead of points.

What is Maintenance and Support and How Does it Affect Me?

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Global Mapper open on a laptop in a training course conducted by Blue Marble Geographics’ applications specialists. Maintenance and Support, along with the knowledgebase, videos, and self-guided training, allows users to access the expertise of Blue Marble’s experts.

If you have purchased Global Mapper and/or the LiDAR Module in the last two years, you have heard from our sales team regarding Maintenance & Support (M&S). But you may find yourself wondering, “What is Maintenance and Support and how does it affect me?”

The “Maintenance” Part – Keep your version of Global Mapper up-to-date

Longtime users know that, with every purchase or upgrade of Global Mapper includes a year of technical and licensing support. This support, along with our knowledgebase, videos, and self-guided training, allows users to explore and experience all Global Mapper has to offer. With customers in mind, we updated our support model in summer of 2017 with a 12-month M&S plan that begins on the date payment is received for an order. M&S now includes all version releases of the software within that 12-month period, allowing customers to utilize the most current version of Global Mapper.

The “Support” Part – The Blue Marble Tech Team is here for you

In addition to providing users access to the most current version of Global Mapper, M&S also includes the unparalleled technical and licensing support we are known for offering. Our technical team is ready to answer any questions you might have, from format questions, to complex workflow scenarios, in a timely manner. Technical Support is not a substitute for training. We offer many training solutions both in person and virtually. For more information please visit https://www.bluemarblegeo.com/solutions/geodesy-training.php .

Maintenance and Support Renewals and License Structure

This M&S model also provides customers with the option to renew their support every year. Some of you will likely have received emails from us in the past few months letting you know that your support has ended, and explaining how to renew your subscription. Please contact the sales team with questions about the renewal option, coverage period, or how to purchase additional licenses.

I’m sure many of you are thinking that since Global Mapper has a perpetual license structure, “How will Maintenance and Support affect that model?” Rest assured it will not affect your license. However, the level of support that you receive is directly related to the status of your M&S. If your M&S is out of date, Blue Marble’s technical and licensing support teams may be unable to assist you.

Blue Marble strongly encourages you to stay up-to-date with M&S, so that you have access to the best software we have to offer. Staying current guarantees the highest level of software support and service, and that you are receiving the latest software fixes and enhancements.

In the coming weeks Global Mapper 20.1 will be released. Are you eligible to use all the great features and enhancements the new release has to offer? Users with current M&S coverage will need to download and license this version of Global Mapper. If your M&S is out of date or if you have questions about the status of your Global Mapper license, please contact orders@bluemarblegeo.com.