Foreshadowing Geodetic Updates: NADCON 5.0 in Geographic Calculator 2019

The latest version of Blue Marble Geographics’ coordinate conversion software continues the 25-year tradition of providing solutions for the most complex geodetic challenges. Geographic Calculator 2019 offers a number of requested improvements, such as a more user-friendly interface, a universal copy and paste function, a new angular unit conversion tool, as well as several enhancements to seismic file format support. However, a closer look also reveals several new features that provide some insight into more significant shifts in Blue Marble’s future development plans.

Geographic Calculator 2019 has added support for version 5.0 of the National Geodetic Survey’s (NGS) North American Datum Conversion tool (NADCON 5.0). This single line item in the release notes may be easily overlooked, but it represents years of work by NOAA-NGS. It also represents a fundamental change in the way United States coordinate reference system and reference frame transformations are performed. Before delving into the details, let’s answer this question…

What is NADCON 5.0?

The origin of this transformation methodology is rooted in the readjustment of the North American Datum of 1927 (NAD27) to the North American Datum of 1983 (NAD83). The differences between these reference frames were very regional and irregular, which resulted in shifts that could not easily be modeled with traditional mathematical transformations. The solution was the original North American Datum Conversion (NADCON) Utility, which was adopted in 1990 as the federal standard for modeling differences between the two systems.

The early versions of the NADCON transformations typically had an accuracy of 12 to 18 centimeters, which represented a significant improvement over most other large-scale models at the time. That said, the tool did have its shortcomings. According to NGS, it was “poorly documented, was applied inconsistently across regions, contained numerous errors, and was difficult to use”. Those kinds of defects were also shared by another NOAA-NGS tool called GEOCON, introduced during the realization of the NAD83(2007) reference frame. The significant difference between the original NADCON and GEOCON transformations was the latter’s ability to perform three-dimensional coordinate transformations among various newer NAD83 frames. This was also improved in GEOCON11 (version 2.0), but time constraints meant that only eleven states were able to provide data for these adjustments.

NADCON 5.0 was built to replace both of these imperfect NGS tools. Unlike its predecessors, it is well-documented, more “user-friendly”, it includes downloadable transformation grids that can be integrated into third-party software, and covers the entire United States (including overseas territories). Newer remote sensing technology and the ability to handle much larger datasets also allows for a finer level of detail during the transformation process. As with the GEOCON model, NADCON 5.0 also offers new transformations between many reference frames and three-dimensional coordinate systems, and it supports the US National Spatial Reference System (NSRS) as well as many other previously unrecognized local horizontal coordinate systems dating back to the late 1800s. It also provides local error estimates as a component of the transformation, which is likely to pique the interest of your friendly neighborhood geodesist.

How does NADCON 5.0 work?

Like the traditional NADCON version 4.0 transformation, version 5.0 is delivered as a set of grid files that can be used to move between individual reference frames. Unlike version 4.0 however, it is no longer limited to horizontal shifts. The new grid files contain fields for identifying 3D transformations between reference frames and an error metric where available. Furthermore, there is a much larger set of grids to choose from and it is no longer constrained to the traditional NAD27->NAD83 or NAD83(20xx)->NAD83(20xx) model. Instead, transformations can be performed between six separate realizations of NAD83, NAD27, and the US Standard Datum (USSD). NADCON 5.0 also provides access to precise transformations between other historic systems such as the Old Hawaiian Datum, Puerto Rico 1940, and local Alaskan systems, such as the St. Paul Island reference frame of 1897 and 1852.

Unlike the old version 4.0 transformation, NADCON 5.0 was designed to chain together various grid files to provide a more accurate result. This makes things a bit more complicated because of the need to keep track of individual transformations as components of a larger concatenated operation. The following diagram shows an example of a shift from the NOAA Technical Report NOS NGS 63.

Diagram from the NOAA Technical Report NOS NGS 63

The illustration shows a chain of transformations for moving a surveyed data point based on the USSD system to NAD83(2011). Any subset of the chain can be used independently as part of the NADCON 5.0 model. This chain process can support a new model once it is created (for example, the 2022 National Reference System) and with one grid file, associate it to all historical models.

So what is foreshadowing about the addition of NADCON 5.0 in Geographic Calculator?

NADCON 5.0 will be instrumental in the transition to yet another adjustment from NAD83 on the horizon — the introduction of the new National Reference Frame of 2022 (NATRF2022) and NSRS2022.

A graphic from the NOAA Technical Report NOS NGS 63 shows the errors for horizontal transformation for USSD/NAD 27/CONUS.

If you are a frequent visitor to Projections, the Blue Marble blog, you may have read an entry by Product Manager Sam Knight explaining why the new NSRS is being developed. If you haven’t seen Sam’s entry, the short explanation is that geoid and GPS-height accuracy have improved and that NAD83 did not account for the dynamic movement of our planet over time. Under the new system, all measurable gravity-related values (such as orthometric heights, geoid undulation, deflections of the vertical, etc…) will be time dependent for compatibility with the NATRF2022 coordinate systems — making for more accurate time-dependent transformations.

NSRS2022 will also replace all of the current vertical datums, which will require updates to VERTCON — another NGS transformation tool. Originally designed to transform between the North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD 88) and the North Geodetic Vertical Datum of 1929 (NGVD 29), the 2022 update to VERTCON will transform orthometric heights from the old datums into heights in the new North American-Pacific Geopotential Datum (NAPGD2022).

Small changes leading up to larger changes

With awkward acronyms, complex geodetic concepts, and NGS tool history, the 2022 update as it relates to NADCON 5.0 is a lot for a short blog entry. But hopefully you get the key message: NGS is making big changes that will lead to more accurate transformations and Geographic Calculator is an early adopter of these new geodetic parameters. Be on the lookout for more updates as tools like NADCON 5.0 develop and grow. Until then, the Geographic Calculator will continue to hold a finger on the NGS pulse.

To learn more about NGS, its tools and the upcoming NSGS of 2022, visit their website at https://www.ngs.noaa.gov or read this NOAA report.

Where in the World Geo-Challenge – December 2018

View the form at Google Forms >

Where in the World October 2018 Answers

How Well Did You Do?

Name the body of water – Gulf of Carpentaria

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the capital city – Dakar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the river – Paraná River

Parana River

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the island – Severny Island

Severny Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name the country – Albania

Albania

 

LiDARUSA Uses Global Mapper on Travel Channel’s ‘Expedition Unknown’

Did you catch Global Mapper on television over the summer? In an episode of the Travel Channel show, “Expedition Unknown,” the production crew visited Guatemala in search of Mayan Ruins. A team from LiDARUSA, longtime Global Mapper users, were also involved in the project, collecting LiDAR data for the Mirador Basin Project. Using a combination of drones and helicopters, the data was collected and processed, revealing an uncharted Mayan causeway. As you will see in the footage below, Global Mapper was used to classify bare earth and to view the model that was generated.

No need to worry about this brief cameo going to our heads, the “As Seen On TV” people won’t let us use their logo.

Blue Marble Monthly – LiDAR vs PhoDAR and Becoming a Pilot

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

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

NEWS | BMUC is Coming to Portland, Maine

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

 

PROJECTIONS | Becoming an UAS Pilot

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

 

PRODUCT NEWS | Call for Beta Testers

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

 

DID YOU KNOW? | LiDAR vs Photogrammetric Point Clouds

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

USER STORY | Planning Truck Stops with Global Mapper

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

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

 

 

VIDEOS | Can Your GIS Do This Without Extensions?

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

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

 

Where in the World Geo-Challenge

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

 

See complete terms and conditions here.

EVENTS | Global Mapper Training in Houston

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

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

 

Where in the World Geo-Challenge – August 2018

View the form at Google Forms >

MFBI Technologies: Processing Large Point Clouds Using Global Mapper & the LiDAR Module

The final map of a project area using the combination of general topo information, precise ortho photography, infrastructures, a height grid, and manually generated vector information.

This case study explains how MFBI Technologies, a provider of UAV and 3D modeling for project development, used Global Mapper and the LiDAR Module to efficiently and affordably process large point clouds and other data to create final maps for the planning of truck rest areas.

Data for Safe Truck Stop Locations

MFBI has a long established history in system and information technology. They have a keen understanding of their customers’ needs, and they saw that the UAV industry would bring a new level of excellence to their services. Michael Frings, MFBI general manager, invested considerable time and effort into developing this service offered by the company. His work won MFBI a contract with ARC Truck Centers, an investment firm from Hamburg, to tackle a significant transit issue in Germany: the need for adequate rest areas for the truck traffic that flows through the country.

Topo map
Topo map of the project area with added data, including property boundaries, sewer lines, gas pipes, and communication infrastructure

Because of its central location on the European continent, Germany has an extensive network of truck routes crisscrossing the country. The large volume of traffic overburdens the current truck stops, which are situated close to autobahns and major highways. MFBI, in conjunction with a local land survey company, is working to provide precise geographical information to assist with the siting of modern truck stops that will provide drivers with much needed safe, secure places to stop and rest.

A combination of a Path Profile analysis and an automatic algorithm shows breaklines in point cloud data.

Need for Efficient Data Management

After winning the ARC contract to conduct UAV surveys of thirty new truck stop locations, MFBI faced several obstacles: coordinating with the other contractors on the project, understanding what GIS products are of the most value to the project investors; and obtaining all the necessary approvals for UAV flight operations.

MFBI used a Multi- rotor Trimble ZX5 hexacopter to conduct the survey. However, special permission was needed to fly the drone within 100 meters of the highway. Even after permission was granted, the two-person teams sent to complete the project had to be accompanied by police to ensure the safety of vehicles on the highway.

Flight planning was critical to the venture; the teams needed to make sure their time in field was productive and efficient. The project required the point cloud to be embedded with vector data gathered from local municipalities to aid in planning and data processing. After the flights were completed the challenge of data processing and management arose. The demand for survey data increased, as well as the need for efficient and accurate software that could easily manage the data. Furthermore, a large dense point cloud needed to be processed in a short time frame. For this project the point cloud would ultimately contain over 110 million points.

The final step in the process would require the delivery of data, including point clouds and accurate 3D models, to the architect and the developer working to design the projects for the client.

Terrain analysis that compares manually set points with automatically calculated ridge line profiles

Maximizing Productivity at Low Cost

MFBI quickly recognized that Global Mapper and the LiDAR Module were ideal for their workflow. The versatility of the software allowed them to maximize their productivity and minimize their costs. However, according to Michael Frings, processing power was the most important factor in choosing Global Mapper and the LiDAR module software. In a recent conversation with Blue Marble’s President Patrick Cunningham, he said, “Simply, the fact that the LiDAR module is so powerful gives us the possibility to handle these large point clouds. That was the killer argument to go with Global Mapper.”

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

Global Mapper at Work

Global Mapper and the LiDAR Module were essential to MFBI’s workflow. Michael Frings and his team took advantage of the streamable data services available through Global Mapper’s Online Data function. The team imported topographic and municipal boundary maps to plan for the flights of their drone. They were able to calculate how many flights were needed and make notes of any potential areas of difficulty.

Once the collection process was completed, and the photogrammetric analysis had been performed, Global Mapper was used to classify the point cloud, automatically identifying ground points and other surface types. After filtering the non-ground points, a precise terrain model was generated. The processing power of the LiDAR module was critical, as it easily handled the large files that MBFI created. They then used Global Mapper’s Ridgeline and Path Profile tools to identify and delineate breaklines in the terrain.The team generated elevation layers at five to ten meter resolution but also received requests for grid resolutions as fine as one meter. Finally, the team created 3D PDFs providing a simple and effective way for the customer to visualize the project.

 

About Global Mapper

Global Mapper is an affordable and easy-to-use GIS application that offers access to an unparalleled variety of spatial datasets and provides just the right level of functionality to satisfy both experienced GIS professionals and beginning users. Equally well suited as a standalone spatial data management tool and as an integral component of an enterprise-wide GIS, Global Mapper is a must-have for anyone who deals with maps or spatial data. The supplementary LiDAR Module provides a powerful set of tools for managing point cloud datasets, including automatic point classification and feature extraction.

About Blue Marble Geographics

Trusted by thousands of GIS professionals around the world, Blue Marble Geographics is a leading developer of software products and services for geospatial data conversion and GIS. Pioneering work in geomatics and spatial data conversion quickly established this Maine-based company as a key player in the GIS software field. Today’s professionals turn to Blue Marble for Global Mapper, a low-cost, easy-to-use yet powerful GIS software tool. Blue Marble is known for coordinate conversion and file format expertise and is the developer of The Geographic Calculator, GeoCalc SDK, Global Mapper, LiDAR Module for Global Mapper, and the Global Mapper SDK.

Blue Marble Monthly – Global Mapper vs ArcGIS

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

If there is one question that we are asked more than any other it is this: “How does Global Mapper compare to ArcGIS?” Coinciding with the annual gathering of Esri devotees in San Diego, we shed some light on how Global Mapper stacks up. The bottom line: you get a lot more for a lot less! Also in this edition of Blue Marble Monthly, we introduce Blue Marble’s official reseller in France, we offer some suggestions for enhancing your summer wardrobe, and as always, we give you a chance to win a copy of Global Mapper in the Where in the World Geo-Challenge.

LiDAR Data in Global Mapper

GLOBAL MAPPER | No Extensions Required

Using ArcGIS and need to create a terrain model? You’ll need an extension for that. What about calculating volumes or generating contours? Ditto. Global Mapper gives you all this and much, much more right out of the box. Check out the latest blog post from Chelsea Ellis to find out more.

 

PROJECTIONS | Blue Marble Summer Fashion

Someone once said, “You are what you wear”. Or maybe it was, “You are what you eat”. Whatever! In any case, in today’s world of high fashion, we present you with smart, low key alternatives. For summer fun, laughs, and t-shirts check out the latest from the Blue Marble Emporium.

 

DID YOU KNOW? | Global Mapper Mobile is Free

Considering ArcGIS for field data collection? Did you know that Global Mapper Mobile is available free of charge and offers disconnected access to critical data layers, field data collection capability, and mobile digitizing? This easy-to-use app is available for iOS and Android devices.

 

RESELLER SPOTLIGHT | Geom@tique – Our French Partner

Based in the spectacular French Alps, Geom@tique recently celebrated 20 years in business (Bon Anniversaire de Blue Marble). In this month’s Reseller Spotlight, we ask company owner Alain Olivier to share some insight on the business and the importance of its partnership with Blue Marble.

 

VIDEOS | Rendering Vector Data in Global Mapper

Data visualization is one of the fundamental functions of a GIS. In the latest Global Mapper webcast, we explore a variety of workflows for customizing the display of vector layers to reveal spatial patterns in the data.

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

 

Where in the World Geo-Challenge

Contrary to the suggestion of at least two Geo-Challenge entrants in June, the county to be identified was not, in fact, Wakanda. Tom Hughes from HuGIS GeoSpatial Ltd. was not one of these people and he will be receiving a copy of Global Mapper as the first randomly selected entrant with all five correct responses. Check what Wakanda should have been along with the answers for the other four locations here and test you geographic knowledge in the latest Geo-Challenge.

 

See complete terms and conditions here.

EVENTS | BMUC in Maine & Training in Germany

Since we turned 25 this year, our Blue Marble User Conference in Portland, Maine  on September 21 is gearing up to be a special one. We’re also looking forward to our German partner “screen & paper GmbH” conducting Global Mapper Training in Freising, Bavaria this November.

Be sure to register for BMUC Maine, while seats are still available!

 

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.

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.