Tone-Deaf Customer Service and How to Avoid It

The Blue Marble team
The Blue Marble team outside of the Blue Marble Geographics office in Hallowell, Maine in spring of 2016. The corporate culture at Blue Marble is one that is defined by a sense of day-to-day pride in wanting its customers to succeed.

If you were following the news recently, you probably heard some of the customer horror stories coming from United Airlines. First, there were the two young female passengers who were not allowed to board a flight because they were wearing leggings. Second, there was the doctor who was physically removed from a flight and bloodied in the process. Apparently, the removal of the doctor happened because the airline needed to bump four passengers in order to fly some crew members to Louisville. Both of these stories have some nuances to them I am sure, but there is no avoiding the issue that bothers me most about United as a company: both of these incidents reflect a solid tone-deafness to common sense customer service. Both look horrible from a PR perspective; one is sexism and the other is assault. Interactions like these get plastered all over social media and no amount of damage control can counter-act the horrible message they send to customers and prospective customers. Will United continue as a profitable business generating equity for shareholders? Probably. But at what cost to those profits? At what cost to their reputation? What about common decency and the way we are supposed to treat others? If the truth be told, these stories actually were not shocking to me, as I fly quite a bit and many of my colleagues do as well. Our experiences with United range from consistently rude employees to outright harassment. As a company, we have consciously avoided United Airlines (and the former Continental Airlines) for a few years now.

In order to avoid bad customer service decision making, an organization has to recognize the issues that create an atmosphere of utter tone-deafness. My experience with tone-deaf companies is that there are a number of customer service employees who are out-right hostile towards their customers. They appear to not like their jobs. They are possibly over-worked, under-paid, and either given too little power to make decisions or possibly too much. Think about the gate agent or manager who made the decision to stop offering travel vouchers and a hotel stay before the doctor was removed. They started at $400 and a hotel, but there were no takers so they increased it to $800 and a hotel stay. There were still no takers, so rather than increase the offer they randomly selected four passengers to be removed. One has to ask, why did they stop increasing the offer? The result of the fallout from all of this has turned into an out of court settlement that must be much more expensive than a travel voucher. But another question remains; why did they even board passengers if they knew they had over-sold it. If they had bumped people in the gate, whether those people liked it or not, United could have kept them from getting on the plane and likely defused the situation in a more humane manner. But furthermore, one might ask why airlines over-sell flights in the first place. Why is that legal? You shouldn’t be able to sell something you don’t have as a product. That entire concept to me is a catalyst for corporate cultural problems. However, let’s be clear this situation wasn’t even about overbooking, this was an issue where they needed to fly crew to the destination airport to run another flight, yet it is being framed in the context of overbooking which has been a persistent problem for customers for a few years now. If we try and deconstruct the issue of calling the police to physically remove a passenger that did not want to voluntarily give up their seat, what we have in the end are employees who are angry, frustrated and willing to take those frustrations out on their customers. I think companies like this have a problem when their employees do not believe in their product. They don’t care about providing a good customer experience because the message from corporate is to make as much money at whatever cost. This issue to me is the key behind developing poor corporate culture and, for United, that issue will not be easily fixed considering the size of the company.

Our corporate culture is one that is defined by a sense of day-to-day pride in what we do — an interest in our customers succeeding and the science they are tackling every day. We want our customers to succeed, and we want them to be happy with our products.

Blue Marble is a much different company than United. We’re a small company of technology experts located mostly in central Maine. Although we have remote employees across the country, the way we approach our customers has more to do with what it means to live and work in Maine than it does with working for a software company. But this runs deeper than the face of it. Our corporate culture is one that is defined by a sense of day-to-day pride in what we do — an interest in our customers succeeding and the science they are tackling every day. We want our customers to succeed, and we want them to be happy with our products. We like helping them solve their challenges. Yes, we have rules about how we sell our software. We have rules about how we license it. But if you have been a customer of Blue Marble or Global Mapper for a while you know that our rules evolve over time and that we really try to listen to every customer. It can be challenging to satisfy the varied perspectives of some of our customers:  the sole-proprietor surveyor who has been running his business on his own for thirty years on a tight budget versus the lead software procurement person for a multi-national corporation, or the remote sensing GIS government professional for an Africa-based agency. We strive to meet the needs of a diverse, global set of customers every day. Our global audience is where we are similar to United, but that is where it ends. The difference starts with caring about our reputation.

The Blue Marble Vice President of Sales Kris Berglund at the 2017 APPEA Conference and Exhibition. Blue Marble employees are empowered to support their customers, to do quality work, and to feel ownership in it.

I think there are two keys to being successful at that. The first are the products we sell.  Making quality products that solve a problem (at least for business software) is key. But taking pride in the product and standing behind it, as cheesy as it sounds, is essential. Secondly, empowering the people who support our customers to do quality work and to feel ownership in it. I will be the first to admit that this has been something I have had to learn how to do over the years. We work at it every day. I have surrounded myself with a solid management team, but we have also worked together to hire and promote good, smart people who actually want you (our customer) to succeed. If new hires do not buy into that, they don’t stick around. We don’t force it on them, however, we try to build that culture. It takes time. It takes practice. It takes a lot of practice actually. It takes pride as well. But it also means we can’t be tone-deaf. We listen to our employees and we listen to our customers.

All of us at Blue Marble want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to meet your needs so if you have a concern please email us at feedback (link to feedback@bluemarblegeo.com). We will be sure to respond. Thank you for being our customer.


Patrick Cunningham

Patrick Cunningham is the President of Blue Marble Geographics. He has two decades of experience in software development, marketing, sales, consulting, and project management.  Under his leadership, Blue Marble has become the world leader in coordinate conversion software (the Geographic Calculator) and low cost GIS software with the 2011 acquisition of Global Mapper. Cunningham is Chair of the Maine GIS Users Group, a state appointed member of the Maine Geolibrary Board, a member of the NEURISA board, a GISP and holds a masters in sociology from the University of New Hampshire.

Back in the Day Part II: CMYK “flats” and Printing Maps

Four-Color PrintingGraphic by Chelsea Ellis
Four-color printing, also known as “four color process” using CMYK, is a conventional color model for printing, similar to RGB in the digital universe. When cyan, magenta, yellow and black blend together, they create a wide range of tones and hues that you and I interpret as a full spectrum color image.

Welcome back! In my last entry, Back in the Day Part I: Making Paper Maps from Scratch, I barely scratched the surface about how printed maps come together. I talked about scribing roads by hand and creating a duplicate negative image from that artwork. Why a negative image? Well let’s take a step back from the actual content of the map and talk a bit about how the printing process actually works.

Most materials you see printed on paper come from a negative image ­— newspapers, magazines, baseball tickets, paper money, all of it. Printed on paper from some master source that happens to be upside-down and backwards, usually a plate that has been “burned” in a vacuum frame. Some images are black and white, some two-color (black and white and one color) and some four-color, also known as “four color process” using CMYK — a conventional color model for printing, similar to RGB in the digital universe.

So what is CMYK? Sounds like a European hockey team doesn’t it? CMYK stands for Cyan (Cyan or blue, it actually resembles more of a turquoise than anything), Magenta (“process red” that looks more like hot pink), Yellow (enough said), and Key (really, it’s black, but the old timers refer to it as “Key” because the other color plates were registered, or “keyed,” to the black plate during the printing process). When blended together, these four colors create a wide range of tones and hues that you and I interpret as a full spectrum color image.

Four-Color Map PrintingGraphic by Chelsea Ellis
When printing in CMYK, four sets of negatives are required. CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (or black). When blended together, these four colors create a wide range of tones and hues that you and I interpret as a full spectrum color image.

When printing a map in CMYK, four sets of negatives are required, organized by color. We call these negatives “flats.”  For example, a set of Cyan flats would contain features that appear blue on a map, such as open water and hydrology. Cyan flats will also contain tones that contribute to compound colors, such as greens and purples. The same principle applies to  magenta, yellow and black flats. We can think of these flats as being similar to layers in digital mapmaking. Each layer adds details to the map, in this case, the flats are adding color. Often times we will have five or six flats for one compound color.

In order to achieve the correct color tone, screens need to be applied to certain map features that we don’t want to print at 100% strength. When we print open water, for example, we use a 10% screen so that when the map gets printed from our open water negative, only 10% of the cyan will print on the paper, resulting in a light blue tone. These screens are measured by percentage and would be merged with other objects in composite form.

When all of the flats of each color have been composited (burned) on their respective plates (there should be four, right? Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black — see?  You’re catching on) The printers take these plates and register them on the press and start printing the “signatures.” A signature, or sig, is basically a printed sheet (both sides) that contains multiple pages. These sheets are then folded in a certain way so that the pages appear in sequence, like a book.  When I was a map technician, each atlas had a good number of signatures that were printed in order (1 through 12 for example), but keep in mind, the total signatures in the job reflected how big the atlas was. Alaska and Texas had over 30 signatures while Maine had only 12 sigs, for example.

After the signatures are printed by all four plates (CMYK), they are then sent along to the bindery where the sigs are trimmed to become one uniform size, then collated and bound into books that you and I recognize.

It’s fair to say that my bosses at the publishing company didn’t trust printers. Whenever we sent atlases for printing, we would order 30,000 or 50,000 books at a time, which, as you can imagine, was an expensive investment. We as publishers, also had to purchase our own paper. so there was no going back if a job got botched. Too many times books would come back with inconsistent blues, reds, greens, you name it.

In order to combat this problem, the map technicians would go on “press checks”, meaning we would QA/QC each signature after the plates were hung and the printing started. If the book had 36 signatures, that meant we did 36 checks. If we were printing 30,000 books, it would take 3-4 hours to print a signature. Every three hours we would be taken into the pressman’s area, shown a printed signature, and sign-off on it before they were given the OK to continue printing. This is what we did every three hours, non-stop, until the job was done. Overnight checks were brutal, and yes sometimes this would go on for days. Plenty of Mountain Dew and Diet Coke, let me tell you.

The golden rule for QA/QC was “CRC”.  COLOR, REGISTRATION, CONTENT.

So after our map  is printed, the books hit the shelves and they start selling like hotcakes. All according to plan, life is good. Then the phone rings in the Revisions Dept., and there’s someone who’s not too happy that their private driveway ended up on page 34.


Kris Berglund

Kris Berglund is currently the Vice-President of Sales at Blue Marble Geographics and has been with the company for over fifteen years. Kris has been involved with digital mapping technology for over twenty years, and demonstrates a diverse level of experience in cartography, geomatics, technical sales & marketing and business development.

Blue Marble Monthly | May 2017

 

River bed

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

May’s newsletter has a distinct LiDAR flavor. Check out the latest blog post entitled, “Got LiDAR? Now What?” and scroll a little further to find a link to the LiDAR-themed webcast series. Also this month, we ask for your feedback in the Global Mapper user survey and as always, we give you a chance to win a copy of Global Mapper in the Where in the World Geo-Challenge.

 

Global Mapper

Global Mapper Survey

Blue Marble’s product development process has always depended on direct input from users of our software. Now we are giving all Global Mapper users a chance to participate in this process. Follow the link below to complete a short user survey evaluating the capabilities of Global Mapper and its applicability for your day-to-day GIS needs. Perhaps more importantly, you will also have an opportunity to outline any improvements that you would like to see implemented. Five survey respondents, chosen at random, will receive a Global Mapper t-shirt.

 

LiDAR tree imagery

Got LiDAR? Now What?

In recent years LiDAR has emerged from the realm of technical specialists into the public domain. In many situations, data is being collected, processed, and delivered to citizenry lacking in the skills and expertise required to fully exploit the data. In a recent blog post, we addressed this issue by asking the double-barreled question, “Got LiDAR? Now What?”

 

Global Mapper Mobile

Did You Know?

Blue Marble offers a free field data collection and editing tool for GPS-enabled iOS and (soon-to-be) Android devices. Global Mapper Mobile extends the reach of your GIS by allowing a remote workforce to participate in your spatial data management workflow. Simply set up the collection parameters in the desktop version of Global Mapper, send the file to your mobile workforce, and import the collected data into Global Mapper.

 

Geographic Calculator

Product News

Since last month’s Blue Marble Monthly, the 2017 release of Geographic Calculator was unveiled, which includes a powerful new Seismic Survey QC tool. If you haven’t tried this comprehensive coordinate management software, why not download an evaluation copy? Look out for an Android version of the popular Global Mapper Mobile app in the coming weeks followed by the 18.2 release of Global Mapper and the LiDAR Module.

 

LiDAR webinar screenshot

Webinars and Webcasts

At the time of writing, we have completed the first three in the eight-part LiDAR processing webcast series. Each of these video recordings explores a different aspect of point cloud data management in Global Mapper. Click the link below to watch the first in the series and be sure to subscribe to the Blue Marble YouTube Channel to receive notification when each video is available.

 

May Geo-Challenge

Where in the World Geo-Challenge

Thank you to all who submitted an entry in April’s Where in the World Geo-Challenge. Over 95% correctly identified all five geographic features. Check out the answers here. The randomly drawn winner and the recipient of a copy of Global Mapper is Nicolas George. This month, another copy of Global Mapper is up for grabs so why not take the challenge?

 

See complete terms and conditions here.

 

BMUC presentation

Upcoming Events

Visit with Blue Marble at the following events:

2017 Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International XPONENTIAL | Dallas, TX | May 8 – 11

2017 Maine Municipal Technology Conference | South Portland, ME | May 11

2017 Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association Conference | Perth, AU | May 14 – 17

Spring Northeast Arc User Group Conference | Amherst, MA | May 15

Global Mapper and LiDAR Module Training | Denver, CO | May 16 – 18

Combined Global Mapper/LiDAR Module Training | Perth, Western Australia | May 18 – 19

GEO Business 2017 | London, UK | May 23 – 24

United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation Symposium | San Antonio, TX | June 4 – 7

EnerGIS | Canonsburg, PA | June 5 – 6

Commercial UAV Expo Europe | Brussels, Belgium | June 20 – 22

Blue Marble User Conference Amsterdam | Amsterdam, Netherlands | June 23

Got LiDAR? Now What?

LiDAR Extraction in Global Mapper
Using Global Mapper‘s Path Profile tool to precisely digitize the edge of a curb from terrestrial LiDAR data.

The availability of LiDAR data is expanding at a rate that is out-pacing the requisite knowledge and skills needed to effectively utilize the data. Sounds like a cart-before-the-horse analogy, to coin an idiom from a bygone era.

This conundrum first came to our attention a couple of years ago when, during a roundtable discussion at a GIS forum in one of our neighboring New England states, a local government official excitedly announced that her town had just received LiDAR (or leader, to use her exact pronunciation) from the state. She went on to confide that she wasn’t entirely sure what LiDAR was but evidently that did not dampen her excitement. Remarkably, several other forum delegates jumped on the bandwagon, to use another obsolete transportation-based analogy, and shared their enthusiasm at having received data for their town while eagerly awaiting instructions from the same state agency on what to do next.

In the months that followed, it became clear that LiDAR illiteracy is not unique to small-town New England. Many GIS agencies and departments in other states, provinces, and regions throughout the world, recognizing the increased accessibility of point cloud collection technology, have proactively embarked on massive data collection projects. As a means to justify the expense of these projects, the agencies will often provide the fruits of their endeavor to eager and yet uninformed constituents and office bearers.

The aforementioned municipal officials were certainly justified in their excitement; LiDAR data is contributing to a fundamental change in how we perceive our world. Traditional mapping practices have considered the planet from an inherently unrealistic, top-down perspective. With the emergence of 3D data formats, we are now able to develop a more realistic view allowing us to interact with our data in an immersive environment and providing the impetus for the development of new cartographic and analysis techniques.

What is LiDAR?

Let’s make one thing clear, in most circumstances, LiDAR data is not a product but a raw material. It is not an end in and of itself but rather a means to an end. A commodity, if you will. Before exploring some examples of the products that can be created from LiDAR, let’s put the brakes on (yes I know, another transportation metaphor) and consider the basic structure and characteristics of LiDAR data.

The basics of collecting LiDAR data from an airborne platform.Illustration by Chelsea Ellis

Natively, LiDAR (an acronym of Light Detection And Ranging) is a vector data format, or more specifically, it is a 3D point vector format. Each LiDAR file or dataset usually contains millions, or sometimes even billions of closely spaced, randomly distributed points, with the closeness of the spacing dependent on how the data was acquired. Most publicly available LiDAR data has been collected on an airborne platform using laser transmission and receiving technology in tandem with precise position and navigation systems. Each point is attributed with an X, Y, and Z value derived from the calculated time difference between the transmission and reception of a reflected laser pulse. An aircraft flying lower and slower will create a point cloud with more closely spaced points than one flying faster at a higher altitude. Depending on how the data was collected and/or processed, additional attributes might include, a color value, reflection intensity, and the number of returns per pulse, all of which can be visualized and analyzed.

What Can You Do With LiDAR Data?

Fully utilizing LiDAR usually involves some sort of transformation process. This transformation might involve the creation of a 3D raster surface, often referred to as a Digital Elevation Model (DEM), or it might entail the automatic creation or extraction of 3D vector objects derived from the geometric patterns in an array of points. Both of these procedures will be described in more detail later. It is also possible to derive meaningful information by simply changing how the point cloud is represented. The point display can show the distribution of the different surface-type classifications; the elevation of each point above ground; variations in the density of the points; and many other characteristics.

Editing and Filtering LiDAR Data

Almost without exception, LiDAR data files will include many more points than are needed for a particular project or task. In Global Mapper, there are numerous filtering options for removing points that are outside of the geographic extent of a project area; that are considered erroneous or noise points; or that are attributed with a surface-type classification that is not required. Before embarking on any point cloud filtering procedure, it is a good idea to scrutinize the metadata for the layer. This statistical summary will provide the necessary information about the characteristics of the point cloud to allow more informed decision-making in the filtering process.

Improving the Quality of LiDAR Data

As well as removing unrequired points, Global Mapper includes several built-in procedures for recovering points that would otherwise be discarded. The most common and most powerful application of this automatic classification process is the detection and subsequent reclassification of ground points among those that are unclassified. This procedure increases the relative percentage of points that can ultimately be employed in the creation of a DEM resulting in a higher-resolution terrain model.

Other automatic classification procedures include the detection and reclassification of buildings, trees, and utility cables, which is the first step in the feature extraction process.

Creating a Digital Elevation Model

In order to perform virtually all 3D analysis procedures, a LiDAR point cloud will need to be gridded. In this context, gridding describes the process whereby the value associated with each point in an array (typically an elevation value) is used as the basis for generating a solid 3D model. This model can either represent bare earth (a Digital Terrain Model) or an above-ground surface such as a forest canopy (a Digital Surface Model). The distinction between the two is derived from the filtering and selection of the points that are used to generate the surface.

For most LiDAR users, the primary objective is the generation of a DTM, which is the platform for a wide variety of terrain analysis workflows. Without straying too far off the prescribed path (yet another transportation reference), Global Mapper offers an extensive collection of terrain analysis tools, including volume calculation; cut and fill optimization; contour generation; watershed delineation; and line of sight analysis.

LiDAR data and DEM

Feature Extraction

The increased availability of higher density point cloud data has paved the way (OK, I’ll stop now) for a new LiDAR processing discipline. The analysis of patterns in the geometric structure of adjacent points can result in the delineation of building models, represented as three-dimensional polygons; power lines or above-ground utility cables, represented as three-dimensional lines; or tree points, derived from the collective structure of points classified as high vegetation. Global Mapper’s vector extraction tools also include a custom extraction option where 3D lines and polygons can be generated by following a series of profile views that are perpendicular to a predefined path. This tool can be used to create a precise three-dimensional model of any elongated structure, such as a curb along the edge of a street.

Next Steps

The impetus behind this article was to address some typical applications for LiDAR data without delving too deeply into the technical considerations or step-by-step instructions. That said, if you are sufficiently intrigued and are ready to move to the next level, you will need software in order to utilize your LiDAR data. Global Mapper has supported the import and display of LiDAR data since before the format became widely available and each subsequent release has introduced new functionality for effectively managing and processing the data.

Several years ago, Blue Marble introduced an optional module for Global Mapper to address the demand for ever more powerful LiDAR processing tools. If you are interested in the aforementioned automatic reclassification and extraction tools, you should certainly give the LiDAR Module a try.

If you are new to Global Mapper, both the base software and the LiDAR Module can be evaluated free of charge for two weeks.

Webinar Series: LiDAR Processing in Global Mapper

We are releasing a series of short webcasts exploring the use of LiDAR data in Global Mapper and the accompanying LiDAR Module. Beginning with an introduction to the structure and characteristics of LiDAR data, each video will be approximately 20-minutes in length and will cover a specific theme or topic. To receive notification of the availability of these and other Blue Marble video presentations, be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel or follow us on Twitter.

This is the first video of the LiDAR Processing in Global Mapper series:

 


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.

Blue Marble Monthly | April 2017

Introducing the New Monthly Newsletter from Blue Marble

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

Welcome to the first edition of Blue Marble’s monthly e-newsletter, a consolidated source of information covering the latest company news and happenings. Each month, we will share insights on product developments, user stories, upcoming events, and much more. We will also give you an opportunity to win a copy of Global Mapper by testing your geographic knowledge in the new Where in the World Geo-Challenge.

This month we begin with a major announcement about Blue Marble’s new free academic licensing program; we explore the use of Global Mapper for UAV operations; and we introduce the new GeoCalc Geodetic Registry.

Mountain imagery scan

Blue Marble academic licenses

Blue Marble Announces Free Academic Licensing

Beginning on May 1st, both Global Mapper and Geographic Calculator will be available at no cost for classroom teaching and hands-on lab instruction at colleges and universities throughout the U.S. and Canada. Announced in conjunction with the annual Association of American Geographers conference in Boston, this radical change to the company’s software licensing policy is designed to ensure students have access to the technology they will need to succeed in tomorrow’s geospatial workplace.

 

Drone flying over LiDAR imagery

Blue Marble at Work: Global Mapper for UAV Operations

It seems like everyone is talking about UAVs, or drones as they are frequently called. The use of this technology has made inroads into countless businesses and industries, from forensic analysis to farming. For many operators, the appeal of UAVs lies in the ease of remote data collection and increasingly, these UAV professionals are turning to Global Mapper for their data processing needs.

 

What's New in Global Mapper webinar screenshot

Webinars and Webcasts

Did you miss the recent What’s New in Global Mapper webinar? Not to worry, a recording of the presentation, along with all previous webinar and webcast recordings, is available.

 

This month, look out for a series of short videos focusing on the use of LiDAR in Global Mapper. Subscribe to the Blue Marble YouTube Channel and you will receive a notification when each video is available.

LiDARUSA case study imagery

Did You Know?

Geographic Calculator users can now update the application’s Datasource in real time using the new GeoCalc Geodetic Registry. Containing the foremost collection of coordinate reference system definitions, transformation algorithms, and other geodetic parameters, the Registry is frequently updated to reflect the latest EPSG registry.

 

April 2017 Geo-Challenge

Where in the World Geo-Challenge

Do you know the difference between Guinea and Guyana? What about Mauritania and Mauritius? If so, you might be ready to take the Where in the World Geo-Challenge. Simply identify five features or locations and if you are correct, you will be in the running to win a copy of Global Mapper v.18.1. Good luck!

 

See complete terms and conditions here.

 

BMUC presentation

2017 Blue Marble User Conferences

BMUC offers attendees an opportunity to gain insight into product plans; useful tips for software use; and networking.

 


UPCOMING EVENTS

Visit with Blue Marble at the following events:

2017 GIS-T Symposium | Phoenix, AZ | April 10 – 13

With over 80 presentations, 8 workshops, roundtable sessions, a map gallery, and the roll call of states, the GIS-T Symposium is a unique opportunity to share your experiences, challenges, and successes in using geospatial technologies and data in transportation.

2017 MSS Spring Conference | Linthicum Heights, MD | April 20 – 21

The Maryland Society of Surveyors is a professional organization with the mission of advancing the science of Surveying and Mapping in the furtherance of the public welfare and in the interests of both those who use maps and surveys and those who make them.

2017 Geospatial Summit | Silver Spring, MD | April 24 – 25

The 2017 Geospatial Summit will provide updated information about the planned modernization of the National Spatial Reference System (NSRS). Specifically, NGS plans to replace the North American Datum of 1983 (NAD 83) and the North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD 88) in 2022.

AUVSI XPONENTIAL | Dallas, TX | May 8 – 11

On May 8, 2017, the largest global community of leaders in drones, intelligent robotics and unmanned systems will come together to shape the future of our industry. If you’ve never attended AUVSI’s XPONENTIAL – this is the one year you don’t want to miss.

 

Global Mapper for UAV Operations

Flythrough in Global Mapper 18
For many UAV operators, the quest to find an affordable, easy-to-use, yet powerful data processing application has ultimately led them to Global Mapper.

As an inherently versatile and interoperable GIS application, Global Mapper has become an essential component of the geospatial toolkit for companies, government departments, and organizations of every imaginable size and type. While the software’s popularity in certain market segments can be directly attributed to a preemptive marketing strategy by Blue Marble, the same cannot be said of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) industry. Instead, the reason why many UAV operators found and embraced Global Mapper can be attributed to word-of-mouth recommendation from others in the field.

With the rapidly expanding use of UAVs for commercial data collection, a bourgeoning market has emerged for data processing software tailored to the needs of the needs of the UAV community. Consequently, many commercial and open-source software developers have jumped on the bandwagon and have begun the process of creating tools to address this demand. Global Mapper, on the other hand, has been around for almost two decades and has proven to be ideally suited to the requirements of the UAV industry. For many UAV operators, the quest to find an affordable, easy-to-use, yet powerful data processing application has ultimately led them to this remarkable application.

So what role does Global Mapper play in commercial UAV operations?

Mission Planning

High-resolution aerial imagery in Global Mapper
High-resolution aerial imagery and terrain layers can be accessed on-demand providing an initial three-dimensional visual context for a project area.

Global Mapper’s expansive streaming data service provides access to a wealth of invaluable map layers that form the foundation for the mission planning process. High-resolution aerial imagery and terrain layers can be accessed on-demand providing an initial three-dimensional visual context for a project area. Locally available vector files can also be overlaid to address concerns such as property ownership, regulatory issues, potential obstructions, and optimal takeoff and landing sites. Intuitive digitizing and drawing tools can be employed to delineate and measure the extent of the project area and supplementary attributes added to record the flight details in their spatial context. Finally, a high-quality project proposal map can be generated in georeferenced PDF or hardcopy format for sharing with a client or customer.

Imagery Processing

Image rectification in Global Mapper
The software offers a powerful image rectification tool for applying geographic intelligence to captured images by anchoring them to known coordinates.

For most UAV operators, the true value of Global Mapper comes to the fore after the mission has been flown. Transforming raw data into a viable commodity or finished product is Global Mapper’s forte, and image processing is a major part of that workflow. The software offers a powerful image rectification tool for applying geographic intelligence to captured images by anchoring them to known coordinates or manually placed control points. Multiple images can be mosaicked or stitched together to form one contiguous file and the overlapping images can be feathered to smooth the transition from one image to the next. Image manipulation options are also available including contrast, saturation, and transparency adjustment. For advanced users, a raster calculation function can be used to analyze the characteristics of multiband images using a predefined or custom formula, the most common of which is NDVI analysis for vegetation assessment using the red and near infrared bands.

Point Cloud Processing

Increasingly, UAV operators are generating 3D point cloud files during the data collection process. Traditionally this data, often generically referred to as LiDAR, has been collected using piloted aircraft at relatively high altitude resulting in lower density point coverage. As the raw material for terrain analysis or feature extraction, the quality of the final product is intrinsically linked to this point density, so UAV-derived point cloud files are typically superior to those derived from conventional LiDAR collection. Global Mapper, along with the optional LiDAR Module, offers an array of LiDAR processing tools for editing, cropping, and filtering the data. Noise points can be systematically flagged and removed and a vertical quality control process can be implemented to adjust the elevation values to surveyed control points.

LiDAR post processing in Global Mapper 18
Global Mapper, along with the optional LiDAR Module, offers an array of LiDAR processing tools for editing, cropping, and filtering the data.

Terrain Analysis

3D View and Gridding in Global Mapper
Using the LiDAR ground points, a simple gridding process transforms the XYZ values into a raster Digital Elevation Model — a three-dimensional representation of bare earth — in Global Mapper.

For most LiDAR or point cloud users, terrain analysis is the ultimate objective, a process that requires the non-ground points to be initially identified and filtered from the data. Using the remaining ground points, a simple gridding process transforms the XYZ values into a raster Digital Elevation Model: a three-dimensional representation of bare earth. Many of Global Mapper’s advanced analysis functions are derived from this gridded data, including watershed delineation, line of sight analysis, and view shed modeling. For UAV-collected data, one of the most powerful and commonly used terrain-based functions is volume calculation. Global Mapper offers a variety of tools for this purpose from simple pile volume calculation, derived from delineating the bounds of the pile or  depression, to the more complex cut-and-fill optimization process, in which the terrain is flattened to an elevation that equalizes the volume of material to be cut and filled.

Feature Extraction

The advent of UAV-collected, high-resolution point cloud data has led to a myriad of applications for the technology: from vegetation monitoring to archeology. To address the growing need to detect recognizable patterns within the data, several automatic reclassification tools have recently been integrated into the Global Mapper LiDAR Module. Points representing buildings, vegetation, and utility cables can be identified and reassigned to the appropriate LiDAR class. These reclassified points can then be used to extract or create 3D vector features (points, lines, or polygons) of the objects they represent. A manual extraction option is also available whereby custom lines or areas can be created using a series of cross-sectional views through a point cloud. Feature extraction can also be applied to imagery allowing patterns of pixel colors to be used as the basis for creating polygons.

Feature extraction in Global Mapper
Points representing buildings, vegetation, and utility cables can be identified and reassigned to the appropriate LiDAR class. In this screenshot, the Path Profile tool is being used to display power lines.

Data exporting and sharing

No spatial data processing workflow is complete without addressing the essential requirement for sharing the outcome or results and, once again, Global Mapper is well-equipped for this task. Any collected or created data layers, regardless of format, can be easily reprojected and converted to meet the needs of the client. Cartographic layout tools are available for designing printed maps or for generating geospatial PDFs representing the project site. Global Mapper can even create a 3D PDF allowing anyone with a PDF reader to render a three-dimensional model of any 3D data. For UAV applications, one of the most interesting project visualization options in Global Mapper is the creation of a 3D flythrough. Created from the flight path of the UAV and, if applicable, integrating a video recorded during the mission, the display will render the video while following the flight progress on the 2D map. Even without the availability of an accompanying video, the 3D flythrough can be simulated using any loaded terrain or point cloud data and the 3D line feature that is used as the basis for the fly-through visualization can even be exported as a GPX file for use in the UAV’s navigation system.

Flythrough in Global Mapper
Even without the availability of an accompanying video, the 3D flythrough can be simulated using any loaded terrain or point cloud data.

Global Mapper has become an essential application for many research organizations and pioneering companies in the professional UAV field. As Global Mapper continues its evolutionary development, these users will play a pivotal role in shaping the software’s functional makeup to ensure it is meeting the needs of the UAV community at large. If you are not currently using Global Mapper, why not download a free trial copy.


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.

Back in the Day Part I: Making Paper Maps from Scratch

Map making back in the dayIllustration by Chelsea Ellis
Back in the day, roads and other line features in gazetteers were often traced from source maps and scribed by hand using a variety of line weights and fills.

I left college with a degree in Fine Arts with a concentration in printmaking.

Yes, that’s right, printmaking.

Although I didn’t ever have to ask “do you want to supersize that?” I was somewhat concerned about what employment opportunities would be available to me in the real world with my specialized degree. In my last year at school in 1992, students were advised to pursue opportunities in this new-fangled computer graphics industry. I wasn’t convinced this was the wave of the future, so I settled with the commercial printing industry. I became a map technician for a well-known publisher of traditional atlases and gazetteers.

What’s a Gazetteer? A great question that seems funny today. Nowadays you can go online using your map service of choice (Google Earth, Bing, OpenStreetMaps) type in a place name or an address, adjust your scale and POOF! You can basically produce a map for almost any purpose with just a few mouse clicks.

Wikipedia defines a gazetteer as:

‘‘A geographical dictionary or directory used in conjunction with a map or atlas. They typically contain information concerning the geographical makeup, social statistics and physical features of a country, region, or continent. Content of a gazetteer can include a subject’s location, dimensions of peaks and waterways, population, GDP and literacy rate. This information is generally divided into topics with entries listed in alphabetical order.”

A good analogy might be: a gazetteer is to an atlas as attributes are to features in a GIS database.

Creating a gazetteer involves a fantastic amount of gathering source data, analysis and research, and many waves of mind-numbing proofreading. You need people with surgical attention to detail and an aversion to burnout to make a successful gazetteer. Fortunately, I wasn’t involved in the research or copy editing portions of the process. I was there to make the actual maps, and what fun that was.

Back in the day, roads and other line features were often traced from source maps and scribed by hand using a variety of line weights and fills. I was hired as a map technician, I think, mainly because of my mechanical drawing skills. In the hiring process, the publisher had me take a “scribe test” in which I used sample pieces of scribe coat and a scribe tool to produce lines for a map.

Scribe tool illustrationIllustration by Chelsea Ellis
The scribe tool has a sapphire tip that scrapes clean lines in the scribe coat for map features, essentially creating a negative from the scribe coat.

Scribe coat is a heavy film coated with a material that is easily scraped away using a specialized scribe tool. The scribe tool has a sapphire tip — a real gemstone — that is meant to be dragged along the scribe coat to scrape clean lines for map features, essentially creating a negative. It takes a certain touch to manually scribe: too heavy handed and a gouge could be made in the film underneath; too light handed and a clean line wouldn’t be rendered.

I must have done well in my scribe test, because for the next two months, I hand scribed all of the roads for the Maine state atlas in production and duplicated sheets for printing.

To create “dupes” of my sheets, I dutifully taped a protective cover of newsprint over each corner of the scribe coat sheet (one false move and a dropped sheet could ruin my day) and transported my work to the vacuum-frame room.

The vacuum frame, an essential part of any conventional mapmaker’s work, is an exposure machine that has a large bed fit with a heavy, hinged glass lid.

In the large bed of the vacuum frame, I would lay a sheet of blank, yellow duplication film emulsion side up, lay my work over the film, and close the glass lid. Turning the vacuum frame on, I would hear the vacuum remove the air in the bed, creating a close contact between the original scribe sheet and the duplication film. A timed UV exposure would then create a duplicate image by exposing all of the road lines I created with my scribe tool onto the yellow duplication film. After the dupe was “burned,” I would then run it through an ammonia processor that would transform the dupe film into a layer that would be used in the printing process.

Next … stripping layers into CMYK “flats” and the joy of negative corrections!

To be continued …


Kris Berglund

Kris Berglund is currently the Vice-President of Sales at Blue Marble Geographics and has been with the company for over fifteen years. Kris has been involved with digital mapping technology for over twenty years, and demonstrates a diverse level of experience in cartography, geomatics, technical sales & marketing and business development.

The Myth of Free GIS – A Lesson from Nelson

Car broken down
Like a car, GIS needs to be fueled and maintained to keep it running smoothly.

 

S everal years ago, while attending a small regional GIS conference, I happened to overhear a snippet of a conversation between two local government officials:

“How much did your town pay for its GIS?” asked the first. “Nothing. We got it for free” came the reply.

Much as I wanted to interject myself in the exchange, decorum prevailed and I was left to mull over how a functional spatial data management system can be established and maintained with no monetary outlay.

I was reminded of this experience early last year when my son turned 16 and, in what is apparently a rite of passage for today’s youth, informed me that he needed a car. Bear with me, there’s an analogy coming here. Several weeks scouring Craigslist eventually turned up a 2000 Hyundai for which the asking price was only a few hundred dollars. This inevitably led to the price verses cost discussion.

“While the purchase price might be within your budget,” I reasoned, “how much will it cost to keep it on the road? You have to consider insurance, fuel, maintenance, and the inevitable and unforeseen repairs that a well-used car will need.”

We bought the car anyway. More on that later.

In a similar vein, a GIS needs to be fueled and maintained to keep it running smoothly and while upfront cost savings might be appealing, the long-term productivity of the system needs continual investment. That’s right, investment.

According to Wikipedia, an investment is, “… an allocation of money (or sometimes another resource, such as time) in the expectation of some benefit in the future.”

GIS is, by its very nature, an investment in which the return on the initial and ongoing disbursement can be seen in many ways: increased productivity, improved efficiency, or in some cases, financial rewards from the sale of GIS derived products or services.

I have to assume that when the aforementioned conference delegates inferred that their GIS was free, they were factoring the initial price of the software and not any of the prerequisite or subsequent cost considerations. Had I decided to join their discussion, I would have suggested that they consider the bigger picture.

Hardware

While many GIS fundamentalists might argue that a functioning Geographic Information System can be developed without computing technology (location-based data management predates the advent of the personal computer by several centuries if not millennia), in today’s world, GIS is a computer-based discipline. Specific hardware requirements will vary depending on the volume of data and degree of processing required and there is a fairly consistent correlation between the capability of the hardware and the performance and efficiency of the system. For most applications, however, the requirements are relatively modest and in most cases, an off-the-shelf computer will suffice.

Software

GIS software runs the gamut from freeware to highly complex data processing applications costing tens of thousands of dollars. The decision on which level of investment to make will obviously depend on budgetary constraints but must also factor the value that the software provides. An assessment of the options must consider the minimum functional requirements, ease of use, and the support for appropriate data formats. More expensive software will typically offer more robust processing and analysis tools but these high-end functions are often not necessary or applicable to basic GIS workflow. In this light alone, it is entirely appropriate that the two officials whose conversation I overheard had selected an open-source alternative. Why pay a premium price for tools that you will never need.

Parcel data in Global Mapper
Working on parcel data in Blue Marble Geographics’ Global Mapper software.

Data

Over recent years, there has been a significant increase in the availability of public domain data, usually administered by government departments or agencies. High-resolution imagery, elevation data, vector files, and even LiDAR data are often readily accessible on public data archives or through online data portals. While these sources provide a solid foundation for many GIS projects and workflows, they seldom offer a complete data solution in a local, project-specific context. To bridge this data void, GIS administrators must have the wherewithal to collect or create the requisite layers for a specific situation. Furthermore, maintaining data currency and ensuring accuracy and quality is a time-consuming and often a financially burdensome process.

Staffing/Training

Application Specialist Katrina Schweikert leads a Global Mapper training class at the Blue Marble Geographics office in Hallowell, Maine.

Usually the single most expensive component of a GIS is the person or people that are required for the development and maintenance of the system; the human resources. Larger agencies or departments may be able to afford a dedicated GIS technician to perform the day-to-day GIS tasks however an organization with more modest means will usually have to depend on existing staff or may be forced to outsource certain GIS operations, which ultimately costs more. Training can also incur a considerable financial outlay especially when the software requires an extended period of instruction before it can be effectively used.

Support

In a perfect world, which conventional logic dictates, is an inherently unattainable fallacy, software never fails. In the real world, in which you and I reside, it does. The cost saving derived from open source software is a boon until the point at which something goes awry and without a structured support system, a project may come to an inglorious halt. At the other end of the GIS spectrum, annual maintenance fees that are designed to ensure the smooth operation of high-end software, usually add a considerable amount to the overall cost of the system; much like the cost of maintaining a car.

Ah yes, the car. In what would turn out to be the final eight months of its life, Nelson, as it was inexplicably christened, needed a new radiator, several hoses, and an exhaust overhaul. And in what may have been a prophetic attempt to convey its impending demise, the check engine light appeared just a few days before the Bureau of Motor Vehicles inspection service concluded that it would cost three times as much as the original price to maintain its roadworthy status.

Does this sound like your GIS?

When considering the implementation of a GIS, emphasis should be placed on the letter S in the acronym. The system is more than software and consequently, the cost of the system extends beyond the upfront price of the chosen application. Ultimately, a more important consideration should the value derived from the investment. Low-cost commercial GIS software such as Blue Marble’s Global Mapper maximize this value by balancing cost, functionality, and usability.


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.