Is Global Mapper right for you? Take a look at the application’s top 10 features

Written by: Cíntia Miranda

Global Mapper is a robust GIS application that combines a comprehensive array of spatial data processing tools with access to an unparalleled variety of data formats at a genuinely affordable price — license cost begins at $549, a fraction of the cost of competing applications.  The latest release includes Remote Desktop Protocol or RDP-enabled licensing for professionals working remotely — a very appropriate tool when many of us are working from home lately.

Developed for both GIS professionals and map enthusiasts, Global Mapper has virtually everything you need in GIS software such as complete interoperability with exceptional data support, powerful data processing in an intuitive interface, extensive raster and vector capabilities, state-of-the-art 3D visualization and analysis, simple installation and setup, and unlimited technical support.  

If you’re searching for a robust and affordable GIS application, here are the top ten features of Global Mapper:

1. Built-in online data access with extensive format support

Global Mapper offers a surprisingly extensive collection of free online data sources available for streaming or download as well as the ability to add in custom data sources of your choosing. Providing support for virtually every known spatial file format as well as direct access to common spatial databases, the application can read, write, and analyze virtually any spatial data.

2. Terrain analysis and 3D data processing

Global Mapper’s analysis functions include view shed and line-of-sight modeling, watershed delineation, volume measurement with cut and fill optimization, customized gridding and terrain creation, contour generation, and much more.  This is an extensive set of data processing tools for a truly affordable application.

3. Advanced point cloud and lidar processing capabilities

The Lidar Module is an optional add-on to Global Mapper that provides advanced point cloud processing tools, including pixels-to-points for photogrammetric point cloud creation from overlapping drone/UAV images, automatic point cloud classification, feature extraction, terrain hydroflattening, and much more. 

4. Data sharing and map publishing tools

When the time comes to share map data, Global Mapper offers numerous options including eye-catching page layout and printing tools, geospatial PDF creation, and direct web publishing to MangoMap, an affordable and easy-to-use online map service. Global Mapper also offers advanced page design and layout tools, including multi-page map book creation.

Multi-layered maps can be published to an online MangoMap account directly from Global Mapper v21.

5. Scripting and batch processing

Global Mapper users can automate most routine data processing functions using simple, text-based scripts or the built-in Batch Processing tool. The scripting language is simple and intuitive with a straightforward command and parameter structure mirroring many of the multi-step procedures that can be performed within the interface.

6. Advanced Image Processing

Global Mapper includes a powerful set of tools for processing imagery or raster layers. The image rectification tool allows any image to be positioned, scaled, aligned, and spatially distorted to create a geographically accurate raster layer. The powerful vector extraction tool can be used to create polygons from a range of colors in a raster layer. Image tiling, mosaicking, blending, cropping, feathering, and visual manipulation options provide the means to adjust the display and characteristics of any raster data layer.

7. Feature label creation and management

Professionals working in cartography say that the format and layout of a well-designed map always need some level of human input. Vector labels in Global Mapper can be assigned to their own layers, which makes formatting, moving, rotating, and deleting individual labels much easier. 

Label formatting in Global Mapper makes producing high-quality maps easier and faster. The screenshot above shows the repositioning of individual labels in a label layer.

8. Digitizing and Vector Editing Tools

When it comes to creating or modifying vector data, Global Mapper’s Digitizer provides a vast array of functions. From simple point, line, and polygon creation to COGO for manual geometric input, the Digitizer has all of the tools you need to create and manage vector layers. Specialized tools are also available for creating a custom grid, buffers, range rings, or virtually any geometric object. Supplementing these drawing tools are a large collection of attribute management and data visualization tools for creating thematic representations of vector data.

9. The ability to record a fly-through path using the fly-mode and walk-mode in the 3D Viewer 

Global Mapper not only is able to record fly-through videos, but it also allows users to “draw” a fly-through path by recording their movements in fly-mode and walk-mode in the 3D Viewer. Since the fly-through feature in Global Mapper is an easy way to create videos of 3D data and terrain, it’s commonly used for real estate and property management, planning drone or UAV flight paths, or simply creating a compelling presentation of your GIS data to stakeholders.

Global Mapper users can “draw” a fly-through path by recording their movements in fly-mode and walk-mode in the 3D Viewer.

10. A free mobile version

Global Mapper Mobile is a free app for iOS and Android devices that offers field viewing and data collection. It displays any supported data from the desktop software, streamlines data collection, and efficiently transfers data into the desktop software.  A professional-grade application is also available for purchase from the Apple App and Google Play stores.

There’s much more to Global Mapper! If this list piqued your interest and you’d like to find out if Global Mapper is the right GIS application for you, download a 14-day free trial and request a demo today!

How Pixels to Points Works

By: Katrina Schweikert

The Pixels to Points tool in Global Mapper’s Lidar Module uses a process of Automated Aerial Triangulation to reconstruct the 3D scene present in overlapping images. This computationally intensive process may seem like magic, but it relies on basic concepts of vision and photogrammetry. Photogrammetry is the science of taking real-world measurements from photographs. Let’s pull back the curtain to reveal how this process works. 

What is Aerial Triangulation?

Based on photogrammetry techniques, the location, size, and shape of objects can be derived from photographs taken from different angles. By combining views from multiple images, the location of distinct parts of the image are triangulated in 3D space. This is similar to how depth perception works with two eyes; since the object in front of you is viewed from two slightly different angles, the brain can perceive how far away the object is.

Diagram of depth perception

In traditional photogrammetry with stereo-image pairs, the two angles of the image allow the photogrammetrist to measure objects in the image and determine their real world size. With automated techniques using many overlapping images, the entire 3-dimensional nature of the scene being photographed can be reconstructed. 

Photogrammetry measurement diagram

What are the steps in Automated Aerial Triangulation?

Automated Aerial Triangulation involves a number of steps to get from the original images to 3D point clouds, terrain models, textured 3D models, and orthoimages. The first step is to detect distinct features in each image, and then match those features across the adjacent images. The challenge is to automatically detect distinct features that may be at different scales and rotations in each of the images. 

Features detected in two images, with lines showing the matches found

After the features are tracked through the images, the initial reconstruction begins with a process called Structure from Motion (SfM). In the context of mapping technology, the structure of the 3D scene is revealed based on the motion of the camera. This process calculates the precise orientation of the cameras relative to each other and to the scene, and builds the basic surface structure of the scene. This is the point where the selected Analysis Method is applied. The Incremental Analysis Method starts with a set of the best matching photos, and incrementally adds the features from subsequent images into the scene to build the 3D reconstruction. This works well for drone-collected images collected over a large area in a grid pattern. The reconstruction will typically start somewhere near the center of the scene, and work outwards. The Global Method, by contrast, takes information from all of the images together and builds the scene all at once. This makes for a faster process, but it also requires a higher degree of overlap between adjacent images. This is recommended if the images are collected focusing on an object of interest, such as a building, especially when all of the images focus on that central area or object. The result of the Structure from Motion analysis is a sparse point cloud that builds the basic structure of the scene, and a set of precisely oriented cameras that show where and in what direction the images were taken relative to each other

Example of sparse point cloud with camera frustums

The final step of the Automated Aerial Triangulation process involves filling in additional details from each image that was calibrated as part of the scene. This process is called Multi-view Stereo. It involves calculating the depth of each part of the image (i.e. how far away it is from the camera), and then fusing those depth maps to keep the points that appear in multiple images. 

Depth map and confidence map based on overlap with other images

This process generates the final dense 3D point cloud. Based on the options selected, there may be further processing to convert the point cloud into a refined mesh surface (3D Model) that is photo-textured by projecting the images onto it. This option also produces the highest quality orthoimage, removing relief distortions based on the 3D mesh surface. 

What factors impact Automated Aerial Triangulation?

Lens Distortion

An important initial step in the Pixels to Points process is removing the lens distortion in the image. While the photograph may appear as a flat image capture of the target area to the untrained eye, most photographs contain some distortion, particularly towards the edge of the image, where you can see the effect of the curvature of the camera lens. Pixels to Points will remove distortion in the image based on the Camera Type setting. Most standard cameras need correction for the basic radial lens distortion in order to create an accurate 3D scene. The default camera type setting, ‘Pinhole Radial 3’, corrects for the radial lens distortion (using 3 factors). In some cases it might be beneficial to use the ‘Pinhole Brown 2’ camera model, which accounts for both radial distortion and tangential distortion, where the lens and sensor are not perfectly parallel. 

Image with distortion and processed undistorted imag

Some cameras have the ability to perform a calibration, which automatically removes distortion in the image. If the Pixels to Points tool detects from the image metadata that the images have been calibrated, it will switch to the ‘Pinhole’ camera model. If you know your images have already had the distortion removed either by the camera, or some other software, choose the ‘Pinhole’ camera model, which will not apply any additional distortion removal. The final two Camera Type options account for the more extreme distortion of Fisheye or Spherical lenses. Select these options if appropriate for your camera. 

Focal Length and Sensor Width

An important part of transferring the information in the image into a real world scale is knowing some basic camera and image information. The focal length and sensor width values allow for a basic calculation of how large objects are in the image, and thus how far away they are from the camera. What is calculated using these values is a ratio between a known real world size (the sensor width) and the pixel equivalent of that size in the image. This is a starting point for reconstructing the 3D scene. Focal Length information is typically stored in the image metadata. Global Mapper includes a database of sensor widths based on the camera model, however, you may be prompted for this value if your camera is not in the database. You can obtain this information from the device manufacturer. 

Image Position

The basic position of each camera is typically stored in the image metadata (EXIF tags). With a standard camera this location is derived from GPS, from which average horizontal accuracy is within a few meters. There are a few ways to improve the accuracy of the resulting data based on the desired accuracy, and decisions about cost vs. time spent. 

Height Correction

The GPS sensors contained in most cameras may have sufficient horizontal accuracy for some applications. However, the corresponding height values are usually less accurate and are based on an ellipsoidal height model. A basic height correction can be performed using the options for Relative Altitude. This will anchor the output heights based on the ground height where the drone took off (the height of the ground in the first image). You can enter a specific value, or Global Mapper can automatically derive the value from loaded terrain data or online references (USGS NED or SRTM). 

Ground Control Points

One way to correct the position of the output data is through the use of Ground Control Points. This is a set of surveyed points with known X,Y,Z locations that should be evenly distributed throughout the scene. The measured ground control point locations need to be visually identifiable throughout the corresponding images, so it’s common to use a set of crosshairs or targets placed on the ground throughout the collection area before the images are captured.

 

Ground Control Points can be loaded into the Pixels to Points tool and the corresponding locations identified in multiple input images. This will align the scene based on the control points taking precedence over the camera positions. This procedure is a more time-intensive option, but is streamlined through a process whereby the images containing each point are highlighted, It is also possible to use Ground Control Points after the output files have been generated. Global Mapper provides various tools for this, including 3D rectification and the Lidar QC tool, which can also provide accuracy assessment information. 

RTK and PPK Positioning

Hardware manufacturers provide options for improving the accuracy of the positional information by communicating with a reference base station in addition to satellites, and by performing additional corrections based on available information at the time of the image collection. This includes both Real-Time Kinematic and Post-Processing Kinematic options. With some systems, higher accuracy positioning information is written into image metadata, which can be used directly in the Pixels to Points tool. Other systems may save the higher accuracy positions in a text file, in which case you will want to load your images into the Pixels to Points tool and use the option to Load Image Positions from External File

 

Understanding the variables and data requirements for the Pixels to Points tool and other SfM processes will help you to collect images better suited for processing. In turn, this will create higher quality results for further geospatial analysis.

The latest version of the Global Mapper Lidar Module includes several enhancements, many of which apply to the Pixels to Points tool for generating point clouds and 3D meshes from drone-captured images. If this blog piqued your interest and you’d like to find out if the Lidar Module of Global Mapper is the right application for you, download a 14-day free trial and request a demo today!

Try before you buy: Blue Marble Geographics trial licenses

Written by: Rachael Landry

Blue Marble Geographics offers trial licenses for both Global Mapper and Geographic Calculator to give you a chance to evaluate the products and to be sure that what you are purchasing meets your needs. There are two easy ways to receive a trial license for each product. 

The most popular way to access a trial license is through the website, which can be done by following these directions:

  1. Begin by visiting the website and logging into your Blue Marble account. 
    1. If you don’t have an account, make one before proceeding 
    2. If you can’t remember your password, you can reset it here 
  2. Once you have logged into your account, navigate to the download page
    1. For Global Mapper, click here
    2. For Geographic Calculator, click here 
  3. Select the product you want to try and download it
  4. Once the download is complete, install the software and a registration dialog box will appear
  5. Enter your Blue Marble Geographics account information and click the Next button
  6. Select the Trial license type. 
  7. Select any additional products for which you would like to request a trial license, such as the Lidar Module
  8. Press Continue to activate the trial license. 

The second way to receive a trial license is via email, using offline activation. Although you will still need to download the software, you can email authorize@bluemarblegeo.com to request the actual license file. The licensing team will help walk you through the activation process.  

If you have any questions about obtaining a trial license, please email authorize@bluemarblegeo.com

Geographic Calculator 2020 is here and it’s RDP-enabled

Written by: Kris Berglund and Cíntia Miranda

Since the advent of GPS technology in the 1980s, people have been using GPS receivers to collect ground control points.  Ideally, these ground control points secure a proper horizontal location on the surface of the Earth as well as a height.  Most GPS receivers record points referenced in a geographic coordinate system, most likely World Geodetic System (WGS84). Geographic Calculator allows GIS professionals to load data points that were collected in the field to perform complex mathematical conversions to nearly any known coordinate system to make sure their transformations are accurate.

Geographic Calculator is a powerful geodetic application with particular strength in survey, seismic, and energy exploration. In addition to a single point, point database, and file conversion tools, this highly accurate transformation software includes many specialized tools such as Canadian DLS (Dominion Land Survey) Land Grid tools, Seismic Survey Conversion tools, Area of Use tools for guiding users to the most appropriate transformation settings for a specific location, Horizontal Time-Dependent Positioning (HTDP), Geoid Creation tools, and much more. Additionally, Geographic Calculator supports a wide range of file formats and is built on the foundation of the largest geodetic parameter database available anywhere. Finally, there are a number of powerful administrative tools for managing and customizing that database.

US Geoid Model in Geographic Calculator

The 2020 version of Geographic Calculator comes with many new features and improvements, including a new Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP)-enabled Single-User Floating license option for customers who need to access Geographic Calculator from another computer.  Other important features are new magnetic declination models including World Magnetic Model 2020 and IGRF13 as well as support for converting lidar using local best-fit engineering coordinate systems.  There is also a new early-bound coordinate system function for allowing a coordinate system to be paired with a datum transformation to streamline business rules on commonly used transformations. This release includes expanded Enterprise Datasource management to streamline updates in an enterprise-wide deployment with an automatic update function to keep users in sync and it introduces support for Geoid 18 for the United States.

Since 1993, Geographic Calculator has been the coordinate conversion tool of choice for GIS and survey professionals around the world. The software quickly grew in popularity over that first decade and has maintained its reputation as the best coordinate conversion solution on the market. Geographic Calculator has come a long way since then with many improvements over the years. 

When transformations have to be correct, consistent, and certifiable, GIS professionals around the world choose Geographic Calculator. Learn more about Geographic Calculator and request a free 7-day trial today!

What is an SDK? Using the Global Mapper SDK in third-party software and extensions

“SDK” stands for Software Development Kit. It’s an installable package of software development tools that enables programmers and engineers to create applications and extensions. In other words, software developers use SDKs like car mechanics use car parts. Mechanics don’t reinvent the brakes, axle, or transmission when they build a car. They buy the parts and put the car together.

When software developers want to add a certain functionality to their application, they don’t necessarily need to build everything from scratch. Instead, they might be able to use an SDK that offers the functionality they need. To make development easier and faster, SDKs are often packaged with other programs for translating code, testing, and debugging.

Blue Marble Geographics® offers SDKs that include the functionality of most of its GIS and geodetics applications to assist developers with their projects. In this blog entry, we’ll take a look at two user-case examples involving the Global Mapper® SDK: one in which the kit was used within the third-party software WindSim; and another in which a custom Global Mapper extension was created for BGC Engineering’s cloud-based platform.

But first, a little information on Global Mapper

Global Mapper is Blue Marble’s all-in-one geographic information system (GIS) software. It is designed for analyzing geographic information, making maps, visualizing 3D and point cloud data, generating and editing digital terrain models, and managing other geographic information. It’s used in a broad range of industries — ranging from military and defense to natural resources management — for countless purposes.

With every release of Blue Marble desktop software, there is an update to the accompanying SDK. The latest releases of the Global Mapper SDK and LiDAR Module® SDK, for example, incorporate several enhancements from the recent version 21 releases. A major addition to the LiDAR Module SDK is the ability to leverage the LiDAR Module’s photogrammetric tool — Pixels to Points® — for generating point clouds from drone or UAV images.

So, as you can imagine, the Blue Marble SDKs allow for infinite possibilities.


3D model of the wind conditions of an area
This illustration displays the wind speed over an area of turbines. The red colored wind turbines produce the highest amount of energy. The yellow and white turbines produce only half of that energy.

WindSim: Extracting elevation and vegetation data with the Global Mapper SDK

WindSim is a wind energy software that uses computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to optimize the placement of wind turbines for maximum energy production and profitability. The application provides a fast and easy way to simulate and assess the local wind conditions of prospective sites for wind-energy development.

3D model for calculating wind conditions
To determine local wind conditions, WindSim uses CFD and 3D numerical models that have been discretized into millions of cells. Behind these 3D models is the elevation and vegetation data that has been extracted using the Global Mapper SDK.

Topography plays an important role in determining the position of a turbine. A difference of only a few hundred meters in positioning can have a significant impact on a turbine’s energy production. In order to calculate local wind or “flow” conditions for any given location, WindSim needed the ability to extract global terrain and vegetation data. This functionality was added to WindSim with the Global Mapper SDK.

“Within the wind energy sector, knowledge about the local wind conditions are particularly valuable,” said Dr. Arne R. Gravdahl, CTO and Founder of WindSim. “The success of WindSim Express relies on the easy extraction of terrain data globally.”

Learn more about WindSim at windsim.com.


BGC Engineering: Creating an extension for Global Mapper to export maps

BGC Engineering Inc. (BGC) is an international consulting firm that developed the mixed-reality software system The Ada Platform™ (Ada) for the holographic visualization of applied earth science engineering data.

Viewing 3D holograms in the HoloLens
By viewing 3D holograms in the HoloLens, both technical and non-technical stakeholders can see, interact with, and collaborate on complex applied earth science data.

Ada is cutting edge technology that uses the Global Mapper SDK in a button extension for exporting files from the Global Mapper desktop software. The extension prepares the data for use in Ada’s cloud-based platform. Users can simply drag and drop these files into the tool to quickly share tabletop maps as 3D holograms.

“[The SDK] allows users to access unprecedented viewing capabilities that add considerable value to the high-quality GIS data that Global Mapper provides,” said Keith Lay, Digital Marketing Manager at BGC Engineering Inc. “By viewing this data on the HoloLens, both technical and non-technical stakeholders can view, interact with, and collaborate on complex applied earth science data as never before.”

Dragging and dropping files into The Ada Platform
After GIS files have been packaged and exported using a custom button by BGC Engineering, they can be dragged and dropped into The Ada Platform to share maps as 3D holograms.

Learn more about BGC Engineering’s mixed-reality software system The Ada Platform here: adaplatform.io

SDK updates with each Blue Marble software release

As Blue Marble Geographics’ products grow more sophisticated with every release, so do the possibilities for its development customers who are working on geospatial technology.

To learn more about the GIS and geodetics SDKs that Blue Marble Geographics offers, visit bluemarblegeo.com.

Volunteer Spotlight: Operations Manager Danielle Caron

In a world that is packed full of things, places, and events it can be hard to make time to give back to your community. For the last two years, Blue Marble has given employees the opportunity to donate their time to Good Shepherd food bank a few times a year during the work day, making it easier to give back to the local community in a meaningful way.

Blue Marble’s Operations Manager Danielle Caron volunteers her time as a den leader for a local Boys Scout group.

However, Blue Marble has some employees who make the time to volunteer outside of work, and this month’s newsletter has a new feature: Volunteer Spotlight. This month we are highlighting the achievements of Danielle Caron.

Danielle Caron has been part of the Blue Marble team for the last 11 years and is the Operations Manager for the company. If you are visiting the BMG headquarters, you are likely to see her touching base with employees and making sure everything is running smoothly. Outside of work, Danielle has been a Den Leader with a local chapter of the Boy Scouts of America for the last four years. This was not a role she originally saw herself taking on, but when her son was not interested in playing sports the Boy Scouts offered an excellent alternative for him and for her.

Danielle transitioned into the role of Den Leader shortly after her son joined. Over the last four years, she has worked with her Scouts to learn basic household repair, create a grocery budget, as well as going camping and learning to build a fire.

In Scouting, boys and girls start with their best right now selves and grow into their very best future selves. It’s fun, hands-on learning and achievement that puts kids in the middle of the action and prepares them for today – and for life – Boy Scouts of America.

Being a den leader offers Danielle new challenges year after year. “I didn’t volunteer because it was easy. I wanted to really help and it was challenging to dive into a well known long-time established organization like this with 14 ten-year- old boys. Oh, of course the opportunity to enrich children’s lives and see my son grow blah blah blah.” She says with a laugh.

Danielle Caron stands to the left with her Boys Scout group.

If you are interested in supporting the Boy Scouts look out for the famous Popcorn fundraiser that is held every year. Or you can donate through the link below:
https://donations.scouting.org/#/national/

Danielle is quick to point out that with official approval, “The best donation is your time. Cub scouts are always looking for people to teach new skills, lead adventures, be a den leader, charter a troop at your office or support a scout directly. Get involved with the kids. At any level every chance you get. They are our future employees, family members, leaders and inventors. It can be a lot of fun.”

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

Where in the World Geo-Challenge – April 2019

View the form at Google Forms >