Mapping Out the Winners

August 28, 2008
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Efficiency, ease of use, rapid acquisition and online organization underscore the 2008 MAPPS awards competition.

Fugro EarthData used high-resolution digital imagery to achieve a high level of detail and a broad radiometric range in its maps.


In only two years running, the Management Association for Private Photogrammetric Surveyors (MAPPS) Geospatial Products and Services Excellence Awards have become highly coveted in the geospatial profession. The competition, which was instituted to recognize the professionalism, value, integrity and achievement of MAPPS member and associate member firms in completed geospatial projects, is a highlight of the annual MAPPS Summer Conference. Submissions for both 2007 and 2008 have showcased the diversity of geospatial technology and capabilities that MAPPS members use to solve real-world problems for their clients.

This year’s awards were presented at the Sun Valley Resort in Idaho on July 22 by Robert Burtch, PS, CP, a professor in the Surveying Engineering Department at Michigan’s Ferris State University. Burtch served as the lead judge for the 2008 awards program.

“Private geospatial firms are collecting more data from many different types of sensors, and these projects illustrated how these companies have crafted processes and procedures to efficiently collect that data, manage the large volume of data through the production process and fuse it into a final deliverable for the client,” Burtch said regarding the complexity of the various submissions.

Fugro EarthData Inc. (www.fugroearthdata.com) was honored as the grand award winner in the competition. The Frederick, Md., aerial mapping and GIS firm was recognized for successfully implementing an innovative approach to mapping benthic (seafloor) habitats along the Texas Gulf Coast. This project also was the category winner among the remote sensing submissions.

MAPPS also presented awards to three additional geospatial firms for projects judged the most outstanding in their specific application categories. These winners were Intermap Technologies (www.intermap.com) for airborne and satellite data acquisition, Aero-Metric Inc. (www.aerometric.com) for photogrammetry/elevation data generation and Photo Science (www.photoscience.com) for GIS/IT implementation.

Intermap's IFSAR system allows ultralong lines for improved data acquisition rates.

To judge the entries, MAPPS assembled a panel of experts, each with long-standing involvement in the geospatial profession. Lead judge Burtch was assisted by Dr. Pamela Lawhead, associate professor at the University of Mississippi; Dr. Tom Lillesand, CP, emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Dennis Morgan, who retired from the Army Corps of Engineers; and Dr. Adrian Moore, vice president of research at the Reason Foundation, a non-profit, free-market think tank.

Grand Award

Fugro EarthData: Mapping a Vital Marine Resource in Texas

In 2007, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coastal Services Center (CSC) contracted Fugro EarthData to create benthic habitat maps to support the Texas Seagrass Monitoring Program. The goal of this project is to protect the shallow marine environment in the estuaries along the Texas Gulf Coast, a region that contributes billions of dollars to the state’s economy each year from tourism and fishing.

However, mapping underwater seagrass meadows is not an easy task. Previous attempts have focused on manually interpreting aerial photographs--a time-consuming technique that is subject to interpretive errors and thus has had limited success. Fugro EarthData joined the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas A&M University, The Alta Vista Co. and Avineon Inc. to develop and implement a mapping process that would yield greater efficiency and accuracy.

The mapping project, which covered 1,400 square miles of Texas coastal estuaries, involved three elements: high-resolution aerial mapping, object-oriented classification and quantitative accuracy assessment.

High-resolution digital imagery provides greater detail and a broader radiometric range compared to conventional aerial photography, thereby lending itself to automated classification. As anticipated, 1-meter imagery collected with a Leica ADS40 airborne digital sensor clearly revealed underwater features in the project area. To replace manual image classification techniques, the team used object-oriented classification, which categorizes images by objects or segments instead of individual pixels and thus provides a more accurate interpretation of high-resolution imagery.

Aero-Metric’s geospatial imagery played a key role in analyzing the Minneapolis I-35W bridge disaster.

During map production and final editing, the team used quantitative accuracy assessments (comparing the maps with reference information that was assumed to be correct) to eliminate the bias and inconsistency that often are introduced during manual photo interpretation. This semiautomated framework and a classification and regression tree (CART) analysis resulted in an overall map accuracy of 74 percent prior to manual editing and 89 percent afterward. Project participants were particularly impressed with the accuracy achieved prior to manual editing.

After reviewing the maps created in this project, Mark Finkbeiner, NOAA CSC’s benthic mapping project leader, said, “These data are of exceptional spatial detail and accuracy and are in many ways a flagship product for the Coastal Service Center’s benthic mapping efforts.”

Most important, however, was the fact that Fugro EarthData and its team had devised a practical workflow to map benthic habitats. In Texas, the maps created in this project will help scientists analyze the damage being done to the seagrasses and allow researchers to educate the public visually on preservation efforts.

In its submission, Fugro EarthData indicated that the semiautomated classification technique also can be applied to terrestrial projects. The firm has already begun using the new process on other projects.

Intermap Technologies: Increasing Airborne Data Acquisition Rates

For the second year in a row, Intermap Technologies of Englewood, Colo., took home a best-in-category award, this time in airborne and satellite data acquisition. Intermap was honored for developing a new technique that increases the rate of interferometric synthetic aperture radar (IFSAR) collection while maintaining accuracy.

As Intermap began its ambitious NEXTMap USA and NEXTMap Europe countrywide mapping programs, it looked for a method of improving the rate with which it collects airborne digital elevation data with 1-meter vertical and 2-meter horizontal accuracy. An IFSAR phenomenon called “squint” limits the straight-line distance that an aircraft can travel before having to disrupt the flight line to recalibrate the radar system. During recalibration, IFSAR aircraft typically make a series of turns before resuming the flight line, consuming a significant amount of time and fuel in the process.

Intermap determined that it could reduce the per-square-kilometer acquisition cost by 39 percent and vastly speed acquisition times by eliminating the recalibration and related turns. But the key was to accomplish this goal without sacrificing accuracy in the collected elevation data. After studying the problem, Intermap technicians successfully developed a new method of recalibrating the IFSAR system by reconfiguring the proprietary software used to control the radar. The computer now automatically recalibrates the radar while accounting for the factors affecting its look angle. This improved methodology allowed Intermap to increase its data acquisition rate by 43 percent while maintaining stringent accuracy standards.

As a result, Intermap has been collecting “ultralong” lines of up to 1,200 kilometers (746 miles) as a routine part of its IFSAR mapping programs since 2007. These long lines are limited only by the fuel capacity of the firm’s Learjet and have proved critical to the successful and timely acquisition of NEXTMap data.

Photo Science's Legislative Atlas provides a valuable resource for regulating the coastal and marine seascape.

Aero-Metric Inc.: Answering the Call through Geospatial Information

Less than 24 hours after the tragic Interstate 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis on Aug. 1, 2007, Aero-Metric had an aircraft in the air collecting imagery of the scene. The firm made the first delivery of more than 300 images about 12 hours later. By the time daily acquisitions were completed, Aero-Metric had provided the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) with oblique color aerial photography, large-scale color aerial mapping photography and airborne LiDAR data.

A longtime Aero-Metric client, MnDOT understood the value of up-to-date geospatial imagery and made the call for assistance within minutes of the incident. Aero-Metric answered the call by assembling a team that included HAS Images Inc. to handle rush film processing, Hummingbird Aviation to provide helicopter flight operations and MnDOT crews to manage ground control and terrestrial LiDAR collection.

The three data sets were welcome pieces of information to emergency response crews desperately trying to get a handle on the disaster and assisted search-and-recovery operations. In the weeks following the tragedy, the daily geospatial data provided by the Aero-Metric team continued to play key roles in site clearing, bridge replacement design, forensic applications and detour modeling.

The value of Aero-Metric’s work was summed up by Peter Jenkins, LS, MnDOT’s Photo Unit supervisor, who wrote, “I cannot impress upon the [MAPPS judging] committee enough the feeling of pride in my profession every time I delivered the daily photos to the Emergency Management Center. Everyone was excited to see the photos and would comment how wonderful they were. The credit belongs to Aero-Metric Inc. and staff.”

The MAPPS judges voted this effort by Aero-Metric to be the best photogrammetry/elevation data generation project in the competition.

Photo Science: Visualizing the Ocean Landscape

In the GIS/IT category, Photo Science’s St. Petersburg, Fla., office was recognized for developing what NOAA calls a “Legislative Atlas,” an ingenious new way of visualizing laws and regulations that impact the coastal and marine seascape. The online database prevents confusion that can arise from the complicated patchwork of jurisdictions that govern various parts of our oceans and coastal zones.

At the request of NOAA’s CSC, Photo Science created the Legislative Atlas by using geospatial technology to build spatial data layers representing the footprints of coastal and ocean regulations at the state level. NOAA now refers to these data layers as “georegulations.”

According to Nicholas J. Schmidt, chief of the NOAA Coastal Geospatial Services Division, Photo Science has “implemented an innovative methodology to catalog, characterize and prioritize state-level ocean legislation … and delivered 250 data layers, metadata records, thumbnail images and legislative summaries.”

The ultimate result is an online resource and mapping application that government officials and citizens can use to determine which state and federal regulations apply to specific areas in the vast oceans and coastal regions. Just as importantly, the Legislative Atlas has enabled NOAA to maximize its funding for producing georegulation data sets.

Recognizing Innovation

The 2008 project submissions encompassed a range of technologies and capabilities that promise to enhance the value of geospatial services in the future as well as improve client/owner satisfaction. Choosing the award winners was no easy task.

“In reviewing the submissions, our judges were most impressed with the level of innovation that MAPPS firms bring to their projects,” said John Palatiello, MAPPS executive director. “The award winners and runners-up are at the cutting edge of technology and expertise in the geospatial profession.”

Sidebar: Make Plans for 2009

Entry in the MAPPS 2009 Geospatial Products and Services Excellence Awards Competition will begin next spring. Award winners will be announced at the joint MAPPS/American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) conference in San Antonio, Texas, Nov. 14-19, 2009. For more information, visit www.mapps.org.

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