Mapping New Solutions

January 1, 2010
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A digital elevation model from theMerrick & Co. project. The model showsall LiDAR returns.


The third annual Geospatial Products and Services Excellence Awards presented by MAPPS, the national association of geospatial firms, highlighted the progressive use of geospatial technology to fulfill the requests of government, nonprofit and commercial clients as well as the technology innovations that contribute to the hardware, software, products and services that enable geospatial data.

Merrick & Co. was honored for the Project of the Year for “Levee Recertification Using Geospatial Technologies.” The project, which also won in the photogrammetry/elevation data generation category, used aerial LiDAR technology and an advanced hydrographic survey to generate valuable elevation data for the City of Wichita, Kansas. Four additional winners were named in specific technical categories: Intermap Technologies in airborne and satellite data acquisition; Photo Science in GIS/IT; Kappa Mapping Inc. in small projects; and Optech Inc. in technology innovation.

The awards were presented at the MAPPS/ASPRS Joint Specialty Conference in San Antonio, Texas, on Nov. 18 by Robert Burtch, PS, CP, a professor in the surveying engineering department at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich., who served as chairman of the panel of judges. The judges for this year’s contest included Dr. Pamela Lawhead, associate professor at The University of Mississippi; Dennis Morgan, CP, retired U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Dr. Adrian Moore, an economist at the Reason Foundation; and POB Editor Christine L. Grahl.

“Once again, MAPPS member firms have demonstrated the professionalism, innovation and societal benefit that the private geospatial community provides to enhance our quality of life,” said MAPPS Executive Director John Palatiello. “Day in and day out, MAPPS member firms are providing quality services, data and technology products. The Excellence Awards are but one reminder of the valuable service our members perform.”

A bare-earthdigital elevation model from the project.

Project of the Year: Photogrammetry/Elevation Data Generation

Merrick & Co.: Levee Recertification Using Geospatial Technologies


Wichita, located at the junction of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas river valleys in south central Kansas, has a population of 350,000 with an additional 100,000 residents living in surrounding Sedgwick County. The area is flat and interwoven with canals that move water during baseflows and periods of flooding. Supporting these canals are 97 miles of levees that cut across the city from north to south. These levees, built in the 1950s as part of the Wichita-Valley Center Flood Control Project, provide almost half a million residents with millions of dollars of flood protection from the excess water flows of the Arkansas River, the Little Arkansas River, area creeks and the 18-mile-long man-made channel known locally as the “Big Ditch.”

In 2008, the City of Wichita embarked on a project to recertify its levees. Topographic data were needed for levee assessments. The city decided that LiDAR technology would provide the high-fidelity elevation data needed to substantiate the recertification process by more accurately defining the watershed boundaries. Merrick & Co. was chosen as the prime consultant for the project.

The Merrick team collected more than 1,000 square miles of LiDAR and digital aerial imagery focusing on a 33-mile stretch of the Arkansas River that consisted of levees, floodways, improved channels and control structures. To meet the parameters of levee recertification as well as address stormwater issues and continued urban growth, the firm collected LiDAR data at a 2-foot ground sample distance (GSD) in a 390-square-mile subset for the larger Wichita area and a 5-foot GSD for the rural area.

Co-mounting the LiDAR and aerial photography sensors in one aircraft reduced aircraft mobilizations and associated costs. The team also developed and implemented an ESRI ArcHydro geodatabase model to create a common GIS framework for storing stormwater data−a resource that will provide ongoing value to the client. The model was created to be a dynamic representation of the stormwater system and, as such, can be updated with current conditions as development or other changes that influence the flow of water occur. Merrick plans to implement the 44-step process used to develop the geodatabase on future projects.

The combined use of LiDAR and the ArcHydro geodatabase custom-processing approach decreased the amount of data collection time required and provided an enormous amount of data at a lower cost compared to survey ground crews. The project sets a standard for accurately and scientifically substantiating engineering decisions for other levee recertifications.

Data for this DSM, DTM and ORI wereobtained from Intermap Technologies’NEXTMap Europe.

Airborne and Satellite Data Acquisition

Intermap Technologies: NEXTMap Europe

In July 2008, Intermap Technologies completed a two-year effort to collect uniformly accurate digital elevation data of Western Europe. The NEXTMap Europe program generated datasets at a high level of precision and detail, including 3D digital terrain models (DTMs) and digital surface models (DSMs) containing more than 80 billion elevation measurements. Orthorectified radar images (ORIs) of the entire database contain 1.3 trillion pixels. Each square kilometer of data is at the same 1-meter root mean square error (RMSE) vertical accuracy and 5-meter posting grid.

Intermap collected NEXTMap Europe elevation data with its proprietary interferometric synthetic aperture radar (IFSAR) technology mounted on aircraft (primarily Learjets) that fly precisely straight lines. Flying at altitudes of 30,000 feet at 750 kilometers per hour (466 mph), the platforms collected up to 4,000 square kilometers of data per hour. About halfway through the data collection process, the company developed an improvement to its radar that extended its flight lines from 400 kilometers (250 miles) to 1,200 kilometers (750 miles). These ultralong lines, as the methodology was called, were possible because Intermap’s engineers developed a way to recalibrate the IFSAR antennae midflight without having to take the radar offline. The methodology increased the percentage of the flight that the radar was online from around 30 percent to 80 percent and considerably reduced the amount of time required to finish data collection.

The resulting database will enable a number of applications from a variety of different markets, including engineering planning, water resource management, carbon emission reduction and environmental management.

GIS/IT

Photo Science: Spatial Data Interoperability at the Florida Department of Transportation


The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is a developer and consumer of geospatial data in both computer-aided drafting and design (CADD) and GIS environments. Other departmentwide datasets also reside in enterprise databases managed by the central office. Accessing these data within a geospatial environment is important to district-level end-users.

The Photo Science project increasedinteroperability between CADD andGIS data.

FDOT, District Seven, worked with Photo Science to create departmentwide CADD/GIS interoperability capabilities. Photo Science developed a geodatabase that included components of the ESRI Transportation Data Model, the Florida Department of Revenue Cadastral Parcel Data Model and FDOT’s CADD data standards. Additionally, the firm developed a CADD interoperability application (CIA) that retrieves and posts CADD features to the geodatabase daily as a Microsoft Windows console application. The CIA includes an exact-transform-load model that maps CADD features to data layers and tables in the geodatabase. FDOT staff and contractors can access these data through an intuitive interface deployed through a simple Web browser.

The GIS/CADD interoperability solution unlocked FDOT’s multimillion dollar investment in CADD design data, which are now readily available to support the department’s mission.

The KAPPA Mapping project used digitalmapping camera technology to providetrue-color, high-accuracy vernal pool maps.

Small Projects

KAPPA Mapping Inc.: Color Infrared Imagery Makes Accurate Vernal Pool Mapping Possible in Bar Harbor, Maine

In a resort town where development plans are equally welcomed and reviled, accurate mapping of natural areas that might need protection is important. In 2008, Bar Harbor, Maine, retained KAPPA Mapping to provide color infrared (CIR) imagery and technical support for vernal pool mapping by Stantec, the firm providing wetlands consulting. The town also wanted true-color imagery to complement its existing GIS.

KAPPA used an Intergraph Digital Mapping Camera (DMC) to capture multiple bands of imagery (panchromatic, natural color and color infrared) simultaneously. A traditional film-based camera would have required a separate flight for each imagery type. The technology also integrates airborne GPS, which greatly reduces the ground control requirements for high-accuracy mapping. 

Using the DMC technology, the firm collected 116 images spanning five flight lines; these images were orthorectified, radiometrically enhanced and mosaicked into a townwide composite. The composite was then tiled based on the town’s tax map layout. Both imagery sets were provided at 1-foot pixel resolution in TIF format and MrSID format. Overviews were also provided to better integrate into the town’s assessment software. KAPPA delivered orthophotography in each format to the town and provided a summit evolution setup and stereo repairs made from the raw CIR images to the town’s environmental consultant. These CIR stereo repairs were used by wetlands specialists to identify and delineate significant vernal pools within the community.

KAPPA Mapping’s success with the DMC and the parallel workflows between KAPPA and Stantec in accomplishing this “two-for-one” mapping project demonstrated the efficiencies afforded by the DMC technology. The images were made available online through the town’s Web site, and the town also provided the Maine Office of GIS (MEGIS) with the updated imagery for inclusion on the MEGIS Web server.

A vegetative point cloud of a power line corridor capturedwith the ALTM Orion.

Technology Innovation

Optech Inc.: New Product Introduction in Hardware: ALTM Orion


Historically, the commercial surveying market has been the main driver in the evolution of LiDAR technology. Higher operational altitudes, larger swath coverage and faster data collection rates have enabled commercial surveying companies to greatly reduce operational costs and increase efficiency. This evolution, however, was not necessarily focused on decreased volumes, mass and power consumption given that LiDAR systems are typically operated in manned aircraft capable of handling larger, heavier systems.

Military forces have deployed a number of commercially available airborne LiDAR systems for use in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) applications to enable enhanced situational awareness of troops operating in urban environments. Because unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) platforms are a more efficient, cost-effective and safer approach, interest in deploying LiDAR instruments in UAVs has grown. However, the relative size and power requirements of many ISR instruments made UAV deployment prohibitive.

Optech Inc. set out to manufacture an ultracompact full-system LiDAR design that would enable UAV and small-platform deployment. The primary program objective was to design a 1-cubic-foot full-system airborne LiDAR sensor under 60 pounds mass that consumed less than 600 watts of power.

The resulting ALTM Orion meets these goals. The technology relies on a monostatic coaxial optical design that enables the transmitter and receiver to share the same optical path. This leads to a high degree of compactness, which is also enhanced by the use of an internally integrated and very compact laser capable of pulsing up to 200 kHz. Due to the high signal dynamic range of the receiver, the system is capable of ranging with high accuracy from 2.5 kilometers above ground level (AGL) and also from 150 meters AGL to targets with varying reflectivity without any degradation to range accuracy. The technology provides an immediate benefit to the military. As the Orion moves from prototype into commercial production, the technological innovation that went into it is expected to benefit the commercial surveying profession. 

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