Point of Beginning

Web Exclusive: Bridging the Geomatic Divide

January 29, 2009
Image courtesy of NOAA/NGS.


On December 3 and 4, 2008, geomatics manufacturers and the National Geodetic Survey (NGS) broke new ground for collaboration at the NGS-Geomatics Vendor Summit in Corbin, Va., when they merged two initiatives. The first was the NGS’s new Ten-Year Plan, which presents the mission and vision of NGS supported by strategies to achieve the stated objectives. These strategies include exploiting greater collaboration with manufacturers to reach users of the data, models and other resources published by NGS. The second initiative was the founding of the Technical Committee by the Geomatics Industry Association of America (GIAA), an association of manufacturers of geomatics products for the purpose of developing better information for users of geomatics products.

The December meeting, which was held at the NGS Corbin Training Center, represented the inaugural formal interaction between NGS and the manufacturers as a group. Director David Zilkoski (now retired) approached GIAA about organizing this meeting for the purpose of launching a continued dialog with the hope that it would benefit users of geomatics products. Though organized by GIAA in concert with ACSM, the meeting was open to non-association members, as well. Individuals from companies such as Leica, Magellan, Riegl, Sokkia, Topcon and Trimble attended as well as representatives of distributors of surveying equipment and user groups from private industry and government. Including NGS personnel, more than 40 people attended the meeting.

As an introductory event, the program was designed to explore ways in which NGS and manufacturers can collaborate in the future to enable better use and understanding of the products and services produced by NGS. To that end, NGS personnel made presentations on a variety of data and software products and service

Photo courtesy of NOAA/NGS.

The meeting began with opening comments from GIAA Chair Ben Mallen of Trimble, GIAA’s Executive Director Clark Mulligan and Technical Committee Chair Joseph Paiva. As the primary logistical organizer and supporter of the event, ACSM was a strong presence at the meeting. Executive Director Curt Sumner, speaking on behalf of users, expressed optimism for improving the understanding of the models, tools and data provided by NGS and encouraged the participants to view the work they did in this context.

Zilkoski then began the formal presentations with a description of the organization. He outlined the process that NGS followed in developing the newly minted (2008-2018) Ten-Year Plan and told the group that the meeting was a direct outcome of the changes sought by NGS in how it accomplishes its mission to define, maintain and provide access to the National Spatial Reference System to meet our nation’s economic, social and environmental needs and to be a world leader in geospatial activities, including the development and promotion of standards, specifications and guidelines. While the provision of “brass cap” monuments has been emblematic of NGS, the organization does far more today. Zilkoski pointed to a few examples, including OPUS, geoid models and RTN/RTK guidelines. These enable activities in surveying and mapping that, in turn, provide information of value to society in ways (such as flood mapping) that were not contemplated by President Thomas Jefferson, who authorized the founding of the Survey of the Coast that eventually became the NGS, or Ferdinand Hassler, the first superintendent of the U.S. Coast Survey.

“Integration of Future Geoid Models” was the title of a presentation by Dr. Yan Min Wang, a geodesist. He gave information on the next planned geoid model-a hybrid based on satellite and terrestrial gravimetry-to be called GEOID90. These improvements in the geoid models can be expected to continue as better understanding of the geoid is developed from the continuous flow of data. A significant portion of Wang’s talk was on the dangers of users of programs such as NADCON who rely on them to convert between datums because they assume that the converted heights are as accurate as the source heights that are input into these programs.

The NGS Corbin Training Center. Photo courtesy of NOAA/NGS.

Dr. Dru Smith presented a detailed view of the Ten-Year Plan and discussed how geodesy is evolving and how NGS is evolving with it. Bill Henning, who heads up NGS’s real-time kinematic program, discussed the proliferation of RTK and real time networks (RTN). He discussed the guidelines developed by NGS for the use of this technology and asked for continued contributions to develop and refine these networks further.

Joe Evjen discussed enhancements to OPUS including changes contemplated in the near future. He provided information on how the XML output feature can be harnessed by manufacturers to provide better information to customers. Further improvements being contemplated included eventual displacement of the current “blue-booking” process with a new process that is facilitated by current technology. This discussion, which included the movement away from traditional orders of accuracy, caused several attendees to point out the significant educational process that was needed to change the way in which contracts for surveying and mapping are specified.

Mike Aslaksen discussed airborne and ground-based LiDAR. He discussed procedures that NGS has developed and presented them to the manufacturers as the seed for potential standards. Dave Doyle, chief geodetic surveyor, presented “Datum Transformations,” in which he urged the manufacturers to eliminate one-button conversions between many datums, especially with no tutoring on the pitfalls of those processes and particularly without informing the user of the mathematical processes used by those routines. He urged wider use of the concept of metadata so that the history of coordinates that have been converted by software can be reviewed. He also asked the manufacturers to be cognizant of the needs of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and to be careful in providing their conversion systems to customers.

Dr. Gerry Mader discussed absolute antenna calibrations-how they used to be performed (relative to a standard antenna), how they are being done now and a planned schedule for doing them in the future. During a tour of the Corbin facilities, attendees were able to see the setup used by Dr. Mader’s team to make the field measurements.

The meeting ended with a favorable response from all concerned. Paiva asked some of the manufacturer representatives to take the lead in discussing some of the issues that seemed to deserve the highest priority, including how to involve more manufacturers in future meetings. Everyone involved promised to continue the dialog.

For more information about the NGS Ten-Year Plan as well as specific initiatives, such as the GRAV-D project, visit www.ngs.noaa.gov. GIAA’s Web site is at www.lpanet.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3305.


Special reporting by Joseph V.R. Paiva, PhD, PS, PE.