Point of Beginning

Newsline: June 2011

May 23, 2011
Abbottabad Compound, 2005. Department of Defense


NGA Plays Critical Role in Bin Laden Raid

On Sunday, May 1, President Barack Obama announced the long hunt for one of the world’s most-wanted men was over--a U.S. operation in Pakistan had resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. But this operation may have never happened, much less been conducted successfully, if it wasn’t for the work of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).

According to a senior NGA analyst, who spoke to POB on condition of anonymity, the U.S. intelligence community did not know the exact location of bin Laden’s suspected hideout until the NGA was able to find it. “Geospatial [intelligence] really became a very significant part [of the mission] actually,” the analyst said, adding that the information the NGA produced was “certainly critical to the operation.”

Though the NGA had participated in the United States’ hunt for bin Laden for many years, the analyst said the agency most recently became involved in the late summer and early fall of 2010. At that time, the NGA took intelligence gathered from other agencies, including the CIA and National Security Agency, and began to search for the location where bin Laden was suspected to be hiding.

The NGA complemented its partner agencies’ work with geospatial intelligence that included imagery, analysis and modeling, using what the analyst describes as a “complex mix” of both commercial and proprietary technologies. With this work, the analyst said they were able to provide precision geo-coordinates for the facility. “We were able to take circumstantial evidence and help the decision makers make the most informed decisions with what we had available,” the analyst said. “When folks see something, they begin to believe it … they begin to understand it.”

Though the successful operation to find bin Laden was a significant milestone for both the United States and the NGA, the analyst said it’s merely a very public example of the geospatial intelligence work they do behind the scenes all the time. “It’s a great opportunity to get out in the open and show what we’re able to do,” the analyst said.

--By Karen M. Scally, Associate Editor for POB. She can be reached at scallyk@bnpmedia.com.

Survey Summit to Focus on Technology and Business

Esri and ACSM are gearing up for the inaugural Survey Summit July 7-11 at the San Diego Convention Center. The event is designed to help attendees learn successful business strategies from other surveying and mapping professionals as well as gain a clearer understanding of the challenges and opportunities presented by today’s cutting-edge technologies. Continuing education credits are offered for attending workshops and presentations, and numerous networking opportunities are available during the course of the event.

“This is the ACSM Annual Conference, but it’s been totally redesigned with very technical content on LiDAR, machine control, laser scanning, high accuracy mapping and GIS--all new, focused content,” said Brent Jones, PE, PLS, global marketing manager of survey, cadastre and engineering for Esri. “There is also a new concentration on the surveying business, such as business succession planning and other pertinent, timely topics. And we’ll have the right folks in the room to discuss the LightSquared GPS issue, as well.”

The event overlaps with the Esri Inter-national User Conference, which begins on Monday, July 11. For more information or to register, visit www.surveysummit.com.

Students Bring Acclaim to Surveying Museum

Two seventh-grade students from Palestine, Ill., were recently honored for a presentation on the surveying career of Abraham Lincoln. The students, Eric Holscher and Jacob Weaver, embarked on the project after Holscher visited the National Museum of Surveying in Springfield, Ill. Their presentation, which was titled “Surveying the Land of Lincoln,” won the Crawford County History Fair award in March.

The two received a superior ribbon from the Student Historian Program Regional Expo, as well as a superior ribbon from the Illinois History Expo. They also received a certificate of excellence from the Illinois War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission.

The presentation is on display at the National Museum of Surveying. For more information about the museum, visit www.surveyingmuseum.org.

ASTM Committee Approves New Data Exchange Standard

A subcommittee of ASTM International Committee E57 on 3D Imaging Systems approved a new data exchange standard in April. According to E57 committee members, the new standard--ASTM E2807, Specification for 3D Imaging Data Exchange, Version 1.0, which is under the jurisdiction of Subcommittee E57.04 on Data Interoperability--will provide a number of benefits to users of 3D imaging hardware and software.

“Currently, each hardware vendor uses a proprietary format for the files they produce,” said Fred Persi, president of Persi Consulting and an E57 member. “A standardized data exchange format would provide users with significantly greater flexibility in working with 3D point clouds than is currently possible. Doing so will lower costs and increase applications for 3D imaging, with commensurate benefits to industry and society.”

Lewis Graham, president and chief technology officer of GeoCue Corp. and director of the new ASPRS LiDAR Division, told POB the emergence of a standard for static laser scan data will provide the same “democratization” of data to that set of users as did LAS for the kinematic (mobile and aerial) laser scanning community. “Since the introduction of the LAS data standard approximately 10 years ago, we have moved from an incompatible mix of proprietary standards to a common data exchange format,” he said. “This has enabled a seamless interchange of scanning data among the wide spectrum of hardware and software vendors. It has also provided a means for ultimate end users of the data to be assured of receiving their deliverables in a format that enables rich exploitation of that data.”

Persi said industry adoption of the new ASTM standard will need to originate with the end users, who will have to encourage hardware vendors to support the standard. Graham said he believes this process could take some time. “The ASTM format is quite a bit more complex than is LAS, and thus we might see a longer adoption curve,” he said. However, he noted, “if it becomes ubiquitous, it can only help with streamlining the integration of often disparate technologies.”

Graham, who is also a member of the E57 committee, said that LAS will continue to be the format of choice for now because it is designed to represent platform-neutral, merged datasets. He noted that the ASTM and LAS formats are quite different and that these differences present some compatibility concerns. However, he is optimistic that good communication between the ASTM and LAS committees will help resolve these issues. “As we move to LAS 2.0 (the next major revision of the LAS standard), we will be examining ways in which we can either merge the standards or, more likely, make sure that we have an easy flow between the two,” Graham said.

Additional details about the new ASTM standard can be found at www.astm.org. More information about the LAS standard can be found at www.asprs.org.