Vexcel Corporation, a global market leader in precision urban mapping products and services, has been commissioned by the US Navy to design a system to provide fully automated extraction of 3D urban models from data collected by commercial satellites and other imaging devices. The models will highlight precise placement of cultural features such as buildings, streets, and terrain characteristics, and will collectively provide a database that the Navy can use for mission planning and training. Automating manual processes currently used to generate such models, will reduce the associated production time from several weeks or months to days or even just a few hours, depending on the detail of the image. Vexcel was chosen based on its significant experience in 3D models and cultural feature databases, its existing extraction technology, as well as its proven track record in system design and implementation of multi-million dollar government projects.
With the successful completion of the system design and possible ensuing prototype, Vexcel anticipates that the Navy and other branches of the Department of Defense will seek to leverage the new technology to expand detailed map coverage of strategically important international venues as well domestic urban environments to support Homeland Security efforts.
In addition, the proposed system also has extraordinary commercial potential, according to Wolfgang Walcher, director of Vexcel's Mapping and GIS division. "Currently, prices of cultural feature databases are driven by the cost of labor, since the manual extraction process is extremely labor intensive, or by very expensive input data" notes Walcher. "Automating the process will significantly reduce the time, and hence the cost, of creating detailed and textured feature databases, making them available to a variety of potential commercial markets that could include urban and environmental planning, wireless planning, security applications, and commercial flight and drive simulation, to name but a few."
Though the heart of such a system is obviously reliable automated feature detection and extraction-a core competency for Vexcel-a key requirement for the system is the inclusion of built-in quality assessment tools to monitor the extraction process and analyze the results for reliability.
"The quality assessment tools will be the critical component to ensure an automated system with accurate and reliable results," said Walcher. "To truly and fully automate the process means little or no operator intervention when the system detects a feature that it considers suspect. This task is the real challenge of this project and will require the largest research effort."
Vexcel anticipates a six to eight-month design phase for the system, prior to a three-month "proof-of-concept" phase. Implementation and delivery of the system may require up to an additional two years.