Geospatial technology has followed a fascinating path to get where it is today, and the rate at which change is continuing is equally impressive. A primary reason for its rapid growth is our willingness to adapt old technologies into new game-changing tools. For example, the science behind LiDAR has been around for decades, but it wasn’t until user-friendly applications were developed that its use really took off. Now oblique imagery and 3D mapping are following in the footsteps of LiDAR.

At the MAPPS Winter Conference held in La Jolla, Calif., in February, Armando Guevara, president and CEO of Visual Intelligence, shared his thoughts about where oblique and 3D mapping are headed and identified some of the key developments leading up to our current situation. Visual Intelligence is the developer of iOne STKA technology that provides the affordable iOne multi-purpose digital sensor system solution platform with modular and scalable hardware and software to collect and process metric-quality oblique and nadir imagery.

“The emphasis in the geospatial community has shifted from collecting data, to extracting information, to delivering knowledge that supports decision making,” Guevara said. “In the 1970s, we experienced the transition from paper to digital maps, and automating maps was in its infancy. Throughout the 1980s, there was a move from individual files to databases, and a new awareness of raster vs. vector and spatial vs. non-spatial, all of which improved our ability to manipulate and analyze data. And the 1990s were all about spatially enabled digital information systems. Finally, in the years 2000-2010 the industry was turned upside down by Google Earth, BING, Yahoo Maps and social networks. Everyone recognized the importance of location-based information, and everyone wanted more of it. Now we are in a development phase where autonomous intelligent decision-assisting systems and spatially enabled machines are going to be available in the near future.”

“We moved from a geocentric paradigm to an information-centric one,” continued Guevara. “This was made possible by the convergence of miniaturization of electronics, digitization of data, and the push for integration and interoperability. Integration of robotics with 3D capabilities will be the most disruptive in IT history, including the proliferation of context-aware, intelligent personal assistants, ‘smart’ advisors, advanced global industrial systems, and autonomous vehicles.”

Oblique imagery and 3D models are key in the development of an intelligent machine that requires a high level of detail about its surroundings on which to base decisions. In contrast to vertical images, obliques provide complementary information on building heights, appearance of facades and measurable as well as recognizable features. Oblique cameras can also be used to measure and image the inside of buildings. With oblique images and the appropriate software, “close range photogrammetry” can accurately recreate an interior 3D model. Aerial triangulation techniques can also be used to build these models from the oblique imagery via image correlation, point clouds and other data.

Oblique aerial images of urban regions have become increasingly popular for 2.5D city viewing, navigation and modeling. Despite the increasing availability of oblique imagery, fully automated processing for true 3D lags; however, the current rapid adoption phase for oblique imagery will drive improvements in processing tools. 3D processing will become the standard as opposed to 2D.

“Our imagination is the only thing that limits the uses of 3D intelligence,” Guevara said. “Already we are improving our capabilities in many areas, such as emergency response, homeland security, insurance, simulations, real estate, and architecture/engineering/construction, and there are many more to come that will benefit from an integrated information environment. I believe that oblique imagery and 3D will become one.”

 “Then as we connect the dots between unmanned aerial vehicles and 3D mapping applications, UAVs will make a great contribution to modeling and navigating the 3D world domain,” concluded Guevara. “Ongoing R&D development will enable sensor deployments on UAV and miniaturized mobile devices capable of close-range photogrammetry and interior mapping. Visual Intelligence plans to release a miniature oblique camera appropriate for UAV use by the end of the year—that is the direction the technology is headed.”