What We Do

Since this is our first general distribution newsletter in a few years (see the introduction), I thought it would be a good idea to review a bit of the history of GeoCue Group Inc. and what we do.

 

We formed the company under the name NIIRS10 (that’s another story!) in July of 2003.  Thus this is our 14th birthday!  Prior to forming this company, I was the CEO of Z/I Imaging, a global photogrammetry hardware and software company.  Z/I was acquired by Intergraph in 2002 (the point at which I left the company).  Intergraph was, of course, subsequently acquired by Hexagon, the new home of Z/I Imaging.  Our core group of developers joined me from Z/I and thus have a long and rich history in developing advanced photogrammetric and LIDAR hardware and tools.

The first product set of GeoCue (at that time, NIIRS10) was GeoCue, a set of enterprise workflow management tools aimed at organizations who need to manage professional LIDAR and photogrammetric workflows.  GeoCue was rapidly adopted by most LIDAR production companies (in those years, primarily airborne laser scanning, ALS) in North America where it remains strong to this day.

Most of our LIDAR workflows encompassed the Terrasolid processing toolset.  This caused us to form a close relationship with Terrasolid OY of Finland.  In 2005, Terrasolid asked us to become their North American distributor, providing software, training and maintenance.  This, too, we maintain to this day.

In 2009, we recognized that LIDAR was being exploited, to a small degree, by end users of LIDAR data such as federal, state and local governments.  We quickly entered this business by acquiring QCoherent Software LLC of Colorado Springs, Colorado.  QCoherent was the company that initially developed LP360, an ESRI extension that allowed advanced exploitation of point cloud data directly in an ArcGIS desktop environment.  We quickly internalized this product and developed a robust standalone version for use outside ArcGIS.  Since that time, LP360 has become the standard for LIDAR exploitation (especially QC) in a great many agencies including the USGS, the USACE, the USDA, Forest Service, many water management districts and so forth.  LP360 is the desktop LIDAR tool against which all others are judged.

In 2012, we entered the small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) or “drone” business with the aim of bringing tools such as LP360 to bear on the point clouds produced by dense image matching.  After a very careful evaluation (from an accuracy and model conformance point of view) we selected Agisoft PhotoScan and Pix4D Mapper as the tools of choice for point cloud generation.  We developed agreements with these two companies and began sales and support of these products.  We also started down the path of adding powerful sUAS mapping tools to LP360, such as volumetric analysis.

In 2014 we began development of a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) post-processed kinematic (PP)K) direct geopositioning system for our high-end drone, the AV-900.  This resulted in the AirGon Sensor Package (ASP), one of the most accurate positioning systems for rotary wing drones. The ASP is based on a Septentrio GNSS engine specifically designed for sUAS operations.  Since we were effectively entering a new market, we decided to launch this through a wholly owned subsidiary, AirGon LLC (www.airgon.com).  We also developed an Amazon Web Services (AWS) drone products hosting site called AirGon Reckon.  Reckon serves as a data repository and information sharing portal for companies with multiple mapping sites (particularly the aggregate mining industry).

In 2015, AirGon began offering limited drone services for companies who were testing the waters of drone-based mapping but did not want to internalize the operations until the workflows and products were proven.  Our aim is not to compete with our customers, of course, but to evangelize this game changing technology.  We were early to receive an FAA 333 exemption and had certified Part 107 Remote Pilots a few days after that new rule went in to effect.  We have now flown over 600 missions with a wide variety of potential drone users from aggregate mining to paper mills.

Since we have been in business, we have always done some amount of bespoke software development when that development advanced our commercial products.  These bespoke activities ranged from funded additions to our core software all the way to custom workflow solutions.  An example is a very high throughput LandSat change detection system developed for MDA Information Systems.  This system is controlled and managed by a GeoCue Distributed Processing System.

In 2015, we entered into an agreement with Teledyne Technologies (specifically Teledyne Brown Engineering) to develop an Amazon Web Services based system to manage and disseminate data from their Multi-User System for Earth Sensing (MUSES), a multi-sensor host platform mounted on the International Space Station.  This development, the Earth Sensor Portal (ESP), is being offered as a commercial hosting platform for data from satellite imagery to LIDAR data.

We saw a resurgence of interest in mobile laser scanning (MLS) in late 2016/early 2017.  Our MLS software suite had a bit of a hole in that we did not have a package specifically aimed at asset collection from MLS data.  We have been aware of the Orbit offerings from Orbit GT of Belgium for some time.  Earlier this year, we re-evaluated their offering and signed on as their North American distributor.

 

So this brings us to the present!  We now focus on several business areas:

LIDAR – Both Production and exploitation.  Our portfolio includes:

  • The GeoCue product family for workflow management from production to QC.
  • The Terrasolid family of products for industrial strength geometric correction and processing of both ALS and MLS data.
  • LP360 for high performance data editing, QC and specialized functions such as hydro modeling on the product side and a rich exploitation environment (in ESRI and standalone) on the LIDAR consumer side.
  • Orbit GT for feature extraction from MLS data.
  • LIDAR Server for local data management/distribution.
  • Earth Sensor Portal for enterprise data hosting and dissemination.

sUAS (Small Unmanned Aerial Systems) – Data collection, processing and management.  These offerings are via our AirGon subsidiary.  The main thing to remember about AirGon is that we can bootstrap you into the drone mapping business and we can do it in a very cost effective yet completely professional manner.  Our offerings include:

  • Agisoft PhotoScan, Pix4D Mapper – software for generating point clouds and orthomosaics from drone collected imagery.  We offer the software, support and training.
  • LP360 (sUAS licensing level) – The same LP360 as used for LIDAR.  We offer it at a lower price point for small area mapping, such as with drones.  LP360 provides the full workflow from point cloud ingest (point clouds from imagery and LIDAR) to derived product output.  This is really the most powerful tool kit on the market for processing drone data where the desired outputs are high accuracy mapping products.
  • Bring Your Own Drone (BYOD) Mapping Kit – this is a kit of PhotoScan, LP360, a Reckon subscription and comprehensive training that enables data production from any drone.  It has a special emphasis on mapping using low cost DJI drones such as the Inspire 2 or the Phantom 4 Pro.  The BYOD plus a DJI is a great starting point for entering the drone mapping business and we train you in how to be successful.
  • AirGon Reckon – our AWS-hosted data dissemination system for drone data.  This is a great tool for service providers who want to deliver data in a professional, cloud hosted manner to their customers.  Service provider partners can actually use Reckon as a revenue generator for their business.
  • LOKI – This is the most exciting product we have developed in the hardware arena in some time.  It allows you to add PPK direct geopositioning to a Phantom 4 Pro, an Inspire 2 or any drone with a camera equipped with a flash hot shoe.  There is a separate article in this newsletter regarding LOKI.  Add this to a BYOD and you truly will have a professional mapping kit with direct geopositioning using low cost DJI drones!  This is a financial game changer.

ESP (Earth Sensor Portal) – ESP is an Amazon Web Services hosted platform for LIDAR, Imagery and related products.  It is a great dissemination platform for agencies who acquire data such as LIDAR and need it securely backed up and made available to stakeholders (including the public) via a web facing portal.  ESP includes the idea of workflow so agencies can have us integrate in, for example, a QC workflow, allowing their collection contractors to post data directly to their ESP portal.   This is a subscription model that offloads all need for server technology as well as concerns of your own firewall being maliciously penetrated via your data portal.  This is exciting stuff!!

Bespoke Solutions – GeoCue continues to offer custom development when it adds value to our strategic product portfolio.  For example, if you need a niche tool added to LP360, consider discussing a bespoke addition with us. It will show up in the standard code base, maintained as part of the global product.  This prevents you from getting stuck in the situation of having to contract specifically for updates.  On the larger side of the equation, we have developed very large projects for various clients, primarily around LIDAR/imagery data processing, management and dissemination.

 

As you can see, we have a complete product set for several different imagery/LIDAR related production and exploitation scenarios.  We are very happy to entertain your inquiries ranging from simple product questions to those difficult things you encounter in your workflows.  So please keep us in mind when you are thinking of adding a workflow or improving the ones you have.

 

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AirGon Happenings

I am pleased to announce that AirGon’s request for amendment to its Section 333 waiver for flying commercial small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) was approved in April.  Our amendment adds all current and future 333 approved aircraft to our 333.  AirGon can now fly any sUAS that has ever been approved by the FAA as well as all future approved systems.  This list currently contains 1,150 different sUAS (AirGon’s own AV-900 is number 207 on the list).  This provides us a lot of flexibility in working with clients; for example, in situations where a glider sUAS is more efficient than a rotor craft.

The FAA has also recently streamlined the process of obtaining an N number for a sUAS.  Prior to the change, a paper process that required several months was the only option.  Now an online system is available, greatly simplifying this procedure.  Note that this is not the new online registration system for hobby drones but rather the system used for obtaining an N number for a manned aircraft (if you are confused, join the club!).  Combined with our new 333 amendment, we can now get a new aircraft legally operating within days.

We continue to do a lot of work to optimize the accuracy of point clouds derived from dense image matching (DIM).  DIM are the data of choice for sUAS mapping since they can be generated from low cost prosumer cameras using standard application software such as Pix4D Mapper or PhotoScan.  The question always remains as to how good these data really are.

It has taken us a lot of experimentation and analysis but we think we have fleshed out a procedure for assuring good absolute vertical accuracy.  It involves the use of Real Time Kinematic (RTK) Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) positioning on the sUAS, a local base station that we tie into the national Continuously Operating Reference Station (CORS) network and the National Geodetic Survey’s Online Positioning User Service (OPUS) to “anchor” the project to the network.  We have also discovered that high vertical accuracy cannot be obtained without camera calibration.  We typically use an in situ process for calibration.  We have flown many dozens of sites (primarily mining), giving us a rich set of test data.

I cannot over emphasize how critical network vertical accuracy is.  Most customers want elevation maps of their sites.  These are usually delivered as contour vector files.  As we all know, a 1 foot contour requires vertical accuracy of 1/3 of a foot.  This is a very tight requirement!  A three inch vertical bias error over an acre is an error of about 400 cubic yards – this is significant.

We see a lot of drone companies processing site data with no control and no RTK/PPK.  While, with the introduction of scale into the model (many companies do not even do this), one might obtain reasonable difference computations (such as volumes), the network accuracy is very poor (obtained from the airborne navigation grade GNSS only) and hence the data are of limited use.  We have discovered that these techniques (where no control and/or RTK/PPK is used) can result in the vertical scale being incorrectly computed.  This means that even differential measurements are not accurate.  Why spend all of the money to collect these data if they are of unknown accuracy?

A more difficult area that we have studied over the past several years is what I refer to as “conformance.”  That is, how well does the DIM actually fit the object being imaged?  DIM processing software (again, such as Pix4D and PhotoScan) do a miraculous job correlating a 3D surface model from highly redundant imagery using the general class of algorithm called Structure from Motion (SfM).  In addition to the obvious areas where SfM fails (deep shadow, thin linear objects such as poles and wires), a lot of subtle errors occur due to the filtering that is performed by the SfM post-extraction algorithms.  These filtering algorithms are designed to remove noise from the surface model.  Unfortunately, any filtering will also remove true signal, distorting the surface model.

We are working with several of our mining customers to quantify these errors and, once these errors are characterized, to develop best practices to minimize or at least recognize when and where they occur.  An example of an analysis is shown in Figure 1.  Here we are analyzing a small pile (roughly outlined in orange) of very coarse aggregates with a volume of about 340 cubic yards.  This site was flown with a very high end manned aircraft LIDAR system and with AirGon’s AV-900 equipped with our RTK system.  The DIM was created using Agisoft PhotoScan.  We obtained excellent accuracy as determined by a number of signalized (meaning ground targets visible in the imagery) control and supplemental topo only shots.  We used in situ calibration to calibrate the camera (a Sony NEX-5 with a 16 mm pancake lens).

As can be seen in Figure 1, we created a series of cross sections over the test pile.  These cross sections were generated using the Cross Section Point Cloud Task (PCT) in LP360/Topolyst.  This tool drapes cross sections at a user specified interval, conflating the elevation value from the user specified point cloud.  We ran the task twice, conflating Z first from the LIDAR point cloud and then from the DIM.   In Figure 1 we have drawn a profile over one of the cross sections with the result visible in the profile view.  The red cross section is derived from the LIDAR and the green from the DIM.

Comparing LIDAR (red) to DIM (green)

Comparing LIDAR (red) to DIM (green)

Note that the DIM cross section (green) is considerably smoother than the LIDAR cross section (red).  This is caused by several factors:

  • The aggregate of this particular pile is very coarse with some rocks over 2 feet in diameter. This leaves a very undulating surface.  The LIDAR is fairly faithfully following this surface whereas the DIM is averaging over the surface.
  • The AV-900 flight was rather high and the data was collected with a 16 mm lens. This gave a ground sample distance (GSD) a little higher than is typical for this type project.
  • Due to the coarseness of the aggregate, significant pits appear between the rocks, creating deep shadows. SfM algorithms tend to blur in these regions, rendering the elevation less accurate than in areas of low shadow and good texture.

The impact of lower conformance is a function of both the material and the size of the stockpile (if stockpiles are what you are measuring).  For small piles with very coarse material (as is the case in this example) a volumetric difference between LIDAR and SfM can be as great as 20%.  On larger piles with finer aggregates, the conformance is significantly better.   For example, in this same test project, we observed less than 0.25% difference between LIDAR and the DIM on a pile of #5 gravel containing about 30,000 cubic yards.

There still remains the question of which is more accurate – the volume as computed from the LIDAR or the volume as computed from the DIM?  I think that if the LIDAR are collected with a post spacing ½ the diameter of the average rock, the LIDAR will be the most accurate (assuming that it is well calibrated and flown at very low altitude).   However, the DIM is certainly sufficiently accurate for the vast majority of aggregate volumetric work, so long as a very strict adherence to collection and processing best practices is followed.  For most high accuracy volumetric projects, manned LIDAR flights are prohibitively expensive.

We continue to do many experiments with local and network accuracy as well as methods to improve and quantify conformance.  I’ll report our results here and in other articles as we continue to build our knowledge base.

Your Business Model, not Ours!!

We have invested a tremendous amount of resources (monetary, development, knowledge) into developing technology and services for mapping sites using dense image matching collected with small Unnamed Aerial Systems (sUAS). Our focus is applications suitable for an sUAS (non-populated areas, smaller sites) that require near survey grade accuracy. The most common example is small open pit mine sites such as quarries. We have not considered agricultural applications since these tend to be very large areas where radiometric analysis is the focus rather than geometric correctness.

Like most other companies involved in this emerging market, we are trying to predict the most palatable business model. However, I would say that unlike many other technology providers, we are seeking the business model that makes the most sense for the customers, not for us.

AirGon LLC has a very big advantage over companies funded by venture capitalists. We are funded both by GeoCue and by investments from our small group of inside shareholders. This allows us to focus on a long-term vision of the market. We plan to become the “go to” company for sUAS mapping, much as GeoCue has become the “go to” company for airborne and mobile laser scanning.

One of the big questions that Venture Capitalists have in funding a startup is that of scale. If the venture will not scale up to a sufficient size to provide a comfortable multiple on the initial investment, the venture is not considered financially viable. In the sUAS business, it is hard to devise a model that will scale that does not require significant involvement on the part of the customer. The most popular model is a leased plan where the customer flies the drone and uploads the image data to a cloud-hosted system provided by the vendor. In some of these models, the customer may even do the data extraction such as defining the base of a volumetric stockpile.

These “self-service” business models proliferate in the rollout of new technologies that are generally called “Web 2.0” (or are we Web 3.0?). You now see it with everything from reservation booking systems to the Uber taxi concept (in the Uber case, the job of “dispatch” has been handed over to the customer). Even grocery stores have gotten on this bandwagon with self-service checkout kiosks.

We certainly believe that self-service will play a major role in the emerging sUAS mapping business. However, at the current time one size does not fit all. This is particularly true in light of the draconian FAA regulations that currently exist for commercial sUAS operations. A mine site leasing a “fly-it-yourself” drone would require an FAA 333 exemption as well as an FAA licensed pilot. This is a fairly significant barrier to adoption of the technology. In addition to the legal hurdles, many customers want to nibble into this new approach to mapping rather than wolf it down in one gulp.

We launched our CONTINUUM program as a way to address these customer needs. CONTINUUM allows a customer to pick from a menu of hardware, software and services that best suit her needs. A few customers want to buy a mapping kit and do it all themselves. For this customer we offer the AV-900 Metric Mapping Kit (in both base and RTK versions). Other customers want to fly their own equipment but have the data processed as a service. Still others want to have us provide full services where our Field Service Analyst shows up at their site and performs the complete job. Under CONTINUUM, we can provide what the customer wants, not what we think might be the best business model for us.

One of the real values behind CONTINUUM (and the reason for the name) is that most customers do not know what they will want to do as a final business model. They would like to be in an environment where they can experiment a bit. This is exactly what we provide through the CONTINUUM program. A customer can modify the business model from one of AirGon doing everything to they, themselves,  internalizing the entire process or any mix in-between, all without the need to change vendors.

I am not sure what will be a profitable business model for AirGon. We are still very heavily in the Research and Development mode. However, one thing I do know for sure – the successful business model will be the one that is deemed successful by the end-use customer. We intend to be the provider of that ultimate solution!

 

 

Top Ten Considerations for Selecting a Drone Mapping Services Vendor

You realize that significant benefits would be realized by transitioning mine site mapping/volumetrics to drones (more properly, small Unmanned Aerial Systems, sUAS). You have decided, at least for the immediate future, to use an outside service provider rather than internalize the process.

Since you have, at least for the present, decided to outsource drone-collected mapping and volumetrics, the task now is to select a qualified company to perform these services. A checklist for evaluating a potential service provide should include these questions:

  • Is the vendor authorized to fly by the appropriate regulatory body (e.g. in the USA, the Federal Aviation Administration requires a Section 333 exemption permitting commercial drone flights)?Drone Picture
  • Does the vendor have sUAS aircraft liability insurance?
  • Are the rights to the collected data clearly spelled out?
  • Do you feel confident that the vendor’s methodology for rigorous network/local accuracy (surveying accuracy) will meet your requirements? For example, a 4 inch vertical error in a borrow pit computation amounts to about 538 cubic yards of volumetric error per acre!
  • For projects that require Network Accuracy (anytime you intend to extract information such as elevation models, contours or are performing time series analysis, you will need Network Accuracy), can your service provider tie their results to a reference network that can be independently verified?
  • Does the vendor have a plan for incorporating surveyed quality assurance check points that will be captured in the aerial flight?
  • Does the vendor understand how to incorporate design information such as “bottom” lines, reclaim tunnel models, complex a priori stockpile toes and so forth into the modeling process?
  • Does the vendor have a reasonable approach to allowing you to collaborate on resolving project boundaries, stockpile identification, stockpile toe definitions, occluded areas and so forth?
  • Have proposed ground personnel worked on mine sites and have safety awareness? For example, for USA mine site operations, do they have basic MSHA Part 46 training?
  • Can the vendor provide references?

You should engage in a pilot project with your candidate vendor. This will limit your initial investment and give you an opportunity to fully vet the proposed provider before committing to a long term relationship. You will want to have independent test data to validate the vendor’s solution.

An immediate red flag is a potential vendor who will not explain their methods in detail, hiding behind a veil of “well, that is our proprietary method that sets us apart from our competitors.” The plain English translation of this is “I have no clue!”

January 2016

Well, first of all, Happy New Year! May you have a happy and prosperous 2016!

As I mentioned in the December 2015 issue of our newsletter, we are streamlining and focusing our business this year. One of the things we are changing is this newsletter. We were trying to reach way too many disparate audiences and not being effective with any, I fear. We included general industry information related to the geospatial arena, aimed at decision makers. In the same issue, we included tool tips for LP360. This is just too broad.

We have decided to make this a newsletter for our user community (hence the change in name). We have reduced the distribution list to members of organizations who own or subscribe to our products and/or services. We will now be focused on useful information about our tools, consulting services, hosted solutions and the like. We will generally keep our content organized by:

LIDAR Production Solutions – Tools and services for folks who collect kinematic LIDAR data and do primary data processing. Within our solution set, this includes:

  • The GeoCue production software suite
  • Terrasolid products

Point Cloud Exploration Solutions – Tools and services for users who exploit LIDAR point clouds and who collect/exploit point clouds from imagery. Within this solution set are:

  • LP360 in its various incarnations
  • LIDAR Server
  • Pix4D Mapper
  • Agisoft PhotoScan

AirGon – This is the area where we are focused on our CONTINUUM solutions for executing complete small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) metric mapping missions. Technologies included in this solution area include:

  • AV-900 Metric Mapping Kit
  • Reckon
  • AirGon Sensor Package (our RTK/PPK solution)
  • AirGon mine site mapping services

Of course, there is a lot of cross talk between these solution areas. LP360 is often used by LIDAR production companies both for specialized tools such as breakline digitizing as well as managing LAS 1.4 generation and quality checking. The point cloud tools within our Point Cloud Exploration area are key to the AirGon solutions and so forth.   We do a fair bit of custom development services that relate to our key technologies as well as solution-specific consulting services. These tend to span multiple solution areas.

We will move our general marketing (where we are trying to get new customers interested in our technology) out of GeoCue Group User News and move toward channels such as LinkedIn, general advertising and so forth. This will allow us to provide much more specific value to you, our users.

I am very excited about 2016. We have been doing a lot of product and solution planning focused on the above areas. You, our users, will benefit from solutions that are clearly focused on our target areas and offer best of breed technology.

I wish you a good start to 2016!

December 2015

Well, like everyone is saying, I cannot believe that 2015 is drawing to a close.  Where did the year go?  This will be a short note – I have to get some Christmas shopping done!

We finally released LP360 this past week.  Our early postponement was to squeeze new features into the products whereas the later delays were to ensure stability.  We have been using the products in our internal production processes for the past few months.  This has been a great experience in terms of fine tuning features and monitoring stability.

One of the things we have been focused on is production processes.  Of course, repeatable process is what the GeoCue workflow products are all about so this is not a new thing for us.  We have always appreciated that quality is most directly related to rigorously controlled processes, not to the heroics of individual production folks.  Now that we are doing a lot of field work, we are examining ways to improve this aspect of the process.  For example, the field work associated with acquiring mine site data with an sUAS is tricky.  It is not that the individual steps are particularly complicated, it is that there are a lot of steps that must be successfully accomplished in a specific order.  We are currently using a lot of checklists.  This is the minimum required to be successful.  How do we improve this process in harsh environments that often lack connectivity to the outside world?  No clear solutions yet but we are working on it!

We have also been working on simplifying our business structure.  We acquired QCoherent Software LLC (a Colorado-based company) in 2009.  Over time, we have moved all of the company to our headquarters in Huntsville, Alabama.  We are finally absorbing the corporate structure into GeoCue Group.  You will not notice any changes other than communications related to LP360 and LIDAR Server now being from GeoCue Group Inc.

We will soon be releasing Service Pack 4 for the GeoCue product set.  The next major release will be in 2016.  We are working on some simplifications to the product as well as better schemes for archiving products.  I think you will appreciate these changes.

Terrasolid is now offering a true 64 bit version for MicroStation CONNECT (the version of MicroStation that succeeds V8i).  Maintenance customers will have access to this new version of Terrasolid tools.  We do caution however, that this is still in the beta stage and is probably not sufficiently stable or feature complete to introduce into production.   We estimate that this new version will be production ready by the end of Q1 of 2016.

During this past year we have learned an incredible amount about how to design sUAS for mapping as well as the tools and processes needed to create products.  This overall workflow is fundamentally changing small area mapping but it is not easy to achieve accurate and repeatable results.  We now have come to realize that mine site mapping requires control 100% of the time and establishing this in dense image matching workflows is not at all straightforward.  I think this is good news for the professionals out there providing these services.  In the area of metric mapping, you will not be easily displaced by someone buying an inexpensive drone and a point cloud generation software application!

All of us here at GeoCue Group wish you a very relaxing holiday season and the very best of success in 2016!

October 2015

A special thanks to our customers who attended the LP360 software training that we held at our offices in September. As this core group of customers can attest, a few days invested in training on the latest features and techniques can save weeks of time in production and analysis. I think we all particularly enjoyed the evening social at the Blue Pants Brewery!

Several of us have just returned from a whirlwind three weeks on the road. We attended the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) unmanned aerial system conference in Reno, Nevada at the end of September. We conducted (along with Dr. Qassim Abdullah of Woolpert) the UAS Workshop on the day prior to the conference. We had over 110 participants so the interest in sUAS mapping is only growing.

We next attended the inaugural Commercial UAV Expo hosted by Diversified Communications (the folks who bring you ILMF and SPAR) in Las Vegas, Nevada.   This show had well over 100 exhibitors and about 2,000 attendees. We presented a paper on some of the practical aspects of stockpile volumetrics (sort of a lessons learned overview). I was pleasantly surprised at the number of potential end users who attended this conference. We were constantly busy at our booth discussing mine site mapping with quarry and stockpile owner/operators.  Hopefully it was a mere coincidence but the booth next to ours was a company selling automatic parachutes for multi-rotors!

Many companies who are using point clouds extracted from camera carrying drones are realizing that workflow tools beyond those supplied within the point cloud extraction software are needed to efficiently extract products. We have been seeing a nice uptake of LP360 for sUAS by this set of production companies. Our 2015.1 release (by the end of October, I promise!) includes a few new tools such as an automatic stockpile toe extractor that really speed up these processes.

We have been very heavily involved in collecting mine site surveys using our AV-900 sUAS platform. These engagements have been very enlightening in terms of informing us of the tools that can really make a difference in this type of work. One thing we have paid particular attention to is the frequency with which we are denied access to site areas for placing survey control. Fortunately we have our initial version of a Real Time Kinematic (RTK) positioning system on the AV-900 (we actually use this in Post-Processed Kinematic mode). This allows us to collect mine site data with no control at all (we usually do place some checkpoints to verify accuracy). We have come to realize that this is not a nicety for mine site surveys but rather a necessity.

On the LIDAR front, the USGS 3DEP program continues to gain momentum with a number of new projects underway. An interesting aspect of 3DEP is that the deliveries are required to be compliant with the ASPRS LAS 1.4 format. Both GeoCue and LP360 have been compliant with LAS 1.4 for some time now and offer workflows to realize these delivery requirements.

As we move well into the fourth calendar quarter of 2015, we are heavily engaged in product planning for 2016. I see a continued uptake in the use of small unmanned aerial systems for local area surveys and hence we will continue our rapid pace of tool development for this market. LIDAR continues to be a major data source for base mapping with ever increasing expectations on data density and accuracy. We intend to keep LP360 at the forefront of technology for processing and deriving value from these data. I see cloud based services as a technology that promises to provide a means of controlling capital expenditures as data densities expand. While data transfer speeds remain a problem (e.g. they are much too slow), we are developing some clever ways to use hybrid deployments to reduce this impact.

Until next time, enjoy some fine fall weather!

FAA Exemption, LIDAR Server and a New GeoCue Workflow

We have had a lot of things going on in August from finalizing a new client interface for LIDAR Server to receiving our Section 333 Exemption from the FAA. In addition we have started a new workflow integration project that will see a major image processing system hosted in Amazon Web Services (AWS).

In addition to a number of new software developments, we are embarking on offering cloud-hosted subscription services in several different areas. Earlier this year, we introduced Reckon, our AWS-hosted data management and access system for stockpile volumetrics and mine site mapping. This is a subscription service based on sites and data volumes. It relieves local quarry owners from the burdens of managing on-premises servers for housing digital mine site mapping data. Via a web interface, mine operators can rapidly view site data, download reports and analyze site changes over time. We are very pleased with this system and have already begun to host customer data. You can have a look through a demonstration site at www.airgon.net.

We have also just completed a major update to LIDAR Server. LIDAR Server allows you to store, visualize and distribute point cloud data via a rich JavaScript web interface. LIDAR Server can be hosted on a resident server or in a hosted environment such as Amazon Web Services. LIDAR Server is available as a purchased server software package or as a subscription service. We will soon be enhancing the client-side of LIDAR Server with direct launching of LP360, our workstation-based point cloud exploitation solution. If you are a local government who is receiving LIDAR data (perhaps via the USGS 3DEP), hosted LIDAR Server should be a serious consideration. Your data are securely hosted in AWS and managed by GeoCue. You pay a simple monthly subscription based on the amount of data that we are managing. You can test drive LIDAR Server at www.lidarserver.com. By the way, LIDAR Server is the technology selected by the US Department of Agriculture for their nationwide LIDAR data storage, browsing and dissemination.

On the AirGon front, we have decided to offer mine site volumetrics and topographic mapping services. In support of this, we applied for a Section 333 small Unmanned Aerial System (sUAS) Exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to enable us to fly mine sites. I am pleased to announce that this exemption was approved in August for our very own AV-900 Metric Mapping Kit. If you are a services provider, you may look at us and say “why should I purchase an AV-900 MMK from you? It looks as if you are going to be competing with me!” In reality, our goal is to evangelize sUAS technology to the surface mining community for efficient data collection. We are more than happy to turn collection services over to our service provider customers! It is simply that we have realized that mine site owner/operators want some proof that the technology actually works and a clear path to migrating from their current techniques. In fact, we have a very attractive revenue sharing program with Reckon for our service provider partners.

On the workflow front (the original core business of GeoCue), we have just been awarded a new project to build a complex image ordering, processing and discovery system in Amazon Web Services (are you beginning to see a pattern here?) This system will allow users that are geographically dispersed to participate in all aspects of the workflow. We are honored and excited to have been selected for this development. We have built a number of cloud hosted data management systems. This new project will prove that the time is now for cloud-hosted processing system. You will be hearing much more about this project as it develops.

Finally, we intend to do the formal release of LP360 at the beginning of October. We have added a few new capabilities since the EXP release as well as polished a few interfaces. Immediately following the release of 2015.1, we will be embarking on a major rework to the display subsystem of LP360. We now routinely encounter point clouds with high Z extent as well as very high densities (100’s to thousands of points per square meter). We are working hard to ensure that we remain the most responsive visualization platform for this type data.

Well, this month I see I have focused entirely on our technology (I can’t help it – this is exciting stuff!). Next month we’ll talk a bit of business again.

Best Regards,

Lewis

Development, Windows 10, and EXP LP360 2015.1

We are entering the hottest and most humid part of the year here in Alabama so, like January, this is a good time to stay indoors and do things like system design!

We do a lot of system engineering and development work here at GeoCue. This ranges anywhere from customizations of our GeoCue workflow tools to new (“green field”) developments. I have noticed that more and more frequently we consider cloud hosted environments such as Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS) as our solution platform. Besides fractional scaling (add more when you need it, remove it when no longer needed and pay for only what you use), we really like the data storage options. Prohibitively expensive just a few years ago, you can now consider archiving all of your production data in the cloud. For example AWS offers its Glacier archival storage for less than $125 per Terabyte per year. There is just no way to do this on premise with the level of assurance of no data loss that you can get with AWS. At any rate, cloud deployed solutions make more and more sense as this paradigm matures. It is rather ironic since when my great granddaddy started in this business he was renting access to a remote time share system. The more things change, the more they stay the same!

I just upgraded my workstation-class laptop to Windows 10. Since I was moving from Windows 8.1, this has been a positive experience. I have not yet had a lot of experience with the various capabilities so the jury remains out on which is better for workstation (no Microsoft, we don’t do image and LIDAR processing on tablet PCs !!) – Windows 7 or Windows 10? There is a detailed story of my installation experience in this newsletter.

If you are an LP360 customer on maintenance (thank you very much!), you may have already installed our 2015.1 EXP release (yes, it finally went out the door!). The purpose of the Experimental release is to provide you with an early look at some of the features we are adding to the official release. Examples in the current EXP release include three new major tools:

  • Live View – A completely redesigned, real time interface for filtering the display
  • A Ground Cleaner Point Cloud Task (PCT) – this new PCT (available at the Standard level) is a tool that allows you to very rapidly clean up areas of ground classification that are incomplete (a common problem in delivered LIDAR data)
  • An Automatic Stockpile Toe Extractor PCT – This is a tool still in beta form. It allows you to automatically create polygons at the base of a stockpile by simply selecting a point on the pile. This tool really speeds up volumetric analysis

If you are not currently on maintenance, contact Ashlee Hornbuckle at ahornbuckle@lp360.com and she can assist you with returning to the program.

We will soon be moving our licensing to a cloud-hosted solution. This will make self-service of common licensing operations possible. We’ll first move LP360 and then look at our other products. This will take a bit since we have to do this development in-house.

OK, enough said! I have to get back to work! Have a great remainder of the summer!

Best Regards,

Lewis

3DEP, LP360 Toolbox and AirGon

I am looking for the month of May – it seems to have disappeared without a trace!

We recently visited with the Tennessee Office of Information Research (OIR) in beautiful Nashville, Tennessee. The OIR is the coordinating state agency for a USGS 3DEP LIDAR (3 acronyms in a row – not quite a record!) acquisition project. Under this program, the state of Tennessee will be flown at Quality Level 2 (2 points per square meter) over a four year period. The initial collection (slated for this fall) will encompass some 11,500 square miles, covering 27 counties.

3DEP is an excellent opportunity for state and local government agencies to pool their financial (and often technical) resources to obtain point cloud data. By spreading the cost across a spectrum of stakeholders, a surprisingly large amount of data collection can be accomplished.

Our discussions with the OIR led naturally to a conversation about how LIDAR data are used in GIS and engineering departments. We covered the usual suspects such as flood plain analysis, basic 3D visualization, site planning and so forth. By the end of the conversation, I was convinced (as usual) that every single state and local government GIS workstation should have access to a current image and current 3D (e.g. LIDAR point cloud in LAS format) backdrops. Why would anyone find it acceptable to be without a cross-sectional view of their municipal data on an ad hoc basis? Mainly because they have never had this level of information available. You never miss what you have never had!

When we returned to the office, we decided to put together, once and for all, a package of material for folks who are either contemplating acquiring LIDAR data or those who have access to LIDAR data. We will develop use cases and return on investment information for the range of applications that make sense for these data. If you have some novel ideas and particularly case studies, please work with us. Obviously we want to sell more software but we believe a rising tide lifts all boats. We need to get the tide (meaning the understanding and effective use of LIDAR data) rising first!

Speaking of software, we hope to have our experimental release (EXP) of LP360 available for download by the end of this month (June). The developers are doing fine. It is me who always throws a wrench in the delivery schedule – “let’s get return selection added to the new Live View dialog before we release…” Speaking of Live View, this is a new dynamic filter in LP360 that lets you change class, return and flag filtering on the fly. You are really going to like this new feature!

While we try to make features in our tools easy to use, the LIDAR tools on the market still tend to be toolbox oriented rather than workflow specific. For this reason, it is very important to participate in training if you hope to realize a maximum return on your investment. We offer a range of training (and consulting) from web based to on-site. In addition, we have our Huntsville-based LP360 training coming up in the fall.

On the AirGon side of things, we have been talking to a lot of potential clients who can make immediate use of small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) mapping. We offer a complete helicopter-based metric mapping kit in the AV-900 MMK. This is garnering a lot of interest since it provides a turn-key solution of hardware, software and training for doing jobs that have an immediate high return on investment such as stockpile volumetric analysis. However, we also offer just the piece parts for those who wish to assemble their own system. For example, if you have decided on a small wing type sUAS such as the eBee from SenseFly, LP360 for sUAS is still your best option for extracting volumetrics (anyone who has tried to do a multi-pile site using the point cloud generation software shipped with these systems will readily agree!). In addition, AirGon Reckon is the best product in the market for hosting and delivering mine site orthos and volumetric reports. By hosting our volumetrics delivery system in Amazon Web Services, we relieve you the need to worry about data delivery to multiple offices, data backup and security.

Summer promises to fly by just as quickly as the spring. We are attending a number of conferences such as the ESRI meeting and the Transportation Research Board AFB-80 summer meeting. If you are attending one of these, please look us up. See you in July!