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Hangar: A new on-demand UAV Data Service

October 28, 2018 2 comments

We have written about the rapid evolution of imagery platforms and portals many times in these blog essays over the years.  One major recent advancement is the UAV service from Hangar, an Esri business partner.  This service allows data users to order UAV imagery and receive it according to their project specifications:
https://www.spar3d.com/news/uav-uas/hangar-esri-reality-data-arcgis/

In my way of thinking, it is sort of like an” Uber for Drones”.  Let’s say you don’t have a pilot’s license, or time, or equipment, or expertise to fly your own UAV imagery.  Hangar is a new UAV service covering all areas that may be of interest to a client requiring imagery.  For this service, Esri partners with Hangar, a company that holds hundreds of waivers to fly almost anywhere and the expertise and equipment to serve clients from just about any discipline and with any need.   For more information, read the article “Hangar Joins Esri Startup Program to Add ‘Task & Receive’ Aerial Insights ArcGIS:”   https://www.prweb.com/releases/2018/05/prweb15514744.htm. 

And two of the best examples of some of the Hangar imagery is this story map of the devastation from the Carr fire in California and this story map showing some of their imagery for Kilauea, shown below.   Be sure to zoom and pan the 360-degree UAV imagery shown in these story maps.  Warning!  They are highly addictive and fascinating.  And for those of us in education, they make for an attention-getting teaching tools which I have already used numerous times from primary school to university and beyond to teach about wildfires and volcanic hazards.

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-Joseph Kerski

Categories: Public Domain Data Tags: , ,

UAVs Prohibited in National Parks in the USA

November 10, 2014 2 comments

As we state in our book, The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, oftentimes, technological advancement and adoption proceeds at a faster pace than regulations accompanying it.  A perfect example is what is probably the hottest technology in remote sensing right now, and that is UAVs, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.  The Internet is becoming rapidly filled with stories and videos of footage from UAVs deployed by aerial survey companies, but even more commonly, operated by the general public.  For example, this storymap contains footage of UAV imagery flown over a rocket launch, a cruise ship, and more.

While I as a geographer are fascinated by these images and videos, I am at the same time sensitive to the myriad of privacy and safety issues raised by the operation of UAVs.  We are beginning to see laws passed to regulate the operation of UAVs on certain lands, such as the recent policy directive against flying these in national parks in the USA.

Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, said that “We embrace many activities in national parks because they enhance visitor experiences with the iconic natural, historic and cultural landscapes in our care.  However, we have serious concerns about the negative impact that flying unmanned aircraft is having in parks, so we are prohibiting their use until we can determine the most appropriate policy that will protect park resources and provide all visitors with a rich experience.”  Some parks had already initiated bans after noise and nuisance complaints from park visitors, an incident in which park wildlife were harassed, and park visitor safety concerns.  For example, earlier this year, visitors at Grand Canyon National Park gathered for a quiet sunset were interrupted by a loud unmanned aircraft flying back and forth and eventually crashing in the canyon. Volunteers at Zion National Park witnessed an unmanned aircraft disturb a herd of bighorn sheep, reportedly separating adults from young animals.

The policy memorandum directs park superintendents to take a number of steps to exclude unmanned aircraft from national parks. The steps include drafting a written justification for the action, ensuring compliance with applicable laws, and providing public notice of the action.  The memorandum does not affect the primary jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration over the National Airspace System.

The policy memorandum is a temporary measure, and it seems like a wise move. Jarvis said the next step will be to propose a Servicewide regulation regarding unmanned aircraft. That process can take considerable time, depending on the complexity of the rule, and includes public notice of the proposed regulation and opportunity for public comment.  The National Park Service may use unmanned aircraft for administrative purposes such as search and rescue, fire operations and scientific study. These uses must also be approved by the associate director for Visitor and Resource Protection.

Near the Esri office in Colorado a month ago, I witnessed my first UAV flight where I did not know who was operating the vehicle.  I’m sure we will look back in years to come and realize that we in 2014 were at the dawn of a technology that will no doubt transform GIS and our everyday lives.   I anticipate sensors soon capable of capturing imagery in a wide variety of wavelengths, as well as atmospheric and other types of sensors that will further hasten the era of big data.  I am hopeful that we will chart a prudent course through the advent of UAVs, taking advantage of the innumerable benefits that UAVs can offer the GIS industry and also society as a whole.

Supporting humanitarian aid with open UAV imagery

February 10, 2014 3 comments

Last year we wrote about the imminent influx of high resolution imagery from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones and the great potential this could offer those agencies responding to emergency situations where the effective provision of humanitarian aid relies heavily on access to current, accurate and readily available map data.

When Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), reportedly the strongest typhoon to ever make landfall, struck the Philippines on the 8th of November 2013 it caused catastrophic destruction and loss of life. The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (H.O.T) activated Project Haiyan to provide geographic base data for the affected areas.

Imagery for Phillipines

Providing updated imagery for the Philippines

However as Kate Chapman reported in a project update last month, although a large number of UAVs had been used to collect imagery immediately after the typhoon struck, much of the mapping activity was uncoordinated, resulting in fragmented data sources that were unavailable to the aid agencies. Although UAV imagery can provide much higher resolution data (5-10cm) than is currently available from satellite imagery sources (0.5m), if the data can’t be accessed when required, the relevant agencies don’t know what’s available and from whom or the licensing arrangements prohibit open access to the data, then the transient opportunities to put the data to good use are lost.

Given the increasing miniaturisation, reduced costs and availability of these devices, a register of publicly available UAV data sources, a crowdsourced OpenUAVImagery initiative or the “OpenReconstruction/Open Drone” platform described by the H.O.T.  would seem to be the next step towards making the most of this data resource.

UAV/UAS: The next influx of spatial data

September 9, 2013 8 comments

UAVs or UAS (unmanned aerial vehicles or unmanned aerial systems) are a hot topic this year. We have already discussed some of the privacy concerns in an earlier post, and for many, privacy will be the first thing that comes to mind when UAS are mentioned. However, for all the concerns, the increasing adoption of UAVs for capturing aerial imagery is heralding what Mike Tully described in his article for Sensors & Systems, The Rise of the [Geospatial] Machines: The Future with Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), as a ‘…..technological earthquake’. Although Tully’s prediction of Jetsonian skies cluttered with remotely operated UAS raises some other concerns, his description of a UAS-borne pizza delivery made me think how much better life could be for those of us who live just outside the current fast-food delivery area.

Pizzas aside, perhaps the most important change that’s coming with UAS is the deluge of information that’s soon to be available to mapping companies and geospatial professionals. Recent technical innovations in UAS design, computing power, data capture techniques and processing software have demonstrated that bulky and expensive sensors (such as manned aircraft) are no longer required to produce high-quality spatial data. Imagery from an increasingly extensive network of light-weight and affordable UAS equipped with cameras, will be continuously relayed to mapping service providers at a fraction of the cost.

Base maps previously updated on an annual or quarterly basis will be updated in a matter of hours, turning the once static background “wallpaper” into what Tully describes as an “operational layer”. This will provide end-users with up-to-date and high-resolution data and become an invaluable resource for those responding to emergency situations who were previously reliant on out-of-date and expensive mapping products. Although crowdsourced local information has helped in these situations, the quality of the data can be variable and in some cases proved too unreliable to be of any benefit.

To make optimum use of this new influx of data, new processes and analytical tools will be required to deal with both the volume and resolution of the data. Just when the dust seemed to be settling after the geospatial cloud revolution, it seems another upheaval is on the way.

Imagery: It is what it is: Well, not always.

May 12, 2019 2 comments

Being critical of all data, including geospatial data, is a chief theme of this blog and our book:  Use it wisely.  Know where it came from.  Know what has been done to it. Imagery has always been an important component of geospatial data, and today, it takes many forms, ranging from images taken on the ground with a phone or camera to those taken by webcams, UAVs, aircraft, satellites, and more.  Doesn’t this imagery “tell it like it is” and is it therefore exempt from us casting a critical eye on it?   I contend that no, images must be viewed critically so that you can determine if they are fit for your use in whatever project you are working on.

As one example in a larger story, consider the example of the removal of individuals from 20th Century photographs in the USSR. But lest we think such image doctoring was a thing of the past, there are dozens of articles that arise in current web searches highlighting modern day image manipulation, from fashion magazines to science journals, some inadvertent, some on purpose, some for purposes to benefit society and some unfortunately to mislead.  In the geospatial world, consider the image offsets on Google Maps in China that we wrote about not long ago.

Let’s discuss another aspect of image manipulation.  Consider the satellite images below.  They cover many different dates and are derived from many different sources.  But pay attention to what’s on–or off-the highways in the images.   These images all cover the same location—Interstate 30 – 35E interchange on the southwest side of downtown Dallas Texas USA, known locally as the Mixmaster.  Constructed between 1958 and 1962, you can spot, in some images, recent much-needed improvements due to the substantial increase in traffic volume in the past 60 years.

arcgis_online_dallas..PNGmapquest_dallas.png

Study area in ArcGIS Online (first image) and Mapquest (second image).

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Study area in Yahoo maps (first image) and Bing maps (second image).

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Study area in Google Maps (it appears the same way in Google Earth). 

Notice anything missing on the Google Maps image?  No traffic. This would be unheard of, day or night, in this busy part of one of the largest cities in the USA.  Obviously, a vehicle-removal algorithm has been applied to the image. It is actually quite impressive, because the algorithm seems to only be applied to moving vehicles–cars, buses, trains–and not to stationary vehicles.  No doubt it is applied to make the process of viewing and interpreting the now-clearer imagery easier.  Interestingly, the moving-vehicle removal seems to only, at the present time, be present in running Google Maps on the web on a tablet or laptop:  Running the Google Maps app on a smartphone shows moving vehicles (below).

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Study area in Google Maps app on smartphone. 

Key takeaway points and teachable moments here include:  (1) Images that can be obtained in web mapping services, in geodatabases, and portals should not be considered the same view that would be seen if someone were to be peering over the side of a UAV, airplane, spacecraft, or standing next to a webcam when the image was captured.  They can and are manipulated for a variety of purposes.   They need to be viewed critically.  At the same time, we can marvel and appreciate the many choices we have nowadays in imagery for use in geospatial analysis.   (2)  The machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques applied to imagery are further evidence for the enterprise nature of geotechnologies:  GIS is increasingly connected to mainstream IT trends and innovations.

–Joseph Kerski

 

Harmonising UAS Regulations and Standards: Article Review

October 23, 2016 Leave a comment

A recent article in GIM International about harmonising UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems, or UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), or “Drone” technologies) regulations and standards is definitely worth reading, providing an excellent summary of this rapidly evolving sector of the geospatial industry.  The article, beginning on page 6, is in a special issue of GIM International dedicated exclusively to UAS, available here.  Peter van Blyenburgh summarizes developments in regulations and standardization in Europe, the USA, Japan, and China, and then provides some down-to-earth advice for companies who are seeing the potential for profits only but may not see the bigger picture about liability, regulations, and safety.  The GIM issue also includes articles about integrating UAS and multibeam echosounder data, multispectral and thermal sensors on UAVs, UAS applications in agriculture, and the article “Airborne laser scanning” provides an excellent introduction to the two main platforms:  fixed-wing and rotorcraft.

If I am reading the “tea leaves” correctly, in the world of education, just about every GIS program offered at a technical college and university will include at least one course in UAS technology and data by this time next year.  And I would expect that a whole host of online MOOCs and other courses will appear from universities, companies, and GIS organizations to help people effectively use these new tools and technologies.  I attended, for example, a multi-hour course at the recent Geo’Ed community college GIS conference on this topic.  This reinforced my opinion that while online courses and programs will be helpful, the face-to-face component, actually working with the software and hardware, is particularly useful when working with UAS:  There is no perfect substitute for rolling up one’s sleeves and working with these devices.

As publishing director Durk Haarsma states in his editorial for this special issue, UASs are disruptive technologies, because they are influencing so many geospatial fields and subfields, such as cadastral surveying, cultural heritage, and precision agriculture, just to name a few.  Because UAS influence how people in an increasing number of professions map and model the world, interpreting the data from those UAS is central to our book and this blog–understanding your data, and how they are obtained, is more critical than ever.

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Launching a fixed wing UAV at the Geo’Ed conference, Louisville Technical College, Kentucky. Photograph by Joseph Kerski.  Video here and analyzing thermal imagery here.

Spatial Law and its Relevance to Geospatial Practitioners – Review

March 27, 2016 2 comments

Understanding the legal aspects of GIS has always been important, going back to its inclusion in the GIS&T Body of Knowledge and earlier, but with cloud-based data and services, UAVs, and other trends and tools, it is more important than ever.  A series of essays on spatial law and its relevance to geospatial professionals from the folks at the GIS Lounge provides an excellent resource to supplement our book and this blog.

In these three essays, Sangeeta Deogawanka defines spatial law and some areas that spatial law governs. She goes on to focus on remote sensing policies, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAVs and UASs), GPS, and touches on the implications of GIS in the cloud.  She finishes by discussing how the purpose for gathering data can determine policies and regulations, including data capture, storage, use sharing, intellectual property rights, and privacy policies.

One of the resources provided at the end of the series is the site for the Centre for Spatial Law and Policy,  of which we have high regard, and to which we referred recently when we wrote about photograph location privacy.  Sangeeta also providees a useful link to 10 spatial laws and policies around the world.

What are your reactions to the relevance of spatial law to the geospatial profession and decision making?

 

The Changing Geospatial Landscape: Report

February 14, 2016 1 comment

The US National Geospatial Advisory Committee recently released The Changing Geospatial Landscape:  A Second Look.   The report follows the first report from 2009. This committee consists of 28 experts from academia, the private sector and all levels of government: Federal, Tribal, State, regional, and municipal.  The committee’s stated goals of the new report are “to contribute its perceptions of incipient technologies that we expect will guide, define or determine the development of this industry in the near and medium term. Of even greater importance, the report highlights those aspects of innovation that bear directly on public policy and on individual privacy and security. The NGAC has also prepared this report to help inform the development of the next iteration of the strategic plan for the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI).”

In the first section, several near and medium term trends are noted and briefly described, including satellite imagery, including small platforms of which we have written about in this blog, advances in GNSS, UAVs, 4G mobile telephone technology, indoor positioning, platform evolution, cloud storage, crowdsourced data, and communications.  Next, social, economic, and policy issues are noted, such as the rural-urban dichotomy in the availability of internet services, workforce development in the geospatial industry, data analytics, standards, privacy and health issues, and data access.

I believe that skimming the report would be useful for anyone wanting to know what the main geospatial issues are of concern to this committee and for the geospatial industry in general, although I admit that after the seven years following the first report, I would have hoped for some clearer recommendations.  The report seems rather disorganized, but does point to the one constant in the geospatial industry:  Change.

Your reactions?

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The Changing Geospatial Landscape:  Report of the National Geospatial Advisory Committee.

OpenAerialMap

March 16, 2015 Leave a comment

Just over a year ago we wrote about an OpenStreetMap project to support humanitarian aid with open UAV imagery following the destruction caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in Nov 2013. Although there were some issues in coordinating the data collection, the benefits of having access to a managed resource of openly accessible aerial imagery were obvious.

One year on and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap team (HOT) have established the OpenAerialMap (OAM) project, to host and share aerial imagery from a variety of sources including ‘traditional and nano satellites, manned and unmanned aircraft, mapping drones, balloons and kites‘. The project will not only provide access to the imagery but it will also make the management software available to download, to help support local access to the imagery.

Although the project is still in the early stages, one of the first objectives is to establish an imagery catalog to facilitate searches and display. One of the major problems in the Philippines was identifying which individual or agency collected the imagery the humanitarian relief teams needed access to. The next priority will be to create the map engine, or the OAM server, to make the imagery available as a web service.

 

 

Crowd sourcing coastal water navigational data

December 22, 2014 Leave a comment

We’ve written a number of posts over the last couple of years on crowd sourced data collection initiatives, all of which have been land-based or involved aerial data (for example, UAV Imagery). The TeamSurv project takes crowd sourced data collection out to sea, enlisting the help of mariners to produce better maps and charts of coastal waters, where the amount of detailed survey data in many countries is low. Project participants will either receive a data logger to use with their existing equipment or be able to load data directly from their own navigation systems.

The data collected from a variety of volunteer vessels include bathymetry, surface currents, sea surface temperature and wind data. Once processed the marine GIS data sets are to be made available to any organisation or authority with an interest in hydrographic data (chart publishers, oceanographers and so on).  The charts are available to download from the TeamSurv web site in shapefile format, and the site promises that other formats will be supported soon.

Unfortunately the data are not being made available in the public domain. The conditions of use include the charts are for personal use only and they may not be distributed or reproduced for commercial or non-commercial purposes without written consent. Although this seems contrary to the ethos of crowd sourcing, given the amount of post-collection cleaning and correction the data are subject to, it is perhaps understandable that some restrictions on their use should be imposed. Is it better to have unrestricted access to a lot of data of variable quality, or are some restrictions a price worth paying if the quality of the data can be guaranteed?