Intermap Completes Collection for NEXTMap USA 3D Mapping Program

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Industry News
Intermap Completes Collection for NEXTMap USA 3D Mapping Program
By Susan Smith

Not to be dissuaded by those who said it couldn’t be done, Intermap has just announced it has completed the data collection of its NEXTMap USA 3D mapping program.

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Digital surface model (DSM) of cinder cones inside Haleakala crater on the island of Maui.
Completed March 16, 2009, NEXTMap USA is the first company-funded initiative to map 3.1 million square miles (more than 8 million km2) of the entire contiguous U.S. and Hawaii in 3D. Elevation data for the national dataset includes 3D digital terrain models, digital surface models, contours, 3D road centerline geometries, and other high-resolution geospatial products as part of the Company’s proactive mapping program.

Readers have probably heard of the NEXTMap Europe program, for which all data will be commercially available by the end of this month. “We’re really transitioning from the collection phase to truly putting everything on the shelf,” explained Kevin Thomas, vice president of Marketing, Intermap. “We finished collecting Europe in August of last year, so we still had to go through the editing process in order to create a finalized product that’s on the shelf. By the end of April we should have all of Western Europe, that is about 2.4 million square kilometers, to put on the shelf at the same time. Then we continued through the rest of this year to edit all the U.S. data so we can get it on the shelf at the beginning of 2010.”

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In this colorized shaded-relief digital terrain model (DTM) in 3D perspective, the Colorado River begins its descent into the Grand Canyon from the lower left and cuts across the Kaibab Plateau as it continues its journey westward to the Gulf of California.
When Intermap set out to collect the entire U.S., many people said it “can’t be done,” Thomas pointed out, and even near completion, watchers were incredulous. “They didn’t think it was possible to collect that much data over a couple of years’ time frame and then making it commercially available -- it’s never been done.” Thomas noted that it took the U.S. government 30 plus years to collect it using varying methods to create the USGS DEMS “that obviously don’t have the accuracy and uniform nature that Intermap has collected.” Thomas said that the collection launches a whole new breed of applications in the future.

As aforementioned, NEXTMap USA is company-funded, and in that capacity, Intermap has raised over $100 million to be able to collect this data, put it on the shelf, then license it. “So once you build the database you’ve got a huge value there, it’s similar to what NAVTEQ and TeleAtlas did with building their nationwide databases,” explained Thomas. “Once they got them built then the database ended up driving very good value for the shareholders of the company.”

Intermap’s NEXTMap databases provide an entirely different, unique layer from those of NAVTEQ and TeleAtlas, whose databases collect the road network, points-of-interest and one way streets. The satellite imagery of DigitalGlobe and GeoEye are also completely different from NEXTMap’s elevation data layer. “If you took a look at the three, they are completely separate but there are synergies between what all of us do,’ Thomas explained.

Besides the traditional GIS customers who seek geospatial data to solve their business needs in traditional sectors, Thomas said Intermap is looking at additional markets. They are seeing great traction in wind and power right now, and they have an automotive group which should prove to be a larger, long term opportunity. Consumer electronics is doing well, and they also offer risk management which deals primarily with the insurance industry. New markets such as aviation are poised on the horizon.

“Once people realize there’s a uniform dataset where they can actually do stuff over a wide area so they don’t have to fiddle with the data to try to make it work, they know that foundational layer is there, and they can actually get their job done,” said Thomas. Most countries with their individual states are currently reliant on different types and ages of data that are patched together and consequently have large drop offs at the seams of the datasets. Because aerial imagery is not provided as a nationwide imagery layer, that imagery is also provided in this patchwork manner.

Thomas said Intermap is looking at an update strategy, which is obviously not going to be as frequent as that of the aerial imagery providers. “What is the shelf life of a DEM? Well 30 years has been okay for USGS data. We just did an update on Great Britain and that’s been one of our older datasets. Is a sub one meter vertical accuracy DEM still good enough for 90-95% of the continent? Probably,” said Thomas. “Where you’ll most likely do updates is where you get a market demand that there is a tighter vertical accuracy that is needed over a wide area.”

There is the possibility of also fusing or blending multiple data sets together by using Intermap or partner with somebody else to have LIDAR in city centers which the user can then blend or fuse into the IFSAR data and the surrounding area. “If you look at the big cities of the U.S., maybe there is a need for a 20 centimeter accuracy DEM. But you don’t want or don’t need or there isn’t a requirement to have that over an entire metro area, let alone whether you can handle that amount of data,” Thomas pointed out.

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Flood risk modeling application that depicts a steady-state 3.6 m storm surge in Jakarta, the ninth most densely populated city in the world.
Since Intermap has just finished collecting it will be some time before they begin to collect again. “Our contract services business is still healthy and we have the capacity to take care of our contract services clients where we continue to fly in different parts of the world,” said Thomas. “Obviously we have the operational capacity in Jakarta and Bangkok to be able to process a lot of the data.”

The business is two-fold: collection is one aspect, but raw data doesn’t do the end customer too much good. Secondly, the ability for the operational teams to both automate and manually edit every single square mile of data is critical.

Last year Intermap won a MAPPS award for an engineering breakthrough called Ultra Long Lines. In the early days of mapping, president and CEO of Intermap, Brian Bullock, said they used to collect for 7 minutes, then take 15 minutes to turn the plane around to turn back and collect for 7 minutes, then 15 minutes again, so there were huge inefficiencies in data collection. They’d fly 120 kilometers and turn around, then fly 200 kilometers and turn around. “Then we figured out how to stretch it to 400 kilometers before turning it around and last year the engineers figured out how to fly for 1200 kilometers, so you do one path out and one path coming back,” said Thomas. “You can easily do the math on what it does to your efficiencies and lowering of costs. That’s what’s called an Ultra Long Line because it was a breakthrough that the industry hadn’t been able to figure out, but the engineering team did, and allows us to collect a lot of data in a short period of time."

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