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 An Oblique View of Terrain Mapping
Ryan Hamilton
Ryan Hamilton
Ryan Hamilton majored in Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado and has been employed within both the LiDAR and IFSAR mapping worlds since 1998. His interests (that all appear to be tied to mapping) include blue water sailing, backcountry skiing and big mountain and downhill mountain … More »

Re-Mapping the World on an Hourly Basis

October 29th, 2013 by Ryan Hamilton

On my recent plane ride back from Europe I received a question that we have probably all heard before, but is a poignant reminders of how mapping is still not fully integrated into the consciousness of our society. Making small talk with my row-mate, she asked what I did for a living. My response about accurate mapping prompted the typical reply of “isn’t everything already mapped?”

It’s a legitimate question and I don’t fault anyone for asking because of course we have world maps and most countries are mapped to amazing detail. However, two components of the mapping industry that are overlooked by outsiders are accuracy and change. Accuracy beyond a certain level of sub meter becomes irrelevant to most mapping applications, but most of the earth’s surface has not been measured to even the sub 5 meter level, and when it comes to infrastructure mapping, some places are completely unmapped. Fortunately, new technology and international funding projects are slowly emerging which will help many countries catch up to the mapping levels of some of the developed nations.

A second overlooked occurrence of mapping is that many older maps don’t represent temporal changes. As nature and humans change the world’s terrain, our maps need to reflect these changes. The amount of change is what surprises most people. Typically, even within the mapping world, an annual update to a map sounds like a reasonable update cycle. However, as technology improves and new industries depend on continuous updates for change detection and monitoring, weekly and sometimes even daily updates have become more of a norm.

The next level of the mapping progress will come from continuous updates provided by HD video cameras monitoring from multiple assets in a dense satellite constellation. Skybox Imaging will be the first company to move mapping to a real time experience. They plan on building 24 microsatellites capable of high resolution imagery and HD video. There are currently 12 to 14 satellites capable of high res imaging orbiting the Earth although most of them are priority tasked for government work.  If a tasking request is put in, it could be weeks, or even months, before a camera is available for a commercial use. With Skybox, not only will this massive constellation allow for multiple tasking opportunities throughout the day but continuous video monitoring will allow new levels of analytics that we may have never considered possible to obtain in real time. Mapping continues to change and keeping up with all of the new data is getting more difficult, but at least when the question about what is left to map comes up, we will have a bit more info to include in our response.

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Category: Oblique view of terrain data

One Response to “Re-Mapping the World on an Hourly Basis”

  1. Alex says:

    Another company that will be offering near real-time imagery and video will be UrtheCast – On Nov 25th, UrtheCast launched two cameras which will be installed on the exterior of the ISS.

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