In mid-September geospatial companies GeoEye and TerraGo entered into a partnership to increase the access of their content to their broad community of users.
GeoEye has developed an access platform called EyeQ that allows them to stream out imagery through web services and their web interface. One of the early customers for that technology was the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA). “The service makes all the imagery we collect on behalf of the NGA available online to be used by commanders, warfighters, and any user from the federal government that needs for that content,” said Tony Frazier, GeoEye senior vice president of Marketing. “We noted that many users in the community need to be able to take that content on the go and also collaborate through lightweight mobile tools. TerraGo is really a market leader in that space. We licensed technology from TerraGo to enable users to download our imagery in a GeoPDF format.”
GeoEye references both the work to extend their GeoIQ access platform to enable users to take that imagery on the go with a GeoPDF while at the same time collaborating on value added use cases where they can push value added products out to that same format. They are going to demonstrate at GEOINT how the right imagery can find users rather than the users always having to go looking for it.
On the TerraGo side, about 1,000 production customers create GeoPDF mapbooks, maps and imagery but there are about at least 10,000 organizations around the world who consume GeoPDF, that’s evidenced by the TerraGo toolbar.
“The GeoPDF is generic, in the Adobe environment as well so that number could be low,” noted Richard Cobb, president and CEO for TerraGo. “If you look at that user population of consumers, the 10,000 organizations are largely in areas other than defense and intelligence which would be crisis management and response. Numerable vertical industries could leverage imagery with the Terrago platform.”
“The whole idea of portability and mobility of spatial data imagery is the hardest problem,” Cobb said. “It’s big and complex and cumbersome. It’s going to take some work to crack that code.” The average size of a single file of high resolution imagery – a single image strip – a unit measure of what GeoEye would collect on a pass — could be upwards of 8 Gb of storage and requirement, and so part of the value of being able to have this online is being able to pick what product you want rather than downloading the whole thing.
“That solved part of the problem which is to find content you really care about,” said Cobb. “Another challenge is it’s still big data. One of the benefits of GeoPDF is you can take large files and compress them down into a format where people who don’t have access to great communications infrastructure can get access to great quality content and take it on the go. We’ve seen some examples of products that would be more than 200 Mb in size get compressed to 100th of that using GeoPDF.”
Downloads of the US Geological Survey’s (USGS) quadrangle maps increased from an average of 4,000 per month to nearly 150,000 per month following the introduction of TerraGo’s GeoPDF technology and software, which at the time was in the form of Topo Quads, 11 ½ min quads. These were offered at the USGS store online as geotiffs. In the past two or three years the National Map Program of the USGS has been creating the U.S. Topo that currently has eight layers of data that includes hydro information, one meter NAIP imagery,topo maps for elevation, and newly added vegetation maps. They have quickly gone from zero to 127,000 US topo downloads of GeoPDF. This technology is fast replacing the previous Topo Quads.
Mobile users can now take robust imagery that has been recently gathered and apply it to situational awareness and navigation, and also use it as a basis for collaboration – to collect data that can then be shared using tools and technologies like TerraGo Mobile. “This addresses the challenges of limited bandwidth and the desire for people to collaborate more effectively in the field,” said Cobb. “We believe we’re going to be able to reach not only new users in our existing base but new industries and really expand the penetration of GeoEye imagery dramatically.”
GeoEye has a system in production using their EyeQ technology to power different installations. “The installation we’ve deployed for the U.S. government under the NAIP Program runs in the cloud, and any government user/employee can request access to that system to be able to access imagery on demand. One of our team members that focuses on the state and local government and has been doing quite a bit of work with disaster response,” said Frazier. “Several years ago you couldn’t collect, process and disseminate imagery in enough time to be of use for a first responder. During the recent hurricane Irene that hit the East Coast, one colleague said the customer went from a request to having imagery in their hands within three hours. Being able to collect that content and stream it out – once it’s in a format like GeoPDF— then you can easily distribute it to many people. It allows everyone to have a common operating picture to what’s occurred on the ground.”
With the acquisition of the analytics firm SPADAC, GeoEye can now take not only imagery but other forms of geospatial data, analyzing information and discovering patterns to predict where new events may occur.
“We have tremendous imagery collection assets and we can really capture with our resolution and accuracy a precise view,” said Frazier. “But the adoption is going to be driven by how quickly you can get it into people’s hands, and so investments in enabling technology are a big part of our strategy.”
As more people demand access on mobile devices, TerraGo is stepping up to the plate to offer TerraGo mobile collaboration software to both Android and iOS in the Q4 2011 and Q1 2012 respectively. In the past twelve months, they have released TerraGo on Microsoft Windows Mobile.
“We see definite demand in core markets from working in defense and intelligence who were not traditionally interested in commercial mobile technology,” Frazier pointed out. “That has changed in the last year fairly dramatically. In other markets we serve, the Android and iOS platforms are fairly dominant.”
GeoPDF is a platform for collaboration and the GeoPDF imagery itself is a container that can be merged with other data such as vector data. You can put live services inside of GeoPDF. Cobb said that with intelligent imagery in GeoEye’s EyeQ platform, a GeoPDF can have smart services embedded in it that can act when there is connectivity. With connectivity the services inside the GeoPDF can do “just about anything,” including update itself with local weather, with content from different sources, or newer content during a rapidly moving crisis for example. GeoPDF is a collaboration platform that can be used when you have no connectivity or limited bandwidth also.
Frazier said that three-quarters of GeoEye’s business today is focused on imagery, the balance is producing other types of value added products. “We built over 3,000 3D airport products,” Frazier said. “We look at the exterior imagery of an airport, and we’re able to extract features or vectors that allow us to build a map accurate representation of both the airport itself as well as surrounding elevation and obstructions that can be helped to facilitate safe flight navigation. That’s a value added product we can distribute using this mechanism.”