ImagePatch: Updating Imagery One Patch at a Time

By Adena Schutzberg

No Jokes
Perhaps you remember the old joke, "Everyone complains about the weather, but no one does anything about it!" An updated version for those using online and organizational mapping applications might be, "Everyone complains about how old imagery is, but no one does anything about it!" One reason for this lack of action has been the challenge of scraping together the funds to procure imagery (satellite or aerial) since most providers require a minimum area or price to capture or process an order. You likely know where I'm going from here and you are right: A company called TerraPixel is stepping up to address this challenge with a service called ImagePatch.

An ImagePatch of a strip of Portsmouth, NH overlaid on the existing data from Microsoft Virtual Earth. (Image Courtesy TerraPixel) (Click for larger image)

The ImagePatch service provides high resolution (3, 6, 12 inch) orthographic or oblique images for areas as small as 20 acres in 30 days at reasonable (some might say inexpensive) prices. Pricing is based on a variety of factors (resolution, area covered and location in proximity to flight launch base, rectification, format), but TerraPixel Managing Director Rony Ledany suggests that it's typically thousands of dollars, versus a minimum of tens of thousands for larger areas. What that means, he explains, is that CAD and GIS users who currently depend on services like GlobeXplorer's ImageConnect or tap into Google Maps/Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth and use "whatever's available" can now get days-old imagery instead of archived images from months or years ago. There are a variety of samples for different uses in the samples gallery.

How ImagePatch Works
TerraPixel maintains its own aerial equipment in the Northeast and works with a network of partners across the U.S. to cover other geographies. On the satellite side, a newly announced partnership with GeoEye makes worldwide 1-meter data available now from IKONOS, and ensures 50-cm data from the GeoEye-1 satellite (expected to launch in the third quarter of 2008) will be available via ImagePatch in the coming months. Another partnership with MapMart allows customers to match new photos with existing archived data.

The 30-day turnaround is unique in the business, so far as I know. Most aerial projects of any size (town or county, for example) require months or a full year for delivery. The small areas mean processing can be done quickly in whatever form the client prefers: RAW or JPG unrectified, or with "GIS grade" (not mapping grade) rectification in KMZ format for Google Earth or YUM format for Microsoft Virtual Earth users. GeoTiff, for use with GIS and GeoPDF are available for additional fees.

The vision is that local governments that may not be able to fly the entire municipality for another year (or more) will be able to afford an ImagePatch for the specific area needed in high resolution for an upcoming project.

Ordering Patches
ImagePatch uses Microsoft Virtual Earth as its interface for the image buyer to determine the area of interest. The process is a familiar series of steps:
If you can fill out this form, you can order custom imagery in minutes for delivery within a month. (Image Courtesy TerraPixel) (Click for larger image)
  • Find the location via address or zooming/panning
  • Define the boundary of interest by drawing a rectangle
  • Select resolution (for now 3, 6 or 12 inch, but more on the way) and either ortho or oblique
  • Enter an e-mail address for confirmation
In a short time, an e-mail message with a KML file of the area will arrive. That serves as a geographic confirmation; the user can then contact the company for a quote and final details.

Evaluating the Service
There are a few things that make this service interesting and in some ways unique. It:
  • removes the time, cost and complexity of searching for vendors to fly small areas
  • makes high resolution, "new" images accessible to even the smallest of companies/organizations
  • requires almost no special expertise on the part of the person ordering
  • solves in short order the "why is the imagery so old" problem
  • relies on partners to find customers (MapMart, for example) and procure the imagery (GeoEye and a number of small aerial operators).
Will it work? My sense is that the limitation here is in getting enough customers to order on a regular basis. Are there individuals and organizations with funds who want/need ImagePatches? I think so. Can this small company get their attention and become THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN for such things? We'll have to see. At this point TerraPixel is working with a number of clients to gain a footing and to create some reference sites. There are also plans for more partnerships.

Published Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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