Ortho-Photos: The New Standard in Photogrammetric Deliverables

By George Southard

Traditionally, project requirements in the photogrammetry market have mainly focused on feature-based deliverables such as vectors.Within the last several years, however, the market has seen a new demand: image-based deliverables, mainly ortho-photos.Ortho-photos, obtained from film and digital cameras, offer huge amounts of valuable data.They contain all the information of a photograph, but with the spatial accuracy of a map.They put all the information of a photograph into a map coordinate system, significantly helping remove the guesswork associated with interpreting conventional maps.Vectors are still very much in demand, but there is a definite rise in the demand for image-based deliverables.Users are asking for ortho-photos, in place of or in addition to, vectors. What has led to the increase in this requirement?

Click on either image for larger view

Ortho-photos such as these are becoming a more commonly requested deliverable for photogrammetric products.Thanks to the new digital sensors on the market and more automated software, ortho-photos can now be processed faster and more easily than ever before.The images of Waldkirch, Switzerland (left) and Tokyo, Japan (right) were acquired with the Leica ADS40 sensor.(Images courtesy of Leica Geosystems GIS & Mapping, LLC.)

The industry has recently made huge strides in improving the automation of the ortho-photo production workflow.In the past, ortho-photo production was a very slow, difficult and expensive procedure.The workflow required numerous, tedious and time-consuming manual steps.Now, ortho-photo creation has become a much more automated process, resulting in higher production and lower cost.With current computer systems built to handle larger amounts of data, photogrammetric software workflows have additional, automated procedures that can handle the growth demanded by the market.Today's photogrammetric software, such as Leica Geosystems' Leica Photogrammetry Suite (LPS), includes more automated feature recognition, batch processing capabilities and fewer manual interventions. The combination of such improvements is driving down the price of final products while fueling the quality demand of end products.This means organizations are now more likely to invest in more computer systems to process imagery than they were in the past.

Speed of Production
One of the biggest problems of the past was that map delivery took so long that the maps were often outdated before they were delivered.The market desperately needed to reduce delivery time in order to have timely, useful data.By shortening the map replacement cycle, the value of the maps has been greatly enhanced.In addition to better data processing software and computers, the new digital cameras have made significant gains towards achieving this goal.

Ortho-photo production essentially includes the same steps whether done digitally or with film.What digital imagery has achieved that film-based systems could not, is added production speed. The throughput, or time between data capture and final ortho-photo delivery, has been drastically shortened in the last few years.The new digital camera systems entering the market eliminate the need to process and scan film, an important step in the ability to deliver a larger amount of higher-quality data, with a faster turnaround time.Products such as the Leica ADS40, a market-leading airborne digital sensor, can cover large areas of interest, rectify imagery and transfer smoothly into the post-processing phase with its proprietary Leica GPro software or third-party software.

The emergence of new software and hardware, higher production rate of products and widespread demands for imagery are primarily responsible for the increased desire for ortho-photos. This demand is driven by numerous sources.For one, the availability of high-quality aerial photography sources has grown substantially.Additionally, companies that provide photogrammetric services are using more film and digital cameras than in the past.The greatest advance in imagery, however, has come from commercial satellite image providers like Space Imaging and DigitalGlobe.As planners, engineers, politicians, land managers and other decision makers learn how to use photographic data, they are becoming more dependent on this source of information.This drives the increase in demand for imagery and, more importantly, the demand for imagery that contains more detail and accuracy.Satellite image providers alone have not been able to keep up with these demands, leaving a growing opportunity for airborne digital sensors.

The Future of Workflows
The industry is growing at a steady pace.Hardware and software providers are steadily developing faster and more automated products that still maintain high-quality outputs. Solutions providers such as Leica Geosystems are answering the market's demand by offering products that power the entire Geospatial Imaging Chain of capturing, referencing, measuring, analyzing and presenting geospatial information.Such providers are proving to end-users that ortho-photo-derived maps equal better value on money spent.These maps empower end-users to address their markets quickly and with better results.

Because of the advances made in the quality and turnaround time of ortho-photos, users are putting better information in the hands of decision makers.This helps planners, engineers and others make more informed and accurate decisions in their work.For example, a transportation department planning a new roadway can obtain a map of the proposed area that is more detailed and accurate than a map used several years before.Using the improved information available within the map, they can make more informed decisions that will positively impact the town's overall driving conditions.

Overall, the market trend is that of an upward spiral: more products (in this case ortho-photos) received, plus improved quality, speed and accuracy equal more up-to-date information.Organizations that have the same product budget they did a few years ago are now able to buy more with that same amount of money, resulting in more, better-quality map products than ever before.The added value provides all parties involved with more opportunities to grow their businesses, make better decisions and improve the accuracy, simultaneously reducing their costs.The advent of image-based deliverables becoming a part of photogrammetry projects is yet another step towards faster, more spatially accurate results for the geospatial community.

Published Wednesday, May 5th, 2004

Written by George Southard

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