4D is the New 3D: Aerial Mapping + Time

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How cloud-based reality-as-a-service will transform business

Sony’s once ubiquitous Walkman gave way to Apple’s iPod, which in turn was eclipsed by smartphones as storage densities leapt from tape (magnetic) to disc (optical) to semiconductor (and soon, molecular transistors). Storage has become the ultimate commodity – infinitely scalable, invisible, and on-demand.

Likewise, today’s data delivery is seamless, wireless, and cloud-based. Data transfer rates have evolved to where everyday households stream 4k video from endless virtual libraries. The logical result? As former storage and speed limitations diminish, truly rich datasets start to become viable.

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Reality as a Service

What if you could stream reality as we know it? Not reconstructed through digital artists, light effects and artificially-rendered polygons, but the real thing? Your streets, your buildings, your local infrastructure or another city’s – all in immersive 3D, and simply there when you need it?

And by reality, we mean the gritty truth – every pothole, imperfection, liability or opportunity. What would that mean to your business? What would that mean to government and industry?

That’s Nearmap: an aerial imagery service that regularly captures high-resolution reality across the urban US, uploads to the cloud within days and delivers instant access to your desktop, tablet or mobile device.

When Truth is a Moving Target

Think of property appraisers – it’s their job to determine what was built, improved or demolished… and when. 3D imagery provides them with unprecedented control to assess properties with greater accuracy than ever before. 4D imagery adds the dimension of time, allowing them to easily detect change throughout the year. For appraisers (and countless others) traditional site visits will have become obsolete, like the Walkman and magnetic storage – artifacts of the past. 

The solar industry is already booming, but consider the possibilities with 4D views. The added dimension of time allows solar estimators to analyze shadowing over time from trees, terrain or other obstructions. 4D views from multiple angles also results in optimal panel placement and precise yearly electrical output calculations.

When you think about it, ground conditions will always change over time. It’s simply the nature of things, and the challenge is detecting when things change. How would 4D imaging affect insurance underwriters evaluating a specific property over recent years to derive future risk? Or public works measuring catch pond volume and runoff areas? The possibilities are vast, and truly transform our view of the world.

When Time is of the Essence

Actionable info comes with a built-in window of opportunity; act now for competitive advantage, or delay and go the way of the dodo. Until recently, only government and large corporations could afford high resolution aerial photography. Small-to-medium business had to rely on Google aerial maps, and soon realized the limitations of free satellite imagery: lower image quality that’s often years out of date. If you needed to know current conditions on the ground or gather elevation data, you had to travel there yourself or dispatch a field team.

With high-resolution aerial imagery-as-a-service, smaller companies can compete on an equal footing at lower cost to rapidly expand operations with remote prospecting, precise aerial measurement, and virtual site inspections. Versatile aerial imagery also delivers a full range of imaging options from flattened orthographic projections to bird’s eye oblique views and immersive 3D models. And yes, over time.

Resolution matters, too – at sub 3” GSD (ground surface distance, or the size a single pixel on the ground) today’s aerial photography is several times sharper than satellite, with better color and fidelity from inside the upper atmosphere. Where a satellite image may show the general dimensions of a roof, aerial imagery clearly shows its vents, skylights and other fine features as well. And with each successive leap in imaging technology, immersive imagery finds new use cases and longer-term sustainable advantage.

With Fresh Aerial Perspective

Where satellite image quality suffers, drone photogrammetry excels: high image resolution, oblique views and great recency. Much of the buzz is legitimate, and UAV imaging has a bright future. Its greatest liabilities are relative complexity, high operation costs and low repeatability which prevents indexing change. Alternatively, 4D imaging occupies that rare sky where imaging accurately overlays previous captures to show truth over time.

With high-resolution capture, infinite zoom levels, wide array of look angles and seamless mosaics, aerial imagery streamed from the cloud owns that hallowed middle ground. Add geolocated repeatability and measureable change through time and 4D becomes reality.

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