Apr 26 2012

What is Trimble up to?

I am really curious about what Trimble is up to and where the company is headed in the future. Trimble leading manufacturers of mapping and survey grade GPS equipment and software.  Earlier in the month it was announced that Trimble acquired the company Gatewing, developers of a streamlined UAV / computer vision 3D mapping system, press release here.  Today I found that Trimble is also buying Google Sketchup, Sketchup blog post here and Trimble press release here.

A 3D mapping company and a community-based 3D modeling program/warehouse in one month -- clearly massive 3D surveying and mapping are at the top of the list for Trimble.

I think this is very exciting, but what comes next?  More importantly perhaps, where do trees, vegetation and the non-built parts of local ecosystems fit into this?

Dec 17 2011

TLS scanning at UMBC

We have been having an exciting time in New Jersey and Baltimore working with aTerrestrial Laser Scanner (TLS; Riegel VZ400) for generating high quality 3D reference datasets for validation of Ecosynth data.  We are in the lab today because of windy conditions, working on post-processing and data management of the large amounts of data collected in New Jersey and in the photo studio at UMBC.  I thought it would be a good time for a short update post.

These pictures are from our test setup of mobile scaffolding that we will use for gaining an elevated perspective on several open grown trees for TLS scanning.  The plan is to set up the scaffolding at each of the 4 orthogonal scan stations with the TLS mounted on the platform as shown.

The tower platform is about 2m above the ground and the TLS scanning head is about 3m off the ground.  The tower can be moved by 3-4 people to each of the scanning positions, after the TLS equipment has been taken down!

We have also configured the TLS for WLAN control, meaning that we can operate scanning and review data wirelessly.  This should be useful for when we attempt TLS scanning from the bucket crane.

Nov 17 2011

The Algorithmic Beauty of Plants


In searching for research related to the structure and architecture of trees and canopies, I came upon the book The Algorithmic Beauty of Plants and the research of Dr. Przemyslaw Prusinkiewicz and his Algorithmic Botany lab in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Calgary.  All I can say is, 'Wow!'

The image at left is from a 2009 paper on procedural, self-organizing reconstructions of tree and forest landscapes.

Dr. Prusinkiewicz's research spans over two decades and his website includes published algorithms for procedurally generating 3D, colored, and textured plants.  Some of the figures in these papers look amazing.

I look forward to looking more into Dr. Prusinkiewicz's research for inspiration and insights in support of my own research with computer vision remote sensing based reconstruction of canopies.  Some of Prusinkiewicz's work covers the use of point clouds to 


represent tree structure, so I am definitly interested in learning more about that data model.

References & image credit:

Wojciech Palubicki, Kipp Horel, Steven Longay, Adam Runions, Brendan Lane, Radomir Mech, and Przemyslaw Prusinkiewicz. Self-organizing tree models for image synthesis. ACM Transactions on Graphics 28(3), 58:1-10, 2009.

Nov 01 2011

Personal remote sensing goes live: Mapping with Ardupilot

Folks all over are waking up to the fact that remote sensing is now something you really should try at home!  Today DIYDrones published a fine example of homebrew 3D mapping using an RC plane, a regular camera, and a computer vision software: hypr3d (one I’ve never heard of).  Hello Jonathan!

 

PS: I’d be glad to pay for a 3D print of our best Ecosynth- hypr3D can do it, so can landprint.com

Oct 25 2011

CAO Dreaming

Breakthrough technology enables 3D mapping of rainforests, tree by tree” - the latest news from the Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO)- but also old news: since about 2006, the CAO has been the most powerful 3D forest scanning system ever devised, and Greg Asner has continually improved it.

The CAO was the original inspiration behind Ecosynth.  In 2006/2007, I  was on sabbatical at the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institute of Washington at Stanford, and my office was right next to Greg’s.   Though he was mostly in Hawaii getting the CAO up and running, he and his team at Stanford completely sold me on the idea that the future of ecologically relevant remote sensing was multispectral 3D scanning (or better- hyperspectral- but one must start somewhere!). 

I coveted the CAO.   I wanted so much to use it to scan my research sites in China.  Our high-resolution ecological mapping efforts there had been so difficult and the 3D approach seemed to offer the chance to overcome so many of the challenges we faced. 

Yet it still seemed impossible to make it happen- gaining permission to fly a surveillance-grade remote sensing system over China?  It would take years and tremendous logistical and political obstacles to overcome.  So I changed my thinking…

What if we could fly over landscapes with a small hobbyist-grade remote controlled aircraft with a tiny LiDAR and a camera?  Alas, no, - LiDAR systems (high grade GPS + IMU) are way too heavy, and will be for a long time.

Then I saw Photosynth, and I thought- maybe that approach to generating 3D scans from multiple photographs might allow us to scan landscapes on demand without major logistical hassles?  The answer is yes, and the result, translated into reality by Jonathan Dandois, is Ecosynth.

Can Ecosynth achieve capabilities similar to CAO?  Our ultimate goal is to find out.   And make it cheap and accessible to all- as the first “personal” remote sensing system of the Anthropocene.

Oct 14 2011

Mikrokopter and Computer Vision/Photogrammetry used for Landslide Modeling

Researchers at the Universität Stuttgart, Institute for Geophysics in Stuttgart Germany, have used manually flown Mikrokopters and semi-automated photogrammetric software to generate high resolution photo mosaics and digital terrain models of a landslide area for tracking terrain displacement.  

An article published this spring in the journal Engineering Geology demonstrated the value of using remote controlled aircraft and off-the-shelf digital cameras for high resolution digtial terrain modeling.  The researchers used photogrammetry and computer vision software VMS to make 3D terrain models with aerial images and compared the results to aerial LIDAR and TLS terrain models.  A network of ~200 GPS measured ground control points were used to assist with image registration and model accuracy with good results.

The authors appear to agree with our sentiments that RC based aerial photography and 3D scanning has the benefits of low-cost and repeatability compared to traditional fixed wing or satellite based data collections.

Unlike our research, the authors of this study were interested in only the digital terrain model (DTM) and vegetation was considered noise to be removed for more accurate surface modelling.

Again...just one more reason for me to get cranking on that next paper!

Image source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Super_sauze_landslide.JPG

Oct 13 2011

WebGL Globe

I just stumbled on a great looking globe based data visualization tool: WebGL Globe.

The screen cap at right is from a browser based visualization of 1990 global population data.  While not realted to Ecosynth, this is a really cool technology that could be valuable for other research in our lab, like visualizing global data for understanding global relevance of locations and studies, the GLOBE project.

Some of the example global datasets are fun, Google technology user group meetings or blogger mood, but it would be interesting to see some more ecologically relevant data plotted this way.  For example, trends in estimates of forest cover or urban growth.

Can't wait to see this in 3D, or maybe in a holographic projection!

Aug 03 2011

Kinect 3D Scanning for Archeologists

As we’ve seen before, Kinect 3D scanning keeps getting more popular all the time, including for outdoor work in the sciences:  “Archaeologists Now Use Kinect to Build 3-D Models During Digs”.

 

Still some clear and major issues with using the Kinect outside and for scanning forests, maybe it is time to give this a try in the lab?

Jul 09 2011

Image-based Tree Modeling

Image-based Modeling

Can the geometry of trees be captured using computer vision and then used to create models of tree structure?  YES!  Super cool work described here at Ping Tan’s website at the National University of Singapore:

http://www.ece.nus.edu.sg/stfpage/eletp/Projects/ImageBasedModeling/

 

Still a long way to go before this will be useful for ecologists- but a huge step in the right direction!

Youtube version here…

Jun 28 2011

Automated terrestrial multispectral scanning

topcon_ips23D scanning just keeps getting better (but not cheaper!).

A post from Engadget: Topcon's IP-S2 Lite (~$300K) creates panoramic maps in 3D, spots every bump in the road (video) http://www.engadget.com/2011/06/28/topcons-ip-s2-lite-creates-panoramic-maps-in-3d-spots-every-bu/.

More from Topcon:

http://www.topconpositioning.com/products/mobile-mapping/ip-s2

http://global.topcon.com/news/20091204-4285.html

 

IMG_1433

In China recently, we had the good fortune to collaborate in using a wonderful new ground-based (terrestrial) LiDAR scanner (TLS) from Riegl: The VZ-400, which fuzes LiDAR scans with images acquired from a digital camera (~$140K). Pictured at left- graduate students of the Chinese Academy of Forestry with us in the field- literally!