Patrick Collins Exelis VIS  

Patrick Collins

Patrick is a Solutions Engineer at Exelis VIS. He holds B.S. in Environmental Science, MEng in GIS and Remote Sensing and has done extensive work in the remote sensing field. Having worked with both federal and commercial clients, he possesses a strong understanding of the problems facing the industry today, and provides unique insight into how technology can be used to promote reliable decision making. His focuses include GIS, remote sensing analysis, LiDAR, and cloud-based solutions. He's presented at several conferences in the past including ILMF, Esri Federal GIS Conference, Esri International User Conference, and GEOINT. You can follow Patrick on Twitter @collins_exelis.




Industries Want End-to-End GIS Solutions

Author: Patrick Collins

I spend a good amount of time on a tradeshow floor. I enjoy it. You get to meet a lot of people that are working in your industry, and have an opportunity to learn about all the amazing stuff they’re doing with image analytics. One thing I’ve noticed over the past few years is that many industries are looking for a simple GIS solution to be delivered to them without the need to source data, analyze it, and interpret those results in order to leverage the information contained in geospatial data. I see a lot of companies that do one or two pieces of the entire GIS solution, but this can leave customers feeling abandoned when they are looking for guidance throughout the entire GIS solution, not just a portion of it.

What many customers really need is a trusted partner that can help guide them through the entire process of developing a geospatial solution that fits their exact needs. A lot of larger industries such as insurance, utility management, agriculture, and others, are aware that there are benefits that can be gained by incorporating advanced GIS analysis into their business workflow. However, they may not be sure what types of problems they can actually solve, what types of analysis to use, or even what types of data are needed to answer specific problems. Below are three areas where customers could use some expertise, or even just some guidance, when approaching a GIS solution.

What problems can I solve with GIS?

Many businesses don’t know what kind of problems can be solved with GIS. Sometimes they have limited understanding; sometimes their expectations are too great for current technologies. In any event, being able to help the customer understand what is possible with geospatial analysis goes a long way towards setting their expectations and establishes a level of trust.

This may also involve exploring their architecture from an IT standpoint. Enterprise solution discussions almost always turn into architecture discussions as the customer looks to understand how your technology will help design, or fit into, their infrastructure. The ability to consume web-based data sources, or functionality that allows users to access advanced analysis capabilities from mobile devices and thin clients, can help address specific business needs that they may have regarding data storage or dissemination.

What type of data should I use?

Many customers may not know what type of data they should be using to solve their problem. It’s pretty rare I see someone come to the table with too much data or data that is more advanced than they need to solve their problem. Usually the data, or understanding of it, is lacking. Many times there is the belief that a point-and-click camera strapped to a $100 drone is going to allow a user to determine species type and plant health over an area. In these types of situations the customer may be in desperate need for some gentle education on things like spatial and spectral accuracy and global positioning systems (GPS) and how they play into the types of information they can extract from their data.

More importantly, they’ll need some insight into where to get the type of data they’re looking for. Ideally the customer would like the same business partner sourcing or even capturing the data that would be working on it. This way there’s no disconnect between the data being procured and  the analytics being run on it. This is where the end-to-end GIS solution often breaks down. Here at Harris Geospatial we have the ability to capture specific,proprietary data such as Geiger-Mode LiDAR as well as the ability to source data from a number of partners through the IntelliEarth Data Marketplace. This gives them a one-stop-shop for their data and analytics needs.

How do I Analyze the data?

Some people want their analytics in house. Some want end-products delivered to them. Whatever their need, being able to offer both out of the box and customized solutions to a consumer is important. Having interoperable desktop and enterprise solutions that can be integrated into existing infrastructures and workflows satisfies those who prefer to run their own analytics and have the staff or expertise to run it.  Other business may simply want to contract you out to get the data, run the analytics, and deliver interpreted information to them that they can work into their business decisions.

This is where software providers need to grow into a services based business model. For those who want their analytics delivered to them, who better than the developers of the software to utilize it to exploit the data? Many businesses out there today use other people’s software, data collection, and data dissemination systems to deliver end-to-end solutions for their customers. I think that the more you can conglomerate the collection, analysis, and dissemination into a single provider the better experience consumers will have integrating these types of solutions into their workflows.

Harris Geospatial

With the recent purchase of Exelis Inc. by Harris Corp., the newly formed Harris Geospatial is looking to do just that. From Geiger-mode capturing sensors to the huge amount of data available in the IntelliEarth Marketplace, we are looking to cover all of our customer’s data needs. ENVI image analysis software is available as desktop and enterprise software, enabling businesses to build out analysis infrastructure at the level that best suits their geospatial needs. Finally, our Custom Solutions Group can provide analytics expertise for the development of custom solutions for in house use while our services group can simply get the data and extract the information businesses need in a derived product type of deliverable.  Whatever the need of the industry, Harris Geospatial is looking to help them develop end-to-end geospatial solutions through a single trusted partner.

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Managing Utility Assets with Jagwire

Author: Patrick Collins

Jagwire was developed as a way to manage a number of different Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) platforms simultaneously while promoting the ability to share information among both those operating these systems and those who are interested in the information being captured by those operators. It promotes advanced search and discovery, and enables users to tag images, video, and other data sources creating a searchable library of information about those assets for future reference.

While it was originally developed for the military, Jagwire has been adopted by a number of industries that are using commercial UAS to manage utility assets in the field. Reduced restrictions on the ability for civilians to fly these platforms at low altitudes has created a unique opportunity to leverage them for this type of work, and Jagwire has provided an out-of-the-box solution for the management and analysis of the data coming from them.

One such industry is the power industry, which has been using UAS to monitor the status of power poles within their districts. The use of UAS greatly reduces the amount of resources needed to go out into the field and determine whether or not the poles are rotting by giving a quick picture of the top of the pole without having to climb it. Jagwire also hooks into ENVI Image Analysis software, so that advanced image analysis can be done on these poles on the server, giving unique insight into the health of the poles that might not be visible with the naked eye.

However, once a utility company has captured these images, it can be difficult to manage the hundreds or thousands of images that have been taken across a region.  Jagwire allows these businesses to easily ingest and manage those images, leveraging the geo-referencing metadata captured by the UAS to place them on a map. Since Jagwire is accessed through a webpage, stakeholders or other interested parties can be given access to the system to be able to see and download the images taken by the platform.


Another use case for these businesses comes into play after a disaster such as high winds, a hurricane, or other event that may disrupt the power grid. Jagwire is capable of streaming live video directly from the platform, which enables stakeholders back at an operations center to see damages to the grid in real-time. The use of UAS also allows access to areas that might be unreachable due to road or other infrastructure damage. This enables utility companies to make more informed decisions in a shorter amount of time, without having to wait for surveys from the field to return to the office, or for that information to be relayed back to the operations center.

A final consideration is the recent investment in the development of Jagwire Mobile. For those UAS that are flown with the use of an iPad, Jagwire mobile allows users to quickly and easily send images back to the Jagwire server directly from the capturing iPad, which promotes field utility and decreases the amount of time it takes to go from image capture to decision making. Jagwire is also compatible with numerous different UAS platforms, which means there is less time spent configuring the server to capture relevant metadata from the platform.

In the end, we are excited to see industries such as the Power industry turning to UAS platforms to improve efficiencies in their workflows and improve the accuracy of their surveys. We are even more excited to be able to offer Jagwire as an out-of-the-box system that can serve the needs of these companies as they move into a new era of operation success.

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Change Detection using Airbus WorldDEM™ and Elevation from Optical Imagery

Author: Patrick Collins

Airbus has recently released their WorldDEM™ product, which is a worldwide elevation product that has a better resolution than freely available elevation sources such as SRTM and GMTED. Accurate elevation information is important to conducting accurate analysis, because low resolution data can cause noise to appear especially when comparing datasets from two different time periods.

Below is an Airbus image taken after a landslide that occurred in Malin, India in 2014. I was able to retrieve a WorldDEM dataset over the area taken not too long before this landslide occurred.

I also ordered two of the post-event images in order to extract a passive point cloud from the two datasets, which would allow me to extract extremely detailed elevation information over the area. This is important because it can be difficult to get information over a remote area that has experienced a disaster or inclement weather. Being able to extract one-to-one elevation information from a high resolution imaging satellite such as Pleiades makes it easy to get accurate information in this type of scenario. Here you can see the extracted point cloud.

After extracting the Digital Elevation Model from the point cloud, I then subtracted the point-cloud generated DEM from the WorldDEM product to get an elevation change difference over the area. You can see from the image below that the resolution difference between the two elevation datasets has caused some anomalies to appear between the pixel sizes of the lower resolution dataset.

When we look at a color slice of this data we get the following.

This doesn’t quite give us the accuracy we are looking for with our data, however we can use convolution filtering within ENVI to smooth this dataset into something a little more readable. After running a convolution filter with a thirty-five pixel size we are left with the following image.

This final image shows how our elevation analysis has clearly captured the location of the landslide within this region. As mentioned before, the ability to capture and analyze extremely accurate elevation data from space allows government and other first responders the ability to quickly get important information about an area, even one that is remote or inaccessible.

For more information on WorldDEM and how high resolution elevation information can increase the accuracy of your analysis results, check out the joint Airbus / Harris webinar on the topic from last week located here

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GIS in Mexico’s Capital City

Author: Patrick Collins

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of attending the SIGSA user conference down in Mexico City. SIGSA is an Esri® partner and this event is similar to an Esri user conference for local GIS and government agencies. They also work closely with us here at Harris, and are distributors of ENVI image analysis software in Mexico.

The venue for the conference was the Marriott Reforma in theZona Rosa portion of the city. The entire conference was really well put together from check-in all the way to the final presentation. Participants included Harris, Esri, SIGSA®, DigitalGlobe™ Inc., TomTom®, Microsoft®, and more.  The content was extremely engaging and all of the people I met were very welcoming and friendly.

 In fact, there was a tangible sense of excitement at the conference that is often missing from some of the other conferences I’ve been to state-side this year. I attribute this to the growth of GIS in Mexico over the last few years. SIGSA has seen their business take off as more and more government and private agencies are using GIS technology to complement their business and activities.

For my part, I had two presentations during the conference,one focused on integration between ENVI and ArcGIS, and one that looked at some user scenarios that leveraged the integration between the two software packages. They both went well, particularly considering I chose to present in Spanish (major kudos to my high school Spanish teachers for their hard work and effort!)

In the end, this was an experience that I won’t soon forget. I attend quite a few conferences every year and this one seemed somehow different. Not just because I was speaking a different language, but for the enthusiasm and energy that I felt throughout the entire three days I was there.The folks who staffed the SIGSA booth were knowledgeable and friendly, and were genuinely interested in the insights I had to offer on GIS, remote sensing, and the industry in general. 

I’m excited to see how SIGSA develops over the next year, and to see what kind of new solutions they’ll be bringing to local business and the Mexican government in the near future. Hopefully I will get invited back next year, and if I’m smart, I’ll take the time to freshen up on my español prior to heading down there!

For more information on the SIGSA User Conference and the different businesses involved, click on this link.

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Advanced LiDAR Analysis Improves City Infrastructure Management

Author: Patrick Collins

Cities all over the world share an interest in infrastructure management. The rising cost of maintaining ever growing networks of roads, bridges, utility lines, and other infrastructure often results in pieces of it remaining in disrepair due to lack of funding. In the future, municipalities will look to advanced geospatial analytics to reduce the financial and resource costs associated with monitoring and maintaining such a large infrastructure network.

Geographic Information Systems have been used historically to map the extent of city infrastructure, however this practice can be static in nature. While it may capture an accurate representation of the current state of things, it still requires people going out to check assets and manually identify infrastructure in need of repair. Many current GIS practices don’t go far enough to reduce the impact of monitoring and maintenance activities on a monetary level.

Improved data accuracies and analysis techniques, combined with a reduction in the cost of collection, have made it possible to conduct infrastructure management more efficiently, effectively reducing the time and resources needed to identify pieces of infrastructure that need repair. As an example, ground based LiDAR can now be used to identify power poles and to calculate a number of different important attributes that are helpful for municipalities trying to track their poles.

Automated routines are used to identify power pole features from the point cloud by recognizing certain characteristics that are representative of that feature. A viewer then displays the subsetted point cloud, along with the ability to rotate the pole, zoom into it, or to show only the feature itself and not the ground points. The graph on the right shows the height and width of the feature. The viewer also displays relevant attribute information for the feature, including the pole’s height and the overall tilt of the pole.

This information is automatically generated by the routine,and provides valuable information to city utility crews that need to assess which poles need repair because they are leaning too far to one side. The user can then click through the identified features and see the resulting metadata. This information can also be used to generate a shapefile of the pole which can be displayed in three dimensions. These shapes can then be plotted to create a heat map of an area with poles identified that might need repair.

This is just one example of how advances in geospatial analysis can decrease the cost of monitoring city infrastructure. Geospatial analytics can also be used to track utility assets, identify potholes, determine bridges that need repair, and more. Contact us for more information on how we can design custom solutions for you or your municipality to better track your city’s infrastructure.


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