SALT LAKE CITY - No machetes needed for this jungle survey. Thanks to technology developed at Utah State University, Tridex Solutions, a Salt Lake City-based company in the geomatics market, has begun a comprehensive 3D survey of the west central African country of Gabon.
After a successful pilot project in January that provided 3D renderings of nearly 70,000 hectares, this week Tridex launched a more ambitious imaging project to map 1 million hectares (nearly 2.5 million acres). A multi-spectral camera developed under the leadership of Robert Pack, USU associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is the prime data capture device.
Geomatics is the discipline of gathering, storing, processing, and delivering geographic information. Worldwide, geomatics represents a $1 billion market, according to Tridex CEO Robert Vashisth.
The Gabon contract has several components, Vashisth said, but the most important aspect is to provide the data the country needs for economic development. Gabon is a financially stable country, however its oil industry has hit a plateau in production and revenues, which has impelled the government to seek ways to diversify its economy, Vashisth noted.
"The 3D data and interfaces we're providing will help the government in promoting eco-tourism, developing sustainable forestry, and expanding infrastructure such as roads and railways. To accomplish the strategy takes detailed maps that not only show geographic features but also hydrology, historical site mapping and biomass inventories. Our technology and services facilitate that data capture, analysis and delivery," he said.
Some of the project components Tridex will undertake include scanning of all the country's national parks and creating an online, interactive 3D map of the capital city Libreville. "We are helping the government build the core of services that tourists want, such as trip planning tools," Vashisth said.
In addition to Utah, Tridex has offices in the United Kingdom, India, Australia and now Africa.
"Gabon is about the size of Colorado. An on-the-ground field survey would take years - the 'surveyors hacking with machetes' problem. Satellite imagery is another option, but that requires clear days, which can be unpredictable given Gabon's climate. In contrast, we can produce a baseline map in a matter of months," Vashisth said.
In part through funding from USTAR, Pack engineered a multi-spectral camera that uses light detection and ranging (LIDAR) sensing, a form of laser. The camera is mounted to a fixed-wing plane or a helicopter. With a single pass, the camera can collect 3D data in the visible and infrared bands. To get the same amount of information with competing devices would require multiple flights, greatly adding to the time and cost of data collection.
"There is plenty of competition and LIDAR technology is not new to the market. What Bob Pack's technology brings is a multi-spectral camera that collects more data more quickly. It uniquely integrates multiple functions into one component," Vashisth said.
In January, Pack assisted in first phase of the Gabon project. "We were able to fly in a small helicopter just below the clouds as we mapped the jungle terrain with the camera," Pack said.
This pilot phase demonstrated the ability of laser signals to penetrate jungle canopy and to provide data-rich images of the terrain, even when cloudy weather persisted. One particularly striking find, Pack said, was the way the laser signals provided high-resolution 3D images of trees more than 200 feet high (20 stories).
Pack and his team at USU are joining Tridex staff in Gabon for the larger project this month.