ASM: How did VisionMap begin? What is your primary business today and who do you see as your market?
YV: The founding team of VisionMap, which were a group of physics Olympics competitors, decided to challenge the known truth about aerial photography – that if you want high resolution images, you need to compromise with your coverage.
We decided upon a different approach and way of thinking. This included the idea to show that the boundary is breakable. This allowed us to design and developed a camera, that for the first time, provided both high resolution images and very wide area coverage. The result is a paradigm shifting product for aerial survey companies which provide aerial photography. In addition, a highly automatic processing system was developed, enabling efficient processing of the vast amount of data that are generated by the camera.
ASM: You have had good success with the A3 camera system. Can you describe the camera briefly and what distinguishes it from other cameras on the market?
YV: The A3 camera is a large format aerial camera that uses two rotating lenses combined with a very robust automatic processing system. A3’s first differentiator is that the camera can operate at higher altitudes, much higher than any other camera, and provide high resolution images.
This has enormous impact on projects expenses and pricing: imagine how competitive a company can be when only 2 flight days are needed to finish a project instead of 7 flight days…
Another differentiator is that A3 is what we call ‘hybrid system’: it produces both vertical images which are automatically processed to Orthophoto , along with solved oblique images and stereo pairs, for mapping compilation and 3d modeling. I believe A3 is the first and only integrative system that provides multiple products from one flight.
ASM: What about processing of the imagery, how is that accomplished with your system?
YV: Processing has always been a bottle neck in every workflow, and involves a lot of labour work. The main thought behind the processing system is that by making the workflow fully automatic, without any manual editing, we can create a unique advantage for a company in our highly competitive market. The implications are far-reaching. One interesting example is that for the first time, using A3 processing system, small companies have a powerful ability to cope with and deliver large projects, without changing or expending their resources.
Another interesting aspect is that A3 is unique in its end to end approach. Because the system will take the user from the airborne image acquisition to a final output of ortho-mosaic, the workflow is for the first time unified. In contrast, most processing environments are composed of many sub-systems from many vendors where in practice the user is responsible to transform these pieces into a complete workflow. This requires tremendous expertise from the user, and introduces major risks into the process.
In addition, in many cases it will be difficult to identify the piece that is responsible for a processing problem.
By introducing a uniquely complete workflow, A3 substantially reduces the total cost of ownership of processing environments and simplifies the process of adopting new technology by survey companies.
ASM: Where are your products being used primarily – environment, agriculture, city planning? Could you describe a few examples where they are being used and how?
YV: A3 has become a very versatile system. Agriculture projects usually require half meter resolution products, while city planning and engineering increasing their demand for high resolution images, sometimes below 10 cm GSD. Due to A3’s special design, the camera can operate at 5000 feet and deliver 5 cm GCD for very detailed city planning and 3D modeling, and during the same flight climb to 30000 feet and deliver 30 cm GSD products for agricultural and very large area orthophotos.
ASM: Digital imagery has been growing in use across the globe. Why do you think that is happening? What are some of the challenges that you see for digital camera manufacturers today?
YV: There is no doubt that the demand aspect of the market is transforming. I would like to focus on the transformation of imagery into content that is being consumed by non-professional users, mostly over the internet and in the context of location based services. It is very important to identify what these users desire from their imagery – we think that they look for an intuitive experience, which requires high resolution as well as angles that resemble day-to-day experiences – such as oblique imagery or street level imagery. We need to understand that in day to day activities, people are used to seeing mostly vertical surfaces in resolutions of centimetres, not rooftops in a quarter of a meter resolution. In addition, they want the content to be correct and this means it has to be up to date. It cannot be two year old imagery of an urban area.
Therefore, we think that the challenges to digital camera manufacturers are defined by these parameters: we need to provide systems that are capable of updating the imagery layers very frequently (and this reflects both on image acquisition and on processing), we need systems that can provide intuitive imagery from different angles, we need systems that can do that in very high resolution and ideally, we need systems that can do all that accurately, so that all this content can also be leveraged into mapping quality data that correlates with the imagery that will be used day-to-day.
ASM: Is VisionMap involved in image analysis? Does your camera provide unqiue capabilities from an image analyst perspective?
YV: I would like to mention two aspects in this regard. First, the possibility of having very high resolution imagery for wide areas has been made affordable by A3. This provides many opportunities for image analysis. For example, what can high resolution imagery do for forestry and agriculture image analysis? Another example would be the possibility of performing image matching in surfaces that would seem uniform in lower resolution. This might reflect on density and quality of elevation models as well as their
Second, although oblique images have been collected for quite some time, the images have not always benefited from high photogrammetric accuracy. In addition, the workflow of processing oblique imagery has been unique to some of the companies that collect them and in general has not been certified from the photogrammetric point of view. A3 is a pioneer in the way it integrates the oblique images with nadir imagery in a single bundle adjustment, which means that oblique imagery can suddenly stand with the highest photogrammetric standards.
ASM: Recently you partnered with Aerodata International, a large European data provider. What is involved in that relationship and where do you see it leading? Do you have other partners throughout Asia? What about North America?
YV: Aerodata has been an early adopter of technology throughout the years. For example, their adoption of ultracams was very early, and in general they have always made sure that they have an edge over their competitors. This means that this is an organization that can recognize trends, analyze technology and has the necessary depth to take decisions and act upon this information. Therefore, from our perspective, Aerodata is a very interesting company to work with.
Another company that in my opinion has the same traits of leadership and vision is Fugro EarthData in North America. We have a very strong relationship and we have learnt much from working with them.
A very interesting market is Russia, which has vast potential and strong local companies. Recently we supplied a system to Meridien+, which is a very dominant company in Russia.
Our go-to-market plan was to identify and start working with these types of companies in the first phase. The next phase, which is where we’re at now, is to broaden our reach, along with our distribution and support network into more territories, such as Asia-Pacific.
ASM: It seems that LiDAR and photogrammetry are closely aligned today. Are you involved in this integration at the moment? If not, do you expect to be?
YV: From the imagery perspective, this is an interesting issue and a definite trend that we see. There are multiple reasons. The quality and density of elevation data that can be collected with modern LIDARs is very good, But obviously it helps to have photos that complement the cloud of points. And as long as these photos can be collected with LIDAR in the same flight and processed efficiently – this is a logical step.
It is evident that A3’s compact size and small weight are an advantage. The fact that the system is compact (the camera weights only 35 kg), and doesn’t require any special mounting, allows it to co-exist and operate with a LIDAR in most aircraft. In fact, A3 can compliment LIDAR with much higher resolution imagery than current cameras.
From the point of view of A3’s roadmap, we are used to processing huge clouds of points, because this is an integral part of A3’s processing pipeline. Of course, these are points that are created through photogrammetry using image matching techniques and multiple ray intersections, not by LIDAR. However, this is a foundation to build upon in terms of integrating photogrammetry and LIDAR data into a single workflow that enhances robustness and accuracy. This is an issue that we’re looking at and I foresee it becoming more relevant in the future, more so when the technology for wider format LIDAR will be available. At this stage I can say that we are looking at some alternatives and how they can enhance A3’s value to the end user.
ASM: A question we often get is “what is the benefit of air photo imagery over satellite imagery?” How would you answer that? What other benefits do aerial photos provide that users often realise?
YV: Resolution and availability are the main pro’s for aerial photography. The resolutions that can be reached with air photo are much better therefore supplying the end-user with much more information in hand. Aircraft availability is higher than satellite and significantly less expensive so you have more control on how and when to fly and collect the imagery. The concept that large areas can be acquired only by satellite imagery is not necessarily true anymore, as A3 presents image acquisition capabilities of more than 20000 sq km a day.
ASM: Where do you see VisonMap in 3-5 years time?
YV: I see VisionMap continuing to innovate and to provide its customers and partners with the technology and systems that will keep them highly competitive in their market space.
In addition, I think that we’re in a market that is highly dynamic and is transforming at the moment, thereby generating substantial risks and opportunities for every active company in this space. I think that we’re positioned well both to identify these opportunities through the partnerships that we’ve formed, as well as to respond quickly based on the uniquely versatile and scalable technology that we developed.
ASM: Do you see differences between your customers in different locations around the world?
YV: Naturally, each customer reflects the trend in its territory, such as the requirement for rapid response and obliques in the US. Another interesting aspect is the aviation problems in Europe, where in many areas you just cannot fly below ten or twelve thousand feet of altitude, although extremely high resolution of about of ten centimetres is still required.
A3 is a very versatile system, as it supports all these scenarios very well. And of course, we strive to make it even more versatile by listening to our customers and incorporating more features into it respectively.
Mr. Yaron Vilan is CEO at VisionMap.
1998-01——–3D Graphics & Simulation PM, Tiltan Systems
2001-04——–Geomatics Group Manager, Tiltan Systems
2004-05——–V.P. Business Development, Tiltan Systems
2005-08——–Executive V.P., VisionMap
2008-till now–CEO, VisionMap