A series of acquisitions and a new unified purpose within Trimble’s GeoSpatial Division have caught the eyes of many. Mobile mapping, aerial imaging, photogrammetry and laser scanning are now integrated toward a common goal. With a capability to supplement these areas with high quality positioning and navigation data, the company is at the forefront. Asian Surveying and Mapping editor Jeff Thurston interviewed Katherine Sandford, General Manager – Trimble’s GeoSpatial Division to learn about recent changes and the new focused goals.
ASM: Congratulations on heading up the new Geospatial Division at Trimble. I understand that the Division includes mobile data capture, aerial imaging, photogrammetry and laser scanning together with applications. That covers some a lot of interesting space. Can you explain how it was decided to include these together and the direction you expect to see the Division take?
KS: Thank you Jeff. In fact, Trimble’s GeoSpatial Division is not new. Trimble began forming the Division in 2007 through a series of strategic acquisitions that specialized in the diverse technologies such as mobile mapping, aerial imaging, photogrammetry and laser scanning.
However, today the Division’s focus is quite different. We’ve completed the transition from a grouping of independent entities to a division with a unified purpose. We deliver geospatial technologies as purpose built solutions within Trimble’s key markets, allowing Trimble clients to capture the highest quality data and transform it into geospatial intelligence.
Trimble’s GeoSpatial Division is exceptionally well positioned to provide leading geospatial solutions to address a variety of markets including agriculture, survey, construction, urban planning, environmental management as well as many others in the years to come.
ASM: The acquisition of eCognition was intriguing from the outset because of the capabilities of the software. It obviously adds high-quality image analysis into the portfolio. How do you see imagery / image analysis going forward? Were you already seeing applications for these technologies, or do you expect Trimble will develop them in the future?
KS: The acquisition of eCognition in 2010 has been fundamentally important to Trimble’s ability to transform the data collected by advanced sensor technology into useable geo- information. The combination of advanced data fusion, object oriented analysis, a grid architecture and 64-bit processing make eCognition a key asset for production scale geospatial analysis.
In that respect, eCognition extends Trimble’s ability to deliver value to its existing customers – and supports solution positioning within future markets.
eCognition’s future within Trimble certainly does involve the delivery of market-specific applications and also integration with other Trimble technologies and solutions. For example, there are many synergies to be achieved between eCognition and Trimble’s aerial solution portfolio including the Inpho software suite for aerial photogrammetry and point cloud processing. Or in combination with Trimble’s land mobile mapping solutions where object recognition and feature extraction are key capabilities within the complete workflow.
As eCognition is the latest acquisition within the GeoSpatial Division we are currently working on the specific solutions and technical integration points; however, the results of this work are expected to come to fruition in 2012 and beyond.
ASM: Trimble is interesting to watch for many reasons, including a broad-based portfolio that cuts across GNSS, imaging and field data technologies. Does this mean GNSS support for high quality positioning for imagery, laser scanning and field data? It seems like Trimble has ‘upped the game’ – and expectations?
KS: Trimble’s solution focus is on applications requiring position or location, and that certainly applies to our geospatial solutions.
From concept to delivery, we are designing complete workflows tailored to a specific market purpose and industrial application. And to make that happen we leverage a range of capabilities and technologies both from within our division and from the larger Trimble organization – including subsidiary companies. Having access to such a broad range of capabilities is a key factor in “upping the game.”
For example, the Trimble DSS is a turnkey solution for high-resolution aerial orthophotos and mosaics for rapid response and disaster management. The solution integrates an aerial camera with inertial positioning and direct georeferencing technologies from Trimble’s subsidiary Applanix. Trimble Inpho software automates the orthophoto and mosaic production, providing a seamless workflow that eliminates the need for aerial triangulation in post processing.
As a result, the Trimble DSS delivers rapid orthophotos that can be directly published, analyzed using eCognition or imported into a GIS. The same applies for our land mobile mapping solutions. The MX8 is a premium mobile spatial imaging system ideally suited for corridor mapping, particularly for highway and rail infrastructure. The system combines Trimble GNSS and inertial technologies with imaging and laser scanning sensors to deliver high-quality, georeferenced images and point clouds.
The complete workflow from data capture to analysis and feature extraction is managed using Trimble Trident Analyst software. This offers mobile mapping users a complete workflow designed for compatibility and free from third-party software repurposed from other application fields.
ASM: The company has long talked about the ‘Connected Site’, how do all the parts you are responsible for connect together?
KS: Several Trimble solution areas are designed around the ‘Connected Site’ concept. It refers to the use of two-way data transfer and real-time communications to connect assets, information, people, machines and jobsites within a unified workflow – and the mobile field worker plays a central role within that concept.
The conditions are a little bit different when looking at purely GeoSpatial solutions. The data collection field scenario most often takes place inside an aerial or land vehicle. The geospatial datasets are absolutely enormous and must be recorded on large on-board hard drives. At the end of the fly or drive mission, the hard drive is the physically ported from the vehicle to the office – by necessity. The idea of streaming these data volumes directly to the office is not viable with current technology.
For this reason, we see bringing office capabilities into the field as one route to achieving productivity gains during collection. That can be achieved by embedding some parts of the office processing directing into field solutions. Of course, collection of “ground truth” in support of remote sensing places field workers into a scenario that is very much aligned to the ‘Connected Site’ concept.
Solutions for that purpose, such as the Trimble Yuma tablet computer, are designed to facilitate field inspections, image capture and information collection while maintaining two-way data transfer and real-time communications with the office environment where geospatial information is created.
ASM: At Photogrammetric Week in Stuttgart recently, the new TAC 80MP camera was announced. Can you tell us about it and the software that is used with it?
KS: Yes, we announced the 80 megapixel medium format Trimble Aerial Camera (or TAC) at Photogrammetric Week. Images from the 80 megapixel TAC can be utilized with Trimble Inpho digital photogrammetry software. In fact, we also released the latest Inpho software version at the Photogrammetric Week. Of course, the orthophotos created using the TAC and Inpho software also provide excellent input data for our eCognition image analysis software, and the latest version of eCognition was launched at INTERGEO.
ASM: I was looking the at Trimble Agricultural Drainage solution, and it seems obvious that digital terrain models, land scape positioning and watershed management all align to the Geospatial Division as well. Alternatively, road design and highway construction do too. Do you find Trimble offers more integrated solutions and how do you approach customers who may re-purpose aerial imagery, laser scanning and field data across other work flows and processes?
KS: The customer relationships within vertical markets are managed by dedicated divisions within Trimble. A perfect example of that would be Trimble’s Agriculture Division.
Within Trimble, it is the responsibility of these divisions to define industry-specific solution requirements and bring those solutions to market. Because the GeoSpatial Division is developing solutions that are well aligned to industrial markets such as Agriculture, a priority is placed on collaborative solution development, particularly within the marketing and product management function.
Trimble’s geospatial solutions also find their way into these markets via the professional geospatial service companies that provide data and information products. In those cases, geospatial solutions are being delivered to service companies directly by Trimble’s GeoSpatial Division. Those solutions are then utilized by Trimble customers to service specific markets, such as precision agriculture.
ASM: What excites you about the new imagery related capabilities within Trimble? Why?
KS: The imagery related capabilities within Trimble help us to understand immensely complex ecosystems and environmental challenges. They allow us to plan and manage more livable and sustainable urban environments. And they change the way that we work in innumerous industrial sectors to improve efficiency and help accomplish what was impossible only a few years ago. In effect, these capabilities positively impact on the world we live in, and that excites me.
ASM: How is the Geospatial Division handling training for the many updated products and services? What training issues in general do you see within the geospatial community that need addressing better?
KS: Training is a key component whenever technology is being transferring from the domain experts into mainstream markets.
We run regular training programs for our various product lines and we are constantly accelerating these efforts. However, in the contemporary business environment it is important to balance training with self-learning and knowledge sharing opportunities that are more accessible and less cost intensive for the customer.
Our eCognition community provides an excellent example where we’ve made significant inroads through the use of a knowledge sharing community approach. Today there are more than 4,500 members of the eCognition community with access to functions such as wikis, blogs, discussions, file sharing and various other collaboration tools. Because all data within the community is user tagged, we are able to serve highly relevant content for all of the most common requirements. This approach alone is certainly not a complete training solution; however, we are very encouraged by its success.
ASM: What do you expect the Geospatial Division will look like in 3-5 years time?
KS: We believe that geospatial information is becoming more common and will be mainstream in the near future. We are seeing it every day as geospatial solutions are put to use in new markets and new application areas. It is clear that geospatial technologies will be increasingly utilized within industries where they are not used at all today. This will have a major impact on the GeoSpatial Division as we evolve our operations to keep pace with the demands of new industrial sectors while simultaneously driving technological innovation.
We’ve also seen – and have participated in – significant consolidation within the geospatial industry. Together, technological convergence and industry consolidation are changing the dynamics of the geospatial industry. In this respect Trimble is well positioned to serve its customer base with leading edge geospatial solutions in the years to come.
There are also any number of emerging trends, such as the use of unmanned vehicles, indoor mapping or Internet initiatives for geospatial collaboration to name only a few. Like other industries, geospatial is being affected by changes in global markets, with developing countries and emerging markets justifying increasing investment and priority. Any of these trends, or possibly a trend that is yet to emerge, could significantly impact the way we do business within the GeoSpatial Division in the coming years.
ASM: How did INTERGEO in Nuremburg, Germany go for Trimble? What were people able to see?
KS: As in previous years, Trimble had a significant presence at INTERGEO. In addition to the main Trimble booth, there were also numerous exhibitors from the Trimble universe.
The Inpho 5.4 suite and 80MP Trimble Aerial Camera launched earlier this month at Photogrammetric Week was demonstrated at INTERGEO. We also launched eCognition 8.7 at INTERGEO and announced the availability of our latest Trimble Trident Analyst software for land mobile mapping.
It’s was a great opportunity to come by the GeoSpatial exhibit with so many new products available for discussion and demonstration.
[This interview first appeared in Asian Surveying and Mapping magazine.]
Katherine Sandford is General Manager for Trimble’s GeoSpatial Division.
For more information: www.trimble.com