• Spatial Happenings

    December 2014
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U.S. satellite spies holiday lights from space

Karen Kaplan in www.latimes.com  17 Dec 2014 3:46PM

Holiday lights from space | United States NASA Earth Observatory In this image from NASA, green denotes light that's brighter during the Christmas-New Year's season than during the rest of the year.

Holiday lights from space | United States
NASA Earth Observatory
In this image from NASA, green denotes light that’s brighter during the Christmas-New Year’s season than during the rest of the year.

Americans are serious about their Christmas lights — so much so that a NASA satellite can see them from space.

The Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite, which NASA operates with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, can’t see the individual lights that adorn the Rockefeller Center or the yachts in the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade. But the satellite can certainly tell that the total amount of nighttime light emitted during the holiday season is as much as 50% greater than during the rest of the year.

The Suomi satellite wasn’t designed to measure the wattage of Christmas displays, of course. It was launched in 2011 to study Earth’s cloud cover, vegetation, ice, ozone layer and air pollution, as well as to monitor the temperature on land, at sea and in the atmosphere, among other things.

The satellite’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, or VIIRS, instrument does its part by recording visible and infrared light from all over the globe. The stunning “Earth at Night” images were made with VIIRS data.

Researchers from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Yale University were part of a team that developed an algorithm to help them see whether these lights changed much from night to night. The researchers were expecting the lights to be pretty stable, but when they examined images of Cairo, they found a surprising blip.

After some digging, they realized that the brighter lights corresponded with the holy month of Ramadan — a period when Muslims fast during the day and gather to eat after the sun sets. Ramadan starts about a week and a half earlier every year. Sure enough, the changes in nighttime light in Cairo synced up with the Islamic calendar.

Holiday magic? Reindeer eyes change from gold to blue at Christmas
Holiday magic? Reindeer eyes change from gold to blue at Christmas
Then they turned their attention to cities in the United States. They had to focus on places without snow, since snow reflects too much light. In the cities they did analyze, they corrected for the light effects of clouds, aerosols and even the reflection of the moon.

The researchers created images to compare the light output during the holiday season with the light measured during the rest of the year. The greater the increase, the greener an area appears. In cities such as Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix, Sacramento and San Jose, the nighttime light during the weeks between Black Friday and New Year’s Day rose by as much as 50%.

The changes weren’t uniform throughout these metropolitan areas. In general, central urban areas got about 20% to 30% brighter, while light in the suburbs got 30% to 50% more intense.

“We were really surprised to see this vibrant increase in activity during the holidays, and particularly around areas in the suburbs where you have a lot of single family homes with a lot of yard space to put lights,” Miguel Roman, a research physical scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a NASA video. The light maps provide clues that Americans leave the cities and head to the suburbs and more rural areas during the holidays, he added.  Click to read more and see video.

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Making the most detailed tweet map ever

By Eric Fischer on December 03 2014  www.mapbox.com (TOTH: www.sensorsandsystems.com)

I’ve been tracking geotagged tweets from Twitter’s public API for the last three and a half years. There are about 10 million public geotagged tweets every day, which is about 120 per second, up from about 3 million a day when I first started watching. The accumulated history adds up to nearly three terabytes of compressed JSON and is growing by four gigabytes a day. And here is what those 6,341,973,478 tweets look like on a map, at any scale you want.

© Mapbox © OpenStreetMap Improve this map. Data from the Twitter Streaming API

© Mapbox © OpenStreetMap Improve this map. Data from the Twitter Streaming API

I’ve open sourced the tools I used to manipulate the data and did all the design work in Mapbox Studio. Here’s how you can make one like it yourself.

You can follow Twitter’s stream of geotagged public tweets using the “statuses/filter” API to request tweets from a particular bounding box or the whole world. Before you can connect, you have toregister a Twitter API key and authenticate using it. I couldn’t find a simple library last year to generate the OAuth header for Twitter authentication, so I wrote this one. Once you have authenticated and connected to the filter API, you receive a steady stream of tweets in JSON format. They include a lot more metadata than you necessarily need to make a dot map, so I’ve been using this program to parse the JSON and pull out just each tweet’s username, date, time, location, client, and text.  Click to continue reading.

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Team of young coders build location-based game, using OS OpenData

By , 1 December, 2014 8:00 am

Back in August, we shared news about our support at the Young Rewired State (YRS) Festival of Code and how we mentored young people at one of the centres at Totton College, which is just a stone’s throw from our Head Office.

Map Game (mapgameyrs.kissr.com) designed using OS OpenData

Map Game (mapgameyrs.kissr.com) designed using OS OpenData

Following that blog, we were contacted by another team of young coders – Jakob Metson, Tim Yeo, Gordon Lee and Solomon Foy – who told us how they’d also used OS OpenData during the week to build a game. The young coders told us they ‘were amazed by the sheer volume of maps supplied’ through our OS OpenData portal – so we thought we’d invite them to write a guest post, allowing them to share their awesome achievement with our fellow blog followers!

The team, who were aged between 8 and 14 years old and who were based in a centre located in London, discovered our OS OpenData portal via the YRS resources page. Here’s what they had to say about their project:

On Monday 28th July our group of four, took part in the YRS Festival of Code. The Festival takes place once a year to give young coders (18 or under) a platform to get together for a week, to create a project using various open data sets.

We worked on, and coded a project called ‘Map Game’ as we wanted to create a geographic game, because we felt that there should be a fun and simple way of learning more about England’s geography. We used the OS OpenData and were amazed about the volume and different types of maps made available. We decided to create a simple web game, where the user has to guess whether they are in the North, the Middle or the South of England.

As we were fairly novice in coding, one of the main challenges was managing to code the website, especially sorting through hundreds of maps and moving them to the website. We originally downloaded a large variety of different maps and decided to use OS VectorMap District raster images as these were clear, easy to read and provided the names of well-known places, rivers and roads (which are clues as to where in England you are).

The images came in very high quality which meant high detail, but they took too long to load in our website. However, it was very simple to convert them from TIFF format (high quality) to JPEG format (medium quality). With a little help we soon were able to create a fairly decent website and what we think is a good educational game – we certainly know more about England’s geography as a result of building it!

You can have a go, by checking it out here.

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Top Ten of 2014 (from Sensors & Systems)

16 Dec 2014  Matt Ball in www.sensorsandsystems.com

In our regular end-of-the-year reflection, Sensors & Systems looks back over the past 12 months to come up with the top developments of 2014 that will have strong implications for geospatial industry growth and diversity in the coming years. Making the list are technology disruptions, acquisitions, modeling frameworks, mapping efforts and global change.

1. DigitalGlobe Launches WorldView-3 — The successful launch of the world’s most sophisticated commercial imaging satellite promises to bring a new range of potential uses, thanks to the high resolution and the infrared bands for greater spectral coverage. WorldView-3 will provide higher 0.31m resolution as well as greater global coverage. The new capabilities include the ability to see through smoke, to map crop types and health, to monitor oil and gas, and to explore for iminerals thanks to the ability to identify chemical composition.

2. Relaxed Imagery Restrictions — The relaxing of resolution restrictions by the U.S. Department of Commerce means that end users can acquire satellite imagery at up to 0.25m panchromatic and 1.0m multispectral starting in the first quarter of 2015. This move helps the commercial satellite imagery companies as well as the end user, given the superior coverage and frequency of satellite platforms for massive amounts of data collection as well as ongoing monitoring.

3. Drone-sized Laser Scanners — In the reality capture realm, both Velodyne and Riegl released LiDAR scanners small and light enough to be mounted on drone platforms. The portability and flexibility of this new capture mode should open up new opportunities for more rapid data collection and more complete 3D models for such hard-to-capture areas as mines or complex processing plants.

4. Google Purchases Skybox Imaging — The rumors were flying for months prior to the announced acquisition of the smallsat company for $500 million. The shared Silicon Valley location was certainly a factor, although likely more important is the focus on data and analytic opportunities with the planned high-resolution constellation with an eye on daily collection. The move impacted the stock of other commercial satellite companies thanks to its potential to satisfy most of Google’s insatiable demand for imagery. It’s interesting that the company was snapped up so quickly with only a few of the planned satellites in orbit.

5. Incubation Aimed at Proliferation — Esri has been expanding their support for startup companies through grants and licenses for their software. One of the more impressive aspects of the show floor at the Esri International User Conference this past year was the Startup Zone with passionate small companies that aim to expand the use and awareness of geospatial technologies and provide solutions upon the platform that Esri provides. The company wins when these companies start getting paid for their service and in turn pay Esri, but they also win by spreading the word through the evangelism of these passionate and thankful users.

6. Hexagon Geospatial Formed and Power Portfolio Released — The packaging of Hexagon Geospatial happened early in the year, splitting the geospatial tools from Intergraph and allowing for a fresh packaging of products. The new Hexagon packages are divided into Producer, Provider and Platform, giving users a bundling of capable software to support imagery processing and analysis, geospatial solutions, Web mapping, data portals and advanced modeling. The move to create the new company and the new packages provides greater clarity of offerings and reinforces the integration of the toolsets that were acquired and have been integrated over time.

7. Airbus in Action — One of the more interesting and ongoiing company stories is that of Airbus Defence and Space, which has undergone rebranding this past year with the change from Astrium. Just recently, the company sold the operations of their Spot 7 satellite to Azerbaijan as well as selling their Tokyo Spot Image company to PASCO. This divestment and partnership approach places more importance on regional partners and their ability to grow the business locally. It will be interesting to follow to see if there will be any further activity to place more of a focus on sensors and satellites and away from services.

8. FAA Opens UAS Use for Surveying and Monitoring The recent relaxation of restrictions for four companies to use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for surveying and monitoring follows a decision earlier in the year to grant exemptions to seven film companies working in both television and films. This exemption includes the drone maker Trimble and the surveying and mapping company Woolpert (who happen to be located in Dayton, Ohio where manned flight was born). This step may soon see limited exemptions for additional applications such as agricultural crop mapping and monitoring, utility and pipeline corridor inspections, and package delivery.

9. Coming Era of Real-time Geospatial Data — A number of very interesting data management tools from the likes of IBM and SAP are focused squarely on the rapid delivery of geospatial insight thanks to high-speed computing and advanced algorithms. A startup named SpaceCurve is also in this space. As geospatial data volumes continue to increase, these tools provide a distinct edge to not only make sense of all these feeds but to provide actionable information.

10. Increasing Cloud Commitments — Software companies across the full geospatial spectrum are making increased commitments to the delivery of hosted geospatial solutions as well as extending some of the data intensive heavy lifting of geospatial analysis to the infinite computing of the cloud. Esri’s repackaging of ArcGIS as Pro for desktop and Portal for Server provides increasing capabilities for Web GIS with data and infrastructure aimed at greater portability through the delivery of apps. Others are making similar moves to help organizations leverage their geospatial investments with greater access and integration into multiple simultaneous workflows.

– See more at: https://www.sensorsandsystems.com/dialog/perspectives/35376-top-ten-of-2014.html#sthash.ROZKH2qG.dpuf

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New AAG Brochure About Geography Jobs

The new AAG Jobs and Careers in Geography brochure is geared toward recruiting both upper-level high school and undergraduate college students to geography courses, geography majors, and possible careers in geography.

The six-panel, color brochure is designed to speak directly to students, with lively graphics portraying young people engaged in the exciting and socially meaningful activities of geography today.

For more information and to download the form to order copies of the brochure, visit the Jobs and Careers page.

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Darrel Hess Community College Geography Scholarship (Due Dec 31, 2014)

from www.aag.com

The AAG is pleased to announce a national scholarship program for community college students. Two $1,000 scholarships will be awarded to students from community colleges, junior colleges, city colleges, or similar two-year educational institutions who will be transferring as geography majors to four year colleges and universities. These scholarships are funded by Darrel Hess, coauthor of the textbook Physical Geography: A Landscape Appreciation by McKnight and Hess, published by Prentice Hall

The award consists of a scholarship to be used for any educational expenses in the amount of $1,000 and a formal certificate of merit. The formal announcement of the award will take place at the annual meeting of the AAG.

Eligibility: You are eligible to apply if you are a student currently enrolled at a US community college, junior college, city college, or similar two-year educational institution at the time you submit your application. You must also have completed at least two transfer courses in geography and plan to transfer to a four-year institution as a geography major during the coming academic year.

Criteria: Selection will be based on the overall quality of the application, scholastic excellence and academic promise. Financial need will also be considered. The selection committee will observe the purposes and preferences noted above when evaluating proposals. Two to four awards of $1,000 each will be made annually. Awards may not be made in years when funds are insufficient or proposals are not suitable.


Applications consist of a an online application form, unofficial transcripts and two letters of reference.
Unofficial transcripts will be uploaded to the online application form.

Applicants should arrange for the submission of two Letters of Recommendation from college instructors sent as an email attachment from the instructor’s own email address to grantsawards [at] aag [dot] org . If sent as a hard copy, they must be submitted in sealed envelopes with the instructor’s signature across the flap, and mailed to AAG Hess Scholarship, Association of American Geographers, 1710 16th Street NW, Washington DC 20009.

Notification: Acknowledgement of receipt of application materials will be returned within a maximum of 2-3 business days. All applicants will be notified of the status of their submission within 6 months after the deadline. To receive their scholarships, awardees will be asked to submit official documentation of their admission to a 4-year institution along with verification of majoring in geography, such as an official transcript that lists major, or as a letter from the department chair.

Awardees are encouraged, but not required to attend the AAG Annual Meeting following their award to receive a certificate of recognition at the AAG Awards Luncheon.  Click for the entire article.

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The Future of HealthTech – Ambulance Drones

Robert J. Szczerba in www.forbes.com  14 Dec 2014

In December 2013, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos caused quite a stir with the announcement of his company’s plans to offer 30-minute product deliveries via unmanned aerial vehicles (more commonly referred to as “drones”).  Drones have been deployed by the U.S. military since the 1970s, for purposes ranging from providing bird’s eye surveillance of troop movements and weapons facilities to launching attacks on terrorist organizations.

However, the same technology can also be used to help save lives.   Thankfully, a growing number of commercial, non-profit, and government scientists and laboratories are working towards that goal.

This past October the Netherlands’ Delft University of Technology announced that graduate student Alec Momont had developed a prototype drone that delivers a defibrillator to a heart attack victim.  To address the reality that the victim’s chance of survival decreases dramatically with each passing minute, this “ambulance drone” is guided by GPS to a mobile phone location within 4.6 square miles in under a minute.  Once there, the drone uses live streaming audio and video to allow emergency personnel to provide instructions on how to use the defibrillator correctly, and transmit the patient’s vital signs.  Widespread adoption of this kind of technology would be welcome news here in the U.S., where heart disease is the number one cause of death for men and women (about 1 in 4), claiming an estimated 600,000 lives each year.  Click here to read more.

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Landsat-8 imagery tools (FREE!)


News Release:
Rapidly Making Colorful Landsat-8 Imagery Composite with Free Advanced Image Stretching
and Pan-sharpening Software from GeoSage
Sydney, Australia – 17 June 2013:
Latest high-quality Landsat-8 satellite imagery freely available from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
provides enormous potential for innovation and applications. There is a great demand for new software
tools that can analyze the imagery in a straightforward way.
Currently, while there are many image processing software tools on the market, very few can quickly
make beautiful, detail-rich imagery composites with adaptive image stretching and advanced image pansharpening.
One may spend hours to produce something that ought to be handy in the first place. For
many GIS users, it is often hard to find right capable tools (i.e. band combination, image stretching and
pan-sharpening) in GIS packages. And for casual users and the general public, dedicated tools to process
the vast Landsat imagery archive are lacking.
GeoSage is pleased to release Spectral Transformer tool sets for Landsat-8 imagery to fill in this gap.
The standalone tools are powerful and easy to use, and perform three steps of analyses:
 Step 1: Simple band combination to make three-band imagery composite
 Step 2: Adaptive linear and non-linear image stretching to make colorful imagery composite
 Step 3: Advanced and fast image pan-sharpening to make spatially sharper and colorful
The tools specifically target Landsat-8 imagery in GeoTIFF format directly downloaded from the USGS
Landsat-8 distribution portals, e.g. GloVis. The processed (stretched and pan-sharpened) imagery at
30m- and 15-mresolution in GeoTIFF format can be readily used in all GIS and mapping platforms (e.g.
ArcGIS, MapInfo and Google Earth)

Landsat-8 captures about 400 scenes per day. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)  distributes Landsat-8 data in three very accessible ways:

The USGS Landsat portal also provides comprehensive FAQs in relation to the new Landsat-8 imagery and its comparison with the previous Landsat series. It is important to read these before conducting proper image processing. Landsat-8 products are delivered as 16-bit images with the panchromatic band at 15m resolution and multispectral bands at 30m resolution, and band combinations are unique (e.g. bands 4/3/2 refer to red/green/blue, respectively).

An overview of some common band combinations for better discriminating various ground features is provided here, there.

New analysis tools

While the imagery source is magnificent, more work needs to be progressed on how to use the imagery in a straightforward way.

  • There are many remote sensing and image processing software tools on the market, but it is fair to say that very few can efficiently make beautiful, detail-rich imagery composites with adaptive image histogram stretching and advanced image pan-sharpening. One may spend hours to produce something that is of high quality.
  • For many GIS users, it is often hard to find right capable tools (i.e. band combination, image stretching and image pan-sharpening) in GIS software packages.
  • And for casual users and the general public, dedicated tools to process the vast Landsat imagery archive are lacking.

Spectral Transformer tools for Landsat-8 imagery fill in this gap.

Standalone tool set performs three steps of analyses:

    • Step 1 – Band combination (to make three-band imagery composite)
    • Step 2 – Image histogram stretching (to make colourful composite)
    • Step 3 – Image pan-sharpening (to make spatially sharper and colourful composite)

We believe these tools are very useful for a wide range of users who are interested in analysing the Landsat-8 imagery.

– See more at: http://www.geosage.com/highview/features_landsat8.html#sthash.kdWHEbQs.dpuf

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MapQuest Professors Host “Hour of Code” Academy

www10.giscafe.com  DENVER — (BUSINESS WIRE) — December 8, 2014

MapQuest, Inc., today launched a weeklong program dedicated to providing Denver Public School students with an “Hour of Code” instruction. Over the course of Computer Science Week (Dec. 8-14), each MapQuest employee in its headquarter office will lead an “Hour of Code” session providing code curriculum, an introduction to real careers that STEM education can lead to, mentoring, a completion certificate and homework to continue the learning. The experience is meant to provide actual tactical knowledge, as well as reduce the barriers to STEM higher education and careers for students everywhere of every age.

MapQuest’s participation in the global “Hour of Code” underscores its belief in investing in STEM education for all and creating more opportunities for girls to choose a STEM field. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) studies are essential to day operations at MapQuest affecting every department, every project, and every product and service offered to consumers.

“Hour of Code” is an initiative by CSEdWeek and code.org to introduce computer programming to 10 million students and encourage them to learn programming. Curriculum and instruction tips were provided by code.org and several other accredited organizations, and technologists across the country were encouraged to offer time, instruction and mentoring to students in their communities.

MapQuest and AOL volunteers in Denver, Dulles, San Francisco and New York will be instructing one-hour classes around code that is pre-accredited, engaging and a baseline for future computer science study and development.

“While I’m happy these students will walk away with a general understanding of how code works, I’m happier the kids have a mentor and a friend to help them understand how and why code is cool,” said Brian McMahon, general manager, MapQuest. “Obstacles and intimidation prevent so many from learning the basics of code, and this immersion will help lay the foundation that computer science is fun, interesting and the future of nearly every industry.”

Representatives from the Department of Children’s Affairs, City of Denver; Colorado Technology Association; Denver Public Schools, and University Preparatory charter school students attended a pep rally at MapQuest before kicking off the inaugural hour of code in Denver.

Learning sessions will continue throughout the week with on- and offline lessons taught by the MapQuest Professor teams. Host to numerous student groups throughout the year, MapQuest hopes to create an easy architecture and network of Colorado technology businesses that can support STEM activities within the community going forward.  Full link here.

Watch highlight footage here: https://vimeo.com/113956485

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The secret of Google Maps’ accuracy revealed

Greg Miller in www.wired.co.uk  9 Dec 2014 (TOH GISCafe)

The maps we use to navigate have come a long way in a short time. Since the ’90s we’ve gone from glove boxes stuffed with paper maps to floorboards littered with Mapquest printouts to mindlessly obeying Siri or her nameless Google counterpart.

The maps behind those voices are packed with far more data than most people realize. On a recent visit to Mountain View, I got a peek at how the Google Maps team assembles their maps and refines them with a combination of algorithms and meticulous manual labor — an effort they call Ground Truth. The project launched in 2008, but it was mostly kept under wraps until just a couple years ago. It continues to grow, now covering 51 countries, and algorithms are playing a bigger role in extracting information from satellite, aerial, and Street View imagery.
A few of the features that can be extracted algorithmically from Google Street View dataGoogle Maps
Street View, which launched in 2007, was conceived as a way to improve the user experience by letting people see what the area around their destination looked like, says Brian McClendon, Google Maps VP. “But we soon realized that one of the best ways to make maps is to have a photographic record of the streets of the world and refer back to those whenever there’s a correction,” McClendon said.

And as the data collected by Street View grew, the team saw that it was good for more than just spot-checking their data, says Manik Gupta, group product manager for Google Maps. Street View cars have now driven more than 7 million miles, including 99 percent of the public roads in the U.S. “It’s actually allowing us to algorithmically build up new data layers from information we’ve extracted,” Gupta said.
Invisible to ordinary users, information about turn restrictions are built into Google mapsGoogle Maps
Those algorithms borrow methods from computer vision and machine learning to extract features like street numbers painted on curbs, the names of businesses and other points of interest, speed limits and other traffic signs. “Stop signs are trivial, they’re made to stick out,” McClendon said. Turn restrictions — which directions you can turn at a given intersection — are a big deal for navigation, but they’re trickier to capture with algorithms. Sometimes the arrows that tell you which turns are legal are painted on the road, sometimes they’re overhead. They can be different colours and sizes. “Lane markers are harder because they’re not consistent, but we’re getting much smarter about that,” McClendon said.

Street signs are a big deal too. Drivers can follow the app’s verbal directions more easily if what they hear matches what they see. but sometimes the spelling or abbreviation used on street signs varies. “Matching what’s written on the signs is actually a hard and important problem,” McClendon said.

Other algorithms extract building footprints and heights from satellite and aerial imagery. The majority of buildings in the U.S. are now on Google Maps. For landmarks like Seattle’s Space Needle, computer vision techniques extract detailed 3D models (see below). Google has said that its recent acquisition of Skybox, the high-resolution satellite imagery company, at least initially, is to improve the accuracy of its maps.
Google uses computer vision techniques to extract 3D models of landmark buildings from satellite and aerial imageryGoogle Maps
Yet satellites and algorithms only get you so far. Google employs a small army of human operators (they won’t say exactly how many) to manually check and correct the maps using an in-house program called Atlas. Few people outside the company have seen it in use, but one of the most prolific operators on the map team, Nick Volmar, demonstrated the program during my visit. (There’s also a fascinating demo in this video from Google’s 2013 developers conference).  Click here to continue reading.

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