Oct 25 2012

We have moved to a new Blog /Community website

Dear followers, 

We have moved our blog to a new Ning community website at http://ecosynth.org/

Please join us there.  We will keep the content on this blog,  but will no longer be updating its content.

~ Jonathan

Apr 26 2012

What is Trimble up to?

I am really curious about what Trimble is up to and where the company is headed in the future. Trimble leading manufacturers of mapping and survey grade GPS equipment and software.  Earlier in the month it was announced that Trimble acquired the company Gatewing, developers of a streamlined UAV / computer vision 3D mapping system, press release here.  Today I found that Trimble is also buying Google Sketchup, Sketchup blog post here and Trimble press release here.

A 3D mapping company and a community-based 3D modeling program/warehouse in one month -- clearly massive 3D surveying and mapping are at the top of the list for Trimble.

I think this is very exciting, but what comes next?  More importantly perhaps, where do trees, vegetation and the non-built parts of local ecosystems fit into this?

Mar 28 2012

Forest Fire Videos Captured with a Hexakopter

Here are links to two videos we collected of the forest fire we flew in early March in New Jersery.  Stephen had posted previously, post here, about our experiences getting the payload to fly on the Hexakopter, a repeat of similar work from last year.

Taking video was an afterthought for the project so we only had an SD4000 on hand for filming.  I think the video quality would have been a lot better if we had the GoPro.  Despite the wiggle and bluriness of the video, it is still possible to see the smoke lines set by the fire managers (see images at left) and there are places in the afternoon video where I think you can even see fire.  Note that these videos were taken pointing about due west, so I believe the shots from later in the day appear darker due to exposure compensation.

Video from about 12:45 - 12:55 local time: http://youtu.be/q3S3V3212bo?hd=1

Video from about 15:45 - 15:55 local time: http://youtu.be/GQHh2LX_ad8?hd=1

Mar 05 2012

Welcome New Ecosynth Users!

Just a quick post welcoming Jessica Breen and Steve Klosterman as new members of the Ecosynth blog.

Jessica will be pursuing a Ph.D. with Dr. Ellis in the UMBC GES Department this coming fall.  She has had experience with kite aerial photography and is interested in citizen science remote sensing.  She keeps up a blog about her experiences, An Accidental Geographer.

Steve is pursuing a Ph.D. at Harvard University with Dr. Andew Richarson.  He is interested in deploying multirotors for personal remote sensing of forest canopy phenology.

Welcome Jessica and Steve!

Feb 29 2012

64-bit Python Computing

Recently I ran into a memory problem running large point cloud arrays through Python and Numpy.  I quickly determined that I was asking Numpy to work on massive arrays that were exceeding the limits of the 32-bit Python process in Windows.  I came up with a workaround whereby I truncate the UTM X-Y coordinate information so I can store the numbers as 32-bit floating point values without losing precision, then add the extra numbers back at the end.  Basically, I translated the X-Y coordinates (352845.49 4346713.91 --> 2845.49 6713.91) then back again to the original UTM values after computation.  This was OK, but I wanted to overcome the 32-bit limit in Python.

There are unofficial 64-bit builds available here, but I wanted to try something established.  I got one of our machines running dual-boot Windows 7 / Ubuntu 11.10 64-bit and compiled all the Python, Scipy, and Numpy libs in Ubuntu.  These builds are inherently 64-bit because of the 64-bit OS install, so there are no issues with addressing large arrays of data.  Back to work!

Feb 01 2012

Ballon Aerial Photography, GoPro's and Photoscan


I stumbled on the website of a researcher Paul Illsley from Nova Scotia that works on remote sensing and has a hobby of photography.  He has a nice website description of a balloon aerial photography system and techniques for working with different cameras, including a GoPro Hero.  The picture at left shows a model he generated in Photoscan from a balloon survey of a building.  He suggests a technique for removing the GoPro lens distortion that I will definitely have to try out.

Photo source: http://www.paulillsley.com/airphoto/systems/B.jpg

Dec 17 2011

TLS scanning at UMBC

We have been having an exciting time in New Jersey and Baltimore working with aTerrestrial Laser Scanner (TLS; Riegel VZ400) for generating high quality 3D reference datasets for validation of Ecosynth data.  We are in the lab today because of windy conditions, working on post-processing and data management of the large amounts of data collected in New Jersey and in the photo studio at UMBC.  I thought it would be a good time for a short update post.

These pictures are from our test setup of mobile scaffolding that we will use for gaining an elevated perspective on several open grown trees for TLS scanning.  The plan is to set up the scaffolding at each of the 4 orthogonal scan stations with the TLS mounted on the platform as shown.

The tower platform is about 2m above the ground and the TLS scanning head is about 3m off the ground.  The tower can be moved by 3-4 people to each of the scanning positions, after the TLS equipment has been taken down!

We have also configured the TLS for WLAN control, meaning that we can operate scanning and review data wirelessly.  This should be useful for when we attempt TLS scanning from the bucket crane.

Nov 17 2011

The Algorithmic Beauty of Plants


In searching for research related to the structure and architecture of trees and canopies, I came upon the book The Algorithmic Beauty of Plants and the research of Dr. Przemyslaw Prusinkiewicz and his Algorithmic Botany lab in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Calgary.  All I can say is, 'Wow!'

The image at left is from a 2009 paper on procedural, self-organizing reconstructions of tree and forest landscapes.

Dr. Prusinkiewicz's research spans over two decades and his website includes published algorithms for procedurally generating 3D, colored, and textured plants.  Some of the figures in these papers look amazing.

I look forward to looking more into Dr. Prusinkiewicz's research for inspiration and insights in support of my own research with computer vision remote sensing based reconstruction of canopies.  Some of Prusinkiewicz's work covers the use of point clouds to 


represent tree structure, so I am definitly interested in learning more about that data model.

References & image credit:

Wojciech Palubicki, Kipp Horel, Steven Longay, Adam Runions, Brendan Lane, Radomir Mech, and Przemyslaw Prusinkiewicz. Self-organizing tree models for image synthesis. ACM Transactions on Graphics 28(3), 58:1-10, 2009.

Nov 11 2011

GoPro HERO 2 in hand, now I just need time!

OK, so now I have a new GoPro HERO2 camera shooting 11MP stills at 2fps, I just need the time to go out and test it at our study sites.

First things first, this camera is shooting stills with relatively wide field of view (FOV) and we don't know what that is going to do to structure from motion computation.  The camera shoots in full 170º FOV in 11MP and full or medium 127º FOV at 8MP and 5MP.  Narrow, 90º FOV, options most similar (although still wider) than the other cameras used in our research, are only available in video mode.

Some initial tests with ground subjects on campus have produced somewhat positive results, I think it is too early to tell for sure.

More to follow, when I can get to it.

Nov 02 2011

Baby-Steps: Taking 'Personal' Multicopter to a Whole New Level

My friend just sent me a link to a Gizmodo article about a truly personal multirotor aircraft: a 16 motor electric (li-po?) behemoth equipped with its own passenger/driver seat and designed by the e-volo team in Germany.  Check out the video on their website, I want one!

Not only could this provide an interesting platform for the personal remote sensing we are interested in with Ecosynth - but I can only imagine the thrill of skimming above the tree tops, getting a truly birds-eye view of the canopy.

The future is so cool.

So Garrett and Nisarg...next lab project?

Image credit: http://www.e-volo.com/Prototype_files/e-volo_IMGP2420.jpg