Intermap began collecting and processing high quality terrain elevation data for North America, Europe and parts of Asia many years ago. With completed NextMap USA and NextMap Europe data the company then changed management and re-emerged with a host of new 3D Business Intelligence solutions that more fully capitalize upon the data. These new solutions are answering important and useful business questions ranging from flood modelling to telecommunications to automotive applications. Eurospatial Communications editor Jeff Thurston interviewed Adam Denman of Intermap to learn about the new direction of the company and the many new solutions.
3DVW: Are you finding that people are using 3D data, visualization or both together in your business at Intermap?
AD: We have created an entire line of new products that we refer to as 3D Business Intelligence. 3D data is becoming more popular, although there can be frustrations as more work needs to be done on awareness. High accuracy terrain data for elevation can provide significant benefits for users, and that is increasingly being understood. Interest in high quality 3D data purely for visualization is limited at present, although we expect that will change in time.
Intermap data has powered Microsoft Flight Simulator for quite a while. Microsoft also uses Intermap terrain data in Bing Maps UK, and there are places where a side by side comparison with Google Earth, Land’s End in the UK for example, allow Microsoft to show realistic 3D terrain whereas the Google Earth does not show the true 3D view.
3DVW: Intermap is well known for the NextMap products, can you briefly describe them and how accuracy and precision relate to the value of your offerings?
AD: NEXTMap Europe represents approximately 2.4 million km2 of high resolution uniform and homogenous digital elevation data covering all of Western Europe, except Norway and Sweden.This unique dataset has a vertical accuracy of 1m (LE90%) and postings (Ground Sampling Distance) of 5m. This level of accuracy, resolution and uniformity provides value in an increasing number of geospatial solutions. One of the changes in Intermap is that we are increasingly focusing on providing new geospatial solutions, rather than just providing the raw data.
3DVW: Can you describe these changes and how they have caused Intermap to follow a different pathway now?
AD: We’ve developed a number of 3D Business Intelligence solutions (3DBI). There are many people in need of our data and solutions that are not geospatial professionals per se. They simply want solutions and answers to their problems.
One of the first instances of 3D business intelligence we have had success with relates to risk management and 3D flood modeling. Through partners, we now have sophisticated flood models available for five countries in Europe that benefit from our data for this purpose. These include Germany, UK, France, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. More will follow.
3DVW: How do people access these solutions? What are the issues involved in gaining access to the data?
AD: We offer web service access to these solutions and to data. Many organizations, insurance companies and utility companies, for example, want to understand the flood risks for their strategic locations. These organizations can access our application, called RiskPro, over the web on an affordable annual subscription basis.
Such organizations typically want to know which of their locations are at risk, and how great that risk really is. Information as to the depth of flood water at different locations can be very important in determining the business or operational impact of a natural catastrophe. We provide web-based tools that enable users to obtain these answers quickly and easily.
3DVW: How important is high data accuracy when it comes to flood risk management?
AD: It is extremely important. Our data is accurate to better than 1m, vertically, across Europe. This is important when calculating where flood water will travel, particularly across borders where different datasets and accuracies may exist. Using input data with increased vertical accuracy tends to improve the quality of flood risk models generally.
Flood risk modeling continues to improve and the use of higher resolution more accurate 3D data is one of the keys. Our state-of-the-art flood risk management solutions can be found in many insurance and reinsurance companies, and there is a growing demand for better and more sophisticated models.
3DVW: What is driving these kinds of applications? Are there other factors involved in the 3D business intelligence approach?
AD: It is good business sense to manage risk properly and accurately. A good example we had recently was of a major telecom company that wanted to know how its network would be affected if there was a major flood event in a particular country. They have several thousand sites and base stations and it was vital for them to know which were in potential flood zones and to run different scenarios. For major insurance companies, not only do they want to be able to price flood insurance appropriately, according to the true risk, but when major events happen, they often run multiple models to determine the extent of damages, and to obtain quick information about their financial exposure. Another driver is the EU legislation known as Solvency 2, which, amongst other things, places stricter capital requirements and greater transparency rules on insurers. Overall, this contributes to a growing need for better and more accurate models.
3DVW: Can you briefly describe your LinkPro product?
AD: LinkPro is a web-based application that enables telcoms to optimize and plan their line of sight microwave back-haul networks. Operators use hundreds of thousands of microwave antennae around the world to support their networks, and many more are being planned.
They used to have to perform expensive field surveys for individual towers to enable them to be properly located and verify line of sight connections. Now they use our highly accurate 3D digital surface models (DSM) to verify the line of sight and optimise their networks. Our Digital Surface Models capture vegetation and man-made structures and are therefore ideal for accurate line of sight terrain profile analyses.
Users access our web service, enter their antenna site locations, frequency and other parameters where microwave links are planned. The web service then instantly returns the terrain profiles, indicating whether any obstacles exist, helping them determine, for example, the necessary antenna height on a tower for an effective link. Some customers buy a few hundred links at a time, while others may buy tens of thousands of links. One major company estimated that they saved 80% of their surveying costs related to this kind of work by using LinkPro. This is a great example of Data as a Service (DaaS).
3DVW: Are there other applications that Intermap offers that capitalize upon the 3D relationship to the terrain?
AD: One of the newer areas that is rapidly gaining market interest is outdoor advertising for media companies. AdPro is a Web-based billboard inventory management and planning
application. It enables media owners and buyers to more effectively manage their billboard inventories and campaigns, by integrating 3D information with demographic and local traffic information. It allows for the best selection of locations for billboards and digital signage.
Our 3D data enables AdPro to calculate, according to 3D inter-visibility calculations (view-shed analysis) for how long a given billboard will be seen, taking into account the time of day and known traffic speeds and the topography of the land.
3DVW: How is Intermap coming along with putting these solutions on the Internet? My sense is that most people only want the data they need for a project.
AD: We have spent a lot of time and effort shifting our distribution toward the Internet and using web services. All our data and standard services are now generally available from our webstore. Now anyone can go to our website, draw a polygon defining their area of interest, and the data will be calculated, the price shown and they can complete the purchase online and download the information they need. Naturally some customers prefer to host all the data themselves, and that’s fine as we can offer an appliance with complete datasets if required. We also offer subscription access to our data based on the number of seats requiring access. For organisations that require easy access to accurate terrain information but who do not want the expense of hosting all the data themselves, this can be an attractive solution.
3DVW: How do your customers approach you? Do they know the exact answer they want?
AD: Our customers come from all kinds of businesses and awareness levels. A good example are large national companies or governments who have part of the data they need, but not all of it. They want to tackle certain questions and get solutions for them, but they know they are missing pieces of the puzzle to properly address the issues. So we help them to discover what they need and how it can be used to address the questions they have in mind.
We work with them to fill in the gaps, and because our focus has changed, we can offer a range of services and guidance to integrate other data sets as well. In fact there is a growing demand for what we call Data Fusion Services, where a customer has various datasets, often of differing resolution and quality levels and would like them all integrated onto NEXTMap, for example, as a base-map. We have developed proprietary processes to seamlessly fuse these datasets together intelligently onto an accurate base-map ensuring that the highest accuracy data is retained where it exists, and that the overall dataset is hydrologically enforced.
3DVW: Is Intermap providing a global 3D elevation product?
AD: Yes, we are now offering a global DSM product. Although our current NEXTMap (5) dataset covers Western Europe and the USA as well as many parts of South East Asia, and this has a 5m Ground Sampling Distance (GSD), there is effectively a need for a global product that does not suffer from some of the shortcomings of the SRTM or ASTER datasets. Our NEXTMap World 30 DSM is a seamless, best available surface elevation data with a 30-meter ground sampling distance (GSD) so you can perform more efficient geospatial analyses.
This 30m DSM provides the most current worldwide elevation product on the market to date. It has been validated against high-resolution worldwide LiDAR (30cm vertical accuracy) to achieve a 12m LE90% – a significant improvement from the original ASTER 30m product available today. The aggregation and merging process of other elevation datasets has enabled Intermap to remove many of the artifacts (e.g. mounds in open fields) characteristic of the latest release of ASTER data. Improvements in vertical accuracy from 20m LE90% to about 12m LE90% provides the best commercially available worldwide DSM in today’s marketplace.
We have used specialised data fusion tools to ensure that this NEXTMap World 30 DSM is a void-filled seamless and homogenous dataset.
3DVW: Are you continuing the work on automotive applications and 3D driver assistance?
AD: We have a product named 3D Roads Europe which includes pure road geometry. It is not a navigable database in the sense of Tele Atlas or NAVTEQ’s products, but is complementary to them. 3D Roads provides accurate (x, y, z) data every 3.5 m along the centre-lines of every road. It can be easily integrated with navigation databases, but is oriented toward driver safety technology and fuel efficiency for cars and trucks. Many applications can benefit from this data, such as adaptive cruise control, curve speed warning and predictive front lighting. Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) tend to begin in high-end cars and then extend down into the mass market.
3DVW: Is there any automotive work in the energy related field that involves your 3D data?
AD: The automotive industry is working hard on constantly improving fuel efficiency through advanced technologies, and 3D data can effectively play a significant role. Accurate information about road slopes and curvature enables vehicles to not only calculate the shortest or fastest route, but also the route with lowest fuel consumption based on hills and terrain, as well as other factors.
To do this requires accurate slope information for 100% of roads. A problem that navigation systems have today is that they do not contain accurate slope information for more than about 5-25% of the road network. Intermap’s 3D Roads data can enable this on 100% of the road network.
3DVW: Is the aviation sector using your solutions?
AD: There is strong interest in it. Sadly, there are still too many CFIT (controlled flight into terrain) accidents that occur each year, and better terrain information can play a role in reducing this.
ICAO (the International Civil Aviation Organisation) requires member states to make terrain and obstacle data available to airspace users in electronic format. This initiative, called eTOD, will provide airspace users with better data for distances up to 45 km from airports. Intermap has been working on this with the Swiss air navigation service provider, Skyguide, and is in discussions with many stakeholders including EuroControl, the European air traffic authority. Whilst Switzerland has high accuracy LiDAR data for most of the country, 43% of the airspace for which Skyguide is responsible lies outside the Swiss borders, and one of the important eTOD challenges is cross-border harmonisation. NEXTMap Europe can provide seamless and uniformly accurate 3D data across all these borders.
Up to now, the aviation industry has been largely relying on SRTM data, which lacks vertical accuracy and resolution. SRTM has 1 data point every 90m and a vertical accuracy of about 10-15m. With NEXTMap, it’s a data point every 5m, and 1m vertical accuracy. With higher accuracy comes less buffering of vertical uncertainties, and that in turn can lead to increased airport capacity loading. We are also involved in noise mapping around airports and other transport networks as a result of the EU noise Directive.
About Adam Denman:
Adam Denman manages Intermap’s business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Mr. Denman joined Intermap in 2008 and brings more than 30 years of international management experience covering international sales & business development, operations, and product development. He holds a B.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering, and held senior engineering, sales and general management positions in the aerospace, defence and automotive industries, before joining Intermap, including at Visteon, Magneti Marelli and Navteq.