Bhuvan It‘s different

Sep 2009 | No Comment

A review of Bhuvan, the recently launched earth observation portal of the ISRO.

“We are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally, and in the community of nations, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society.”

A quote by Dr Vikram Sarabhai who is considered the father of Indian Space Programme.This vision of Dr. Sarabhai has been fulfilled by the various initiatives of the Department of Space, Government of India, the latest being Bhuvan, the earth observation portal that was launched by ISRO on the 12th of August – the ninetieth birth anniversary of Dr. Sarabhai.

There are two aspects to Bhuvan, one what Bhuvan is capable of doing and the other what the portal actually offers at present. Making a distinction between the two becomes necessary because what was demonstrated on the launch day – ‘full capability’ with high resolution data – is not what has been put up on the portal due to security reasons and the restrictions of the Remote Sensing Data Policy of the Government of India.

Basic features of Bhuvan

The Bhuvan portal allows to do the following (as per the site –

● Visualise multi-resolution, multisensor, multi-temporal image data

Most of the Indian terrain is covered by up to at least 5.8 meters of resolution with the least spatial resolution being 55 meters from AWifs Sensor. The images on Bhuvan are a combination of satellite imagery from the OCM, AWifs, LISS 3, and LISS 4 sensors of IRS, taken over the last three years. The multi- temporal data are from the OCM & AWiFS sensors. The metadata option can be used to determine exactly when a specific area was imaged.

● Access, explore and visualise 2D and 3D image data along with rich thematic information on Soil, wasteland, water resources etc.

● Superpose administrative boundaries of choice on images as required

● Visualisation of AWS ( Automatic Weather Stations) data/information in a graphic view and use tabular weather data of user choice

● Contour map ( Displays a colorized terrain map and contour lines)

The availability of the various thematic and other layers is definitely a value addition on the portal, though the rendering of the layers is little slow. Placeholders marking towns are displayed and a mouse over gives the name of the place along with basic statistics. Drought and flood maps of different years give a taste of the temporal data available.

Fly to locations ( Flies from the current location directly to the selected location)

● Heads-Up Display ( HUD) navigation controls ( Tilt slider, north indicator, opacity, compass ring, zoom slider)

● Navigation using the 3D view Popup menu (Fly-in, Fly out, jump in, jump around, view point)

● 3D Fly through (3D view to fly to locations, objects in the terrain, and navigate freely using the mouse or keyboard) The fly through work well. A ‘current location’ has to be chosen first, and then another location specified to ‘fly to’. The 3D navigation menu pops-up using the left click. The city level images are clear and make the best backdrop for the ‘fly around’

● Draw tools (Creates simples markers, free hand lines, urban designs)

● Urban Design Tools (to build roads, junctions and traffic lights in an urban setting)

● Drawing 2D objects (Text labels, polylines, polygons, rectangles, 2D arrows, circles, ellipse)

● Drawing 3D Objects (placing of expressive 3D models, 3D polygons, boxes)

The various tools listed above do add an edge to the portal, and professionals will definitely want these tools further refined. Measurement tools (Horizontal distance, aerial distance, vertical distance, measure area) – This is one of the most satisfactory tools on the portal. Marking an area or line and having the measurements for it almost instantaneously will be useful for delineating areas of interest for projects.

Points to ponder

All in all Bhuvan definitely is showcasing the capabilities and services available with ISRO, but…

Much of the hoopla seen after the launch of the portal could have been avoided or directed along more positive lines.

A number of glitches the portal experienced, and that have been sorted out since, were basic and could have been anticipated and worked out before the launch.

This being the beta version of Bhuvan should not be an excuse; the users want and deserve a quality product period. ISRO has definitely won brownie points for breaking through the ‘barriers’ and showcasing its wide variety of services on the internet, but Bhuvan is still negotiating the path between ‘bouquets and brickbats’.

Bhuvan vs Google – the hype

Besides the issues relating to the working of the portal another reason Bhuvan has received flak is because of the constant comparison to Google Earth. The media has definitely played its part in perpetuating the ‘vs’ hype, but there is no smoke without a fire.

On 4 November 2008, at the inaugural function of the Indian National Cartographic Association (INCA) in Gandhinagar, ISRO Chairman Dr. Madhavan Nair said, “ISRO is planning to launch ‘Bhuvan’. It is equivalent to Google Earth, but is going to be much more precise.”

Now, it is being said that Bhuvan is ‘unique’, ‘it is different’ and it is not competing with anyone. This may be the official stand, but in the public psyche the comparison has taken hold. One cannot deny that Google Earth came earlier and has been around longer. It is now up to ISRO to establish an individual and unique identity for Bhuvan – one that will make it stand apart from other similar portals.

For now, the Bhuvan data does seem to have an edge over the Google Earth data at least in the context of India, and Bhuvan needs to seize this advantage and move ahead.

The road ahead

Having launched Bhuvan, ISRO needs to quickly iron out the glitches in the portal and make it work smoothly. Adding new features could be put on hold till all the features on the current site are working as desired.

The goals of Bhuvan – also need to be more clearly defined. The portal may be open to public, but it must have a purpose of its own. One portal cannot meet the needs of ‘all the people, all the time’.

The challenge for Bhuvan in the coming weeks and months will be to maintain a balance between its offerings for the common man and the trained professional. The common person will be looking for easy to comprehend and easy to use functionalities on the portal. While the professional will want more advanced functionalities.

Bhuvan could play an important role in educating the common man about the use of remote sensing technologies, but it cannot afford to oversimplify things. Similarly considering the crucial role Bhuvan can play in expanding the effective use of the remote sensing technologies by the professionals for the betterment of the ‘common’ man, it should meet the needs the specialists.

There is no doubt that Bhuvan has caught the attention of the public at large, now it needs to keep evolving to retain that attention. It may seem like a tight rope walk, but if anyone can do it, it is team ISRO!

Shubhra Kingdang
My coordinates
Muneendra Kumar
His Coordinates
Dr V Jayaraman
Mark your calendar
September 2009 to July 2010

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