His Coordinates

Not everyone is prepared for Premium; sometimes, ‘good is good enough.’

Nov 2023 | No Comment

Alexander Wiechert

CEO at Vexcel Imaging in an interview with Coordinates at the launch of new Ultracam Aerial systems

Continuing the expansion of Ultracam universe, congratulations on the newly launched Ultracam aerial systems – Merlin 4.1 and Dragon 4.1. Please highlight few important features of both.

Thank you so much, we are excited about the new systems as well. For us, this marks an important step into camera segments where we were previously absent. Vexcel has always been a leading provider of digital aerial cameras in the so-called Premium segment, built on the sophisticated pan-sharpening methodology for the utmost image quality. Examples of our Premium line cameras include the UltraCam Eagle, UltraCam Osprey, UltraCam Condor, and the DMC-III.

However, we understand that not everyone is prepared for Premium; sometimes, ‘good is good enough.’ Therefore, we have decided to launch a camera family in the Fundamental camera segment – the UltraCam Merlin 4.1, which uses high-end Bayer pattern sensors. Bayer pattern-based cameras have a simpler system concept and are typically more affordable, but this comes at the cost of slightly lower image quality, such as interpolation artifacts, resolution impact, and noise level. A lot of aerial camera systems are available in the Fundamental segment, including Phase One and DMC-4. Vexcel is setting the standard in this segment by incorporating premium technology, such as premium lens systems, custom-made electronics, Adaptive Motion Compensation, True Pixel Processing, and the UltraMap workflow, to make the UltraCam Merlin 4.1 the leading camera system with true nadir-oriented camera cones. A unique feature of the Merlin is its capability to be upgraded to the Premium UltraCam lineup in case the final missing piece of image quality is required.

The Dragon represents another significant and important step, setting the standard in the so-called Integrated system segment. This segment comprises hybrid sensors, such as the CityMapper, and we are proud to partner with another Austrian technology leader, RIEGL Laser Measurement Systems. RIEGL has developed a fantastic OEM LiDAR module that is a perfect fit for our oblique camera system. Historically, integrated hybrid systems suffered from a balanced performance, where the LiDAR would restrict mission parameters, and the ratio between camera GSD and LiDAR point density did not match. Flying two independent sensors in a two-hole plane was often more efficient and effective. However, with the new RIEGL LiDAR, the two subsystems of UltraCam Dragon 4.1 align perfectly in parameters such as flight speed, flight altitude, field of view, GSD versus point density, and more.

The new systems, as well as our well-established Premium cameras, are part of Vexcel’s commercial offerings and can be purchased without any usage or data rights restrictions.

What is the significance of high-end Bayer pattern sensors that is contained within UltraCam Merlin 4.1?

Bayer pattern sensors are a well-known technology that has existed in digital cameras for decades. They provide a simple and straightforward method for capturing color images with a single sensor. This principle is widely used in standard digital consumer cameras and cell phone cameras. In the digital aerial photography world, these sensors have also been familiar for many years, mainly because they simplify the technical design of the camera, reducing costs. However, due to the inherent limitations of the Bayer pattern, the image quality cannot keep up with the sophisticated pan-sharpening approach. Like any technology, Bayer pattern sensors have their advantages and disadvantages.

Nonetheless, through the combination of Bayer pattern sensors with our Premium lenses and software, we have achieved outstanding results in the Fundamental camera segment. This includes fully nadir-oriented cones with no tilt, eliminating the need for interpolation in the full-frame image. Our approach allows us to deliver leading performance in this segment.

What are the innovations that have gone into Ultracam Dragon 4.1? How unique are its features that ultimately will benefit the end users?

The Dragon incorporates our Premium camera cones for RGB oblique and RGB + NIR nadir image capture and features high-end LiDAR integration. This LiDAR system employs a regular scan pattern with no oversampling at the edges and no undersampling at the center of the strip, addressing common issues with other LiDAR scanners.

Moreover, the LiDAR system collects five scan lines: one in the true nadir position, as well as two lines at 10 degrees and two at 20 degrees, both backward and forward. This unique and new approach ensures proper point density even in narrow urban canyons and on facades, making the UltraCam Dragon 4.1 the industry-leading system in the Integrated system segment.

Please highlight few points on how cost effective are these aerial systems.

The Merlin stands out as an exceptionally cost-efficient system, boasting an impressive cost-to-strip-width ratio. This efficiency allows for highly cost-effective aerial operations. Additionally, processing is fully supported by the intuitive UltraMap workflow, known for its high level of automation. It is designed to handle a vast number of images in record time, ensuring a swift turnaround once the aerial mission is completed.

Similar cost-effectiveness can be observed with the UltraCam Dragon 4.1, both in terms of its processing workflow and flying efficiency. The great match of camera and LiDAR parameters contributes to the overall cost-efficiency of the system.

The UltraCam Merlin 4.1 is tailored to emerging markets with fundamental imaging needs where budget considerations take precedence over achieving the highest image quality. On the other hand, the UltraCam Dragon 4.1 is well-suited for city mapping, particularly in areas where vegetation within the city is a significant factor, such as many Asian cities.

It’s worth noting that the flexibility of these systems allows for camera cones and LiDAR to be activated or deactivated as required for specific projects. Consequently, the UltraCam Dragon 4.1 can be used effectively in various projects that demand high-resolution imagery and high-density LiDAR point clouds, including corridor mapping, coastal surveys, and more.

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