“We are proud to have contributed to the modern use of Photogrammetry”
With the help of computer vision, AI and ML, we can extract meta data information for decision making. Photogrammetry plays a key role in this process says Alexander Wiechert, CEO of Vexcel Imaging in an interview with Coordinates
Congratulations on completion of 30 years of Vexcel Imaging. Could you briefly summarise this journey highlighting some of the milestones achieved and challenges faced.
Thank you so much for your kind words. It has been a journey, indeed. Describing it in detail would probably fill your magazine, so let me be brief here.
Vexcel’s mission has always been to develop leading products through innovative technology and software. We aim to leverage software to enhance hardware and combine that with industry expertise and a customer-focused approach to create products that set industry standards and help our customers succeed.
Vexcel started with the successful photogrammetric film scanner, UltraScan 5000, in the late 90s. The company then transitioned to digital cameras with the release of the UltraCam D in 2003, followed by the UltraCam X and Xp in 2006. In 2011, we introduced the UltraCam Eagle Mark 1 and later expanded our camera family with the addition of the Osprey and Condor models. 2020 marks the introduction of our 4th UltraCam generation, again a major step forward.
Along with hardware developments, we also released many versions of our UltraMap software, introducing new features such as distributed processing, automated color balancing, and monolithic stitching.
So, a lot happened on the product side. But Vexcel as a company went also through some transformations. In 2006, Vexcel became part of Microsoft and contributed to the Bing Maps initiative with knowledge, specialized aerial cameras and software. The company left Microsoft in 2016 and became privately owned again, with new cameras and software being developed. In 2017, we launched the Vexcel Data Program (VDP) which is now the largest imagery program worldwide. We’ve grown to more than 500 employees worldwide, owning around 100 planes, collecting data in more than 35 countries and offering the most innovative camera line-up for large aerial camera systems.
So, in a nutshell, it was a fantastic ride and a great success story which was only possible thanks to a fantastic team that is committed, capable and full of energy and ideas, and I am looking forward to how we develop ourselves further in the future.
How do you see the growth of Photogrammetry technology over the years. How important role do you envisage for it in future?
Photogrammetry is an old technology, but we are proud to have contributed o its modern usage. As the world faces significant challenges such as climate change, water crisis, and infrastructure growth, data and knowledge about the environment are crucial. With the help of computer vision, AI and ML, we can extract meta data information for decision making. Photogrammetry plays a key role in this process and there is still much to be developed in this field.
Vexcel Imaging recently released UltraCam Eagle 4.1 and UltraNav v7. What kind of innovation have gone into it to make it a ‘cutting edge’ photogrammetric aerial camera systems?
The UltraCam Eagle 4.1 represents the flagship of aerial photogrammetric cameras and the latest spin-off based on the 4th camera generation. With the introduction of the 4th UltraCam generation in 2020, we literally touched every screw of the cameras again and further developed every aspect of the system. North star for the development of the 4th UltraCam generation has been a further improved flying efficiency through an increase of footprint and a shorter frame rate, utmost image quality through new lenses, new electronics, new CMOS sensors and the Adaptive Motion Compensation (AMC), and further improved usability and customer experience through the new housing concept.
The new UltraNav system offers a range of features for 3D mission planning, including oblique flight planning. The Eagle is a highresolution camera that captures PAN, red, green, blue, and nearinfrared images separately, resulting in richer images and wider flight mission parameters. It sets the new industry standard for photogrammetric cameras.
As we have observed over the years many innovations in the camera division, what has been your expansion plan for UltraMap photogrammetric software suite?
The processing software is an important part of the overall solution. Efficient aerial surveying can only take place if the massive amount of data collected can be processed in an efficient and intelligent way.
The focus of UltraMap is to generate aerial imagery with a maximum of image quality and accuracy and a minimum of manual effort and time. We strive for a high level of automatization, a user-friendly interface, sophisticated features, and huge throughput. UltraMap is a key investment area for us, and we just launched the customer preview of version 6.0 which sets the industry standard in water masking and handling through usage of ML, eliminating again huge manual effort from the workflow while also improving the overall image quality.
UltraMap’s ability to efficiently handle large amounts of data is proven every day in our Vexcel Data Program. In 2022 alone, we processed nearly 36 million images, collected by UltraCams world-wide within the program. That is a massive production which is only possible due to the powerful and feature rich UltraMap processing solution.
Could you please tell us about Adaptive Motion Compensation (AMC) technology solution developed by Vexcel Imaging and few of its advantages.
Absolutely. To achieve a well-exposed image, photographers typically adjust the triangle of exposure time, aperture settings, and ISO value. However, in aerial photography, the aperture is often fixed, leaving only the ISO setting and exposure time to adjust. To maintain the highest image quality, the ISO setting should be kept as low as possible. This means that the correct exposure time must be used to achieve the desired result.
Now the challenge of aerial photography comes into play: a fast-moving plane resulting in a fast-moving camera. That adds uniform motion to any captured image. And adding to that, planes also rotate along three axis which adds non-uniform motion blur to images, as stabilized mounts cannot eliminate the rotations completely.
Compensating for motion blur in aerial photography is essential. Using CMOS sensors, the cheapest solution is to increase the ISO value for a shorter exposure time, but it results in a significant loss of image quality. This is not an option for high-end cameras. A better solution is to use mechanical methods such as moving the CMOS sensor along an axis or two, which avoids high ISO settings but this still only eliminates motion blur along a specific axis or two and adds complexity to the camera.
We developed a software-based solution called Adaptive Motion Compensation (AMC). It allows for low ISO settings and corrects all types of motion blur, regardless of direction or image scale, which is important for oblique imagery. AMC is a postprocessing solution that uses a detailed knowledge of camera movement, shutter movement, camera geometry, and terrain to calculate a blur-kernel on a per-pixel basis. It then uses a deconvolution algorithm to restore the image to its original crisp, sharp state.
AMC is available for all 4th generation UltraCams and represents the most innovative solution for motion blur compensation on the market. We are really impressed by the stunning results we achieve with this new methodology.