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“Customers come to us for accuracy and uniformity of data”

Adam C. Denman, Vice President and Managing Director,EMEA, Intermap Technologies
Adam C. Denman
Vice President and Managing Director,
EMEA, Intermap Technologies

<< Intermap is recognised world over for its 3D terrain information.
Adam C. Denman, Vice President and Managing Director, EMEA, Intermap Technologies, tells us why… >>

Military forces have a strong need for accurate base maps and highresolution images. How do you cater to this requirement?
Yes, we have learnt about that need from the US DoD and the NGA. When the US Air Force helicopter pilot squadrons, who had been using our NEXTMap data for training in Alabama, were sent to Afghanistan to take part in the operations, they realised that the quality of data available was catastrophic. They had grown to depend on a more accurate data and hence needed the same kind of data for carrying out their jobs in a better manner. In fact, that was one of the reasons why we were asked to map Afghanistan in a bit of hurry. I think we completed 2/3 of mapping of the country in 2005. For that, we used Type III collection which means that we flew without any ground control points. It would have been a little risky to place ground control points in the country.

One of the challenges that exists in military as well as various nonmilitary applications is that maps of several places around the world are a sort of patchwork, a mix of different qualities, technologies, resolutions, vertical accuracy, etc. That can be a problem for all – be it aviation, troops on the ground or for modelling flood risks, etc. One of the ways to ensure accurate base maps is to have an overall map of either the continent or the country or the large area onto which you can then fuse other available data sets. To have the data intelligently and smoothly fused onto a uniform base map is an advantage.

The power of place has never been as important as now and assumes even more significance among defence sector. Your company’s strength lies in providing locationbased information solutions. Can you tell our readers about it?
We are increasingly trying to provide solutions for nocturnal data. It is clear that people in the field and commanders don’t want terabytes or petabytes of data, they want answers to questions.

Most of our work in applications is being driven by the civil side, the non-military side, but these software find application in military as well. One such example is LinkPro. This microwave link planning tool has been designed for telecom industry. One of its benefits is that customers or users don’t need to host or buy the data, they just need to buy the link, the information is on our web-service on the cloud. So users can access it on the fly and get information instantly about our digital surface models. For example, if you are a signals unit setting up a number of stations (relay stations with microwave links), you can immediately access the link and find out about the areas which fall under the line-of-sight and which don’t, etc. This will reduce the need to carry out surface surveys in areas which are unsafe.

Similarly, a telecom company may require the same information for building the LTE or 4G network. Our product will provide them the same, thus saving their money by eliminating the need to go to the site survey. This is intervisibility. It can be beneficial for mission planning. When you have an accurate surface model, you can determine precisely the location where you can be seen or remain unseen. This is an area where we see applications being developed which are probably more specific to military needs, and where we already have applications for civil sector which can be adapted and offered to the military.

You cater to both civil and defence markets. What proportion of your business comes from the defence sector?
I would say that’s changing considerably together with the changes in the US budget. We have always had a significant amount of business from the US government. Last year, it was around USD 8 billion. I think, today, it is probably less than 50 per cent, about 20-30 per cent, but the potential in this sector is much more.

We see military is being increasingly called upon to support civil defences during natural catastrophes like floods. Flooding is something for which an accurate digital terrain model is very useful. Being able to anticipate not just floods but also the way the water will behave at a given level, the flow rates at certain positions, etc, is very important. That’s something which we are being frequently asked to do now. In other words, we work with our partners to provide a sophisticated flood model for the area in question. One of the partners we are working very closely with is Ambiental Technical Solutions. It is a UK company and specialises in this domain. So that’s one type of solution we offer.

Another area where our data is increasingly being used is the aviation sector. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) had some years ago issued a directive as per which all airports in the world are required to maintain a certain level of accuracy of terrain data for the terrain and the obstacles within certain predefi ned areas and distances from the airfield. We have been working very closely with aviation industry in this regard. One of the biggest challenges before EUROCONTROL which is leading the European civil aviation industry in this respect, is what it calls cross-border harmonisation. Each country has its dataset but the challenge is to have a smooth uniform data across borders. Many airports are close to borders especially in countries like Switzerland which are small but completed surrounded. Switzerland presents a very interesting case. The Swiss Navigation Service Provider Skyguide has a great data for the whole of the country. Yet it approached us sometime back for data. That is because 43 per cent of the airspace for which it is responsible includes countries like Germany, France, Italy, etc. Hence, it wanted a uniform data of all these countries. To cut the long story short, even when more accurate data exists in certain areas, our data is a great value due to its homogeneity. Time and again, we have found that customers come to us not just for the accuracy of our data, but also for its uniformity. Same is the case with telecom.

With the help of your data, is it possible to identify places where helicopters can land in an unknown area?
Absolutely that’s an excellent additional point, not to mention the slope maps. It is very easy using our data to produce slope maps. I believe, helicopters generally can’t land easily in slopes greater than 10 per cent, so we can produce slope maps and make them available to military.

Your company’s goal is to become the go-to company for aggregating and disseminating the best-available 3D terrain information for the world. How do you propose to achieve that?
That’s absolutely true. We are no longer a one technology company. Earlier, we used to be highly focused on IFSAR technology. We are still the world leaders in that area. However, our future strategy is to aggregate other forms of datasets and disseminate them to different verticals. We have developed a proprietary software for fusing LiDAR data, either publicly available LiDAR data or customer’s private LiDAR data, and other datasets on to the base map.

We have also recently announced the new dataset which is a world 30 m DEM. It is meant for countries and areas where there is no other better existing DEM. This is something we can offer as a starter.

All our data and solutions are available through our web services on the cloud. People and organisations who want our data can access it online as per their convenience.

Your company’s strategy has been to develop products based on the requirements of customers. Since you look after three regions – Europe, Middle East and Africa – how do the requirements in these regions vary?
One of the big differences between these regions is that mapping for the Western Europe is complete. It is a more mature market with respect to various industries.

In the Middle East, there is a great demand for better data and geospatial solutions. It is also an area where people are not much dependent on cloud, so there are alternative technologies available. We also produce DSMs and DEMs from the satellite imagery and in certain situations that may be the best solution depending on the specifications of the customer.

It is not that requirements differ from region to region. It is even more local than that – between customers, users to users and even within the same industry. Different customers have different requirements. I think this is a reflection of the geospatial industry permeating its way into these different verticals, in all these different markets.

Do you also advice customers about the data type that would be appropriate for their project?
Many customers come to us for LiDAR data. We do tell them the time it will take to collect the data and the cost involved but they still prefer LiDAR. What we would like to propose is that we can probably complete your project more quickly and economically. Time is generally very important both for military as well as commercial sector. We can offer a different solution for the base map and then a more precise data where it is needed. So customer requirements could be modified. We do share our market experience with our customers but it is a gradual process. Even in Europe, there is not complete awareness about the benefits that a better data can bring, but slowly and surely that realisation is coming. One of the most interesting aspects in the geospatial industry, in my opinion, is the opportunity that future cities or the cities/ countries that are not yet very well mapped provides like Africa. We are involved now with a number of countries, regions that are looking for complete spatial data infrastructure.

You have often talked about intelligent maps, that is, developing maps for cars, rather than the driver. Can you tell us about it.
Yes, that is a fascinating subject. We are providing data maps for cars rather than the driver. At present, cars are able to integrate a number of advance safety systems – Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). These systems provide the knowhow of the road ahead and information like that. But the database that the current navigation map providers offer does not include accurate slope or elevation data except for a very small proportion of roads. So the car makers are building, slowly but surely, more of these advanced safety systems into their cars which work not only on main roads but also on all kinds of roads. It is fairly logical also. If you are spending a lot of money on high-end cars and you have a lot of sophisticated safety systems, you want the systems to be able to work on all kinds of roads and not just on some. So what we are bringing to the automotive industry is the 100 per cent coverage of the European roads. We have finished the 3D road database which is basically a data point XYZ, every 3 and a half metre along a central line of every road in Western Europe. And this will not only be beneficial for safety systems but also for energy management. For example, knowing the slopes ahead can enable electric vehicles to calculate far more accurately, which routes to take and which to avoid. Optimisation of gear changing, suspension systems, are some of the projects in the pipeline for which data is being tested. The automotive industry unlike consumer industry takes a long time to introduce new vehicles/ technologies, but it is coming.

Do you also support research institutes/ universities?
We are frequently and constantly approached by various research institutions and universities. We support these organisations wherever we have the data. Sometimes we provide our products free of cost, and sometimes we charge a very low price.

What are your plans for the Asia region?
We have already mapped a number of South-East Asian countries. We would love to see more activity in India and the sub-continent. However, at the moment, our bandwidth does not allow us to address that as fully as we would like to. But we feel that there is a lot of opportunity to contribute in the region.