Dr A. Stewart Walker
Product Director, BAE Systems, USA
<< BAE Systems is promoting GXP Xplorer as a revolutionary data management application that makes it easy to locate, retrieve and share geospatial data across an enterprise. Dr A. Stewart Walker, Product Director, BAE Systems, USA, helps us understand why the company is so excited about the product >>
BAE Systems offers a comprehensive range of products to address the requirements of geospatial industry. Can you tell us about them?
BAE Systems is a large global defence and aerospace company and we do offer a range of geospatial products and services. I work at its Geospatial eXploitation Products. We market, develop, sell and support a range of commercial off-the-shelf products – image analysis, geospatial analysis, mapping, photogrammetry, etc. Talking about our products, our new SOCET GXP product has reached a stage where our SOCET SET customers can transition to SOCET GXP. We have been working on SOCET GXP for almost 10 years. Initially, we concentrated on the demanding tasks of image analysts. However, recently, we have moved on to adding capabilities that would suit the photogrammetrists and the mappers, so that enables them to transition. In addition, we have a new product called GXP Xplorer, which is for cataloguing, search, discovery, processing and report creation. Many users today feel that it takes longer to find data that they want to analyse than to do the actual analysis. Hence, we have developed a product which catalogues the files and enables sophisticated searches to be carried out. Those files could be imagery, elevation data, feature data or even unstructured files.
You have been credited with having provided a new direction in the development of SOCET GXP and enterprise software products. Your take.
The idea behind SOCET GXP was to develop a single product which can cater to the needs of image analysts, geospatial analysts, photogrammetrists and mappers, so that these customers are able to access the capabilities they require from a single product. SOCET GXP has a single user interface, it is based on the Microsoft Fluent concept, is rather similar on Windows and UNIX. This formula was very successful and liked by image analysts. We now believe that mappers and photogrammetrists can enjoy a similar experience. We have also put the last pieces of the puzzle in place so that SOCET SET customers can switch over to the SOCET GXP version which is meant for all. The version has some capabilities which I believe are important. It has a sophisticated capability for feature collection and editing including 3D site modelling, it is capable of being able to view the results as a perspective and adds a capability for modelling terrain using triangulated regular networks. Also, there’s an exciting new capability called automatic feature extraction where the software can look into a point cloud – it may be from LiDAR or photogrammetry – and extract buildings and trees automatically. GXP Xplorer is an off-the-shelf product, catalogues a wide range of file types and enables a user to do sophisticated searches. It is server based, which means that it can be accessed from conventional PCs and mobile devices such as iPhones, iPads and Android smartphones. I would say at the moment, the mobile devices are probably generating the most excitement.
You are also working with the US Army to help soldiers get maps, videos and other information in the battlefield. What kind of technology goes into making all this possible, that is, connecting soldiers wherever they are?
The US Army recently procured 50 GXP Xplorer servers to reduce the effort required to search through the enormous holdings of data in various repositories; so that means the combat teams can now use GXP Xplorer to crawl a wide range of data sources and they can catalogue information where it is stored without moving it, and without duplicating it. This is a federated search capability, which means multiple sources can be scanned simultaneously to locate relevant data. Our estimate is that the process could save up to 75 per cent of the time previously required to find data in the legacy systems. The commercial off-the-shelf software, GXP Xplorer, enables the Army to move from their outdated library systems to an interoperable resource.
How do you address the security issue?
We pay the greatest attention to security. We offer our products in two forms – classified and unclassified. The classified form of our products has capabilities for ingesting classified information, perhaps causing classified algorithms to operate on the data. And these capabilities are available to organisations and individuals with the appropriate security credentials. The unclassified versions of the product, on the other hand, are exportable – they are available in various countries throughout the world. We meticulously follow a number of well-defined, detailed procedures to ensure that both versions of the product are correctly prepared and correctly distributed. Security does present some special challenges to GXP Xplorer. It is a server-based application, comes with front- and web-access, which means that it has to be subjected to a more rigorous set of certification and accreditation procedures. During the operation of GXP Xplorer, the server security controls protect against unauthorised access at any point of the communication chain. This is in both the versions – classified and the unclassified. So we are using things like Web encryption, certification and authentication techniques to ensure security.
Predictive analysis is emerging as a new tool to deal with threats. BAE Systems too offers a product in this category called Activity-Based Intelligence (ABI) systems. Would you like to brief our readers about it?
I find ABI to be one of the most exciting developments in geospatial intelligence in recent years. Your readers are well aware of the enormous amounts of imagery that are available today without growing constellation of earth-observation satellites. We have both manned and unmanned airborne vehicles capturing quite a remarkable quantity of video. There has also been a trend towards persistent surveillance where some asset is able to dwell for a considerable time over an area of interest, the result is an enormous amount of data. I think the famous remark made by Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula about ‘swimming in sensors and drowning in data’ is becoming more and more accurate. It is very difficult for human beings, in fact, it is impossible to analyse all this voluminous data. So I think, what is possible is to try to move from data to activities and look at the activities, for example, it is possible to use software to track people, vehicles, etc. From the imagery, we can see where they are going. On the basis of the information gathered, we can ask questions like ‘is there a pattern, is that pattern unusual in any way, is there a building where a lot of activity is taking place inside or around it, is there anything abnormal,’ and so on? Some of those questions can be answered with relatively simple software, while others need very sophisticated state-of-the-art algorithms. BAE Systems GXP is involved in working in this direction. We believe that both SOCET GXP and GXP Xplorer will be involved in activity based intelligence in the future.
You are also organising a training curriculum to train people in GXP Xplorer v2.0.2 and SOCET GXP v4.0. Can you tell us about it?
Our customers who have upgrade entitlement, that is, maintenance contract on their software, are entitled to free training. We have six training centers around the world, and more are being planned. After installing software, we also offer conventional training. There’s a great deal of new capabilities that both our major releases, GXP Xplorer v2.0.2 and SOCET GXP v4.0. offer, so we re-designed the training to reflect these changes. The SOCET GXP curriculum, for example, includes a two-day module, which covers the essentials of the product. Then there’s the choice of threeday offerings depending on a customer’s particular interest. For example, there are separate tracks for mapping; image exploitation; photogrammetry and the transition from SOCET SET; and processing of multi-spectral imagery and hyperspectral imagery.
The GXP Xplorer customers have slightly different needs, so we offer a one-day end-user class and then immediately follow it up with another one-day administrative class. Also, as far as GXP Xplorer is concerned, we have adopted a multi-media approach. We have a number of training videos which are available on our customer portal. In the future, we are looking to build web-content about the product, and this can be accessed from the GXP Xplorer Web interface.
You will soon be organising a roadshow, GXP Roadshow 2012. Can you tell us about it?
For a number of years, we offered various experiences to our customers – we had an annual user conference in the United States and have organised a number of workshops inside the country that we have found were convenient to customers. This year we are having a slightly different formula. We are holding a number of what we might call mini-user conferences in different locations, and collectively we can refer to them as roadshow.
In United States, we have planned a number of them – in St. Louis, Missouri, in July; in Washington D.C., in August; and in Tampa, Florida, in autumn. In addition, we are planning two other events, one in Melbourne, Australia, and another in Cambridge, UK. We hope that these conferences will enable us to present the latest features of our products in locations that are convenient to our customers. They provide us a platform where we can hear about the experiences of our customers and gather their feedback. This helps us prioritise features for the future.
What is the nature of these mini-conferences? Are they customer-client driven or is it your way of projecting your products and company?
I think it is a mixture of the two. We have found that our customers have reacted very positively to these interactions. These meetings provide them an opportunity to speak to our experts including our software developers, with whom they would not normally be able to meet at other conferences. They feel that we listen to them carefully at these meetings – so it is an information exchange, and also a genuine attempt to collect customers’ reactions and requirements.
Nowadays, customer would want user-friendliness to be built in the product to the extent possible. Any steps taken in that direction?
Yes, indeed. I think when we began work on SOCET GXP, we were aware that the user-interface was becoming quite complex. So when the opportunity came to fuse the product into the Microsoft Fluent environment, we were prepared. We could see the advantages and the fact that it would make the product easier to use. We have also developed user-friendly features in our products which guide an operator, thus eliminating the need to go through the user’s manual or things like that. As far as GXP Xplorer is concerned, we are working to improve the appearance and usability of the user interface.
Anything else that you would like to tell our readers?
We specifically deal with the quality of our product. We try to anticipate our customers’ requirements and capabilities, and increase our performance. The result is that we get a long list of capabilities. We currently have a module called Visual Coverage Tool which catalogues customers’ holdings. I must mention that we are hoping to replace Visual Coverage Tool by offering higher performance through integration of capabilities of both SOCET GXP and GXP Xplorer. We have a long list of capabilities that we intend to include in GXP Xplorer, for example, there are many more file types that customers expect us to catalogue, more interfaces through repositories that we have to cater to and so on. The list goes on. One of the things that we are pleased with at the moment, is the way we have been able to integrate with the offerings of partner companies, for example, we have a new connection to Esri ArcGIS for Server Image Extension, we work with Safe Software, TerraGo publisher product, GeoXray from Geosemble Technologies and MarkLogic from MarkLogic Corporation, etc. We feel that by working with these partners we have been able to have a product that brings more to customers. We hope that we will be able to continue that. However, one of the things that we are looking at is a very difficult problem of real-time registration of video. We are making some progress with that as well.