Lawrie E. Jordan, President, ERDAS
“We do not put money above people and ideas”
Lawrie E. Jordan, President, ERDAS shares his view about ERDAS products, market alliances and strategies, and future trends of high resolution imaging
- ERDAS started as a consulting firm spun off from post-graduate research. What were the guiding forces in the formation of this consulting firm?
The guiding forces for us over 20 years ago are the same ones we have today: pick something you believe in, stick with it, be the best in the world at it (even if what you do changes-and it will), and focus on happiness for both customers and employees. Everything else, including profits, will take care of itself. So here we are, grateful to have a strong and growing business, which has been profitable for 20 plus years, all because we did not put money first above people and ideas. It’s interesting that only recently are business schools beginning to realize this.
- What will be the impact of new tools in ERDAS IMAGINE for the interpretation of high-resolution imageries?
Though its roots are in traditional remote sensing, ERDAS IMAGINE has evolved to handle new image processing and GIS demands. The current version of the software, 8.4, is specifically designed for use with high-resolution imagery, giving users a powerful tool for visualizing and analyzing the 3D micro-terrain that touches many aspects of daily living. This includes subtle variations in the ground’s surface, vegetation, and many, many man-made objects. With this close look, regions become a complex assembly of objects and features, many of which are 3D and have complex spatial interactions.
ERDAS IMAGINE handles the high-resolution imagery environment very efficiently and is designed to take advantage of the 3D characteristics inherent in IKONOS data, in a variety of ways. First, ERDAS IMAGINE uses a rigorous sensor modeling and photogrammetric adjustment tailored for IKONOS, which is critical for any additional geometric processing whether its orthorectification, elevation extraction, or stereo. Secondly, version 1.1 of our new Stereo Analyst product will use overlapping IKONOS data for stereo feature collection. This will enable users to visualize in stereo and collect features that have 3D characteristics in absolute map coordinates. Once the terrain and objects are collected, ERDAS software can be used to drape the image over the terrain and render the objects in an interactive 3D representation. This is not limited to fly-throughs and visualization¾3D analysis is also possible.
- How do you envision the large customer base in terms of imaging software and satellite data vendors in the new millennium?
As the availability of imagery continues to increase, the tools required to process the data are easier to use than ever before. In the future, the expanding customer base for geographic imaging will include people who are not familiar with remote sensing, image processing, or even GIS. They will not be as interested in the science behind the technology as they are in the answer. Our move toward lower cost systems, automated processes, one-button operations and wizards, is in sync with the new user we see in the near future.
- What role will ERDAS play in the upcoming high-resolution satellite imagery market. Do you foresee any emerging market segment other than GIS which will use high-resolution images and how?
While GIS was previously thought of as a profession exclusive to scientists, ERDAS software is increasingly sought after and used by other professionals, such as state and local government planners, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for humanitarian relief and environmental impact studies, and professors who want to expand their geography and GIS curricula to include the essential use of geographic imagery in GIS applications.
The availability of high-resolution imagery is also proving to be of great interest and assistance in the telecommunications and insurance industries, and state and local governments. Telecommunications companies use GIS to plan sites for cellular communication towers for maximizing radio frequency distribution, while the insurance industry uses GIS to map damaged areas to more accurately calculate policy holder payments. State and local government planning organizations are combining geographic imaging with GIS to analyze urban expansion and to help them develop effective zoning and land use plans, as well as prepare for future industrial and economic development.
- How is the strategic alliance with Space Imaging going to enhance the future global business activities of ERDAS?
ERDAS and Space Imaging share a mutual goal of enabling imagery users to take full advantage of high-resolution data by providing them with appropriate tools and services for their needs. Currently, ERDAS and Space Imaging are jointly pursuing global business development activities with a series of initiatives to integrate ERDAS’ and Space Imaging’s products and services. One of our first initiatives was the CARTERRA Analyst, which integrated ERDAS software into a product that combines geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing, imagery analysis, photogrammetry and cartography tools into a single workstation.”
- ERDAS has strong presence in Asian countries. How helpful was your marketing strategy to align with ESRI in countries where it is not directly present?
We’ve been fortunate to work with ESRI on a global scale for nearly 20 years, and I am pleased to say that our relationship is stronger than ever today.
Our customers tell us on a regular basis how delighted they are that ERDAS and ESRI products work so well together, and how important it is to them for us to continue to provide excellent support through our international distribution channels. Things will just keep getting better this year, so stay tuned.
- What role will the image compression capabilities of software play in the days to come?
Compression technologies play a pivotal role in allowing users to work with large datasets rapidly and efficiently, while maintaining the integrity of the image data. However, while image compression is helpful in running geographic imaging processes on the desktop, the real key to the future will be the ability to serve geographic applications over the Web and work in a truly seamless 3D environment.
- What new application does high-resolution imaging hold for the future?
Classifying objects and complex relationships inherent in high-resolution imagery present new challenges. The release of ERDAS IMAGINE 8.4 and the introduction of the IMAGINE Expert Classifier, a rule-based expert system developed specifically for processing imagery and GIS information, take the industry a major step forward in meeting these new challenges. The IMAGINE Expert Classifier provides the framework to model the non-linear decision making process of expert image interpreters and remote sensing specialists. It also provides an environment where existing programs, models, and GIS information can easily be integrated into the image classification process. This methodology goes beyond processing of mere pixel reflectance values to include alternative parameters, such as shape, context, fuzzy logic, and proximity of features in imagery and GIS data, to be used by spatial models and other external programs. Users can calculate the level of probability of the results, based on the confidence of the inputs and rules.
Additionally, we believe that high-resolution stereo imagery offers tremendous advantages to novice and experienced imagery users alike. Because our eyes are naturally accustomed to viewing in 3D, we can often misinterpret a seemingly flat, detailed overhead image. A stereo representation will eliminate this problem by displaying a realistic view of the landscape with recognizable 3D objects in the terrain.”
- With reference to the contribution of ERDAS in preparation of maps of Serbia, how do you balance between gentle human and aggressive businessman?
Since we began our company over 22 years ago, we have been blessed with many opportunities to contribute technology and staff time in support of humanitarian relief operations around the world, including evacuation and protection of refugees, humanitarian de-mining, peace-keeping force support, and resolution of geographic boundary disputes. Our view is that national security on a global scale is increasingly and permanently linked to economic and environmental security. Therefore, we are all stakeholders in a proactive approach to improving the quality of life by applying our best technology and efforts to put people and our environment first and profits later