New Tools Link GPS and Digital Cameras

30 Jun, 2008 By: Andrew G. Roe,P.E.

New technology automatically records not only where a photo is taken but also the direction in which the camera is aimed.

Gadgets for GPS and GIS users continue to become more impressive and present new possibilities for both casual and professional users. In some cases, vendors large and small are teaming together to provide solutions for a wide range of users.

Consider the integrated geospatial-mapping camera module recently introduced for the Ricoh 500 SE digital camera. The module includes a magnetic compass and GPS receiver, and when attached to the Ricoh 500SE, enables users to acquire the location of a photo as well as the direction the camera was facing when the photo was taken.

Japan-based Ricoh and Thousand Oaks, California-based EKA Technologies had previously introduced an attachment with a built-in GPS receiver that enabled users to acquire location coordinates and embed them with photos as attributes. Meanwhile, GeoSpatial Experts, Thornton, Colorado, had developed a software product called GPS-Photo Link to automatically link digital photographs with location information obtained from Garmin GPS receivers and map the photos on ESRI-based GIS layers.

Ricoh contacted GeoSpatial Experts in 2003 to develop software specifically for its camera and an integrated GPS module, according to Linda Bobbitt, GeoSpatial Experts vice-president. GeoSpatial Experts introduced Ricoh-specific editions of GPS-Photo Link, and continues to offer a standard edition that works with various cameras.

The recent addition of the magnetic compass to the EKA SE-3 module allows the Ricoh 500SE to record direction information. The GPS-Photo Link software accesses this direction data and can place a direction arrow at the photo location on a map. The software can also determine the zoom setting of the camera lens and indicate the field of view of each photo as a triangle on the map.

"The ability to tell which direction each photo was taken from has been the number-one request from our photo-mapping customers," said Rick Bobbitt, founder and president of GeoSpatial Experts, a four-employee firm launched in 2001. "If a photo is snapped from the middle of the street, the GIS user can now see by the arrow which side of the street the photo represents when they look at the map layer. This wasn't possible before the Ricoh Compass-GPS Module was introduced."

The SE-3 module provides both location and direction information when used with the Ricoh 500SE camera. (Image courtesy of GeoSpatial Images, LLC.)

GeoSpatial Experts sells the Ricoh 500SE with or without the optional Compass-GPS Module in a bundle with the GPS-Photo Link software. The module itself is available either with both the GPS and compass or with the GPS only.

The Ricoh 500SE, developed specifically for geospatial applications, allows users to enter up to five data attributes that can be attached to digital photographs. The attribute fields remain with the photos as GIS layers when the files are downloaded into the GPS-Photo Link software. The camera also has built-in Bluetooth and optional WiFi wireless capability that allows users to transfer images and attributes to and from other handheld mobile devices, such as PDAs and data collectors.

"Prior to the availability of the SE-3 module, images from the 500SE were simply points on a map with no indication of the direction the camera was facing," said Jeff Lengyel, National Manager for Ricoh America's Digital Camera Division. Now we can provide an accurate visual reference of an image's azimuth as well as the field-of-view the camera could see from that position."

GeoSpatial recently introduced GPS-Photo Link Version 4.2, scheduled to be released this summer, which includes enhanced capabilities to convert output files to more coordinate systems, including all US State Plane systems and the High Accuracy Reference Networks (HARN), an upgrade to NAD 83 that uses GPS observations. The software will convert location data from latitude/longitude to other coordinate systems and attach the new coordinates to the watermark in each photographic image. Users can also create a custom datum and incorporate a conversion routine to accommodate multiple datums.

Virtually anyone who wants to link photos with mapping data could find uses for the compass-GPS module. GeoSpatial's primary users to date include environmental scientists, utility companies, and disaster recovery teams, said Linda Bobbitt.

About the Author: Andrew G. Roe

Andrew G. Roe

About the Author: P.E.

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