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Case Study: Clusters and Image Processing, Part I - page 6

The Case

  • March 17, 2002
  • By Dee-Ann LeBlanc

The remote sensing field is too large for one company or organization to be able to develop a full range of top-notch tools and have them all be fully featured. After its initial experience with moving to Linux and Open Source tools, ImageLinks was pleased with the robust software that Open Source provides. It decided to merge the intellectual resources of the remote sensing community and the peer review methods of Open Source. In early February, 1999, ImageLinks paid a domain name fee of US $70 for www.remotesensing.org.

On February 5th, the Web site went live. ImageLinks sent email to two different remote sensing and image-processing mailing lists to announce the site and a new organization--Open Source Remote Sensing (OSRS). This new organization had its first external member within 15 minutes. The second announcement was placed on www.freshmeat.net, a clearinghouse of technical news and gossip. After a week, OSRS had 100 members.

The first task that OSRS took on was to gather all the existing public domain source code available for the industry. Every day people tracked down programs and libraries that met the criteria. Each of these items was added to the site, and more and more kept coming in. Commercial developers in the industry stepped up to the plate as well, perhaps seeing a way to both contribute to the community and ensure that they were a part of it--a sound business move, and one that ImageLinks itself surely must have considered. The source for some existing commercial code was handed to OSRS, and other items were written by the industry expressly with the purpose of giving them to the community through the organization.

In less than 10 days after the site launched, OSRS was large enough that it was divided into subgroups to better focus on the various aspects of the wide range of remote sensing and image-processing topics. Then, on February 15th, the organization got its first third-party exposure: Wired.com called Mark Lucas for an interview. On February 16th, the article was published. The Web site was flooded with interest, and the participants on the OSRS mailing list reached 181, with a new member joining almost every five minutes.

As you might imagine, excitement was growing at ImageLinks. Publicity grew and hits on the site continued to increase. Then, on February 17th, at 11:30 a.m., someone--perhaps a phone worker, cable worker, or construction worker digging a foundation--accidentally cut the fiber-optic data-transmission trunk in Atlanta, causing many on the East Coast to lose complete or partial access to the Internet. The OSRS Web site--and many others--was out of commission for seven and a half hours while the phone company scrambled to repair the damage. Anyone who tried to access the OSRS Web site at this time wouldn't have been able to do so. However, since the audience for this project is fairly technologically sophisticated, many of them probably heard the news that much of the East coast was inaccessible and tried back again the next day.

Once everything was back up, the OSRS organization got coverage in the magazine Wired.com. As a result, Mark received the following email (edited so the recipient's information is unavailable):

    From: XXX@XXXX.gov  
    X-Lotus-Fromdomain: EOP  
    To: info@imagelinks.com  
    Date: Tue, 16 Feb 1999 18:41:29 -0500  
    Subject: Mark Lucas  
    Mime-Version: 1.0  
    Status: RO
      
    I'd like to talk to Mark Lucas when  
    he gets a chance about a White House  
    initiative in geospatial information.
      
    XXXXXX  
    The White House  
    (v) 202-XXX-XXXX

Mark contacted the government official directly by phone and began a set of discussions and negotiations that would have widespread consequences for the entire remote sensing industry.

Growth has continued since then. Not only has full participation in www.remotesensing.org grown to at least 900 members, the organization has also received coverage in the Linux Journal and local coverage in Florida Today. Government interest has also continued. U.S. government agencies such as the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are following the progress made by OSRS.

The many hours of work put in by ImageLinks and all the others who have volunteered time and donated materials to OSRS was done for more than just the benefit of government agencies. This site has become the home of a remote sensing industry discussion board, an archive of images provided by Core Software, and a central point to find all the daily news events in the field. Along with the source code already collected and stored by the community, volunteer development is going on as well.

Some of the Open Source projects run through the OSRS site are listed in Table 2.

Table 2 Open source remote sensing and image processing projects.

Name

Head

Purpose

Digital Elevation Model Tools (DEMTools)

Brian Maddox, of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Mid-Continent Mapping Center

To develop a collection of conversion programs, libraries, and tools capable of working with topographic elevation data.

GeoTIFF

Frank Warmerdam, Independent Consultant

To create the commercial standard for geospatial (digital map) TIFF files. This project actually began before OSRS was formed and then was moved by Warmerdam to this site.

Large Image Manipulation Program (LIMP)

Valient Gough, formerly of StellaCore Corporation and the author of OrthoVista (currently employed by Amazon.com)

This was one of the first projects started on www.remotesensing.org. "Large" refers to image files that are so large that they cannot fully fit into RAM. LIMP is a set of libraries used to build applications that need to process large image files. This type of library set is constantly needed in the remote sensing and GIS fields.

What Mark points out as one of the biggest benefits to the remote sensing community, however, is that the OSRS site draws together four different groups that historically have had a difficult time maintaining a dialog: academics, businesses, entrepreneur developers, and government agencies. The Web site gives these four groups a central place to discuss issues of mutual interest and to network among themselves, along with giving them all a central library for the tools they need.

If you think that you will never intersect with this aspect of graphic technology, keep in mind that companies in this field produce the maps and terrain for flight-simulation programs; images of fields for farmers showing not just a human-visible analysis, but on multiple light spectrums so the farmer can see details of what areas need water, pest treatment, and so on; images of miles and miles of land for oil companies to look for natural oil slicks; images of cities for city planners to see the reality of what the plans only suggest; and more!

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