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"Spatially Speaking" is the official MAPPS blog providing information on topics related to the association and profession and MAPPS involvement with the issues.


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Offshoring Reminder - This blog includes an important reminder and information related to "offshoring"

Posted By John Palatiello, Tuesday, February 9, 2016

One of the greatest benefits of attending a MAPPS conference is the ability to share information, concerns and the latest trends in the market with one’s peers.  It is during coffee breaks, receptions, and networking time that MAPPS members catch up on the latest “scuttlebutt” in the community.

During the 2016 Winter Conference held earlier this month in Henderson, Nevada, there were numerous conversations regarding the resurgence of “offshoring” – sending production work to facilities outside the United States.

When the offshoring phenomena first arose in 2001, MAPPS was involved in a number of activities to educate the membership on issues related to the practice.  Sessions were held at conferences to discuss the benefits and pitfalls, an attorney’s opinion was sought to outline legal requirements and responsibilities, testimony was presented to Congress, a task force was created to study and make recommendations, and a MAPPS policy was adopted by the Board of Directors.

Whether using an independent subcontractor or a U.S.  firm establishing its own facility in a foreign country, there are laws, processes, and ethical considerations that should be noted.  For resources on this practice, visit the offshoring page on the MAPPS website.


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What has MAPPS done for you lately? Watch this video!

Posted By Beth Hawley, Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Presented at the MAPPS Winter Conference in Henderson, NV

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Just How Accurate is Your Drone?

Posted By Mike Tully, Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) continue to influence the profession of remote sensing and mapping like few things ever have. Advances in computer technology, global positioning, and miniaturization have conspired to remove considerable barriers to entry. Many new practitioners are buying drones and providing these services and data for the first time. Much (not all) of the science and art of photogrammetry is now coded on a chip. These advancements enable new practitioners to provide a greater array of services to new and existing markets than ever before and fosters the misperception that “anyone can do it”.


New practitioners of drone-based remote sensing and mapping need to understand the fundamentals of remote sensing, mapping, photogrammetry. Typical deliverables like orthophotography, digital elevation models (DEM), contours, cross-sections, and 3D models depend on this understanding. Nescience of these fundamentals is certain to cause considerable pain, financial loss and compromises to public safety. This article introduces the fundamentals of positional accuracy to help new practitioners provide these services consistent with professional accuracy standards.


I have talked with several practitioners that did not know what “ground control” was or how to use it to establish positional accuracy. This lack of familiarity is not uncommon among novices. They may not know that positional accuracy requirements are needed, or that they are often assumed by the client. They may not know how to discuss positional accuracy with their clients, nor how to measure the positional accuracy of their data deliverables.


Professionals know that an accurate ortho (or DEM or 3D model) can look identical to an inaccurate one. Both are “pretty” pictures with lots of great detail but one has more intrinsic value for a greater number of uses than the other because it is more accurate.

It matters very little what the drone manufacturer says about the positional accuracy of its products. A combination of factors (and seldom a single factor) affects the positional accuracy of an orthophoto, DEM, or other derivative of remotely sensed data. Poor operation of the best drone can vitiate the positional accuracy of a deliverable. If a drone manufacturer claims their camera is accurate to two pixels for any given ground sample distance (GSD), the resultant positional accuracy for the orthophoto is dependent on each of the following factors. [The list below is not a comprehensive list of error sources but includes the major contributors of error.]

  1. the cameras inherent potential accuracy
  2. the stability of the flight
  3. the quality of the GPS data
  4. the quality of the inertial system (if the drone even uses one),
  5. the quality of the DEM used to make the orthophoto, and
  6. the type and quality of processing of the raw imagery into an orthophoto (this factor alone has several important sources of error from a “raw” to “finished” deliverable)
  7. the number and quality of ground control points

Each factor contributes some error to the ultimate positional accuracy of the final deliverable. The sum of all errors determines the measurable positional accuracy.


Understanding accuracy and accuracy standards sets your operations apart from others’. The American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) is the major “standards body” for this profession. Their Standards for Geospatial Data reflect the realities of new sensors and digital data. They are “scale- and technology-agnostic”. That is, the standards apply to data produced at any scale using any kind of sensor today or tomorrow. They can be used to measure and report the positional accuracy of geospatial deliverables like orthophotography, DEMs, digital surface models, 3D models, contours, topographic mapping, etc.


Deliverables with good, consistent positional accuracy can be an important differentiator for your drone-based remote sensing business. Unfortunately, a main cost driver of geospatial deliverables is positional accuracy. More accurate data will generally be more

expensive than less accurate data. Profitability is highest when the required accuracy is not “over-engineered” and drives up costs.


What level of positional accuracy is achievable using today’s drone systems? Assuming “best practices” with a drone using a metric camera (most drones do NOT have a metric camera), high quality ground control, and solid production procedures (all difficult to achieve consistently) the best possible accuracy for orthos would have a root mean square error (RMSE) = 1 to 1.5 Pixels (GSD). Are these levels of accuracy achievable flying a drone with a non-metric camera and without any ground control?  Not a chance ... not today!

Because increasing accuracy comes at a premium it is imperative that the practitioner understand what accuracy is achievable from their drone “system”, what the client expects, and what is needed (this is often at odds with client expectations) to meet the deliverable's intended use. Because quality remote sensing data and services are difficult to deliver and need considerable expertise that is not yet programmed into the “easy button” many drone fliers are choosing to collect data and have established firms produce positionally accurate, irrefragable geospatial deliverables.

Mike Tully, Aerial Services, Inc., Cedar Falls, IA

Tags:  Drones  reality-check 

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Omnibus Appropriations Bill Focuses on Geospatial Contracting

Posted By Administration, Friday, January 8, 2016
MAPPS Government Affairs Manager John "JB" Byrd has prepared a summary of key provisions in the Fiscal Year 2016 “omnibus” appropriations bill. Public Law 114-113 was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama on December 18 to fund and keep the government running through September 30. This summary focuses on particular areas of interest in geospatial, including surveying and mapping; architecture & engineering; procurement, privatization and contracting out; and government reform. All subdivisions of the House-Senate conference agreements are on the House Rules Committee website. The respective House and Senate Appropriations Committee reports should also be reviewed when researching budgets and program provisions, as items included or discussed therein could provide guidance that agencies will follow in FY16 implementation.

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MAPPS Minute for December 18, 2015

Posted By Beth Hawley, Friday, December 18, 2015

MAPPS Minute for December 18, 2015

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MAPPS Minute for Monday, December 14, 2015

Posted By Beth Hawley, Monday, December 14, 2015

MAPPS Minute for December 14, 2015

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FAA Ruling on UAS Registration is Out

Posted By John Palatiello, Monday, December 14, 2015

The FAA released the final regulations for registration of UAS this morning.

FAA briefed stakeholders earlier today.

Thanks to John Perry of Altavian, who represented MAPPS and the geospatial community on the FAA task force.

You can read the official FAA document here.

Here are highlights.

  • To be released today by FAA, emailed to stakeholders and posted on website
  • Effective date is December 21
  • Current owners have 60 days to register their aircraft
  • New purchasers on or after December 21 must register before using the UAS
  • Covers all UAS from .55 pounds (250 grams) to 55 pounds
  • Model/hobby owners must register once
  • Non- model/hobby (e.g. commercial) must register each aircraft
  • Registration is not required at point of sale, but can be done so voluntarily
  • model/hobby will register name, address, email
  • Non- model/hobby (e.g. commercial) will register name, address, email, make, model and serial number
  • All owners age 13 and above must register
  • There is a $5 registration fee, every 3 years
  • Registration will be web based
  • A certificate of registration will be emailed by FAA or an individual can use the mail via the current Part 47 process
  • A registration number on the aircraft will be required
  • Registration is by individual, not by corporation.  A corporate process will be implemented at a later date.

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USGS and ASPRS Seek Input on Aerial Camera and Sensor Calibration Requirements

Posted By John Palatiello, Friday, December 11, 2015

The USGS has asked for input from MAPPS member firms regarding future camera and sensor calibration interests. 

As system and sensor technology moves forward, the ASPRS Primary Data Acquisition Division (PDAD), working with USGS, desires to solicit input from the community to understand, assess, and support metric calibration needs for aerial systems and sensors. 

This is an activity in which MAPPS has been involved since its founding in 1982.

In this case, the concern is the metric calibration of both the film-based and digital camera aerial systems requirements. As analog film cameras continue to be reduce via the number of cameras in use and new digital cameras continue to be developed and operationally placed in service at rapid pace, “What are the current calibration needs in the airborne community?”

There are laboratory calibrations that are performed on both analog and digital camera systems. The laboratory calibration process provides the baseline optical information for a metric camera system. For analog film mapping cameras, most systems are calibrated by utilizing the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Optical Science Laboratory (OSL) bank collimator method, and this is limited to the film-based camera.

Many manufactures and data providers have done in situ calibration tests with film cameras and this may result in available methods for film cameras, assuming the camera is in good working order. It is anticipated that the new ASPRS Guidelines for the Aerial Camera In Situ Geometric Calibration of the Aerial Camera System should be considered as an appropriate method for a metric camera calibration procedure for both film-based and digital aerial camera systems. In situ calibration has been tested and used by in various companies, academia and Governments for digital camera calibration. ASPRS and USGS are interested in your in situ calibration test results for analog film cameras, digital cameras, and other aerial sensors.  To provide information to ASPRS/USGS, click here.

With this as background, it is asked that you help answer a list of questions concerning the future of camera system metric calibration and other future potential calibration and data quality needs. Please provide comments where appropriate.

To take the survey, click here.

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MAPPS Board Meets, Takes Action

Posted By Administration, Thursday, December 3, 2015

Yesterday, the MAPPS Board of Directors wrapped up two days of meetings in Reston Virginia.  On Tuesday, the Board reviewed and planned MAPPS programs, activities, finances and policies.

Among the actions taken:

  • Approval of a 2016 budget that includes no increase in dues;
  • Implementation of a “capture plan” or new member marketing and recruitment strategy;
  • Two incentive programs to attract new member firms to the association –
  1. If a principal of a non-member firm attends a MAPPS conference and pays the higher, non-member registration fee and then promptly joins MAPPS, the difference between member and non member conference registration fees will be credited to the firm’s first year dues; and
  2. When a new firm joins MAPPS, included will be a registration to one conference during the firm’s first membership year.
  • Just as the Board did this past Spring, an effort will be made to have every current MAPPS member firm called by a Board member in the coming weeks to hear about members’ interests and to assure that MAPPS is being responsive to the members needs;
  • In response to requests from members of Congress, re-establish a FEMA Task Force to provide Congress with recommendations for reform and improvement of FEMA Risk Mapping, Assessment and Planning (Risk MAP) in support of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), including potential privatization of the NFIP;
  • In response to requests from members of Congress, task the MAPPS Aerial Aviation Forum with developing legislative recommendations for the next Aviation bill;
  • Approved a revision to the MAPPS best practices guideline on geospatial data and individual citizen privacy, to include a provision on address data, as recommended and requested by the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC);
  • Approved conducting the triennial MAPPS Salary and Benefits Survey in 2016 based on member firms 2015 finances;
  • Began studying the feasibility of legislation to establish a National Parcel Data Coordination Office in a Federal agency;
  • Endorsed a recommendation to Congress that pipeline and underground utility legislation include a provision on the need for compliance with sufficient accuracy standards for location data; and
  • Reviewed the new format for the 2016 Winter Conference to be held January 31 through February 3 that will feature a more convenient and affordable destination (Las Vegas/Henderson, NV) with lower airfares, a lower hotel room cost, a reduced registration fee for principals, and an even lower fee for emerging leaders/middle managers of MAPPS member firms to participate in a track of program sessions especially designed for these “up and coming” professionals within your firm.

On Wednesday, the MAPPS Board hosted a roundtable dialogue session with several of our Federal agency partners.  Representatives of USACE, USGS, DHS, FEMA, NOAA and USDOT had a provocative and productive discussion on 3DEP, merging bathymetric/hydrographic data with coastal LiDAR data, privacy (including Patriot Act Title II and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) regulations), UAS, 133 Cities, FEMA flood mapping, and parcels, as well as the Federal agency briefing to be hosted on Tuesday, March 15 by MAPPS at the Federal Programs Conference during the National Surveying, Mapping and Geospatial Conference, the week of March 14-18 in Crystal City (Arlington, VA).

There was agreement between MAPPS and our Federal agency partners on most of these issues.  In fact, MAPPS leadership on parcels and privacy were extremely well received by the agency officials and MAPPS was commended for its advocacy on these important policy matters.

MAPPS members will be hearing more about the initiatives in the coming months, and input as well as volunteer member participation in these activities will be solicited.

This dedication and leadership by the MAPPS Board of Directors is proof once again, as President Susan Marlow says, "MAPPS members do big things in the profession ... and for the profession."

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MAPPS Minute

Posted By Administration, Friday, November 20, 2015


MAPPS Minute for November 20, 2015

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