Watershed Sciences, Inc. (WSI) wanted to increase its digital multispectral orthophotography business and provide higher-quality images to its customers. The company invested in the UltraCam Eagle large-format camera from Microsoft to capture
high-resolution imagery. By using the UltraCam Eagle, WSI has reduced operational costs, increased image quality, shortened its post-processing time, and found new arenas in which it can expand its business.
Watershed Sciences, Inc. (WSI) looks at the world from a different angle. The company started with a focus on providing water-quality modeling services using aerial imagery and thermal infrared data to map and model watersheds in Oregon. It has grown
to handle all sorts of airborne remote sensing and analysis projects for government bodies, utility companies, and other customers throughout North America.
||When we say that we use the UltraCam Eagle, people take notice. [It] communicates to customers that we are in the top tier in our industry and assures them that we can deliver the best quality.
| David Brandt
Sensor R&D Lead, Watershed Sciences, Inc.
As it grew, WSI made a commitment to excel and innovate, so it strove to employ the best and brightest people and adopt the most advanced technologies. The company identified orthophotography as an area in which it could use technology advancements to enhance
its business offerings. WSI already used Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology to examine project areas, and it wanted high-accuracy, high-resolution photos to complement its LiDAR data. “Having high-resolution photos gives customers visual reference
for comparison and makes it easier for them to digest the LiDAR data that we deliver,” says Arley Oddo, Orthophoto Production Lead at WSI. “Orthophotos are more accessible for many customers.”
To efficiently provide such photos, WSI needed better equipment. The company had multiple medium-format cameras but needed a large-format digital multispectral camera that could match the accuracy of its LiDAR data. “Without a large-format camera, we wouldn’t
be able to compete as well, and we really wanted to be able to bring the very best imagery to our customers,” says Ryan Lynch, Acquisition Manager at WSI.
In January 2012, WSI began researching and evaluating the large-format cameras that were available on the market. The company’s requirements included three- or four-band imagery, a small physical footprint, gyro-stabilization, and the right focal length.
“We investigated 12 camera systems, but none met our needs like the UltraCam Eagle from Microsoft,” says Lynch. “In addition to meeting all our requirements, we liked user-friendly design and intuitive workflow. We also appreciated that all the system components
are integrated, which meant we wouldn’t have to keep track of extra parts, and the camera’s light weight would make it easy to switch between one aircraft to another.”
Having acquired its UltraCam Eagle in June 2012, WSI uses it continually for a range of projects, including large-scale corridor and surveillance work that it conducts for counties and utilities looking for specific features, such as buildings located too
near to power lines. During the course of several months in 2013, for example, WSI used the UltraCam Eagle to capture detailed geologic information of the land around the Diablo Canyon Power Plant for use in an in-depth seismic analysis study for Pacific Gas
and Electric Company.
WSI typically flies the UltraCam Eagle in its two Cessna 208 Caravan airplanes and frequently alternates the camera between them for projects. “We probably outpace any other firm in terms of how often we deploy our camera, so we work with Microsoft to make
sure that those transitions are as smooth as possible,” says Drew Wendeborn, Sensor IT Analyst at WSI. For instance, one weekend, WSI discovered that the firmware on one of the computers in its UltraCam Eagle needed to be updated. “Rather than waiting two
or three days to get help, our Microsoft support contact talked me through updating the firmware over the phone, even though he had the day off.”
By adopting the UltraCam Eagle, WSI reduces costs while improving the quality of its products for customers. The company has the advanced technology that it needs to stay ahead in a competitive market. “When we say that we use the UltraCam Eagle, people
take notice,” says David Brandt, Sensor R&D Lead at WSI. “Having the best camera on the market communicates to customers that we are in the top tier in our industry and assures them that we can deliver the best quality.” The benefits of using the UltraCam
Lower operational costs. Because of its camera’s large format, WSI can capture the images it needs with fewer flight passes over its target area. “Now that we fly with the UltraCam Eagle, we spend 40 to 50 percent less time in the air for
a given project,” says Lynch. “That reduces our fuel consumption and minimizes wear and tear on our aircraft, both of which help us keep costs low.”
Improved image quality. The image quality that WSI gets today is significantly better than in the past. “With the UltraCam Eagle, we have a consistent orthophoto mosaic with true-to-life colors,” says Oddo. “There’s certainly a ‘wow factor’
when customers see these high-resolution images. The color and clarity make it easy for them to interpret what they see and make more informed decisions.”
Increased post-processing efficiency. WSI appreciates that it has fewer images to stitch together, because it cuts down on post-processing time and efforts. “Most of our post-processing time lies in troubleshooting, but the smaller number
of images from the UltraCam Eagle has helped us reduce that time by up to 50 percent,” says Oddo.
Superior support. One of the most important aspects of the new camera is the level of support that WSI receives from Microsoft. “We acquire data 360 days each year,” says Wendeborn. “Even when we call on weekends and holidays, we’ve had
Microsoft there to support us in real time, which we definitely did not experience with other camera vendors. Having an organization that’s willing to jump right in and get us back in the air quickly is a huge benefit.”
Expanded business opportunity. WSI credits the UltraCam Eagle as a competitive advantage. “We’re now confident that we can successfully meet just about any customer request because the camera can be used in so many ways, which opens up new
deliverables and helps us compete for projects that we couldn’t bid on in the past,” says Brandt. “Flying with the UltraCam Eagle definitely supports the growth of our orthophoto business.”
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