Open Source Remote Sensing Effort

by Shawana P. Johnson

Wouldn't you like to fly through space like Peter Pan and view the earth from above, explore another country, and find out what exotic places are like while never leaving your own home? That is what satellite and aerial images from space can provide for you. The technology exists to do this, but it would take thousands of technologists to develop the programming capabilities for the average global consumer to access such a “View of the World”. This has long been a quest for governments and researchers around the globe. The problem is satellite and aerial images are geospatial data and contain more raw data and information than can be easily dealt with.

The Fascination with the Earth from Space

Everyone is fascinated with images from space which provide close up views of earth. Whether the image is used to study the commodities market for agriculture or provide outstanding graphics to help us catch the bad guy in a spy novel or a stunning backdrop for a James Bond movie, we all want to see more. Today's satellite and aerial technology allows us to see the earth from space with increasing detail. Typically, scientific applications of this earth imagery are making their way into the commercial world through real estate offices, investment banks, flight simulators and even the placement of wireless signal towers. Several new high-resolution satellites will be added this year to provide images where one pixel will represent one square meter of the earth's surface. Earlier satellites provided only 28- and 10-meter resolution. This much resolution means even more data to manage.

Technology Brings Space to Our Industry

How can the average consumer take advantage of this exotic information from space? Until now, he couldn't, but ImageLinks, Inc., of Melbourne, Florida, a division of AGIS, is changing all this with a web site for open-source development of remote-sensing software. Mark Lucas, the chief technical officer of ImageLinks, Inc. struck a harmonious chord among programmers worldwide when he opened Remote sensing is the term used to refer to images collected by remote cameras and other sensors from space. These cameras are located on satellites and high-altitude airplanes.

Only with the advent of the Linux operating system could an open-source project like this be considered. Linux provides the software for porting applications and a platform for development. Without Linux, Mark Lucas might not have been able to propose the adoption of the open-source development model for the remote-sensing software industry.

Open Source Development Brings Space to Your Doorstep is currently consolidating existing open-source remote sensing and GIS tools as well as developing new libraries and applications. Currently, three separate development efforts are at the site:

LIMP, the large image manipulation program, is headed up by Valient Gough and will evolve into the centerpiece for subsequent image processing applications. Val is the author of OrthoVista and works for StellaCore Corporation.

GeoTIFF is led by Frank Warmerdam for the development of the leading commercial standard for geospatial tiff files. Frank was the chief architect for PCI's ImageWorks, GCPWorks, GeoGateway technology and most of the existing GeoTiff code. He works as a contract developer.

DEMtools is led by Brian Maddox and is a collection of conversion programs, libraries and tools for handling the topographic elevation data sets used in remote sensing. Brian works as a computer scientist for the USGS Mid-Continent Mapping Center.

With over 250 exceptional programming contributors and business specialists, Mark Lucas stated:

We have really made a big hit in the remote sensing community. There are thousands of people in this industry who just don't have the resources and technology to develop the software applications and algorithms alone. But with hundreds of us working together, we will be able to develop the keys to unlock the data to make it easy to access and view by the average (or unscientific) global consumer. Whether the consumer just wants to see a picture of his own backyard or view the deforestation of the Brazilian rain forest or the B-9 iceberg near the South Pole, he will be able to do this, and it won't cost him thousands of dollars for the software.

Open-source software development enables the development of software algorithms without spending thousands of dollars for commercial applications. Open-source software development speeds up the development time, produces high-quality code and allows for the maintenance and distribution of the software to be completed by users from around the world on the Net. The tools and source available at will be released under an open-source license and the absolute beauty of this is that it's free.

Also, provides a place for open communication between academics, government organizations, entrepreneurial developers and the business community. It has long been a problem to establish communication between these diverse groups. has already begun to bridge these gaps as is demonstrated by the highly influential participants eagerly sharing their ideas, along with valuable code. This prestigious group of participants consists of NASA engineers, well-known remote-sensing business specialists, developers from well-known software companies and progressive student programmers at leading universities around the world.

The site already has a well-established program for development. ImageLinks, Inc. created and hosts Current work includes:

  • Collecting changes

  • Helping authors synchronize their work

  • Operating discussion forums (mailing lists and newsgroups)

  • Coordinating bug lists

  • Keeping track of and publicizing “work in progress”

  • Providing “roadmaps” to the code and projects based on the code

The Highway Ahead

What does this mean for the remote-sensing community and the global consumer? An unparalleled opportunity exists to allow the average consumer to see and understand information about our world that otherwise might not be possible for many years. The flood of raw data about our earth does us no good if we cannot turn it into information which provides broad uses to impact our socioeconomic problems in this borderless world. is dedicated to providing the world with affordable data and information capabilities to allow us to take better care of the world. What better way to do this than to bring the finest minds together in the Open Source world which Linux has created and allow them to do just that—create?


Dr. Shawana P. Johnson ( is President of Global Marketing Insights, Inc., which provides strategic sales and marketing planning focused on the global remote sensing community, including companies involved in the development and launch of earth observation systems, as well as companies who sell and process the data. She received her Doctorate in Management from Case Western Reserve University where she specialized in technology transfer and global economics.
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