The UltraCam team recently traveled to Brasilia to visit Topocart, one of the most prolific aerial surveying companies in South America and UltraCam customer since 2007. With seven offices and roughly 400 employees, Topocart has used the UltraCamX extensively in locations as challenging as Angola, has flown corridor projects with the UltraCamLp, and flies large area projects with an UltraCamXp in a Learjet at speeds of 900 kilometers per hour. While there, the team interviewed Topocart president Jorge Mauro Barja Arteiro and Abner Oliveira, the company’s Vice President of Technical Consulting. The result is a fourth installment in our series of “I Fly UltraCam” videos and written case studies. You can see these at the I Fly UltraCam web page. Below are some excerpts from the interview not included in the video or case study.
Microsoft: Can you provide a little background on Topocart?
Oliveira: Topocart was founded in 1991 by Jorge Arteiro, its current CEO and president. The company first started working with topography and survey and then transitioned to the aerial survey business in the early 2000. Topocart’s, main office is in Brazil, in its capital Brasilia. We also have offices in four other cities in Brazil, and offices outside Brazil. Topocart currently has about three hundred employees in these seven locations. We currently fly six aircraft; five in Brazil, one in Africa. Our sensors include three UltraCam cameras. And we currently have maybe about a hundred people in the field doing ground support and other projects as well.
Microsoft: What led you to your first UltraCam acquisition?
Arteiro: The need to fly in Angola made TOPOCART search for a compatible technology that works in Africa efficiently, with precision and mainly, under any of the conditions we were facing in Africa. So, we searched around the world and saw that the UltraCam was a camera that catered to our needs. We set up a structure, a team that moved up there, and now, it has finished seven thousand kilometers of road for the National Institute of the State of Angola. It has also worked in dam and reservoirs surveys and urban surveys. In Africa, we fly to Angola, Mozambique, several places … and always effectively. And this is due to all the technology that is integrated into the UltraCam and the whole team who learned to work as effectively with the UltraCam.
Oliveira: Regarding technology … you have to understand that we were coming from a frame based camera, analog camera, so we were looking into that kind of “safety” and structure. And, of course, digital cameras try to emulate that. And of all the systems that we looked at, we had the line sensors analyzed. And when we came to analyze the structure of the CCDs in the UltraCam we were so comfortable with that ‘cause it is so rigid. And it doesn’t rely on fancy mathematics or anything like that. It’s just plain, straight, rigid, solid CCD structure. So from somebody that was relying on something very rigid in the analog cameras, that was immediately something that we recognized as a very good set up.
But technology is not enough. You have to have people who you can rely on behind it. So we took a trip to Europe to talk to some manufacturers of systems and it was a very, very nice trip because you got to meet the people behind the technology. And we decided to go with the UltraCam because we felt comfortable with the people behind the technology. And, well, right after that trip we started purchasing cameras and now we have three cameras.
Arteiro: The availability of three sensors with different characteristics gives us versatility of use in the market and high efficiency in our surveys. We bought the UltraCamX in 2007 and use it still. We use the UltraCamXp in a Learjet for large area surveys. And we use the UltraCamLp for corridor surveys. And it is very efficient, too! These three versions of the technology provide us with a range of resources that make a big difference in the market, providing high-efficiency for aerophotogrammetric surveys.
Microsoft: With “the People” in mind, what impact—if any—did it have that the UltraCam business was acquired by Microsoft?
Oliveira: When we first heard about Microsoft acquiring Vexcel, the first thing that we thought was “okay, this is serious. So, we are actually working with the best technology in the market. So these guys would not invest in a company like this if it wasn’t so.” We were very excited about Microsoft’s plans to continue investing in developments for the UltraCam. And also their projects worldwide, like Bing Maps and other projects. So this was very good news for those of us in the business. And when we purchased our first camera we actually did it from the office in Graz. And since Microsoft acquired Vexcel, very little has changed in terms of the quality of the relations that we have with the people behind the UltraCam technology. I think we got the best of both worlds. We have this giant of technology behind the technology we purchased and the same quality of people and relationships with these people that we had before.
Microsoft: How was the UltraCam critical to your Angola project?
As you probably know Angola underwent several years of civil war so virtually there’s a shortage of everything. There’s no aircraft field. There are no roads. There are landmines everywhere so we needed to minimize ground survey tasks. We needed to go in, do the job right the first time and then get out. We needed to get imagery even in non-standard conditions … beneath clouds, for instance, with smoke. So, we were looking into those challenges. We wanted a nearly risk-free operation in Angola, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to go there and perform the jobs. So, a digital camera and ultimately UltraCam, came to solve those problems. I firmly believe that without the UltraCam there wouldn’t be Angola for Topocart. The crew wouldn’t be able to go there and perform their job. So that is a new revenue stream that we would never have without the UltraCam. I say Angola, but I mean the whole continent. Africa is a pretty challenging place to do business, to bring such a technical operation and run it. So the UltraCam was simply the piece that allowed us to do that.
Microsoft: What would you consider to be the top advantages of the UltraCam over competing camera systems?
Arteiro: Basically, some advantages that I can cite are that it produced three types of images black and white, color and infrared. Besides this, the change from film technology into digital image provided us with a very high speed of operation. Dispensing with film, the lab, it is all a huge simplification of operations. The image quality the UltraCam provides in the subsequent operations of aerial photogrammetry, stereo restitution … the efficiency, high reliability for our technicians … all make a real difference because the technology provided by the UltraCam now allows us to have a leading position in the national and international markets.
Oliveira: The top three benefits from purchasing an UltraCam, in my opinion, would be reduction of ground control work, especially in South America where this is really not cheap to do. There is a lot of groundwork necessary with other cameras. Next, I would say that the ability to control the forward motion distortions. There’s a lot of room. The UltraCam controls that very, very well. Lastly, but not the least important, would be the high radiometry that it can achieve. The images are just so full of data you can just rely that the final product will be perfect.
Microsoft: How would you advise other data acquisition companies after your experience operating the UltraCam?
Oliveira: To a company that is thinking about transitioning from analog to digital, I would definitely say the UltraCam is the way. It has done wonders for us and I completely rely on that solution for the same type of business. What I can say from the UltraCam is that we have challenged the technology in a very tough environment for the past five years and it has delivered consistently. So now whenever we go into a project with the camera, with the UltraCam, we don’t worry about it.
Arteiro: What I have to say to my colleagues in the market, to my colleagues around the world, is today, looking back, I see the happy choice that I made and I recommend the UltraCam! Because it really means efficiency in technology. I think it is the best camera on the market. I would like to remind them that our choice of this camera involved market research which involved a recommendation from universities, which involved a recommendation from colleagues from other countries and from other companies. And now I have this role … the role of recommending the UltraCam camera because I’m really satisfied. Our company made great progress through the use of the UltraCam camera.
Be sure to watch the video and read the full written case study at www.iFlyUltraCam.com. While there, check out our other “I fly UltraCam” videos, if you haven’t already.
– Jerry Skaw, Sales & Marketing, Microsoft UltraCam Team