In December 2012, the UltraCam team hosted an assortment of our international customers and our sales partners for a week of meetings in Innsbruck, Austria. In addition to presentations given by our staff, there were a handful from new customers. One of those was from Daniel Haywood of Ramani Geosystems who talked about starting the company with a motorbike and a handheld GPS and shared stories of the challenges the company faces flying in East Africa. The discussion at this point was punctuated by a slide with a photo of a team of rifle-toting security personnel. It was at this point in his presentation that we realized we had our candidate for a next case study in the “I Fly UltraCam” customer evidence campaign.
If you have kept up with our series of “I Fly UltraCam” video and written case studies, you know that we have always included some interesting footage of the regions where the features customers are located: Philadelphia, France, China, Brazil and now Kenya. (If you are behind on the past videos, visit www.iFlyUltraCam.com.) There is some really cool “b-roll”–as it is called in the film industry–from Kenya in this one, in addition to the great interviews with the Ramani team who explain in their own words why they fly UltraCam.
You can check out the Ramani Geosystems video on the I Fly UltraCam page of our web site and once you have, there is also a link there for the written case study. Meanwhile, below you can find more of the interviews with Ramani’s Daniel Haywood (Managing Director), Vincent Kimaiyo (Head of Air Operations), and Boniface Mworia (Head of Data Management) that took place on site at Ramani but that were excluded from the video and case study for brevity’s sake.
-Jerry Skaw, Sales & Marketing, Microsoft UltraCam Team
Microsoft: You shared with us Ramani’s very interesting origins of a simple business built with a motorbike and a GPS system to map a Kenyan wheat farm. Can you provide a little more background on the company and it’s move from there into aerial data captures?
Haywood: I felt that there must be an easier way than riding a motorbike for miles and miles every day across the African plains [laughs]. So that’s when we got into aerial survey.
Our first aerial survey was done in a Super Cub with a 2 megapixel Sony camera. It was hand-held and we manually stitched all the images together using Photoshop. It took an eternity. And it was about fifty centimeter resolution and was a terrible experience.
But it gave the clan what they wanted. So that was fun in a way. Of course, as the technologies increased, our clients were looking for more all the time. So we then moved onto medium format cameras.
We used a particular 39 megapixel medium format camera with a GPS/INS that worked incredibly well for us. That was in 2008. And it was a huge leap in this particular market.
There was no one here using a medium format camera for mapping. So we, we put our medium format camera in our 182 and we did a lot of hours. We were doing about three hundred hours a year, um, with our little medium format camera.
Microsoft: And it was about this time you purchased an UltraCam?
Kimaiyo: Yes, using a medium format camera takes a lot of time to collect data. Most of these projects are time critical and to acquire the data very fast you have to use a large format camera that is reliable and that has good quality image. That’s why we came to a conclusion of acquiring an UltraCamX.
Haywood: We purchased our UltraCamX in late 2012. It was a very exciting day when it arrived. The whole office was around, wondering what these two shiny boxes had inside. And that was a huge jump for us. And we’ve seen such massive benefits when using the UltraCam in the last six months or so.
Microsoft: Such as?
Haywood: We can offer our clients a lot more now with the UltraCam. There are a lot of projects in Africa which require quite big areas and essentially we now are able to offer clients from within East Africa those solutions. Whereas beforehand, the large format systems had to come from overseas. This is the first large format camera in East Africa.
Kimaiyo: The top three benefits include the image quality. They have very good panchromatic properties. That is the first advantage. The second one is you can acquire very high-resolution images. You can go as three centimeters. And at the same time, you can fly very high and cover a big area within the shortest time possible. The third advantage is it’s easy to use. It’s very user-friendly. You can take it from the office, install it into the aircraft at the very fast takeoff and do the work. So it saves a lot of time.
Mworia: First of all, it’s the image footprint. We are able to fly in less time which means less images for us, which shortens the processing period. Another
thing is that we are able to do much higher resolution imagery with the
UltraCam: ten centimeters. Before we were working with fifteen to twenty
centimeter resolution. Also, because of the high quality of the images involved with the UltraCam we are now able to get better type points when we do the automatic tie-point generation. Which means our DTM is more correct, so better quality orthophotos because, again, of the high quality image.
Microsoft: And the capabilities provided by the UltraMap software?
Mworia: With UltraMap we are able to do distribute type processing. So, we are making use of all the resources that we have now in the company. We are able to generate good radiometrics from the UltraMap, which means downstream we do less work in terms of image correction and the color balancing, which of course means we do less work.
Microsoft: How would you rate your experience in working with Microsoft?
Haywood: We spent a long time talking to the different sales teams out there and looking at different systems. One of the things that we loved about working with Microsoft when we were looking at buying the UltraCam, was the sales process. They’ve got a fantastic sales team who have always given us the right information, have been a really great support to us and waited patiently for us to get it together so we could move forward. And the technical team that came was outstanding and really helped us get on our feet. We managed to install the camera, do all the training, do the flight testing, all of that in four days which is phenomenal.
Kimaiyo: Support from Microsoft is good. Anytime we need support we call them and they are readily available. In case it’s something we need to get from them, we get it very easily.
They give you proper procedures on how to do things. I’d say they have a very good customer support.
Microsoft: You looked at other camera systems and chose UltraCam. What factored into that decision?
Haywood: We just felt that UltraCam was the way to go because we’ve seen so many tenders and clients specifically mention the UltraCam. You know, there’s a lot of quite cool cameras out there. They’re phenomenal what they do. But they’re so quirky that people like our governments and traditional photogrammetrists don’t necessarily accept that type of imagery.
Kimaiyo: The image quality from the UltraCamX is perfect. It’s the best. Sometimes we are forced to acquire images under the clouds. That means areas with shadows and sunshine. So to get the features from the shadowed area using the UltraCamX data, that’s pretty easy because the features are visible. You can extract the data from the shadowed area.
Microsoft: Can you give us a snapshot of the Ramani organization today. What is your guiding business philosophy?
Haywood: Ramani has about forty people. We have ten in land survey, five in aerial operations–so two pilots, three operators. We have about twelve or thirteen in data processing and the rest are in the admin finance side of it, sales, that sort of thing. Ever since Ramani began, we’ve had a vision statement which is putting Africa on the map. And really, you know, we’ve had ambitions right from the beginning to map Africa and get out
there, and ride across the continent and essentially we’ve been true to that.
Microsoft: Does another UltraCam factor into that vision?
Kaimaiyo: Yes our long-time air plan is to own the latest from Microsoft. We’re looking at the UltraCam Eagle and we think that is going to be good for us. It’s easy. It’s a single unit. We would love to have everything compact and it is a single unit that we can take out and place into the aircraft very easily. That would save us a lot of space. And considering that most of time, within some countries, you have to fly with a military officer on board, that means we will have to have an extra seat so we would love to upgrade to a newer UltraCam that is just a single unit. That would make our work very easy.