Nearmap US Inc.
Nearmap can help construction clients at every stage of a project.
By Alan Dorich, Senior Editor at Knighthouse Media
When a developer evaluates land for a project, their first impulse might to be to take a drive to look at the site. But Nearmap US Inc.’s technology allows users to skip that step, as well as make other important decisions during every stage of a construction project, Vice President of Marketing Tony Agresta says.
The company – which has based its U.S. headquarters in South Jordan, Utah – provides high-resolution aerial imagery for multiple sectors, including construction, government, real estate, insurance, utilities and telecom. Nearmap began operations a decade ago in Australia, where the company flew planes equipped with special camera systems at altitudes of up to 18,000 feet.
Today, Nearmap offers its photography through a subscription service to clients and covers the United States, Australia and New Zealand. The company’s portfolio includes work for Hydromax USA, the city of Apex, N.C., the Orange County Transit Authority and the city of Grapevine, Texas.
Nearmap’s approach sets its work apart from the imagery taken by satellites or drones, Agresta declares. “Our resolution is better than satellite imagery and our coverage model is much more extensive than drone imagery,” he says.
During the mapping process, “The pilot has a programmed path that he’s going to fly,” he describes. “He flies back and forth with an overlap on each path.”
The camera system within the plane is automated, leaving the pilot to concentrate on flying the aircraft. “With one plane, we can cover up to hundreds of square miles per day, allowing us to capture over 270 urban areas of the U.S. multiple times per year,” he says.
Satellites can cover larger amounts of area, but Nearmap’s planes can offer aerial shots with better resolution. “That’s really the key,” Agresta says. “We have this balance between coverage and resolution which is one thing that makes us unique.”
Each pixel in a Nearmap image represents 2.8 inches on the ground surface. “If you’re talking about the satellite world, the vast majority is one foot to one meter,” he says, noting that the company offers more precision in its photos.
“We can see cracks in the street,” Agresta declares, adding that Nearmap also provides its customers with strong visibility of building rooftops. “We can distinguish a skylight from a solar panel.”
Nearmap also can get the imagery to its clients quickly. “We’ve figured out and built routines that allow us to process massive amounts of imagery in the Amazon cloud,” he says, noting the company can stitch the imagery together and color balance the photos “within days of capture.”
Nearmap covers nearly 70 percent of the United States with its photography multiple times per year. “We’re flying where the people are,” Agresta says, noting that it usually flies during the spring, summer and fall.
The spring is a particularly key time. Before leaves are on land, its clients will have a better view of the ground. “If you’re doing large-scale construction, you want to see the presence of water or any debris that might be in the area,” he says.
The company, Agresta adds, has to act quickly when taking spring photos in the upper Midwest. Although the snow has melted, summer is quickly on its way. However, “We’ve been able to do that with the fleet of planes we have because of the speed of our capture process,” he asserts.
Nearmap offers three types of imagery to its subscribers, Agresta says. Nearmap Vertical imagery gives clients a top-down view of the land. Nearmap Panorama allow users to visualize any size geography in an uninterrupted way. Nearmap Oblique images allow them to see heights of buildings, as well as measure them via a cloud-based application called MapBrowser. Anywhere users can gain access to the Internet, they can see all Nearmap imagery within a single interface.
If a user in the construction industry needed to modify a building, the Oblique image would prove highly useful. “If you want to measure the height of a building, you can use our measurement tools to do that,” he says.
“We’re also able to show you the imagery from different cardinal directions,” he adds. “You can see what’s behind the building, and what’s on the side of the building using north, south, east and west captures.”
The company recently introduced its Panoramic imagery, giving users the ability to view landscapes uninterrupted. “It allows you to analyze the imagery at the speed of the human mind,” Agresta says. Users can quickly and intuitively navigate over small, medium or large geographic areas.
Nearmap delivers its imagery through MapBrowser, an easy-to-use tool that allows customers to switch back and forth between different forms of location content. “It’s literally one click and it takes you to the same area,” he says, noting that it also features a search capability.
The Map Browser allows the images to be easily exported and customized so that they can be used in project proposals. “It gives construction executives and customers confidence [when they] see this imagery,” he says.
At Every Stage
Nearmap’s benefits for construction users start at the site identification stage and carry into estimates, Agresta says. If a land developer wanted to create a master-planned community, they could use the MapBrowser to look at nearby locations, the impact on neighboring communities, roadways, entrance and exit options.
Users can evaluate the amount of vegetation on the land as well as the heights of the local buildings. After that, “They’ll make assessments if this is a viable piece of land on which to build,” Agresta says.
The imagery also can be connected to products from Autodesk or Esri to view simulations of various aspects of the project or build custom solutions that encompass other data layers. Architects and civil engineers can model new forms of infrastructure. City planners and design with efficiency. “It makes modeling and smart city development easier,” he says.
When that is done, a proposal for the project can be developed, and Nearmap can help track changes on the site over time. The general contractor on the project also can use Nearmap’s archive to look at how the site has evolved over the years.
“You can see how the landscape changed,” he says, noting that the photos allow them to look at how the local buildings’ rooftops changed as well. “It is all accessible from Esri and specific Autodesk products.”
The contractors also can use the images to increase collaboration. For example, if one person viewing an image sees a water issue on the site, “They can annotate it, export and share it, [and tell them], ‘This is where the piping and drainage is going to go,’” he says.
“The way people did this in the past was with outdated, low-resolution imagery,” Agresta says, noting that the images address the needs of small, medium and large companies. “Our usage-based pricing and business model allow businesses and governments of all sizes to license our technology.”
Nearmap’s technology can provide benefits after the project is built. If the owner is looking to provide maintenance to his or her property, they can use the company’s photos to see “degradation over time,” Agresta says.
Not only can users see if the roof of the property is cracking, but they also can tell if HVAC units are leaking. “You’re trying to look at the infrastructure and see if there’s any change to it that leads to maintenance,” Agresta says.
The imagery also can help in the case of expansions. For example, if an existing commercial building wants to add a new wing, Nearmap’s photos can help see if there is enough room to expand and design with line of site in mind.
“You have to say, ‘How is this new addition going to impact the existing infrastructure?’” Agresta says, explaining that the photos can help create models. “They have the ability to visualize what a completed expansion looks like.”
HNTB, an infrastructure solutions firm, used Nearmap’s images to build the model of a new bridge in Chicago. With Autodesk’s 3DS Max, the company was able to see what the proposed structure would look like. “It’s realistic, because they’re seeing the new bridge inside the current imagery and the rest of the environment along with it,” Agresta says.
Nearmap is not stopping with its Vertical, Panoramic and Oblique imagery. “This is only the beginning where location content is headed,” Agresta asserts.
Next year, the company will introduce its Digital Surface Model and Nearmap 3D imagery. Nearmap 3D allows for immersive visualization much like a video game, and when used with Digital Surface Model users can view surface areas, make decisions faster and deploy resources with greater efficiency. Nearmap is now capturing this reality using HyperCamera 2, a specialized camera system that catches images via every angle. “This is the future of the imagery world,” Agresta says.
So far, he notes, the company has already captured dozens of cities that include Boston, Las Vegas, Chicago and New York. “Now we’re processing all this imagery and creating a 3D immersive visualization,” Agresta says.
Nearmap US Inc. customers include Momentum Solar, which needed a system to better assess, plan and execute solar panel installations nationwide. “Previously, Momentum Solar used satellite imagery from multiple sources to assess, or qualify, houses and duplexes for solar panels,” Nearmap explains. “On top of that, they were using a completely different program to plan and virtually place solar panels.
“In addition to being time intensive due to switching multiple image sources, the team at Momentum Solar had no reliable way of viewing the same property in multiple seasons,” Nearmap continues, noting that this made it difficult to accurately qualify a house before a technician could be sent to do an on-site assessment.
“Momentum turned to Nearmap to provide high-resolution, frequently updated, aerial images to accelerate initial assessments and have a more complete view of properties requesting solar panels, all from the comfort of their office,” Nearmap says.
Momentum saw its operations improve in several ways. “The accuracy and timeliness of images allow Momentum to have faster and more accurate assessments, allowing time for more appointments,” Nearmap says. “Momentum qualifies 1,000 [to] 3,000 homes per week, a significant jump from its previous volume.”
The company’s all-in-one solution allowed Momentum to speed up its process and show customers final results before panels were placed.
Nearmap also allows Momentum to see current and historical images of a property. “Bare trees pose no problem to solar panels in the winter, but when the trees are in full bloom during spring and summer, they can create enough shade to disqualify a home,” the company says. “Using Nearmap, Momentum can instantly switch between current and previous captures for more precise qualification and design.”