Developing New Applications of Remote Sensing or Geographic Information System Technology

by Joe Means
Department of Forest Science, Oregon State University

Oregon State University and the Commercial Remote Sensing Program of NASA recently established an Affiliated Research Center (ARC) at OSU. The purpose of this center is to partner with companies to develop new applications of Remote Sensing or Geographic Information System technology (GIS) for the private company. Projects can be on any topic that seeks to establish or significantly improve a product, service or way of doing business that involves these technologies. No money changes hands in these projects. The ARC staff and other OSU experts in appropriate fields lead the work. A representative from the partner company works along side them to accomplish objectives, learning the technology in the process.

This program was developed because NASA believes that investigating new technology such as satellite image analysis traditionally has been too costly for most small businesses. However, such investigations and their resulting innovations are important to the growth of small businesses and ultimately the strength of the U.S. economy as a whole. Through NASA’s Affiliated Research Center program, companies become partners with Oregon State University personnel in developing new business applications, thus reducing the cost to the company and allowing NASA to shoulder some of the risk.

Types of ARC Projects: Many nontraditional industries are recognizing the benefits of remote sensing technologies and images. Many business use this technology, including marketing, real estate, precision farming, emergency management, insurance, resource extraction and environmental monitoring. Opportunities in private forest management are just beginning to be explored by a few "early adopter" companies. For example, projects being done this winter at the ARC explore the use of airborne scanning lidar (a kind of laser altimeter) to measure height and volume of individual trees and forest stands. Other possible projects include use of hyperspectral imagery (an image that includes a picture for each of over 200 colors of light) to measure nitrogen status of tree foliage. This could be used to help determine whether and how much to fertilize. Another project could use the same data to measure amounts of Douglas-fir, western hemlock, alder and maple (or other species such as shrubs) in a stand.

How the ARC Program Works:

ARC projects are commercially driven. These six- to nine-month projects allow partner companies to investigate remote sensing solutions to their business information needs. Costs to the partner are limited to company personnel’s salary and travel, while working at the ARC and other expenses they may choose to take on. The ARC provides access to university facilities and technology experts encompassing a full range of remote sensing, image processing, and GIS capabilities. Partner companies become familiar with the theoretical and practical bases for remote sensing and GIS data analysis techniques. Participants work at the ARC with university personnel in all stages of the project development cycles from needs analysis through prototype development. Costs for remotely sensed data can be substantial and we look for remote sensing data providers to help with this.

An ARC project starts with an idea for your business to make a new or improved product, service or capability and contact with one of the ARC Co-Directors, below. Discussions with ARC personnel may result in the company submitting a short proposal for an ARC Project. Proposals are evaluated by the ARC and NASA in one to two months. As a selected project is accomplished jointly by one or more personnel from the partner company and ARC personnel with consulting help from other OSU faculty experts as needed. At project conclusion the partner company submits a final report describing the results of the ARC project, including cost/benefit analysis and the potential or plans for commercialization.

If you would like to explore partnering with the ARC to expand your companies capabilities or for more information contact Dr. Joseph E. Means, Department of Forest Science, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331,, 541-750-7351.

Originally published October 1999

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