4.1 Number of Cameras Sold

Immediately upon the product announcement in May 2003, Vexcel Imaging received camera orders. The market was eager for a product meeting the requirements specified above. Customers trusted that the technology would be valid and that the company would come through on the product specifications. Deliveries started in January 2004. The growth of the install base is shown in Figure 4. The market share today is at 45% of all digital mapping cameras sold globally [see Figure 5].


Figure 4:

Global UltraCam installations. The column for 2011 differentiates between large format UltraCams [216 units] and medium format systems UltraCam-Lp [48 units].


As shown in Figure 6, the growth of the image size from initially 11,500 pixels across the flight path to 20,000 pixels in the most recent product UltraCam Eagle is taking advantage of CCD technology which advanced from a pitch at 9 μm to 5.2 μm.


Additionally, computer technology also helped to miniaturize the product by going to solid state image memories and integrating the GPS and IMU-functions into the camera. Much of this is a result of faster and smaller electronics. Total weight of the UltraCam-Eagle at 75 kg is nearly half of the UltraCam-D, and so is the size, going from 2 separate boxes to just one [Was: one camera, one image storage. Now: single integrated device].


4.2 From UltraCam-D to UltraCam-Eagle

Figures 6 and 7 are illustrations of the product and technology evolution since 2003. The basic assembly of large images from tiles is maintained. A core skill is to understand how to achieve sub-micrometer accuracies in a large image fused from tiles, invalidating the need to work with large CCD arrays. 


Figure 5:

2011 market share by aerial camera manufacturer


Figure 6:

The image format increased from 2003 [UltraCam-D, 11.5 K pixels across the swath] to 2011 [UltraCam-Eagle, 20K pixels across the swath]. The UltraCam-Eagle is the first solution with exchangeable lenses so that focal lengths can be varied in the field.

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Figure 7:

The UltraCam-family of products and their evolution over time.


4.3 The UltraCam G and an “Orthophoto-Robot”

Microsoft has a need for orthophotos inside its BING-Maps location-aware Internet search engine. The continental USA with its 7.5 million km2 should be mapped in ~3 years at 30 cm pixel-orthos and at an operating cost preferably at ~ USD 1 per km2.


This global orthoproject may be the first transnational aerial mapping at that resolution (Gruber et al., 2012). Part of this project was the development of the UltraCam-G with a swath size of nearly 30,000 pixels. The Microsoft-internal workflow is automated to such a high level that it may well be called an “orthophoto robot”.


4.3 Software and Workflow-Products

At Vexcel, there existed in 2005/6 a development rush towards a full photogrammetric workflow software system. This was halted by Microsoft when it stepped in as new owner. Instead, the software development was refocused towards an in-house workflow from the raw imagery to the finished 3D urban model and orthophotos in support of the BING location needs.


With time, Microsoft-policy ultimately changed and novel photogrammetry workflows became deliverable products. Fully automated aerial triangulation of highly overlapping blocks of thousands of aerial photos became available in the form of the UltraMap-AT software (Gruber & Reitinger, 2008). The capability to interact visually with large blocks of images was taking advantage of the Seadragon software independently available through other Microsoft-channels (Reitinger et al., 2008).


The release of the existing in-house dense matching system as a product has been announced by Microsoft in 2011, so that finally, the pre-2006 Vexcel-ambitions do become a reality. Figure 8 illustrates the roadmap as it stands in 2012.



Figure 8:

The original ground based post-processing software was denoted as “OPC” [Office Processing Center]. With the advent of Microsoft’s Seadragon capability, this morphed into the UltraMap system. The augmentation by a dense matching product is on its way.