MapInfo partner marries maps and video

A partner of software vendor MapInfo Corp. is staking a claim in the federal market with a new product that lets users merge maps with video on their desktop computers.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Defense Department and the U.S. Geological Survey have recently started pilots using VMS 200, from Red Hen Systems Inc., Fort Collins, Colo. One company insider said Red Hen expects to close a deal with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms within days.

Using VMS 200, customers can record video of anything they want - from aerial images of foreign military forces to hurricane damage - and later use a PC to play back the video alongside an electronic map.

VMS 200 plots on the map the position on the planet where each second of video was taken. When a VMS 200 user sees something interesting in the video, he can see its exact position on a map. Conversely, if a user wants to know what the ground looks like at a certain place on the map, he can click on the map and pull up the portion of the video that corresponds with that spot on earth.

The full VMS 200 package includes a camcorder, a Global Positioning System receiver, special software that works with MapInfo's electronic mapping software and a black box about the size of a handheld radio that ties all the pieces of VMS 200 together. The package is $3,500.

Key to the package is the GPS ability, which records onto standard videotape the exact coordinates of the camera at each point in the videotaping process.

"This adds a robustness to the [geographic information system] information that you have and that's available to you," said Stephen Ladek, technical sales representative for Red Hen.

Initial sales of VMS 200 have been to the government, although the company also is seeking more customers in land-oriented industries, such as real estate, said Brian Lantz, director of public-sector business for MapInfo. VMS 2000 also could be used in intelligence or security operations and in law enforcement because many police cars have dashboard cameras, he said.

Within the federal government, agencies such as the USGS already are experimenting with VMS 200. USGS is piloting VMS 200 to assess hurricane damage, said Dana Wiese, electronics technician for the agency. Agency technicians use their PCs to compare video of areas before and after a hurricane, tracking it by coordinates.

Without the Red Hen system, USGS workers must rely on a larger GPS/video recording system that annotates video with GPS coordinates as the video is being made, Wiese said. At the same time, a USGS worker snaps high-quality still 35mm photographs that will be used to compile damage reports and to pass along to the public information needed for purposes such as handling insurance claims, she said.

Determining the coordinates of still photographs requires USGS workers to watch GPS-annotated video to find out where each still picture was made. One day, USGS should be able to use VMS 200 and a high-quality digital videocamera to capture images and produce high-quality still photos already imprinted with GPS coordinates, Wiese said. Also, USGS could use VMS to make World Wide Web pages that share maps and images of hurricane damage with other agencies or with the public, he said.

Although federal workers such as Wiese say VMS 200 holds promise, some warn that the technology should be used with great attention to detail. Lisa Warnecke, a geographic information consultant based in Syracuse, N.Y., said to use the system to its full potential, users would need to make sure they keep their videos and maps current. Still, she said, a system like VMS 200 could be powerful. "It seems like there can be an incredible number of applications in terms of getting information into the hands of the people," she said.


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