Day three was an intense mix of lecture, hands on and lab work. Dr. Wechsler started with a great lecture about scale, scale, and scale (yes, there are many types of scale). While some of it was tough to make total sense of, the effort of getting us to think about the various types of scale was NOT lost.
More importantly, and I think the major take-home message of this lecture, was that as GIS and remote sensing practitioners we must address scale, the issues that different scale creates, error in our data, uncertainty in our data, etc. Dr. Wechsler stressed that as long as we do the best that we can with the data and tools that we have and that we are certain to address error, then we are doing our job. This all too often is ignored, overlooked, or swept under the rug because it can further skeptic’s arguments that our work may be flawed or useless. With the technology that we currently have access to, I think that all we can do is the best job possible with what we have in front of us, and this ALWAYS will result in error and uncertainty. That’s acceptable when it is clear to the decision makers, consumers, scientists or whoever else uses the final product. Decisions based upon the data that we create and analyze should perhaps only be made down to the scale that we are able to provide accuracy to.
Dr. Wechsler encouraged us to understand the behind-the-scenes processes of everyday GIS and remote sensing functions that, sadly, are often ignored. But understanding these processes goes hand in hand with understanding scale and error. If we don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes, even at the simplest level, how then can we identify errors in processing or know what function to choose for what scenario? In her words, “don’t just be a button-pusher,” but instead we must apply critical thinking. This is all too often lacking, not only in geography, but in all fields.
Post-lecture, we did a complete one-eighty to getting outside in the California sunshine to learn how to operate the Phantom Quadcopter. Briton and Paul gave an excellent demo and were so patient with us as we learned. After watching a few other people’s lawn-mowing skills (which spared the rest of us) it was quite easy to get the hang of. But better than it being fun, the realization that this technology has become accessible and affordable enough even for students to use and create real information products. Remote sensors of various types, costs, and qualities are opening up so many doors to geographers to solve real problems.
After several test flights of the hexacopter we returned the lab and worked with yet another new program called PhotScan, which was just about the coolest thing I’ve seen in a long time. We created a composite of multiple images that were taken from the hexacopter (not by us) and created a point cloud model of a section of campus, which may not sound cool if you don’t know what it is, but it is! We then turned that point cloud model into a 3D model of a section of campus. Remember, this is all done with a remote control quadcopter, GPS and your average digital camera. Three stages are shown below:
After making some substantial progress in the lab, we called it a night and headed downtown to grab some delicious BBQ. All said and done, today was such a productive, educational, and satisfying day. I have even more to think about tonight after all I have learned.