GEOG 480
Exploring Imagery and Elevation Data in GIS Applications

History of Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry


In Chapter 1 of the textbook, Introduction to Remote Sensing, Jim Campbell provides a narrative of the evolution of remote sensing and photogrammetry over the past two centuries. Some of this history is brought to life in a series of short videos, produced by ASPRS.

Watch this video about Aerial Survey Pioneers (1:46).

Aerial Survey Pioneers. Produced by ASPRS Films Committee. 2009.
Click here for a transcript of the Aerial Survey Pioneers video.

JIM LIVING: Back in 1923, Talbert Abrams bought an airplane, and he was barnstorming. And he found out that people would pay him more to take pictures of their farms and buildings than they would to go for a ride in the airplane. It was people like him that started this whole industry. MO WEINBERG: Mapmakers, topographers, from the four different sections of the country would bring about a revolution in map making. MORRIS THOMPSON: They were in an airplane, open cockpit, no shelter. After you get the aerial photos, what do you do with them? MARILYN O'CUILINN: They saw the possibilities of mapping from the air. WILLIAM A. RADLINKSKI: Most of the farmers didn't know how many acres they had, so we would determine which acreage was tillable. And that was called mapping. ALFRED O. QUINN: I tried to get mathematics with Professor Earl Church. But the only course that I could get with him was once known as photogrammetry. DON LAUER: I had a plan to play for the Army All-Star Basketball team. But Bob had a vision. He convinced me to go to graduate school, profound experience. MORRIS THOMPSON: I only know of one person around here who would still remember so much detail. And he wasn't there when it began, and I was.

Source: ASPRS

Watch this video about geospatial intelligence in WWII (1:58).

Geospatial Intelligence in WWII. Produced by ASPRS Films Committee. 2009.
Click here for a transcript of the Geospatial Intelligence in WWII video.

Photogrammetry started with the military. We had to combine the TVA-USGS force. When the war started in Europe, we got to wondering about who's next. Map making was turned over to the Army Map Service so that we would map for them. And where do you suppose we started? China? Japan? Where? Upstate New York. They thought the Germans would invade the United States by way of the St. Lawrence waterway. But that's just the beginning. We landed in Normandy and went all the way across Europe, going with the front line. We provided topographic maps for the infantry and to the artillery. After Pearl Harbor, we computed targets for the naval bombardment prior to an invasion so that ships could fire at coordinates. We made target charts and bomb damage assessment charts for the B29 range on Japan. I remember there was one place we were mapping. And then came the news that there's nothing left of it. We were mapping Hiroshima. Without maps, we'd have been lost in WWII.

Source: ASPRS

Watch this video about the role of women in the history of photogrammetry (1:30).

The Role of Women in the History of Photogrammetry. Produced by ASPRS Films Committee. 2009.
Click here for a transcript of the Role of Women in the History of Photogrammetry video.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: I asked that the Congress declare a state of war. ALFRED O. QUINN: A lot of our men, of course, were drafted. And so, we went recruiting young ladies. GWENDOLYN GILL: Mr. Quinn asked if I was interested in the job. I accepted it immediately. I was real glad to get a job at TVA. VIRGINIA LONG: I was fresh out of college when I was assigned to maps and surveys. MARGARET DELAYNEY: We did parcels of property, land, somewhere. It was hush hush because we weren't supposed to know what this was. LOUISE EDWARDS: But when you saw a map that you were compiling in the newspapers, you had a pretty good idea. MORRIS THOMPSON: They took to it. They learned quickly. Their drafting was nicer than ours. ALFRED O. QUINN: They had greater patience than most men. They were well adapted to the photogrammetric equipment. SID IZLAR: And I said, I'd love to get in the multiplex because all these girls they were hiring were making more money than I was. MARILYN O'CUILINN: In ASPRS, being a woman was not much of a barrier. If you look around now at the USGS and the civilian side, it's truly becoming one world. And this is part of it.

Source: ASPRS

Watch this video about the evolution of analog to digital mapping (2:10).

Evolution of Analog to Digital Mapping. Produced by ASPRS Films Committee. 2009.
Click here for a transcript of the Evolution of Analog to Digital Mapping video.

[MUSIC PLAYING] ROY MULLEN: Early map preparation was all by foot. WILLIAM RADLINSKI: You had to go and walk the land. ALFRED QUINN: I'd never heard of photogrammetry before. MORRIS THOMPSON: What is a stereo plotting instrument? VARIOUS VOICES: Oh, there were many things state-of-the-art cameras, various multiplex systems, the Fairchild system, FREDERICK DOYLE: The Kelsh plotter projector, photographed from the glass plate. We went from optical systems to mechanical systems. MARILYN O'CUILINN: With every generation, the resolution got better. And the geometric fidelity of the lenses got better. WILLIAM RADLINSKI: We got into space imagery early on. MARILYN O'CUILINN: There were the analytical stereoplotters. JACK DANGERMOND: Computers came along as a tool for design. MARILYN O'CUILINN: And then forward image motion compensation. We went to softcopy photogrammetry. ROY MULLEN: And digital orthophotography. MARILYN O'CUILINN: And then, of course, the digital cameras. JACK DANGERMOND: This database wasn't about money or about people. It was about geographic information systems. ROY MULLEN: Because of the ability to digitize directly, photogrammetry, as we knew it, reached its apex of evolution. MARILYN O'CUILINN: 20 years ago, you would've seen monster pieces of metal. WILLIAM RADLINSKI: In the world today, it's almost obsolete. Anybody can get a map just by turning on his computer and Googling it. ROY MULLEN: You put it into your GPS systems that use a base map. It's universally used throughout the world now. MARILYN O'CUILINN: And the appetite for that sort of digital data is almost insatiable. [MUSIC PLAYING]

Source: ASPRS

Watch this video about photogrammetry in space exploration (2:01).

Photogrammetry in Space Exploration. Produced by ASPRS Films Committee. 2009.
Click here for a transcript of the Photogrammetry in Space Exploration video.

FREDERICK DOYLE: Nowadays, sophisticated programs are used to make the maps. It's not the challenge it was when I was working on it. We were making the maps of the moon. I was in charge of the cameras on the Apollo spacecraft. We established 14,000 points. We had used photographs from four different missions. It was an enormous job. We made a whole series of maps for the ground crews-- what they would see at each station, digital maps and perspective views-- a very fancy package. GENE CERNAN: Oh, shoot. Oh, you won't believe it. FREDERICK DOYLE: But when they unloaded the moving vehicle, they broke one of the fenders. SPEAKER: Oh, there goes a fender. FREDERICK DOYLE: They decided to patch the fender. HOUSTON: OK, we'll need to tape it. FREDERICK DOYLE: They took our set of maps and duct-taped. GENE CERNAN: How do you want those things taped together? HOUSTON: Allow about an inch of overlap and tape both sides of them. FREDERICK DOYLE: So they didn't use them at all on the terrain. When we got back, they said, well, those were the most valuable maps we had ever made. ROY MULLEN: There may be one map that saves an untold number of lives. It's intangible what value that is. But think about what was avoided by having had that map to begin with. ALFRED O. QUINN: The use of digital map data in all kinds of investigations, plans, developments-- I think the whole thing is going to continue. MARILYN O'CUILINN: It's very exciting to watch the progression because it does touch so many aspects of our lives.

Source: ASPRS

As you continue on in this course and in your further studies, bear in mind that the early innovators of remote sensing and photogrammetry did not have access to the sophisticated electronics and computing devices that we take for granted today! In fact, until very recently, it was often difficult to convince decision-makers and managers that imagery could produce information as accurate (or even more accurate) than data collected on the ground.

Today, almost everyone with a computer, a television, or a cell phone is familiar with the common products of remote sensing and digital mapping. The challenge today is not seeking acceptance for these technologies as much as it is making end users and decision makers aware of certain limitations and uncertainties inherent in these products. Whereas production of an image base map used to require an expert and very specialized equipment, today it can be done with inexpensive software on a home computer. It is quite easy to make a very accurate, useful product; it is just as easy to make a very inaccurate one. Professional expertise and experience are still needed to ensure that image base maps and elevation models meet target specifications and that they can be used appropriately in a broad range of applications.