ASPRS 2011

In an ideal world every surveyor, photogrammetrist, and their geospatial brethren would devote a few weeks each year to prepare for and participate in a serious conference devoted to learning, sharing knowledge, and honoring achievement in their profession. Fortunately, the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) has within their 6,000 members a strong core of individuals who annually demonstrate that level of commitment and often much more to make the annual ASPRS conference a consistent success.

If the Geospatial Revolution is a moving vehicle—as this conference tag line, “Ride On the Geospatial Revolution,” suggests—then ASPRS is the engine. The society maintains a small executive staff of long-term professionals who do a super job supporting the officers and hundreds of other volunteers who keep the ASPRS engine running year after year.

Founded in 1934, the organization performs a critical role in providing professional and technologist-level certification and representing the profession in national and international umbrella groups, while providing a common ground for knowledge sharing and communication among the academic, government, and private sectors. This year Microsoft used the event for two major announcements: the international roll-out of the Vexcel UltraCam Eagle, their new generation digital aerial camera, and the announcement of their BING Global Orthophoto project.


Held this year at the Frontier Airlines Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, from April 30 though May 6, the ASPRS conference welcomed more than 1,200 attendees to mostly sunny but brisk weather that encouraged pleasant walking along the city’s wide sidewalks to the numerous restaurants and cultural attractions. Some visited the American Geographical Society Library, which houses a trove of original cartographic treasures. Others visited the world-class Milwaukee Art Museum on the shore of Lake Michigan, and hundreds attended evening outings to the Harley-Davidson Museum and the Milwaukee Public Museum.


Sixty-six exhibitors from a dozen countries staffed booths, offering their wares or services. In addition to hardware and software vendors, book and magazine publishers, geospatial and imaging service providers, and government agencies including NASA, NGA, NOAA, and USGS were represented.

Memorial and Award Highlights

A memorial address for Paul R. Wolf, longtime University of Wisconsin geomatics professor, was delivered by Alan P. Vonderobe, president emeritus in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Wisconsin. Professor Wolf, who died in 2002, was mentor to many of today’s surveying and mapping leaders and had a broad impact in the geospatial world through his authoring of the Elements of Photogrammetry (now with Bon Dewitt) as well as the widely known Elementary Surveying and Adjustment Computations (now with Charles Ghilani).

The annual conference also provides the occasion for honoring special achievements and contributions to the geospatial and imaging professions. We congratulate all who received awards, citations, and scholarships. Following are some of the highlights: Ayman F. Habib, head of geomatics engineering at the University of Calgary, Canada, was awarded the Photogrammetric (Fairchild) Award for his “excellent and far-reaching achievements.” Paul Brooks and Kass Green were honored with ASPRS Fellow Awards. Paul and Kass are smart people (hard core ASPRS) who get things done decade after decade and make everything work for the rest of us. Paul completed a career hitch with USGS and now works with AeroMetric in Alaska as government liaison director. Kass retired three years ago as president of Space Imaging and is currently president of Kass Green and Associates. We are all in their debt.

Named ASPRS honorary members for their impressive contributions to the profession were Alan R. Stevens and Jack Dangermond. After a distinguished career with USGS, Dr. Stevens is the recipient of numerous ASPRS awards and currently works as scientist emeritus for the FGDC and in various capacities for the GSDI Secretariat. Mr. Dangermond is, of course, founder of ESRI.

Keynote Address

After welcoming remarks, major awards, and acceptance speeches, including a short one by Jack Dangermond, conference co-chair Brian Huberty introduced keynote speaker Paul Ramsey, open source proselytizer and creator of the free software program PostGIS. Following so soon after remarks by Mr. Dangermond gave Mr. Ramsey a rare opportunity for good-natured teasing of the biggest player in the proprietary geospatial database business. Ramsey is an enthusiastic and rapid-fire speaker who provided strong arguments for adoption of open source software, citing landmark examples beginning in the 1950s.

Special Session

Early risers attended Wednesday’s 7 a.m. special session entitled ASPRS Geospatial History: The Three Wise Men Panel for an invaluable discussion of the past, present, and future of geospatial technologies and intelligence by Dr. Charles Olson, Jr., a 54-year veteran of ASP and ASPRS and outstanding remote-sensing leader in academia and government; Ron Ondrejka, who was project photogrammetrist for the CORONA program and designer of NASA cameras for Apollo, Skylab, and the Shuttle LFC; and Dr. Terry Keating, the father of KORK mapping software used by a generation of photogrammetrists, current CTO of AeroMetric, and ebullient polymath.


Fourteen, for-credit, half- and full-day workshops were conducted on Monday before the official start of the conference. These are often sold out in advance so it is important to book early if you want to attend.

User Groups

Software and hardware vendors conducted a host of interactive user group meetings where new offerings were announced and information was exchanged between users and publishers/manufacturers. These are often as valuable as workshops but don’t offer CEUs. Attendance was heavy at these meetings, and discussions often continued in the exhibit halls as users intensively evaluated competing products.


An impressive 81 technical sessions were offered. Ranging from Ground Control 101 by Brant Howard of Compass Resources, to Lidar Quality Assurance and Interoperability by Lewis Graham, the ubiquitous gentleman from GeoCue, these sessions provided a lode of information for attendees. Proceedings were provided on DVD for most of them as it is impossible to attend simultaneous offerings. Copies of those few sessions not included on the CD can likely be obtained on request from the presenter.

Following is a general breakdown of session topics:
  • Photogrammetric Applications (5)
  • Lidar Applications (7)
  • Forestry Applications (2)
  • GIS Applications (4)
  • Environmental Assessment (3)
  • Disaster Management and Responses (4)
  • Global Climate Change (3)
  • Remote Sensing Applications (15)
  • Satellite Applications (3)
  • Data Processing and Analysis (5)
  • Algorithm Development (13)
  • Sensor Design and Development (12)
  • Education/Professional Development (6)
Poster Sessions For further learning during breaks, a total of 34 poster presentations divided into three sessions—complete with oral explanations—were offered by their creators on topics ranging from The Spectral Identification of Wild Rice using Local Indigenous Knowledge and Satellite Multispectral Imagery, to Using GIS to Model the Energetic Costs of Crossing Steep Slopes for Capuchin Monkeys. A significant portion of the posters dealt with GIS depiction of wind farm siting analysis, each one offering a different approach to the same study area.

Student Activities

Three student activities that began at the 2007 conference were conducted again this year. First was the Student Advisory Council meeting, which gave students and associate members a preview of the week’s activities and elicited their ideas for improving the conference. Second was the “speed networking” session, which was held on the afternoon prior to the keynote session. Attendees were shuffled through three-minute introductions, then moved on to meet someone else. Some clearly were already acquainted but enjoyed the event nonetheless. Many established new contacts and promised to keep in touch. Finally, ASPRS sustaining members gave a tour of the exhibits, which provided the students a venue to quiz exhibitors about hardware, software, services, and possible job opportunities.

Hot Topics

The ASPRS hot topics sessions began at least five years ago and have been conducted at annual and semi-annual conferences as well as at other venues where ASPRS participates. They are often standing-room-only and as the name implies are focused on topics of high interest to participants. This one-hour session included:
  • a discussion of the future of sensor calibration and quality assurance (in light of the USGS plans to cease their traditional aerial camera calibration activities);
  • a summary of 35 years of improvements in feature extraction algorithms (a continually heated topic for remote sensing professionals); 
  • the benefits and burdens associated with FGDC and NAP metadata standards; 
  • the importance of including a temporal element in 3D GIS data to enable critical decision-making; and finally, 
  • discussions of the activities of the ASPRS mobile mapping committee.
Pertinent to the latter, the ASPRS will dedicate the April 2012 special issue of their monthly publication, Photogrammetric Engineering & Remote Sensing (PE&RS) to "Advances in Terrestrial Lidar Techniques and Applications.” Please see the call for papers.

Another year has brought us another fine ASPRS annual conference, rich with learning and networking opportunities and of premier significance for providing the logical venue for individual contribution to the geospatial revolution. No other event offers this breadth and depth of information and this congregation of geospatial world leaders. If you are active in the geospatial and imagery profession and can only attend one event per year, the ASPRS Annual Conference is the clear choice.

About the Author

  • Jim Crabtree, PLS, CP
    Jim Crabtree, PLS, CP
    Jim is a Seattle-based contributing writer. He is retired, having worked most recently as Vice President of AeroMetric. Jim's career included 48 years in the surveying and mapping industry, obtaining ASPRS Certified Photogrammetrist and Professional Land Surveyor certifications.

» Back to our June 2011 Issue