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Software Programs Derive Measurements from Photographs

NASA software designed for accident investigation finds new uses.

Following the Space Shuttle Columbia accident in 2003, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board spent nearly seven months examining the cause of the accident. To this end, investigators performed an extensive review down five analytic paths: aerodynamic, thermodynamic, sensor data timeline, debris reconstruction, and imaging.

altAs part of the evaluation of all the available imagery from Columbia’s ascent, orbit, and entry, investigators needed a new method for analyzing still video images to determine the size of the material that fell from Columbia, as well as the distance that the material traveled. John Lane, a scientist at Kennedy Space Center, devised a software program to calculate the unknown dimension of the material in the images, and soon after the investigation was complete, continued to enhance the technology.

In 2008, DigiContractor Corp. of Tarzana, CA, learned about the NASA software, as well as an additional related NASA program, and obtained a license for each technology. Paul Minor, founder of DigiContractor, wanted to use the NASA technology to enhance the capabilities of an existing product line called uPhotoMeasure.

Originally developed to measure the dimensions of items in a photograph for construction purposes, uPhotoMeasure can be applied to calculate measurements from a photo for a variety of applications from landscaping or flooring projects, to crime scenes or auto accidents.

Over the next several years, the software was modified and updated, and now includes the NASA technology. According to the company, if used correctly, uPhotoMeasure can make measurements with at least 95% accuracy. Today, the software has close to 5,000 users who have downloaded the program or accessed the software on the Internet.

After taking a digital photo of an area to be measured, a user can access the photo through uPhotoMeasure. Then the user selects and defines a point of reference that can be anything in the image with a known measurement such as a window, tile, or DigiTarget (a square piece of material sold by DigiContractor that can be placed in the area where the picture is taken). After the user defines the measurements for the known reference point, the program can calculate the length, width, area, perimeter, or circumference of other items in the picture. Multiple measurements can be calculated in either conventional or metric units, and after the measurements are displayed on the photo, a user can save, archive, print, or email the image. This is especially convenient for sharing project measurements between individuals and businesses.

For outdoor landscaping or roofing projects, a satellite image can be used in uPhotoMeasure to calculate measurements. As in many other applications, the product can potentially save time and expense because there is no need to visit a site and use a measuring tape; users simply obtain a photograph of the project and then analyze it in uPhotoMeasure. A photo can be shared among multiple parties, an estimate can be made, and the proper amount of materials can be obtained.

Potential and existing users include architects, electrical engineers, fencing and flooring companies, landscapers, law enforcement, real estate professionals, and swimming pool companies. Even oceanographers have used the software to measure coral growth in a controlled environment. In addition, it has been applied to photos taken underwater to assist with oil rig repair and salvage work.

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