A methodology for processing commercially available satellite spectral imagery has been developed to enable identification and mapping of waste tire piles in California. The California Integrated Waste Management Board initiated the project and provided funding for the method's development. The methodology includes the use of a combination of previously commercially available image-processing and georeferencing software used to develop a model that specifically distinguishes between tire piles and other objects. The methodology reduces the time that must be spent to initially survey a region for tire sites, thereby increasing inspectors' and managers' time available for remediation of the sites. Remediation is needed because millions of used tires are discarded every year, waste tire piles pose fire hazards, and mosquitoes often breed in water trapped in tires. It should be possible to adapt the methodology to regions outside California by modifying some of the algorithms implemented in the software to account for geographic differences in spectral characteristics associated with terrain and climate.

The task of identifying tire piles in satellite imagery is uniquely challenging because of their low reflectance levels: Tires tend to be spectrally confused with shadows and deep water, both of which reflect little light to satellite-borne imaging systems. In this methodology, the challenge is met, in part, by use of software that implements the Tire Identification from Reflectance (TIRe) model. The development of the TIRe model included incorporation of lessons learned in previous research on the detection and mapping of tire piles by use of manual/visual and/or computational analysis of aerial and satellite imagery.

The TIRe model is a computational model for identifying tire piles and discriminating between tire piles and other objects. The input to the TIRe model is the georeferenced but otherwise raw satellite spectral images of a geographic region to be surveyed. The TIRe model identifies the darkest objects in the images and, on the basis of spatial and spectral image characteristics, discriminates against other dark objects, which can include vegetation, some bodies of water, and dark soils. The TIRe model can identify piles of as few as 100 tires. The output of the TIRe model is a binary mask showing areas containing suspected tire piles and spectrally similar features. This mask is overlaid on the original satellite imagery and examined by a trained image analyst, who strives to further discriminate against non-tire objects that the TIRe model tentatively identified as tire piles. After the analyst has made adjustments, the mask is used to create a synoptic, geographically accurate tire-pile survey map, which can be overlaid with a road map and/or any other map or set of georeferenced data, according to a customer's preferences.

This work was done by Joseph Skiles of NASA Ames Research Center and Cynthia Schmidt, Becky Quinlan, and Catherine Huybrechts of San Jose State University Foundation.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to Catherine Huybrechts at endpointenvironmental.com. Refer to ARC-15916-1.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the December, 2007 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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