Microsoft Ultracam Product Group

Case Study

Aerial Photographer Cuts Costs and Offers High-Quality Images with Digital Camera

After recognizing that no companies in New Mexico were acquiring digital aerial imagery, Blue Skies Consulting purchased an UltraCamLp photogrammetric camera from Microsoft. Now, Blue Skies is the premier provider of digital aerial photography in the region and can cost-effectively deliver superior digital images to its customers in a matter of days—without making investments in new flight systems and camera mounts.

Business Needs
Founded in 1999, Blue Skies Consulting is a woman-owned small business in Belen, New Mexico, that specializes in aerial data acquisition for surveying, photogrammetry, and remote sensing applications. Its seven employees work on projects such as the United States Department of Agriculture National Resources and Stewardship Lands Inventory programs and New Mexico Department of Transportation infrastructure development and improvement projects. Some of its large-scale projects include collecting imagery for mapping wetlands along the Colorado River, acquiring 3,200 images of a wind farm and more than 4,000 images of Texas oil fields.

The company competes at the national level with companies that have larger fleets of planes than Blue Skies, but beats much of the competition when comparing customer service. “We can provide the level of customer service and responsiveness that other companies can’t,” says Tami Wiggins, CEO at Blue Skies Consulting. “That is something we take great pride in, and we attribute much of our success as a small business to the care that we put into our work.”

Locally, however, there was only one other small aerial data acquisition company and Blue Skies Consulting wanted to offer something to its customers that the local competition could not: digital image acquisition. Prior to 2011, both companies relied solely on analog film, during a time when digital aerial cameras were gaining in popularity for both image quality and processing efficiency.

“Customers were starting to ask for digital imagery. At the time, no one had a digital camera permanently located in New Mexico. We wanted to fill that void, set ourselves apart from the competition, and increase our presence in the local market,” says Mike Racine, President at Blue Skies Consulting. “But, cost was an important factor when it came to adopting digital imagery.”

In 2009, the small business decided to invest in an aerial digital camera and investigated cameras from several companies. Blue Skies Consulting evaluated UltraCam and other camera systems, carefully reviewing the total cost of ownership of each camera, before choosing the UltraCamLp medium-format digital aerial camera and UltraMap image management software.

Specifically, Blue Skies looked at the integration capabilities of each camera and if it would work with the company’s existing equipment and systems. “UltraCam was the only camera we evaluated that was compatible with our existing camera mounts, flight management systems, and inertial measurement systems,” explains Racine. “With every other camera, we would have had to replace expensive equipment that we knew how to use, and that worked perfectly fine.” The company mounted the camera in its Cessna 206 aircraft, which flies at speeds slow enough to collect high-resolution images.
Blue Skies also considered its customers when choosing a digital aerial camera. It tested UltraCam in flight and then shared the imagery with existing and potential customers. “Customers were pleased with the quality imagery that we acquired with UltraCam,” says Racine. “It was clear that UltraCam was the right camera for us and our customers.”

One of Blue Skies most notable digital projects was with the New Mexico Department of Transportation, which had traditionally only used film for its mapping and surveying work. The department contacted Blue Skies just days before a severe snow storm was forecasted to blanket a portion of road that engineers wanted to map. The next day, Blue Skies took to the air with the agreed-upon flight plan and delivered the digital images to the Department of Transportation the following day—completing the project in two days and just hours before the inclement weather rolled in.

By using the UltraCamLp, Blue Skies Consulting can efficiently and cost-effectively deliver high-quality imagery to its customers, while boosting revenue. Specifically, Blue Skies enjoys the following benefits:
  • Increased revenue. Since purchasing its UltraCam camera, Blue Skies has been able to attract new customers and grow its business. Business grew so much, in fact, that Blue Skies acquired a local aerial data acquisition company, New Mexico Aerial Surveys, in March of 2012 and increased its revenue by US$250,000 in 10 months.
  • Lower total cost of ownership. For the small business, cost was an important factor when choosing a digital aerial camera. Thanks to tight integration between UltraCam and its existing equipment, Blue Skies has a lower total cost of ownership with UltraCam by avoiding equipment replacement costs.
  • Superior support. Blue Skies is impressed with the level of hands-on support it receives from Microsoft—through the sales process, implementation process, and for ongoing technical support. “The UltraCam team treats us like family and genuinely cares about our needs, and that is important to us as a small business,” explains Racine. “Microsoft offers us the same level of support that we offer our customers.”
  • Faster project turnaround. By using UltraCam for digital imagery acquisition, Blue Skies can complete projects in a matter of days instead of weeks, without sacrificing quality, and without increasing costs for customers. “When you factor in the time that it takes to capture analog images, process the film, scan the film, color-balance the images, and ship the film, it can take weeks to complete a project,” says Racine. “With UltraCam, if a customer calls us today, we can be up in the air, capture color-balanced imagery in a matter of hours, and deliver the data to the customer tomorrow. And, at the same price we offer film images, it’s a better value for our customers.”

Corporate Profile

Microsoft UltraCam Product Group (Vexcel Imaging GmbH)

Microsoft’s UltraCam group has become a leading provider of photogrammetric cameras, given our technological innovations and commitment to quality customer support. Our business philosophies are guided by a strong commitment to provide customers with high-quality photogrammetric products at competitive price/performance ratios to best position those companies to successfully compete in the geospatial services market.

Since the launch of the first UltraCam model in 2004—the UltraCamD—the UltraCam product group has continued to enhance the product, resulting in the releases of the UltraCamLp, UltraCamXp, UltraCamXp Wide Angle, the UltraCam Eagle “ultra-large” photogrammetric digital aerial camera system and the newly released UltraCam Falcon. With the advent of the latest UltraCam systems, our innovation path has brought to market exceptional system integration, with all system components located in the sensor heads. This includes computing units, solid state storage devices, and our UltraNav direct geo-referencing and flight management system. UltraCam systems are complemented by the UltraMap photogrammetric workflow software allowing UltraCam customers to generate radiometrically-corrected and color-balanced Level 3 imagery (TIFF or JPEG), high-density point clouds, digital surface models, and DSM/DTM -derived orthophotos. Additionally, UltraCam systems are highly compatible with third-party software systems, IMU/GPS/FMS products, and camera mounts. Meanwhile, Microsoft also offers its UltraMount-branded line of OEM GSM gyro-stabilized mounts.We offer our products worldwide through sales teams located in Graz (Austria) and Boulder, Colorado, backed by support teams with calibration labs in both locations and one now in Singapore. Additionally, we partner with organizations across the globe to provide worldwide sales and support for our products.

Microsoft UltraCam Product Group
(Vexcel Imaging Gmbh)
Anzengrubergasse 8
8010 Graz Austria
+1 303 5461422
Contact: Jerry Skaw

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