The president of ISPRS Christian Heipke about photogrammetry today

Bulgaria has good tradition in photogrammetry. Do you know any Bulgarian photogrammetrists? What are your impressions of them? Can you share your experience with us?

Well, Lena Halounova, the current ISPRS Secretary General, has Bulgarian roots. Also, Ivan Katzarsky was ISPRS Vice-President from 1988-1992. I met him at the 1992 Congress in Washington. These are only two examples from the strong group of researchers in photogrammetry Bulgaria has produced over the years – very impressive, indeed.

In our country geodesy in general has also a serious tradition, but still few people in the society know actually what the surveyors do. Do you think that is a problem?

Geodesy is a small, but important field in engineering and science. In many countries we face similar issues in terms of lacking recognition for our achievements. This can be a real problem when young students fail to choose our subject because they do not have a clear idea of what geodesists do and how fascinating their work is. All we can do about this problem is try to catch the attention of larger groups as often as we can.

You teach at the Leibniz University Hannover. Are there differences between students today and students before 20 years, for example?

At the surface, expectations of young people change with changes in society, e.g. globalization, digitalization etc. An example is the ease with which they use all kinds of digital devices, also during lectures. But when it comes to the more important characteristics such as desire to learn, curiosity for the subject and being open to new ideas – and I see a lot of that these days – I believe that the youth of today is really not much different from that of 20 years ago.

What is the most important knowledge that you want to teach to your students?

I think there are a few basics:(a) never believe what others tell you; try to understand what is being said and draw your own conclusions; (b) don’t give up too early. Science wasn’t meant to be easy, but typically, there is a solution to every problem – it just sometimes hides behind the bushes; (c) be precise in your thinking and writing. Exact use of the language does help to find misunderstandings and ambiguities, which can then be solved and overcome.

Do you have Bulgarian students?

I am afraid the current answer is no.

What does the ISPRS President’s everyday agenda involve?

Leading and representing a society such as ISPRS involves keeping an eye on a range of different developments, both in the scientific and in the “real” world. Also, communication within the community and also externally is a very important task. You simply have to be on top of things and be able to act and react in the right way and at the right moment.

What are the goals of your organization?

ISPRS is the society for “information from images”. The three pillars of ISPRS are:

– science and development in photogrammetry, remote sensing and spatial information science as the base of our activities,

– application of the scientific findings in real world projects and thus the contact to the commercial world, government administration, and end users from numerous fields dealing with imagery,

– truly global education and outreach.

ISPRS is already 100 years old, what did you learn about this century? Your organization survived during the wars. What are the challenges today?

The challenges for ISPRS today are certainly both, scientific and administrative. Given the abundance of images – besides the many digital cameras as separate devices, every smart phone is equipped with one – and the speed of distribution via the Internet, many groups and societies have developed an interest in 3D image processing, computer vision and photogrammetry – and these three terms become more and more overlapping. A scientific challenge is thus to remain the point of contact for excellent science and development, in particular with respect to accurate and reliable results. From an administrative point of view, in a society which is managed solely on the basis of voluntary contributions, including those from enthusiastic scientists, keeping the motivation high and recognizing the success of its members is a key factor for success. We are constantly striving to reach these goals.

How do you see the future of photogrammetry? Will Google Maps replace the photogrammetry? Will the photogrammetry be fully automated one day?

As mentioned, more digital images are being acquired and made available that ever before. Processing these images to derive 3D information is the main task of photogrammetry, and this task has become significantly more important as the number of images is increasing. Along those lines, by definition Google Maps cannot replace photogrammetry, rather photogrammetry is at the heart of many of the steps available in Google Maps. Many of these steps will continue to be automated, as machine learning is gaining more acceptance, but at least for the time being, I don’t see that the making and updating of maps will be done fully automatically in the foreseeable future.

With the invasion of the drones, almost everyone understands photogrammetry today- in the sense of the etymology of the word. Will this science disappear or?

I believe using drones and a software package to produce, say, a 3D model of the environment is not the same as understanding photogrammetry. It is the other way around: you first need to have a good understanding of photogrammetry that is of the mathematical, physical and technical details, before you can develop software which can be used to produce accurate and reliable results. With the availability of an increasing number of platforms such as drones, but also constellations of small satellites – think about the Planet constellation – photogrammetry will thus not disappear but become more important.

What do you think about the regulations of drones? Has anyone in the European Union been looking for advice? What should be the main frameworks?

As drones become more popular, a clear need to regulate their use arises. After all, we don’t want to have these devices falling from the sky and hurting people – and there are other undesired situations, of course, e.g. when it comes to data privacy concerns. The formulation of regulations is under way in just about all countries in the European Union (and beyond), and this is how it should be. A better harmonization of laws and rules in the different countries still needs to be achieved, but the first steps are being made.

What are the problems of our time and how geodesy can contribute to solving them? Can you give specific examples of such applications?

Geodesy and geodetic measurements play a decisive role in smart cities (where different data sets need to be precisely geo-referenced in a global coordinate frame, before any synergy can be obtained from the integration), sustainable development (here I refer to the UN sustainable development goals, many of which are intimately linked to Earth observation), and also in autonomous driving (think about cameras, laser scanners and radar sensors and the need for accurate real-time processing of these data to come to safe autonomous driving).

US President Donald Trump officially said at the end of May that he withdrew his country from the Paris climate deal. Only 10 days later, the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics issued an opinion warning you that such withdrawal is dangerous. Scientists usually react more slowly and need to consider such views for a long time. Why are scientists this time so fast? Do your organization ISPRS will join this opinion?

I can’t speak for IUGG, but when IUGG asked us to publish the statement, we immediately did so. You can find it on our web site, I guess, depending on the topics, scientists can take a long time to carefully consider things from different perspectives, but sometimes they can also be very quick.

Is the voice of the scientists heard in the society?

Things could always be better, of course, but if we as scientists make good efforts, our voice is heard in the long run.

What do you wish to yourself?

I’d be happy if our field remains to be intact, as it is now, and receives a little attention in the future, as we continue to produce successful new ideas and solid work. For myself, keeping healthy and being able to work with our young generation in a cooperative and friendly way in the years to come, would be great.

Thanks for asking these questions and thus giving me the opportunity to share some of the fascination of photogrammetry, remote sensing and geodesy!


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