Ramani Geosystems, a geospatial services firm, wanted to be able to take on larger projects and find a better way to capture high-resolution images in East Africa’s tricky weather and lighting conditions. The company purchased the UltraCamX large-format digital camera from Microsoft for use in its aerial projects and now can tackle large projects, delivering superior imagery, greater flight and processing efficiency, and faster service to customers.
Nairobi, Kenya-based Ramani Geosystems is a geospatial services firm that offers land surveying, aerial photography, aerial LiDAR and mapping services throughout Africa.
Ramani Geosystems began many years ago with a motorbike, a global positioning system (GPS) device, and a dream of “putting Africa on the map” through accurate site surveys. It now employs 40 people, owns two airplanes, and conducts aerial surveys across the continent, serving government, engineering, and private customers in the region.
When the company first started its aerial survey work, it used a handheld camera and manually stitched the images together using Adobe Photoshop software. “With our previous setup, it took an eternity, produced poor resolution, and resulted in a terrible experience in general,” recalls Daniel Haywood, Managing Director at Ramani Geosystems.
“There’s no comparison between the UltraCam and other cameras when you look at the quality, the price and the ability to save time and operating costs.”
Head of Data Management, Ramani Geosystems
In 2008, Ramani moved to a 39-megapixel medium-format camera—an enormous leap forward—but it still took too much time to collect data. Dedicated to bringing world-class technology to East Africa, the company investigated the adoption of a large-format camera. “When we first launched, our customers only expected a georeferenced image from us,” says Boniface Mworia, Head of Data Management at Ramani Geosystems. “But technology improvements have raised customers’ expectations, and they want higher-quality imagery.”
Ramani recognized that acquiring a large-format camera would also help it cope with the difficult flying conditions in Africa. “Throughout the year, frequent cloud cover leaves us with few opportunities for collecting clear images,” says Vincent Kimaiyo, Head of Air Operations for Ramani Geosystems. “It’s not unusual to have just two hours in which to acquire data, so we needed a reliable camera that could capture larger images in a shorter flight time.”
In October 2012, Ramani purchased the UltraCamX from Microsoft, becoming the first company in East Africa with a large-format digital aerial camera. “After considering other camera systems, we concluded that the UltraCamX would be best for us because of its great image quality and the around-the-clock support from Microsoft,” says Kimaiyo. “When we needed help from a far-off country in the past, delays due to the time difference often caused us to miss flight opportunities. Our ability to reach the Microsoft UltraCam team anytime is a big advantage.”
Ramani has used the UltraCamX for a range of projects, including the creation of an aerial map of Nairobi, an area of approximately 700 square kilometers. “When we mapped that area in 2011 with our medium-format camera, it took about 30 hours, and we had to fly low to get adequate image resolution, which meant going through the difficult process of obtaining special permission from the government,” says Kimaiyo. “In 2013, using the UltraCam, we completed the same project in just 10 hours, and we could fly higher, so the authorities readily gave us permission to fly. Fewer hours in the air means fewer chances of error and fewer weather challenges.”
Ramani has been pleased with the UltraCamX, and it appreciates that Microsoft provides an easy upgrade path. “We’re excited that we can move to the next-generation camera when we’re ready,” says Haywood.
By adopting the UltraCamX, Ramani Geosystems can expand its business and offer enhanced efficiency and excellent image quality to customers. “There’s no comparison between the UltraCam and other cameras when you look at the quality, the price, and the ability to save time and operating costs,” says Mworia. Benefits include:
- High-quality imagery. Ramani has noticed a difference in the image quality that it receives from the UltraCamX. “Sometimes conditions force us to acquire images under the clouds, which results in shadows, but the UltraCamX still gives us visible features, even in those shadow areas and at the corners of the images,” says Kimaiyo. “That’s a big improvement compared with what we had to work with when we used the medium-format camera.”
- More flexibility for faster service. Previously, Ramani brought in subcontractors from overseas on occasion to help with aerial photography on certain projects, but now the company can respond more quickly to customer requests because it already has the capabilities it needs with UltraCamX. “We needed to be able to react quickly to take advantage of good weather conditions and to serve eager customers, but that was impossible when we worked with overseas contractors,” says Haywood. “By using the UltraCam, we don’t have to wait for contractors or even for clear skies. We can fly in poor weather and lighting conditions and still deliver great clarity in a short period of time.”
- Greater efficiency. Because of the camera’s large footprint, Ramani can make shorter flights at higher speeds. “We used to have to fly at a maximum of 120 knots, but we can fly faster than 160 knots with the UltraCam and make fewer flight passes, too,” says Kimaiyo.The company also experiences efficiency when it comes to image processing. “We can do better aerial triangulation using the UltraCam, and we process images up to 40 percent faster than we could with our medium-format camera,” says Mworia.
- Opportunity for business growth. Ramani believes that its UltraCam investment will help the company offer more to its customers because it can now deliver a complete range of resolutions and sizes. “Many projects in Africa require coverage of big areas, and we can compete for that business now, without relying on overseas subcontractors,” says Haywood. “We’re the only company in East Africa that can offer large-format digital aerial imagery, and we feel that that is going to give us a great advantage. For instance, we’ve just been asked to do a 5-centimeter aerial survey. Six months ago, we would have lost that business, but today we can take on such a project with confidence because we fly UltraCam.”