UltraCam Merlin webinar

UCO 4.1 uses high speed interfaces developed by XIMEA

11 November 2020

Aerial mapping system collecting nadir and oblique imagery uses electronics developed by XIMEA.

Graz, Austria • November 11, 2020

Vexcel Imaging, a leader in the geospatial industry, has a long history of innovation in aerial mapping. Since the inception of the first UltraCam in 2003, the Vexcel team has overhauled the complete system architecture within 3 UltraCam generations. With each new generation, Vexcel has capitalized on the latest technological advancements to provide the utmost in flexibility, efficiency, and reliability to their customers.

The most recent addition to the sensor family is the UltraCam Osprey 4.1 (UCO 4.1), a large-format aerial camera that collects photogrammetry-grade nadir and oblique images simultaneously.

“With the UltraCam Osprey 4.1, you get two cameras in one housing. The system meets diverse application needs ranging from city mapping to traditional mapping applications from the same flight missions,” says Alexander Wiechert, CEO Vexcel Imaging. “At the same time, we have increased the nadir footprint significantly to over 20,000 pixels across the flight strip to create the flight collection efficiency typically gained only by large-format camera systems.”

The challenge

The UltraCam Osprey 4.1 takes flight collection efficiency to new heights – customers can fly faster and collect more area while producing imagery that is of superior radiometry and geometry. The system creates unprecedented image quality in terms of detail resolution, clarity and dynamic range from a combination of industry leading custom lens systems, next generation CMOS image sensors with custom electronics, and best-in-class image processing pipeline. With its 8 sensors, the UltraCam Osprey 4.1 is capable of collecting 1.2 Gigapixels every 0.7 seconds.

To achieve this, Vexcel needed to completely overhaul the data transmission concept from the sensors to the computer through state-of-the art implementation of PCI Express. XIMEA's expertise in high speed interfaces and skills in rapid customization helped increase the data transfer 10 times compared to previous systems. In addition to that, the confined space of the compact UCO 4.1 system required an individual design approach. Fortunately, XIMEA specializes precisely in this sort of task – high density and energy efficient designs.

The solution

The XIMEA team instantly recognized the essence of the multi-sensor, high bandwidth arrangement and suggested the PCIe interface approach enhanced with the PCIe Switch based aggregation technology. Individual PCIe data streams from all sensors are aggregated into a single high bandwidth PCIe x8 Gen3 stream (64 Gbits) and delivered seamlessly to the host PC memory using low overhead Direct Memory Access (DMA) engine over two optical or copper cables.

Electronics design of the custom switch

Picture 1: Electronics design of the custom switch for multi camera stream aggregation

Furthermore, the flexibility of PCIe allowed for inclusion of additional USB and UART control interfaces from the same PCIe x8 Gen3 link using PCIe host controller chips. Those interfaces would otherwise require a separate direct cabling to the PC.

The robust and modular structure, which was achieved with efficient placement of the components within the UCO 4.1 system, ensured reusability for future projects. The specification of the UltraCam Osprey 4.1 provides insight into its simplified complexity and potential.

UltraCam Osprey 4.1 hardware design

Picture 2: Camera hardware design

Increased image resolution with high dynamic range

Picture 3: Increased image resolution with high dynamic range

XIMEA and Vexcel – Pooling Expertise

One of the primary directives for XIMEA has always been a constructive collaboration with the customer. “In addition to Ximea’s reputation in the area of industrial and scientific camera systems, their leading know-how and considerable expertise in PCI Express interface technology was a key reason we chose to partner with the company”, explains Martin Ponticelli, CTO at Vexcel Imaging.

“The cooperation with Vexcel on their state-of-the-art aerial camera system was a real pleasure", adds Michail Klimkovic, project leader and head of hardware development at XIMEA. “The satisfying sense of working on such an ingenious and sophisticated device was multiplied by the exceptionally competent and talented team around it.”

Clearly defined and documented requirements paired with open-mindedness and creativity allowed the teams from Vexcel and XIMEA to find smart approaches beyond well-trodden paths.

Vexcel Imaging

Vexcel Imaging, a leader in the geospatial industry, develops cutting-edge large-format aerial cameras, mobile mapping systems and photogrammetric software with innovative approaches, and places an emphasis on continuing product upgrades and world-class support. The broad UltraCam aerial camera portfolio covers all applications in airborne photogrammetry — from nadir to oblique to wide-area data collection. UltraCam data is processed with the UltraMap photogrammetry software, providing an end-to-end processing workflow for highly automated, quality data products that include point clouds, digital surface and terrain models, orthophotos and 3DTINs.


XIMEA develops and distributes industrial and scientific cameras for various applications. From high-performance cameras, embedded and multi-camera systems to hyperspectral cameras, XIMEA offers specialized products for the most demanding requirements. Especially compact form-factors, low latencies, and power consumption as well as super-fast interfaces and high resolutions are the core competencies. The portfolio consists of 50% serial camera production and 50% OEM/Custom Developments.

Am Mittelhafen 16
48155 Münster
Tel: +49-251-202 408-0
Fax: +49-251-202 408-99

XIMEA s.r.o
Lesna 52
90033 Marianka
Tel: +421 (2) 205 104 26
Fax: +421 (2) 205 104 27
E-Mail: [email protected]

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Tel: (303) 389-9838
Fax: (303) 202-6350

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