CSIR fights fire with OSS

By   |  November 30, 2005

The South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has built an open source fire-mapping system that enables organisations to monitor fire outbreaks across South Africa.

Frederic Claudel, an image processing researcher based at the Meraka Institute, worked on the project to port the once-proprietary mapping system to open source. The Advanced Fire Information System detects fires by analysing small changes to satellite images using complex algorithms. \”Whenever the satellite takes an image, it will look for specific brightnesses … and look for anomalies,\” says Claudel.

The system is accessible via the web, and any user can observe where fires have occurred in South Africa within 15 minutes of them starting. It won\’t pick up a barbecue in your garden, says Claudel, but it will flag the more serious fires in your region.

Claudel is currently building new modules for Open Source Software Image Map (OSSIM), an open source tool that powers highly scalable and customisable image processing.

The system is able to use parallel processing — where clusters of computers can work simultaneously on massive datasets — and allows researchers to add on their own programmed scripts.

Claudel says scientists often have to develop new systems and processes to aid them in original research. \”In that case you definitely want to go for open source,\” he says.

\”It can build image chains so that you can create your own process and add it to an existing chain,\” says Claudel. \”You cannot do that easily with proprietary software.\”

Another advantage, he says, is its ability of the system to process only the relevant part of the image under analysis. \”You don\’t have to process the full image — and that is a big relief, because usually satellite images are huge. You don\’t want to process 1GB of data for a pixel. … If you use proprietary software, you usually have to load the full data set.\”

Claudel says that user support via on-line forums is good for the latest applications. \”They will usually find a solution very quickly; or just say it\’s impossible,\” he says. However, when an application becomes outdated or redundant user support is often poor, he says, and documentation can be sparse.

The porting of the fire-mapping system is part of a larger shift towards open source within satellite applications at the research agency.

Manager of the CSIR Satellite Applications Centre\’s (SAC) Earth Observation unit, Andrew Terhorst, says in addition to their OSSIM and open source mapping server initiatives, the centre plans to develop open source Sensor Web technology. The research will be around building a semantic query engine that harvests meaningful information from Sensor Web, a worldwide network of in situ or remote sensors that outputs data to the Web. \”This ambitious project relies on collaboration with the open source community for its success,\” says Terhorst.

In turn, the SAC will judge its success by community response. \”We believe that the real test of our ability and our research and development competence will be through the OSS community\’s uptake of technology we have developed in-house,\” says Terhorst.

Corrections
Tectonic stated that Andrew Terhorst is manager of the CSIR Satellite Applications Centre\’s (SAC) Earth Observation unit. Terhorst is in fact manager of the ICT for Earth Observation unit at Meraka.
Also note that the link to the Advanced Fire Information System, accessible via the Web, is http://www.wamis.co.za/afis. The link to Sensor Web is http://www.sensorweb.ws.
Tectonic regrets the error.

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