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NASA Funds Investigation of Remote Sensing Commercialization

The Environmental Remote Sensing Center (ERSC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been awarded a three- year, $375,000 grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to investigate the commercial applications of remote sensing technology.

Madison from space

Landsat satellite image of Madison and vicinity. The major land cover types have been mapped automatically using digital image processing techniques and pattern recognition procedures developed at UW-Madison. (large image)

These technologies combine data gathered from satellites and aircraft with sophisticated analysis techniques to produce information that is typically more difficult, time-consuming, or expensive to obtain by other means. Potential applications include business and facility siting, forest management, agribusiness, insurance, telecommunications, infrastructure design, facilities management, archaeology, environmental assessment and land use planning.

"Using these technologies may help businesses create operational efficiencies and new product lines that enable them to out-compete others nationally and internationally," said ERSC Director and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Thomas M. Lillesand.

Often, remote sensing is used in combination with geographic information system (GIS) and Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. "Next generation" versions of this technology are just now being made available to the private sector. They provide images in much greater detail and are expected to generate tremendous business opportunities.

ERSC is one of only four university centers nationwide chosen to participate in NASA's Visiting Investigators Program (VIP). The program permits commercial firms in a wide range of fields to explore ways of incorporating spatial information technologies into their business.

Really cool image

Really cool image. (large image)

Under the grant, university scientists team with commercial partners on projects suggested by the firms. To take part in the program, a business submits a short technical proposal outlining a potential commercial application for a specific technology that can be evaluated in three to six months. Four low-cost pilot projects will be developed each year under the grant.

One aim of the program is to provide "real world" experience to graduate students working on the various projects, said Lillesand. He added that this government-university-business arrangement may also be a prototype of how public and private sector entities can work together in the future.

"The university's role is not to compete with business, but to help create more business in areas of rapidly changing technology," said Lillesand. "This can only be done when we, government, and business are all on the same page."

ERSC is part of the Institute for Environmental Studies. The VIP program is also supported by the Graduate School, the University-Industry Relations Program, the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, the College of Engineering, and the College of Letters and Science at UW-Madison.

Lillesand says one key to landing the grant was assembling a multi-disciplinary team of faculty investigators. They include atmospheric scientists, geographers, civil engineers, soil scientists, landscape architects, foresters, economists, and specialists from the School of Business.