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Sensor Enables 3D Mapping of Rainforests 35

rhettb writes with an article about a fancy mapping sensor. Quoting Mongobay: "High above the Amazon rainforest in Peru, a team of scientists is conducting an ambitious experiment: a biological survey of a never-before-explored tract of remote and inaccessible cloud forest. They are doing so using an advanced system that enables them to map the three-dimensional physical structure of the forest as well as its chemical and optical properties. ... This sensor — built by engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory — is the first of its kind. The spectrometer can detect dozens of signals such as photosynthetic pigment concentrations, water content of leaves, defense compounds like phenols, and structural compounds such as lignin and cellulose. These signals can build signatures to distinguish individual plant species as well as other measures of forest condition."
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Sensor Enables 3D Mapping of Rainforests

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  • I already have a sensor that enables 3D mapping of rainforests -- and non-rainforests as well! It's called my fucking visual system. Eye + brain for interpretation of two 2D lens images.

    • Cool! What format do you save this data to allowing you to analyze it?

    • Re:Beat 'em to it (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tonywong ( 96839 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @11:54AM (#37845024) Homepage
      So how did you get around the part where they say the cloud forest is remote and inaccessible?

      Maybe your visual system works but your reading comprehension system needs an upgrade.
    • You have spectrometers built into your eyes? I wasn't aware that Geordi LaForge posted here.
    • by tibit ( 1762298 )

      Your visual system does NOT do 3D mapping of anything. It does some model fitting from a stereoscopic image, and cannot do most of what their sensor platform does. You're either horribly misinformed or just trolling.

      The forest they looked at would be about as accessible in terms of location accessibility to a human eye as it is to their platform: they fly a plane over the forest. Their sensor platform is mounted on a plane.

      Alas, it's silly to think a human could be as effective as their sensor platform, bec

      • LIDAR and fog do not play well together. Every time you get to the edge of a cloud you get a reflection. One solution is to combine RADAR and lidar. RADAR to cut through the fog and give you an approximation of the hard surface distance and then pick out the strongest LIDAR reflection within the RADAR's error range. Cheap and easy to do, but no one seems to do it. We are talking tiny, fit in a tea cup, ranging radar not some huge nav radar.
        • by tibit ( 1762298 )

          So, you mean it doesn't do all that better than human vision? Agreed.

        • by tibit ( 1762298 )

          The LIDAR that they use already has a reflected waveform analysis: it does not depend on a single echo, but on a variable-in-space reflection coefficient. It analyzes that to determine location of the ground and canopy top, and perhaps also canopy bottom, or multiple canopy levels. I'm sure that they are storing raw data, so the analysis can be as extensive as one wants: the flyover is expensive, so you can't really afford to throw away useful data and everything is collected. Data reduction is done later.


  • by Sgs-Cruz ( 526085 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @11:52AM (#37844996) Homepage Journal

    Hyperspectral imaging (viewing electromagnetic radiation across a much wider wavelength/frequency range than the human eye can see) is one of these things that just boggles the mind with the possibilities. For a system to be able to simultaneously "see" in far IR or even terahertz or microwaves, all the way up to X- and gamma-rays.... Well, it's like Predator. But doing cool things like monitoring the health of rainforests or quickly identifying explosives.

    • I'll give you cool, and raise you Weaponizable! This is going to be weaponized so fast it'll make your head spin! Want to find out where the enemy are, or are heading just check for the damage made by numbers of humans moving through the area! Your enemy wears sophisticated camouflage, no sweat, this can detect the difference easily!
      • by Amouth ( 879122 )

        very true .. normal camouflage only works in the visible em range.. out side of that the cloth looks much different then a leaf .

        • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

          Maybe the kind made for hunting humans, but some camo made for hunting animals that can see into the UV already handles this. If these systems get cheap enough this feature will be added to Military camo.

          • by vuo ( 156163 )
            Infrared-dark clothing and camouflage net is already regular military standard. Hyperspectral imaging is already used; the government claimed that it was used to help find Osama bin Laden.
            • by cusco ( 717999 )
              They claim a lot of foolishness. Rather hard to believe that they used hyperspectral imaging to see him through brick walls.
  • Wheee, they are looking for pot.
    • Carnegie/Stanford tell you right there on their web-page what they're looking for. Pot is not amongst their targets.

      Of course they don't say how many of these kinds of instruments exist and who the other customers were...

      • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
        They tell me they can identify species. Now tell me that no one decided to plug "Cannabis indica" into the machines. The US government would want that information if only to sell it to Brazil, Colombia, etc.
  • Now we can watch in fine-grained detail as the forests disappear.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Life forms, (beep beep beep)

    You tiny little life forms! (beep beep beep)

    You precious little life forms(beep,snap,clap)

    Where are you?" (beep beep beep beep beep beep, bebebeep!)

  • A cloud forest, also called a fog forest, is a generally tropical or subtropical evergreen montane moist forest characterized by a persistent, frequent or seasonal low-level cloud cover, usually at the canopy level. - []
  • by Iron Condor ( 964856 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @01:00PM (#37845890)

    JPL is NOT a NASA center. Why is that so hard to get into people? JPL is a division of Caltech. The people there have contracts that say they work for Caltech. They get paychecks from Caltech.

    JPL had hardware in Earth's orbit before NASA even existed.

    JPL does a lot of work for NASA (i.e work where NASA is a customer - think Mars rovers etc) but at all times, some fraction of JPLs work is non-NASA. Has always been. The fraction has historically varied. Especially in the sensors, detectors and instrumentation side of the house, the fraction of non-NASA projects can easily exceed 50%. Yes, that includes DOD customers, but a lot of people appear to forget NOAA (who do you think invents all those clever weather satellites?) and a host of smaller research organizations (like, in this case, Carnegie) who simply need the best of whatever device they're looking for.

    JPL is not cheap - if you want cheap, go somewhere else. But if you need something that measures subtle signals (like distinguishing individual types/genus/species of underbrush from each other from aircraft altitude to identify and monitor invasive species) in adverse conditions for years at a time, then JPL is probably the go-to shop. And no, it is not "NASA's JPL" and yes, your money is just as welcome as anybody else's.

    • by unkiereamus ( 1061340 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @01:20PM (#37846132)
      From JPL's own site:

      Motivated by Explorer 1's success, JPL Director William Pickering wanted to move into space exploration. He thought the relatively small, non-profit JPL could never raise the money necessary to remain on the leading edge of rocket technology as much larger aviation companies entered the rocketry business. He convinced the Army and President Eisenhower to make JPL part of the nation's new space agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. In that role, JPL, with its links to Caltech's science community, could lead in the creation of the new realm of space science. In December 1958, the Army formally transferred JPL to NASA, although it remained under Caltech management.

      If you're interested, here's the URL: [] Note the URL, if you please.

      tl;dr: Neener neener, you're wrong.

  • Except for the fact that there's no Web Enablement and as far as I can see his new sensor doesn't follow any OGC (Open Geospatial Consortium) Standards, so the data itself isn't really that valuable outside his own application.

    It might be something they'll add in the future, but I'd be interested to see how this data could be used, as opposed to how it can be collected. Quite frankly, LiDAR has been around for a long time, and attaching other sensors in conjunction with it isn't something entirely new. I wi

  • by Translation Error ( 1176675 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @02:33PM (#37847018)
    I heard they spent a week trying to track down a bug where large chunks of the rainforest would simply disappear--and then they realized it wasn't a bug...
  • Nice work, but this is hardly the first of its kind...

    A friend of a friend invented this concept while working at the CSIRO(those guys that invented the good wi-fi), in Australia.
    He was even on a local show called "The New Inventers" where he showed it off, about 4 years ago, for the record.

    This JPL model is definitely bigger, and badder, but NASA/JPL could have saved millions of dollars if they had a good look around every once in a while, or didn't fall asleep in front of the TV...

    Credit where

You will never amount to much. -- Munich Schoolmaster, to Albert Einstein, age 10