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F.C. Resident’s Bird’s-Eye-View Image Outfit Lands CBS Stint

Curt Westergard’s Thermal Scan Spots Needed Repairs at City Hall

curttruckWhile much of the sky above has been conquered by birds, planes, zeppelins and (if you go up far enough) satellites, Curt Westergard, a Falls Church resident and president of Digital Design and Imaging Service, Inc. (DDIS) is convinced that there is a section of the sky that needs to be mapped.

 

Curt Westergard’s Thermal Scan Spots Needed Repairs at City Hall

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FALLS CHURCH RESIDENT Curt Westergard’s company, Digital Design and Imaging Service, Inc., works to maps the sky via a blimp with a camera attached to it. (Photo: News-Press)

 

While much of the sky above has been conquered by birds, planes, zeppelins and (if you go up far enough) satellites, Curt Westergard, a Falls Church resident and president of Digital Design and Imaging Service, Inc. (DDIS) is convinced that there is a section of the sky that needs to be mapped.

“The  area between three hundred and nine hundred feet above ground has not been photographed that much, and that’s the exact area we want to investigate and work in.” said Westergard during an interview with the News-Press.

“I used to crew on a multi-hull sailboat  many years ago, and I would get sent up into the crow’s nest to keep lookout to see if there were shallow reefs or other objects that we needed to be avoided. Being on the boat and working through school as a tree surgeon and climber is where I got an appreciation of  bird’s-eye views. That’s where I realized that there needed to be a middle-ground between street-view and that of a satellite,” said Westergard.

DDIS, incorporated in 1999, primarily focuses on providing visual impact studies to give clients aerial perspectives on how their planned structures will impact the surrounding neighborhoods and to provide three-dimensional modeling of proposed or existing buildings.

There are a lot of applications for technology like this, anything from security surveillance at an event to mapping large areas of land or even tracking oil slicks. – Westergard

Using a Tethered Surveillance Aerostat Balloon (TSAB), the fancy technical name for a blimp with a camera under it, Westergard can photograph and map out a building site, allowing developers, planning and government officials to see how their project will interact with the surrounding area.

Most recently, DDIS was hired by CBS News to photograph and conduct a formal crowd-estimate for Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally at the Lincoln Memorial.

“Around 80 percent of all cell phone towers in Northern Virginia were previewed by us and shown to zoning authorities.” said Westergard. “Most of them are disguised really well or incorporated into tree lines or buildings so that most people never notice them. We did a preview for a cell-phone tower that was disguised as a house so well that it would receive mail and have people coming up and checking out who lived there. If they would open the door they would be surprised to find a bunch of computers and wiring.”

“We’ve done monthly monitoring of construction sites and have made three dimensional models for virtually every large building project in Falls Church,” he added.

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THE SAME BALLOON used for a thermal scan of Falls Church flies high over apartments last week. (Photo: News-Press)

 

Furthermore, the proprietary surveillance balloon is also capable of performing thermal-imaging scans of buildings in order to find areas where heat may be escaping or a leak in the roof might exist.

“We recently finished doing a thermal scan of the Falls Church City Hall (which can be viewed at www.airphotoslive.com/thermal.html) and found a few spots that needed some repairs, which should save the city some money in the heating and electricity bills.” said Westergard.

The ability of the TSAB to obtain the shots it does is because it is able to float to almost any desired point quickly and hover for as long as Westergard needs.

“In the days when I was first developing this technology 10 years ago, a typical job might have needed five people and seven or eight hours in order to get the balloon inflated and in the air to get the shots that we needed. Now, it takes around eight minutes and I can do the entire thing by myself if I need to.” said Westergard.

“We’re also working on making our operation more environmentally-friendly by installing solar panels, hand operated winches, and keeping helium in the balloon at all times so we don’t have to waste energy adding more and heating it up.” he added.

In the earlier days, our operation would cost one twentieth of what it would have cost to send a helicopter to do the same job. – Westergard

The camera attached to the balloon is one of a few pieces of technology developed by Westergard that he refers to as a “9-Eye”, which is essentially nine virtual cameras attached in a way that completely eliminates blind-spots and allows for nine pictures to be taken simultaneously, allowing for a complete view of any given moment instead of having to take the time to move a camera lens from one angle to another.

“There are a lot of applications for technology like this, anything from security surveillance at an event to mapping large areas of land or even tracking oil slicks.” said Westergard.

One of the projects currently being bid on by DDIS is a complete 3D and thermal scan of  very large,  government buildings in downtown Washington D.C. Because of the 31 mile “no-fly zone” over the District that has been in place since the September 11th attacks, helicopters and planes are virtually banned from being able to do the kind of work that DDIS does, and getting approval for the work is a difficult process.

However, Westergard is optimistic that the benefits of being able to do a scan of exceptionally large and inefficient government buildings will help preserve the building by quickly locating spots that need repairs or sealing at a significant cost to taxpayers.

“In the earlier days, our operation would cost one twentieth of what it would have cost to send a helicopter to do the same job. With improvements in their balloon  and launch technology, infrared camera optics technology and wireless computers, we’ve gotten it down to about one-30th the cost of a helicopter.” said Westergard.

Although computer programs such as Google Earth can provide a satellite and street-level view of an area for free, Westergard does not feel that he is in competition with the Internet giant that is trying to map out every single location on the planet.

“We’re in a different area than they are. They can’t provide the definition at the altitude that we work in, so we’re not in danger of losing clients to them. Also, Google Maps doesn’t update their images often enough for our clients, who need the latest images of an area in order to map out how to place their building or whether to build it at all.” said Westergard.

“Also, if they happen to take their image on a cloudy day and that’s the one that stays up until they update it, it’s not going to be much help to planners. Our aerial views encompass a full 360 degrees, which are critical for easy orientation to landmarks on the horizon.” he added.

With almost 25 years in the field of creating visual impact simulations, Curt Westergard is only looking towards the future.

“I was interested in development patterns in nature, like the drainage patterns in rivers or the way cities expanded, so I worked on inventing tools to help effectively communicate and interpret those patterns. It’s now just a process of continuing to work on better tools that can help communicate the patterns more efficiently.”