BuckEye: Unclassified, High-Resolution, Field-Expedient Geospatial Data for the Soldier

Monday August 18, 2008

What is it?

BuckEye, developed by the Army Topographic Engineering Center (TEC), is an airborne, high-resolution geospatial data collection system that combines high-resolution images via a 39-megapixel, digital color camera and Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) elevation data to provide 3-dimensional, unclassified imagery over a commander's area of interest. The system was born in 2004 out of the Soldier's need for unclassified, high-resolution, field-expedient geospatial data that could be applied to intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) missions.

What has the Army done?

BuckEye systems have been supporting U.S. Central Command for over three years. The BuckEye imagery/LIDAR systems are centrally-controlled to support the entire theater. The system in Iraq has collected over 34,000 square kilometers of data, primarily over urban areas, but also along main supply routes. It's data set includes over 900 tiles of LIDAR elevation data at 1-meter resolution, covering most Iraqi cities, and has collected over 700,000 individual color images at 10-15 centimeter resolution. Helicopter-mounted camera systems are imbedded at the brigade level, giving that commander the ability to employ BuckEye to best support tactical operations, to include ISR in support of tactical planning or change detection along key routes.

Why is this important to the Army?

BuckEye is a valuable tool in mitigating threats to personnel and materiel in the counterinsurgency environment. The system's imagery is also more accessible to Soldiers in comparison to that available via satellite. Soldiers only have access to national satellite imagery in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF), and often do not have the clearance necessary to retrieve it. Commercial satellite imagery is widely available, but the best available resolution is 0.6 meters. BuckEye imagery is unclassified and collected at 0.1 meter resolution. Individual images are made available very quickly and served up via TEC's web-based BuckEye Imagery GeoIndex (BIG) Viewer. Once the LIDAR elevation data is processed, it is used to control, or ortho-rectify, the individual image frames. Once controlled and their positions adjusted, images can be stitched together to form ortho-mosaics. Ortho-mosaic file sizes are enormous, so the final image product is compressed into a MrSID format for distribution. Data is pushed to requesting units on DVD or on an external hard drive, or "brick", and also made available on all Department of Defense networks.

Free LIDAR viewers are available to those with PKI, Secret or Top Secret Web access, allowing users to manipulate data available over every location where BuckEye has been flown. Users can download the viewers by visiting TEC's Web pages ( see below) and clicking the "LIDAR" link under "Other Products and Services", or by doing a search for LIDAR. The first viewer at the bottom of the LIDAR home page is a Quick Terrain Reader, allowing dynamic 3D viewing, while the second, RTV 3DEM, is less dynamic but allows for range fans or other aids to be drawn.

What's planned for the future?

Data collection over hot spots in Iraq and Afghanistan at lower altitudes exposes pilots to enemy fire. Therefore, the BuckEye team is currently working to demonstrate capabilities using a downsized, integrated sensor suite on a prototype unmanned aerial vehicle later this year. BuckEye data has been collected in the U.S. to support training, and is available for Military Operations in Urbanized Terrain (MOUT) sites at Fort Irwin, California, and Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona. No U.S. collections are ongoing currently because the three available sensors are deployed.


Topographic Engineering Center Web Site


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"BuckEye is the only sensor in the Army capable of providing this level of precision. BuckEye data (LIDAR and imagery) provides a high resolution source to register data from other sensors such as Constant Hawk and Angel Fire, improving their products' accuracy and utility."

- Chief Warrant Officer Mike Harper, Army Senior Geospatial Information Technician


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