Mobile Mapping in Antarctica

Well, almost in Antarctica. Actually, I was in Punta Arenas, Chile – the southernmost city in the world. Punta Arenas is located in the Antarctica Chilean Province, just a short 800-mile hop to the closest point of land on the continent of Antarctica. Punta Arenas borders on the Strait of Magellan. This important passageway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans was navigated by the explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1520.

I had the great pleasure to travel to Punta Arenas recently. The mission? Install an IP-S2 mobile mapping system on a vehicle for Mapas Digitales.

Mapas Digitales, S.A. (also known as Dmapas), is based in Santiago, Chile. With more than 15 years of experience and operations, the company has become the leading provider of business solutions based on digital map data, GIS solutions, and exact street address databases for Chile, Argentina, and Peru; providing to their clients the most complete and dynamic data, spatially organized to help them with their business management. Dmapas databases cover over 93% of the population areas in Chile. In 2009, Dmapas partnered with Google to create Google Maps Chile, the second country-specific mapping product in South America. More information about Dmapas can be found on their website:

Dmapas collected its vast pool of street map data with digital camera/GPS systems. The company operates six vehicles outfitted with Point Grey Research’s Ladybug cameras linked to GPS receivers. Ladybug systems contain six individual sensor/lens units in a single enclosure. After collection, software can stitch the six individual camera frames into single 360 panoramic or spherical images.

So what does this have to do with LiDAR? Up until now, images and GPS have met the needs of Dmapas customers. Recently, the company was engaged to perform a more detailed mapping project for Aguas Magallanes (, the company that supplies water to the Antarctic and Magellan provinces of Chile. Aguas Magallanes needed accurate street maps and road cross-sections for three cities – Punta Arenas, Porvenir, and Puerto Natales. For the level of detail and degree of accuracy required, Dmapas determined that the IP-S2’s combined LiDAR and 360 spherical imagery would be the perfect solution.

This change in the operational paradigm of a major, established company is another indicator of the impact that LiDAR is having on the GIS mapping industry. A number of GPS and photogrammetric processing solutions are available for geopositioning objects from imagery. However, the addition of LiDAR to the mobile mapping equation provides a myriad of benefits including more accurate geopositioning and faster processing.

To signify the change in Dmapas’ operational technology and business model, the company will be identified soon by a new name, XYGO; this also demonstrates a new style and seal on their own people and the personalized service they bring to their clients.

Patricio Escobar, Operations Manager for Latin America, decided to install the system on site in Punta Arenas rather than at headquarters in Santiago to expedite work on the project for Aguas Magallanes. Dmapass goal was to collect the data for all three cities by the end of February, an ambitious endeavor.

On January 31st, I flew from Santiago to Punta Arenas accompanied by Escobar, and Jorge Gajardo, Project Manager. The IP-S2 system was first delivered to Dmapass Santiago headquarters. The system and the car on which it was to be installed – a Toyota RAV4 – took a different route to the project. A glacier north of Punta Arenas blocks vehicular travel making the city accessible only by air or boat. The IP-S2 was loaded in the RAV4 and driven to a port near Santiago. The payload arrived one day later than expected due to a failure of one of the ships engines and a storm at sea.

Aguas Magallanes graciously provided our team with space in one of their mechanical shops. Installation of the IP-S2 and mounting system on the RAV4 was completed in one day. The next two days were spent checking the mobile mapping system in the field and training Dmapass employees on operation and data collection.

I returned home on February 4th and the project is now underway. After the data collection and processing is completed, Dmapas will provide Aguas Magallanes with high-level deliverables: LiDAR point clouds of three project cities; cross sections of 250 different streets for each city; measurements; and Excel reports. The services and products that Dmapas can now provide to customers using the IP-S2 would have been impossible to produce using GNSS and camera systems.

The tale of Dmapas and their transition to a higher level of data collection and delivery is yet another new chapter in a bigger story – the story of how LiDAR-based mobile mapping technology is quickly replacing conventional data collection for GIS and mapping.

PS – I called Jorge on February 16th to check in and see how the data collection was progressing.

Unbelievably, he told me he had a couple of hours to go to finish the project and then would be returning to Santiago. Three complete cities spread out within a 120 mile radius in 12 days! Excelente!