GeoTech Insider: Patrick Cunningham, Blue Marble Geographics

Patrick Cunningham is the President of Blue Marble Geographics, Hallowell Maine. Cunningham offers nearly two decades of experience in software development, marketing, sales, consulting, project management and corporate management. Originally joining Blue Marble as Director of Business Development in January 2003, Cunningham assisted with the sale of the company and took over the reins in February 2004. We caught up with Patrick to discuss the company’s flagship app, Global Mapper, LIDAR and Cloud solutions and the outlook for BMG in 2018, their 25th anniversary!

You’ve recently updated the Global Mapper LIDAR Module optional add-on. For anyone not familiar with this, who is it for and why do they need it?
The LIDAR Module for Global Mapper is a powerful add-on extension for in-depth LIDAR data manipulation, analysis and conversion applied to any 3D point cloud. It has tools for automatic classification of raw unclassified points, automatic feature extraction into 3D objects, terrain module generation, custom feature extraction and a host of manual clean up tools along with a special Path Profile toolset. The Module also now features a new Pixels-to-PointsTM tool for converting imagery to point clouds.

What sets this tool apart from other LIDAR data management solutions?
The beauty of the LIDAR Module is that it matches up very well against other LIDAR processing tools in features and functionality, yet for a fraction of the cost. This is not just my opinion, our customers have repeatedly, independently verified this. Most equivalent tools start at an outrageous $5,000 for a single user license whereas the Global Mapper LIDAR Module starts at $499 for the same license. It’s simply the cost of another seat of Global Mapper. So if you have a single user license of Global Mapper with the LIDAR Module the cost is only $998. That price combined with the functionality dramatically sets it apart from other solutions.

I’m curious about the Pixels-toPoints tool in the LIDAR Module. Seems you’ve targeted this at those using UAV data collection. Can you share a bit about this?
Sure. The Pixels-to-Points tool was developed for our customers that fly drones and UAVs; they have been asking us for this type of functionality for a while. Still in beta, the tool is a brand new interface for converting drone collected imagery into 3D point clouds. It provides an interface for organizing the data, reviewing it, creating a raster orthoimage and then converting the pixels to a usable hi-resolution point cloud. Because this feature set is incorporated in our very power LIDAR Module, it makes the work of cleaning up the point cloud and leveraging intelligence from it that much easier. This one stop approach will save customers time and money.

Both LIDAR and UAV technology are exploding in use and seem to go well together. Are there more ways that you support the UAV user and is this a big market for BMG?
We have been very popular among UAV operators for a while now because of the combination of affordability, feature set and ease of learning the software. It’s kind of a triple threat. For the single person company that is starting a new venture, they can afford the tool and they can figure out how to use it. For the larger enterprise, the interoperability of Global Mapper just makes sense. Our UAV customers use Global Mapper for everything from flight planning to terrain model generation, contour generation, NDVI and change detection to a host of other GIS workflows. Additionally, our UAV customers like to refer their customers to Global Mapper to use as a data viewer because it is so easy to use. Consequently many of them provide the software with their data delivery or simply point people to us. We even have a Drone Reseller program for these customers so they can work towards getting a commission on those sales.

I’m always amazed at the price of your solutions… it’s incredibly affordable. You must have tremendous customer and user retention, is that so?
We do have a very loyal customer base. Many users have been with us for years. We come right out and say it; we go to market as the affordable GIS solution. There is a need for that in the marketplace. Our applications fill the void between open source (free) applications with limited or no support and overpriced, older enterprise solutions that are locked into some verticals. Perhaps the biggest challenge we have is educating our prospective customers, especially those using the antiquated over-priced stuff, that you can do all the GIS you need with inexpensive software. Inexpensive does not mean low quality and it does not mean a lack of tech support or training. We provide all of that.

Can you share which industry segment or user base do you see adopting LIDAR solutions?
LIDAR is slowly being adopted by all areas of GIS as more and more LIDAR becomes available. At first it was the surveyors, then government, but now it is everyone from global engineering firms, oil and gas majors and municipalities. If you’re doing GIS today you will be using LIDAR.

I see there’s a free trial download available. What can people do with the trial? Is it limited in functionality?
You can do everything you can with the commercial version, you are just limited by how many times you can output or save things.

You’ve been offering training throughout the year I see, how has this been received and will it continue? What goes on in a day of training?
Our training program continues to grow. We conducted training from Maine to Perth last year and we plan to do so again. Our resellers are now offering localized training around the world in addition to our direct services. We offer public training, private on-site or interactive web sessions. We’re always trying to improve our training, the feedback has been very positive to date but we strive to continue to make it a great solution for our customers that need it. Over the past few years we rolled out a Global Mapper Certification process for our users and resellers so now folks can get professional recognition for their skills with Global Mapper.

Shift focus to the company, how was 2017 for BMG? Any surprises?
2017 was a great year for us. We did see revenues again grow over the past year and our user base expanded as well. You’ve hit the nail on the head that Drone users are driving some of that, but engineering, oil and gas, alternative energy, gaming companies, and federal, state and local government are other growth areas. I would say the adoption of Global Mapper by the gaming companies has been a pleasant surprise. If you’re kid plays it on X-box or similar gaming console, the company that made the game uses Global Mapper to create terrain models and other 3D output. They are all household names literally. We have put a lot of work into our 3D features and it is starting to pay off.

Looking forward, what are you excited about for the company that you can share?
2018 represents a significant milestone for Blue Marble Geographics as it is our 25th anniversary and we are planning some special events to thank our customers who have been with us and made all this possible. Our first announcement is coming soon where we have decided to pay it forward by having each our employees name a charity of their choice that we will donate $100 to in their name. Personally, I am excited about Pixels-to-Points. We are playing with drones now and it is a lot of fun. However, I am also excited about our work on cloud hosted versions of our software and that work will continue this year where you will see us role out new offerings around the cloud.

For those users that should be using LIDAR but aren’t yet, why should they consider LIDAR in their org?
In the U.S. where free publicly available LIDAR data is waiting to be used, it’s a no-brainer. You can supplement your GIS work relatively easily with LIDAR where you can create high resolution terrain models, accurate contours, precise volumetric measurements, 3D vegetation and buildings all with very little effort with a tool like Global Mapper. Internationally, LIDAR is not quite as accessible but if you can get it, you should look at the products that you can create from the data because it really can augment your GIS both in 2D and 3D.

Finally, would you care to share an industry projection or outlook that you see coming?
I guess I would just say that the point of all of this is that 3D mapping is no longer a thing of the future; it’s now. There is still a place for top-down 2D mapping but more and more end-user map consumers will want 3D maps. So we would see GIS heading that way. As we continue to add value to business decision making through new compelling tools we will see the GIS industry grow. As an industry we have innovated quite well over the past decade, both LIDAR and Drones are a big part of that so there are a lot of folks watching what we are doing. If we deliver, that can only be a good thing for industry growth.

Interview by Glenn Letham, Managing Editor of

About the Author

Glenn Letham

Glenn Letham is co-founder and Managing Editor, of Having more than two decades years of experience in the GIS industry, Glenn is well known as the founder and publisher of the first popular daily GIS news publication (e-zine). Glenn is recognized internationally as a leading media analyst for geospatial technologies, frequently called upon for his expertise. Glenn holds a B.Sc in Geography from the University of Victoria.