University of California
Informatics and GIS Program


Maggi's Sabbatical in China in the spring...

Sabbatical report April 2019

I've been on sabbatical now for a few months, and it's time to report. I've been working on updating all my course materials: slides, reading and labs, for the fall. This has been a blast, and a lot of work! Especially the labs. We are finally moving to ArcGIS Pro, people! It's been scary, but thanks to some excellent on-line resources, including this list of excellent tutorials from Jarlath O'Neil-Dunne and from ESRI (Getting started with Pro) we are making progress. Shane Feirer and Robert Johnson from #IGIS are helping here too, and we'll likely be using some of the new material in IGIS workshops soon. 

Currently, I am in China, visiting former PhD student Dr Qinghua Guo and my “grandstudent” Dr Yanjun Su at their lab set in the bucolic Institute of Botany northwest of Beijing (just outside the 5th ring, for those of you in the know). It has been a blast. I came to catch up on all the excellent UAV, lidar, remote sensing, and modeling work going on in the Digital Ecosystem Lab at the Institute of Botany (part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences). These students are serious Data Scientists: they are working on key spatial problems and remote sensing data problems using ML, classification, spatio-temporal algorithms, data fusion tools. They routinely work with lidar, hyperspectral, multispectral and field data, and focus on leaf-scale to landscape-scale processes. One of the big experiments they are working on uses a new instrument, dubbed “Crop3D”. It is a huge frame installed over an ag field with a movable sensor dock. The field is about 30m x 15m, and the sensor can move to cover the entire field. Here is my summary in graphic form:

This season's experiment focuses on mapping corn plant phenotypes using hyperspectral, RGB, and lidar data by classifying leaf-scale metrics such as leaf angle and branching angles, along with spectral indices. VERY COOL STUFF. I am eager to hear more about the results of the experiment and see what is yet to come. 

I gave a couple of talks, one on “big” (serious air quotes here) data and ecology (to the Institute of Botany at the Chinese Academy of Sciences) and one on UAVs (to the Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS). In both I highlighted all the excellent work done by students and staff in my various research and outreach groups. In the first I focused on our Lidar work in the Sierra Nevada (with Qinghua Guo, Yanjun Su, Marek Jakubowski); the VTM work and FAIR data (with Kelly Easterday); and UAV/water stress (with Kelly again plus Sean Hogan and Jacob Flanagan). In the second talk I got to gush about all the IGIS work we are doing across our “Living Laboratories” in California. We have flown ~30 missions (total 25 km2) on and around the network of research properties in California (see the panel below for some examples). I talked about the recent CNN work with Ovidiu Csillik; the BORR water stress experiment with Kelly, Sean and Jacob; the fire recovery work at Hopland with Shane Feirer and the rest of the IGIS crew; and the outreach we do like DroneCamps. I also talked about UAV Grand Challenges: Scaling, Sampling, and Synergies. Those ideas are for another post. 

My hosts took great care of me: Showing me the sites, making sure I tried all the regional delicacies, and indulging me in my usual blather. Below are some pics of us on our adventures, including in the bus on our way to a distant portion of the Great Wall. Walking the Wall was: 1) awesome (in the real sense of the word – it really is mind-blowing); 2) STEEP (calves were screaming at the end of the day); and 3) windy. Plus there are snakes. I was told that there are other sections of the Wall that are called “Wild Wall” which I think is extremely cool. And speaking of walls, GOT starts again this weekend. China in springtime is BURSTING with flowers. And being housed at the Institute of Botany means all of them are on show in a concentrated area. Finally, you can get all over this huge country on trains. Trains that go really fast (220 MPH), and are on time, and are comfortable! I went to Shanghai (800+ miles away) for the weekend by train! My current joke: “In China, it takes 4 hours to get from Beijing to Shanghai. In California, it takes 4 hours to get from Berkeley to Sacramento.” (Thanks Dad!)

Off to Tokyo. But not before a final panel of pics that remind me of this trip: Technology, Art, Food, Flowers, Shopping, History. Here in China, Red = Happiness + GoodLuck, not the Cardinal.

Posted on Monday, April 15, 2019 at 3:57 PM

Esri Developer Summit 2019

Dev Summit 2019

The Esri Developer Summit in Palm Springs was, as usual, a very informative look into the resources Esri provides for those who want to take their software to the next level. Although this year's conference was a bit light on major announcements (they're probably saving all the good stuff for the User Conference in July) there were still a few interesting takeaways:

  • ArcGIS Notebooks are continuing the trend of tight integration of Python with the ArcGIS suite. While currently available through ArcGIS Enterprise portal, the next release of ArcGIS Pro is going to support Python Notebooks directly in the desktop environment.
  • Web apps are becoming lighter, more efficient and more mobile-friendly. Progressive web app standards are making it easier to develop functional, responsive web apps rather than needing to delve into the more complicated world of native apps.
  • ArcGIS Pro is finally going to support publishing to standalone servers in the next release! Esri is framing this as a tool for transitioning to Portal servers, but those of us that still use standalone servers will take it.
  • ArcMap really has become obsolete. While Esri is still pledging to support it for "years to come", all new functionality will only be available in Pro.

All in all, the Dev Summit is a great resource for keeping up to date on all the cutting-edge technology that Esri has to offer. It's a great learning experience and I look forward to attending again in the future.

Posted on Tuesday, April 9, 2019 at 9:11 AM
Tags: ArcGIS Pro (4), Dev Summit (2), ESRI (13), IGIS (62), Python (2)

Salinas Ag Tech Summit

Ag Tech Summit

2019.03.26 - 27 in Salinas, California - The Epicenter of AgTech

The Ag Tech Summit at Hartnell College showcased people's passion for agriculture and the ability to integrate new technologies for improved quality and production. It was a chance for growers, researchers and technology providers to connect and reimagine an better future for propagating industry, providing to our world population and everyone's concern with making food healthier and more organic.

Some Topics covered included:

  • Remote Sensing
  • IPM Approaches
  • Managing Virus Spread
  • Automation for SGMA Groundwater Management
  • Traceability for Managing Food Safety Risk
  • Big Data in Ag

[Below Image: Morning Keynote - Bob Whitaker, Produce Marketing Association]

Remote Sensing

The remote sensing panel included researchers and industry from companies like Ceres Imaging, AirSpace Integration and CSU Monterey Bay. It was insightful to hear how RS, especially those using drones as a platform, have been used in the Agriculture sector and in what ways Ag is benefiting from it.

Traceability for Managing Food Safety Risk

New systems are being explored and adoptions from companies like UPS that help track food found at the supermarket back to its origin. This is useful in cases of food related outbreaks which can be mitigated its impact on the consumer and the industry. This panel explained that even a simple note taking application in field has high reward for targeting reasons for outbreak.

Big Data in Ag

This panel covered how big data can speed up agronomic decisions through analysis of traceability systems, remote sensing and other technology in correlation with market analysis. A very notable company was Project Athena that is using artificial intelligence to analyze big data and turn it into information.

Gabe Youtsey - UC ANR

Gabe attended the Ag Tech Summit as a keynote speaker and panel member. During his keynote, he spoke about the progress of VINE and UC ANR's commitment in improving California's Ag. He was part of the "How California is Strategizing to Meet the 2020 Workforce Needs" panel sitting in with other members from Cal Poly, CSU Monterey Bay and Ca Community College Chncellor's Office.

[Below Image: Afternoon Keynote - Gabe Youtsey, Chief Innovation Officer, UC ANR]

Given all these outlooks, I'm looking forward to 2020's Ag Tech Summit.

Posted on Monday, April 1, 2019 at 1:15 PM

IGIS Trained Foresters to use ArcGIS Pro and Mobile Apps to Collect Data

IGIS worked with UCANR Advisors Mike Jones, Rick Satomi, and Yana Valachovic to conduct two 2-day training workshops in Northern California the week of March 18th-23rd.  These workshops were held in Santa Rosa, CA and Arcata, CA. and they were well attended by approximately 20 participants at each location.  The intent of these workshops were to bring the participants up to speed on the latest GIS software (ArcGIS Pro, and ArcGIS Online), best practices in cartography, managing data, and spatial analysis, and mobile data collection (ArcGIS Collector, ArcGIS Survey 123, and Azenva).

IGIS will conduct these workshops two more times in the coming months.  These workshops will be held at the following locations and dates:

  • Lake Tahoe Community College, April 25 – 26
  • Shasta College, May 10 – 11

For More Information: Please see the following website: 


Posted on Monday, April 1, 2019 at 12:36 PM
Tags: Arcata (1), ArcGIS (6), ArcGIS Pro (4), Avenza (1), Collector (1), Forestry (1), IGIS (62), Santa Rosa (1), Survey 123 (1), UCANR (14), UCCE (3)
Focus Area Tags: Innovation Natural Resources

eBee X Training - North Carolina

eBee X Training

Raleigh, North Carolina

I headed to North Carolina with members of the California Heartbeat Initiative (CHI) last month for formal training on using their eBee X - Sensefly's newest fixed wing drone capable of high-resolution 3D, multispectral and, recently, thermal mapping.

The Crew

The CHI team included Becca Fenwick, Kelly Easterday, James Norris and a few external partners, Jacob Flanagan (Informatics and GIS) and Greg Crutsinger (Scholar Farms).

The Hardware

The Sensefly eBee is a fixed wing drone designed for mapping. In the past, fixed wings were a bit involved and usually required a well experienced pilot. Even with today's automation, this sort of drone can be discomforting for beginners where launching involves slinging it and every landing is a crash landing (eBee and similar) that require a loads of space because it's constantly having to move forward. In contrast, rotary drones like the DJI Phantom can do this from a single point and hover in place.

However, the eBee is one of the more intuitive fixed wing drone we've come by; it's automation abilities surpass even most rotary drones. It does require some initial mission planning, however, given their software's 3d interactivity and built in simulator, it's easy, comforting and, dare I say, fun?! The same is true about the launching and landing - for launch, it's a relatively low effort push forward. The landing is designed on the field laptop, can be aborted anytime and readjustable in real time (landing does require some runway, ideally soft i.e., grass. It is the trickiest bit). Just to further argue how automated and easy to use they are, our eBee did not come with controllers.

The Training

Matt and Daniel were our trainers from Sensefly - a Veteran affiliated with Google X and a GIS/Computer Scientist, respectively. They were well versed and covered the ins and outs of the system, including the software, mission planning, launching and landing and drone piloting (person managing the mission software is considered pilot). While not necessary, this training ensures we understood of every element of the drone's components, software options and became comfortable with it's operation.

Long Term Plan

CHI is looking to use drones for all sorts of remote sensing, mapping 3D, thermal and multispectral. This sort of information will be used to drive hydrological and other environmental models all part of the bigger picture of understanding increasing uncertain climate of tomorrow. For IGIS, this is another step in staying on top of this every growing technology.


Posted on Monday, April 1, 2019 at 11:38 AM

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