That funny-looking vehicle roving around Columbia County during the next couple of weeks might seem like something that belongs in space.
There’s a reason for that: The Earthmine mapping rig uses technology from NASA.
The county’s Geographic Information Services Department brought in the Earthmine vehicle and its sophisticated camera systems two years ago to provide 3-D images of more than 1,100 miles of county roads and everything alongside them.
The vehicle is returning to update those images, said Mary Howard, the department’s manager.
“It’s the same technology that was used for mapping Mars. It’s pretty incredible,” Howard said. “It’s like Google Earth on steroids.”
The mapping vehicle, with 32-megapixel cameras mounted on top, will travel more than 1,200 miles of county roads. The vehicle travels at the speed limit to take panoramic, 360-degree photos every eight feet – even when traveling on Interstate 20.
Every photo is accompanied by precise measurements and geographic coordinates, Howard said. After the data is compiled, it will give the department 3-D images that are used by county agencies for everything from measuring site distances for streets to counting fire hydrants.
It also provides a timeline progression from the first set of Earthmine images snapped two years ago.
Production of those updated images will cost about $65,000, Howard said, but are well worth the expenditure.
The system already saved the county about $750,000 in fees that would have been charged by contractors installing the county’s broadband project, she said, because the mapping system provided evidence of how the miles of fiber-optic cable were installed.
The images are also expected to save the county money when combined with a street-light audit by Georgia Power that already has discovered the county being charged for lights in commercial parking lots.
“That will be even more cost savings, too,” Howard said. “I think there are all kinds of uses I’m not even aware of.”