Computers in Research

Computer Processing of Images In RSRU

False color satellite image 1    False color satellite image 2    Brown, Estes thumbnail

Computer processing of images was done in the Remote Sensing Research Unit (RSRU) of Geography before 1978, but black and white only, mostly line printer overstrike output on 14″ folded paper, which was then taped together and hung on the wall due to its size. By 1978, RSRU was using the VICAR-IBIS package. The software was supported in the Engineering Department — initially on a VAX 1145, then on a VAX 1170. Both machines were huge and expensive with only a small fraction of the processing power of today’s desktop PCs.

At the time, RSRU did mostly single image digital processing, but also some multidate image overlay and analysis (raster mode only). Sometime around 1979, digital/optical film scanner and film writers were added to the system to allow digital image input and output. This equipment generated the first color digital images produced in the Department.

These images were generated as a part of a Geography Department remote sensing study of prime agricultural land in the State of California. To produce these images, three bands of the original MSS data were photo-optically converted to individual black and white film positives. These were then pin registered and printed using a additive color photographic process. The total time required to produce an image was approximately 60 hours.

To the right is a photo of Jack Estes speaking with then Governor Jerry Brown during a tour of the Map and Image Library, circa 1979. The individuals shown in the photo, left to right, are: Rusty Schweikert (former astronaut and, at the time of the photo, Director of State of California Space Institute,) Governor Brown, Jack Estes, and a GRSU researcher.

RSRU first began to use ERDAS in 1984. It ran on an IBM-PC at the blinding speed of 88 MHz. The hard drive, which cost approximately $5,000, was 20MB (that’s Megabyte, not Gigabyte). This machine allowed researchers to display and process an entire quarter of a MSS scene at one time. ERDAS was used to do remote sensing image processing and GIS. Most of the processings was in raster mode, but some was done in raster/vector mode.

(Above information and photos courtesy of Joe Scepan of RSRU)

First ArcInfo License

Tracing back to when the Geography Department first got an ArcInfo license from ESRI has been challenging, since detailed accounting books are mandated to be jettisoned after a number of years. Meryl Wieder, the Department MSO (highest ranking staff person), who has been with UCSB 33 years, and Geography most of that time, probably has the best idea when this occurred. “Simonett was the Chair [1974-1980]. My guess is around 1979-80. I know that it cost the department $40,000, and that was considered to be a huge discount.”

Rick Church remembers, “Sometime during the time I was department chair [1984-1988], Dave Simonett and I went to ESRI and talked with Dangermond and others. Part of the visit was trying to get a reduced price on their products. I know that we had ArcInfo before Mike [Goodchild] came.” Mike concurs: “We had a license when I arrived in 1988.”

ESRI was not able to help with old records. Theirs only go back to 1992. “UCSB Geography’s first ArcInfo license was March 13, 1992. Stephen Miller requested key codes from ESRI for a server named ‘rapa.'”

Thus, we conclude that the license was probably first obtained sometime between 1979 and 1988. [In an email note of September 1, 2011, distinguished alumna Dawn Wright provided the following details about our first ArcInfo license: “That was actually for Geological Sciences over in Webb Hall back then. Steve Miller was not a geographer but a geophysicist. Steve requested the key codes, and I actually installed them for the group over there in Webb. But geography had licenses before Geological Sciences, so it’s too bad that Esri can’t help a bit better with the records there. At any rate, the geologists were starting to get into the GIS game at the time, and it was mainly to support the research project that they had given me as a ‘crossover’ interdisciplinary geog/geol student. The server name ‘rapa’ is short for ‘Rapa Nui’ or Easter Island, a jumping off point for several research cruises led by Geological Sciences professor (now emeritus) Ken Macdonald.”]