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DARPA Funds Research to Improve Terrain Maps

Coverage maps based on terrain sensitive propagation models such as Longley-Rice are limited by the accuracy of the terrain database. W. Randolph Franklin, an associate processor of electrical, computer and systems engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has been awarded $845,000 by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to find better ways to compress the massive amounts of terrain data now available from sources such as the shuttle radar terrain mapping mission.

"I will be researching and developing three different terrain representations," Franklin said.
"I will also be studying some important applications of terrain data. One application is geared toward identifying the best sites to position a group of soldiers to allow them to see as much terrain as possible." He added that there were also civilian uses for this technology, such as the placement of cell phone towers.

While this application could be useful for broadcast applications, as well as cell tower placement, removing some of the errors in existing terrain representations should help any coverage study based on terrain. The Rensselaer news release says "current methods often produce unacceptable terrain maps, giving rise to errors that are clearly visible in any commercial mapping product." It goes on to say "one common mapping software renders Niagara Falls as a gentle slope, while another has 50-foot elevation contours crossing a shoreline."

I'll be watching to see how this project progresses and whether the data it produces will be useful as a terrain data source for RF coverage studies.