Force Multiplier

SAN FRANCISCO — A.J. Clark knows how valuable the right intelligence tools can be. While working as an Air Force intelligence analyst from 1998 to 2002, Clark realized that the ability to link satellite imagery and other types of geospatial data with intelligence reports could make a dramatic difference in the amount of time and energy he and his staff devoted to pinpointing training camps in Afghanistan or safe houses in Iraq. “With effective tools, we could be 10 to 100 times more efficient,” Clark said.

In 2007, Clark founded his own company to develop those intelligence tools, naming it Thermopylae Science and Technology after the site in ancient Greece where, according to legend, 300 Spartan warriors succeeded in holding off a massive Persian army.

Many of Thermopylae Science and Technology’s products are designed to help government and commercial customers fuse various types of classified or confidential information with remote sensing imagery. Shortly after establishing the company, “we realized that people wanted to see imagery in some sort of 3-D environment with lots of other data overlaid on that imagery,” Clark said. “Demand was beginning to grow for this type of product.”

That demand was driven, in part, by the widespread adoption of Google Earth, the popular geographic information program that allows users to visualize information in various formats, including 3-D images shown on a virtual globe. Google Corp. of Mountain View, Calif., released the first version of Google Earth for personal computers in 2005 and a Web-based version of the product in 2008.

That Web-based version of Google Earth did not include many of the features and tools that enabled users of the desktop version to add points of interest, draw lines or highlight specific areas. In 2008, Thermopylae began developing its own software to give customers those tools. That software, known as iSpatial, quickly became one of Thermopylae’s most popular products. Customers who use Google Earth to obtain updated 3-D visualization tools featuring terrain and elevation data can use iSpatial to link the Google Earth globe with their existing databases. iSpatial also lets users add layers, including text and imagery, on top of the Google Earth globe.

Thermopylae Science and Technology LLC

Mission: To provide partners with emerging geospatial, cyber, mobile, and information technology solutions to help them achieve overall mission success.

Top Official: A.J. Clark, president and founder

Established: 2007

Location: Arlington, Va.

Personnel: 120

Initially, Thermopylae marketed iSpatial to military and intelligence agencies. One early customer, U.S. Southern Command, used iSpatial to develop “a geo-visualization and collaboration tool” for military organizations, nonprofit groups and anyone else seeking to offer disaster relief in the wake of 2010 earthquake in Haiti, said Norberto Santiago, knowledge management chief for Southern Command’s intelligence directorate. Southern Command continues to rely on that virtual planning tool, known as 3D User Defined Operating Picture, to enable various groups to update and share information on a virtual globe, Santiago said.

Commercial customers also have adopted iSpatial. TowerCo of Cary, N.C., uses it to map cell phone coverage areas and Select Energy of Houston relies on it to pinpoint the locations of its trucks and keep tabs on work under way at various sites.

Since Thermopylae was founded, company officials have sought to develop products with applications beyond military and intelligence markets. Thermopylae engineers developed tools to assist in vehicle tracking, for example, instead of focusing on software designed to compare imagery and highlight battle damage. The former product could be sold to cargo delivery companies in addition to government customers, while the market for battle damage assessment tools would be far more limited, Clark said.

Nevertheless, iSpatial enables users to view their own battle damage assessment tools through Google Earth. In February, Thermopylae released iSpatial 2.0. The latest version of the software is designed to make it easy for users to customize iSpatial to meet their own unique requirements. “We wanted to create the interface so you could easily plug that information into iSpatial for a user to visualize,” Clark said.

Increasingly, customers also are seeking access to geospatial data on mobile devices. To address that market, Thermopylae developed Ubiquity, software for Google Android and Apple mobile devices that allows businesses and their customers to create and share information. For example, Las Vegas Motor Speedway visitors can use Ubiquity to find a path from their current location to their seats or view updated schedules and race results.

Ubiquity software also is designed to deliver remote sensing imagery to mobile devices. “Because of our experience with remote sensing capabilities, we know how to handle the data format, we know how to compress data, we know how to move data around the network very effectively,” Clark said. “Ubiquity combines our knowledge of remote sensing with our knowledge of visualizing data and storing data on mobile devices.”

Thermopylae often works with customers of Google Earth Enterprise, the Google Earth version designed for business application, to create custom services that augment Google Earth, Google spokesman Tim Drinan said in an April 19 email.

Thermopylae and Google also are working on a new product designed to improve the ability of customers to visualize imagery on mobile devices. Clark declined to provide details on that project, saying additional information would be available when the product is released later this year.

He did note, however, that mobile devices present unique challenges for companies seeking to display imagery due to their compact screens, limited network access and processing capabilities. For now, it is extremely difficult to offer 3-D imagery on mobile devices, Clark said. In 18 months or 24 months, however, “we may be able to leverage new technology to offer users the same experience on mobile device that they are accustomed to on their laptops,” Clark said.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...