Real-Time, High-Resolution Terrain Information in Computing-Constrained Environments

Real-Time, High-Resolution Terrain Information in Computing-Constrained Environments


Laboratory: NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center

Technology: Real-Time, High-Resolution Terrain Information in Computing-Constrained Environments

Opportunity: This multi-application NASA technology is available for licensing by interested industry parties.

Details: Data adaptive algorithms are the critically enabling technology for automatic collision avoidance system efforts at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center. These Armstrong-developed algorithms provide an extensive and highly efficient encoding process for global-scale digital terrain maps (DTMs), along with a real-time decoding process to locally render map data. Available for licensing, these terrain-mapping algorithms are designed to be easily integrated into an aircraft's existing onboard computing environment or into an electronic flight bag (EFB) or mobile device application. In addition to its use within next-generation collision avoidance systems, the software can be adapted for use in a wide variety of applications, including aerospace satellites, automobiles, scientific research, marine charting systems, and medical devices.

NASA Armstrong collaborated with the U.S. Air Force to develop algorithms that interpret highly encoded large area terrain maps with geographically user-defined error tolerances. A key feature of the software is its ability to locally decode and render DTMs in real time for a high-performance airplane that may need automatic course correction due to unexpected and dynamic events. Armstrong researchers are integrating the algorithms into a Global Elevation Data Adaptive Compression System (GEDACS) software package, which will enable customized maps from a variety of data sources.


  • Efficient: Provides very high encoding process ratios (5,000:1 in some configurations) and rapid, high-performance down-sampling in ultrafast, real-time, constrained-computing environments
  • Powerful: Integrates more than 250 billion separate pieces of terrain information into a single terrain map
  • Improved Imaging: Features images that are 1,000 times more detailed with 2 to 3 times more fidelity compared to current aircraft mapping systems
  • Highly configurable: Merges any number of DTM products to create the best available global DTM at any desired resolution, with easily defined geo-referenced variable fidelity that requires a minimum file size
  • Accurate: Features spatially controlled allowable-error induction (vertical and horizontal) in several independent regions
  • Portable: Works on mobile devices or EFB applications, making it usable for the general aviation community
  • Affordable and accessible: Enables implementation on existing aircraft systems, offering industry standard C, C++ code base and map formats

Applications: This technology can be applied to myriad research fields such as military and civil aeronautics, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) navigation, GPS, marine charting systems, medical software, gaming systems, earth science data collection, and others.

Contact: For more information on how to license this technology, contact Armstrong Flight Research Center’s technology transfer office at

To view the original technology listing on NASA’s technology transfer website, visit

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