Retailers and Realtors can watch the scenery go by both inside and outside their cars as they scope out sites for new supermarkets or shopping malls.
The advantage in this, said Aerials Express chief operating officer Bill Landis, is that a client can see whether the surrounding neighborhoods are full of homes or cotton fields — or just how close the competition is to the proposed site.
"In retail, location is everything," he said. "That’s why brokers fly clients around in helicopters to see an area."
With Mobile Aerial Solutions, the Tempe-based company’s new product, clients can see as much or more from ground level.
Landis and his father, Jerry, who founded his first aerial photography company, Landiscor, in 1958, have teamed up to merge aerial photography with global positioning system technology to provide a car-based electronic mapping system with real scenery. GPS is a satellite-based method of tracking a moving object.
With Mobile Aerial Solutions, as you drive through town and zoom in, the images are so detailed you can see speed bumps in the road before you drive over them. Zoom out and see the scenery for a couple of blocks in any direction, or check out a radius of a mile or two — the potential draw for a supermarket, for example. Or see a site’s perspective within an entire metropolitan area.
While GPS can track a motorist’s trip on a traditional map, a retailer such as Safeway or Bashas’ might like to be sure a route is filled with homes and not alfalfa fields.
When mall builder Westcor tries to sell department stores on a potential location, showing a five-mile radius packed with tens of thousands of homes could be a huge plus.
Here’s how the system works: Clients contract for GPS — the feature is standard in many luxury vehicles. Aerial Express provides a DVD full of hundreds of detailed photos of an area, plus overl ays including such things as roads, parcel boundaries and the names of anchor tenants in shopping centers, and the software to — figuratively — slip the maps under the GPS tracking grid.
Periodically, the company rephotographs a metropolitan area — Bill Landis said it takes about 800 to cover Los Angeles, for example. For an area that changes as rapidly as the Valley, new photos are taken about every year, he said.
A staff of about 30 keeps the overlay information current for about 111 metropolitan areas around the country, Jerry Landis said.
Fifteen years ago, when he sold Landiscor, it took about twice the number of employees to make individual maps for about six metro areas, he said. "Now about 95 percent of what we sell is electronic, only about 5 percent paper."
Some government agencies have systems similar to Mobile Aerial Solutions, he said. Many of them use Aerials Express photographs as the basis of their system.
But Aerials Express is the only private U.S. company that has designed such a service for commercial customers, he said.
He said the most likely clients are those who already pay $5,000 to $6,000 for Aerials Express maps. To tie the maps into a company car’s GPS will cost a client about $1,000, he said.
The product is so new that Aerials Express hasn’t decided yet how to price it for new customers, he said.
He estimates he could sell the system to about 1 million commercial users, including retailers, developers, engineers and utility companies. He even sees a market among fire or police departments that don’t have as sophisticated a system.