Mission Loc@l: What are you doing? I mean, besides standing out on the sidewalk and smoking a cigarette?
Luke: We’re kind of like Google Street View, but for surveyors. We get hired by cities, municipalities, counties. We got hired to map out the Mission, because the city’s doing some work out here and wants to know where all of its light poles are.
Our headquarters are in Berkeley but we’ve got cars in France, South America, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Korea.
A lot of these places don’t actually know what is out and on their streets. But once something is mapped by us, you can click on the top and the bottom of a building in our interface, and it will tell you its height within a centimeter. And once the data is put together, the buildings can be mapped out in 3-D.
ML: How does that work? It seems you would need to be a consistent distance away from a building, and that’s impossible when you’re driving.
Luke: I’m not sure. The van knows how tall it is. That box up there equalizes for pitch and yaw. I think the rest involves GPS.
ML: Do you go to these places?
Luke: We’ll go out there to do a test mapping. Then we either lease or sell the rigs, and they put them on their own cars. But the data goes into our interface and database, and then they can either buy or lease the data.
ML: Are some streets harder to photograph than others?
Luke: If there’s a median or an obstructed view I have to go down the street twice. And if there’s a dark alley or a street with a lot of trees, sometimes I need to do that over. I can change the aperture and exposure settings on my laptop.
[Earthmine Van: How could she know that the dancing bay pony meant more to him than life….]
ML: What is that?
Luke: Oh, that’s Willie Nelson. “Red Headed Stranger.”
ML: Seems like a perfect day to drive around.
Luke: If you like driving. Which I don’t, really. But it is a perfect day. If it’s raining or super dark, I can’t go out.
ML: Does that mean you don’t get paid?
Luke: I’m a contract employee, so not necessarily. But it’s a small company. There are only 15 of us so far. So I’ll go into the office and there’s usually something for me to do. Right now I’m learning post-processing.
ML: Well, I guess only one question remains. Where do guys that drive camera trucks come from? What were you doing before this?
Luke: I was working at a political consulting firm, but they ran out of work once the November elections were over. Which is fine. I was working on transportation improvement measures for four counties, and I got kind of burnt out.
ML: So did you know anything about photography before you got hired? I mean, if you’re changing apertures on your laptop….
Luke: Honestly? I’m not even sure what an aperture is.