Monday, August 8, 2016

Answer: How many center-pivot irrigation systems do you see?

How DO you count so many center-pivot systems?

We started last week's Challenge with two satellite images.  The first is from a large center-pivot farm at 29.9653127, 38.3618227 in the northern part of Saudi Arabia.   

Center pivot fields in Saudi Arabia at 29.9653127, 38.3618227 (P/C Google Earth)

And another image from the middle of the US that also has a lot of center-pivot systems: 

Center pivot fields in the US at 37.4359878,-101.6097197 (P/C Google Earth)

(Remember that you can click on those images to get the full-resolution image, for close-up viewing or downloading.)    

Our Challenges for this week are:  

1.  (Easy) What's the most obvious difference between the US and the Saudi center-pivot irrigation systems?  (There are a lot of them.  Can you list one or two? How did you figure it out?)   

There are LOTS of differences, but let's use Google Earth to do some quick measures.  Just how big are these things? 

Notice that almost all of the center-pivot systems in Saudi Arabia are almost exactly the same size.  What IS that size?  

By jumping to that location in Google Earth and using the measurement tool, we see that they're exactly 1 kilometer across.   

Interestingly, in the US, the circles come in two sizes, large and small.  Want to guess what their diameters are? 

The smaller one is half the diameter of the larger one, which is why you often see things like this: 

We can go on in this vein, but before we tackle the harder problem, let's look at where both of these center-pivot fields are located:  

Both are in fairly flat (easier to build the irrigation systems) and dry (so they really need irrigation) locations.  Both happen to be near borders with other states (or countries), and both are near cities and decent transportation systems. 

(And, as noted by our regular SRS readers, both places rely on aquifers that are not being replaced; hence both locations are in danger of creating their own localized droughts.)  

2.  (Hard)  How many center-pivot irrigation fields can you count in both of the images shown here?  Both images were taken from an altitude of 40 miles--but which location has more of the circular-disk-shaped fields?  (You should count but little and big fields.)  
I pondered this Challenge for a while before realizing that counting by hand is one solution. And you could do that.  But I was thinking about what might be a more general solution... suppose we wanted to count all of the center-pivot irrigation systems in all of Kansas or all of Saudi Arabia?  Counting by hand would be a bit tedious and error prone.  

What would Dan do?  I'd search for a tool to help out.  

I did the obvious searches for tools that would search for circles in images, until finally I did this search: 

     [ tools detecting circles in image ]  

This was what I needed...  Here's what I found: 

I started reading the first link here about how to detect circles in images by using the Matlab system.  
Background:  Matlab is a system that lets you do math, graphics, image analysis, and programming all in one package.  It's a product of Mathworks and can be incredibly handy when you have a task that requires you doing some kinds of analysis.  I have no affiliation with them--this just happened to be the tool that I found.

As luck would have it, Matlab has a fantastic "try it out for 30 days" evaluation mode. (THANKS, Mathworks! This is awesome!)  I definitely wanted to test it out, so I downloaded the package onto my Mac laptop and started following the directions in the article. 

The good news is that it works exactly as advertised.  (This isn't always true for articles and systems you read about on the web. It's to their credit that the stuff actually works as advertised.)  

Based on the article, I was able to copy their code and adapt it to our purposes.  

This is what Matlab looks like in operation.  This is just after I'd run my code (in the center window) and it's telling me the number of circles it found in the image.  

Here's the way it works:  You write a few lines of code (see below), and run it over an image, in our case, the pictures of the Saudi and the US irrigation locations.  The code looks at the image and tries to find as many circles in the image as possible.  

Here's the code I used (adapted from the article above): 

% read in center-pivot image 
US-image = imread('CPI-US.jpg');
% make the image into a "figure" so we can compute on it 
% show images as a window 
% find small circles with sensitivity = 0.96
[centers, radii] = imfindcircles(US-image,[6 9],
 'ObjectPolarity','dark', 'Sensitivity', 0.96) 
% show the circles on the window
h = viscircles(centers,radii); 
% how many circles did this code find? 

 What this code does is: 

1. read in the image file

2. makes the image visible on my display

3. runs the "imfindcircles" function over the image, looking for circles that are between
         6 and 9 pixels wide with a sensitivity factor of 0.96

4. it outputs the center locations AND radii of the circles

5.  it draws the circles on the (visible) image

6.  the length of the radii is the number of circles it found in the image 

The only work I really needed to do was to figure out the size of the circles (in pixels) and then play around with the sensitivity parameter until it found all of the circles that I saw in the image, and didn't hallucinate anything.  

Basically, the 'Sensitivity' value tells the program how much to amplify the difference in the colors in the image.  If the difference between adjacent pixels is small, it will make that more apparent in the image.  It's a bit like turning up the volume on the ability of the program to make distinctions.  

Here are my notes as I was playing with the system.  The number (0.99, etc) is the Sensitivity parameter, and the integer next it is the number of circles it found.  

  0.99 = 3459 (way too many) 
  0.95 = 172 (missing a lot) 
  0.97 = 1029 (too many, missing faint ones; missing large circles) 
  0.96 = 456 (missing some, but pretty close) 

To show you what I mean, here's the circle finder set at 0.99:  

And here it is set at 0.90 (which is way too low--it's missing a lot of circles): 

But at 0.96 it finds most of the small circles (it finds 456, while missing a few), but it also misses ALL of the larger circles.  

So I re-ran it with the "circle size" parameter set to find circles between 10 and 20: 

     [centers, radii] = imfindcircles(c2,[10 20],'ObjectPolarity','dark', 'Sensitivity', 0.92)

Again, I had to play around with the Sensitivity parameter, and found that 0.92 is about right (for larger circles).  If you add the small circles with the large circles, you see 499 circles in the US image.  It looks like this: 

If you look at this image carefully, you'll see it's undercounting by just a bit.  (It misses around 20 small circles and 5 large ones.)  And if you look at the misses, it's often because the circle is barely visible.  Is it a center-pivot irrigation system that is out-of-operation?  

As with many of the Challenges, we have to define our question carefully--and implicitly, what our answer will be as well.  

In this case, we've used a program to find around 500 center-pivot irrigation systems.  With a bit more tuning (and futzing around with the image contrast) we could probably find a few more--but this was about 30 minutes of work on my part, and the accuracy is pretty good.  

This becomes ever more evident when you look at the center-pivot farms in Saudi Arabia.  

Once more I had to tune the Sensitivity parameter for this image (setting it to 0.99) and found the following:  

We're missing a few (especially at the bottom--fields that are out of commission?), and we seem to be hallucinating a few on the left.  Here, the overcount is close to the undercount, so we'll accept the number of circles found as being close to the actual number--in this case, the program found 1699 circles.  

Search Lessons

1.  Use the tools at hand to get a quick overview.  In our case, using Google Earth's ruler tool let us find that the center-pivot systems in Saudi Arabia are metric.  That seems obvious in retrospect, but it leaps out at you when you compare it with US fields.  

.... but don't stop with the simple tools... 

2. Learn what tools are available to you... even more sophisticated ones.  In this week, we see that some programming is incredibly handy to know.  In truth, you didn't need to know much (other than copy-and-paste), but just have an inclination to tinker with the code to figure out what would work.  

In general, learning to code is a great thing to do, if only because you'll now know how to create your own tools (or at least, you'll know how to adapt the tools that are already out there for you).  

In this case I happened to know that "circle finders" were a thing--a tool I could probably use to help solve this problem.  (Did you know this?)  

 One obvious one in this category might be something to convert scanned text (e.g., text captured in a picture) into searchable text.  You can imagine when such a thing would be handy.  

What other kinds of tools are out there like this? 

The more you know, the more robust your SearchResearch skills.  

Search on! 


  1. Hello Dr. Russell. Very interesting and another surprise and learning.

    Never thought searching with [ tools detecting circles in image ] I thought about the tool but in a more specific way, related with irrigation. I'll try the process to solve it and read links provided by Remmij

    Also read something SRS related to this one Answer: Discovering unusual perspectives

    ¿Por qué los girasoles siguen al Sol y de un momento a otro dejan de hacerlo?

  2. a Tuesday sequence… conformational bias/conspiracy-truther/essence of search burrito —
    an infinite honey of an example (the last link is the payoff… well worth a look/read - the quick read is 1,2& last.)
    xkcd – Pyramid Honey, dipping in

    1717 explained

    propolis - wotd

    the dubious Smithy

    [center pivot truther] Critical-Theory

    Google Earth Blog

    but led to this: (tried the coordinates & ended up in Tibet, then Georgia…)
    This image was captured from Google Earth:

    seemed to come from here:
    Mitchell County, GA

    Mitchell County

    not like the mid-west
    near Americus

    Earth, TX 34.232940, -102.409839

    just east of Earth… around Olton, Texas

    ag aerials

    the grid

    also has the Earl piece…along with grid info bits

    pinterest related images

    Window Seat, James W. Earl, UofOregon, English Prof.
    kinda like search…
    "Norman MacLean says in A River Runs Through It, “All there is to thinking, is seeing something noticeable, which makes you see something you weren’t noticing, which makes you see something that isn’t even visible.” Not a bad description of the learning curve I’ve charted here, and not a bad definition of the sublime, either—a reserved, Midwestern definition of it, but not bad. MacLean learned it fly-fishing. I’ve been learning in my window seat."
    …I've been searching/learning/trying to notice/see in Dan's blog.

  3. I Like to add one more important thing here, The Center Pivot Irrigation Systems market is expected to be around 2870 Million by 2025 at a CAGR of 15% from 2019 to 2025.