Beyond the Autonomous Vehicle Hype

Raise your hand if you think you will own a fully autonomous SAE Level 5 car within the next 10 years. You did not see my hand go up. Why, for two reasons. The first is there are some very difficult technical problems that are like finding a cure for cancer. You can pour as much money as you like at them and there is no guarantee they will be solved. Second, I don’t think the world is ready for this technology.

In a recent Forbes article written by Saeed Elnaj he provides a number of interesting insights beginning with an analysis of the recent Uber fatal crash. He compares where we are today with driverless cars to the early days of air travel. I don’t actually think that is a fair comparison as we already have a non-autonomous automobile option, unlike when the Wright brothers were inventing the airplane and there was no other choice if you wanted to fly, you had to take some risk. The same idea applies to the introduction of the automobile. There was no choice.

As Saeed points out in 2017 cars with drivers logged 3.22 trillion miles in the U.S. with 37,000 fatalities. When we get closer to level 4 and 5 this is going to be the major argument for why we should be willing to accept the new technology, even if it is not “perfect.”I do believe this a valid argument, but who is going to decide what is an acceptable level of fatalities? I suppose the government, or will it be the consumer?

Let’s say we somehow get the technology to support Level 5, initially under some narrowly defined usage cases. What is the transition going to look like where we have cars with drivers and without on the same highways and roads?

Saeed makes some strong arguments that in four or five years there will be a massive convergence of economic, social and demographic forces that will combine with the new technology to create significant demand for the driverless option. Smart city planners are counting on the idea that transportation is going to become a service. There is no question that today’s children under 10, let’s say, are the target market for the Level 5 autos in the mid-2020’s, once again assuming they can be built.

But what about the rest of the population? When asked today 56% of Americans said they would not ride in a driverless vehicle, let alone buy one. That is a much more powerful economic block than teenagers who will potentially never need a driver’s license.

Saeed concludes that although there are many challenges that he thinks driverless vehicles “might become a dominant mode of transportation sooner than we expect.”

You know where I stand, what do you think?

For the full article click here. 


Posted in 3D Modeling, artifical perception, Autonomous vehicles, Consumer, Government, intelligent cities, Mapping, Research, smart cities | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Memorial Day 2018

Today, here in the U.S. we are observing our most solemn holiday – Memorial Day. A day to remember all those in the military who have served and in many cases made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our country and many others from the enemies of freedom.

Memorial Day had its roots in the 1860’s after the Civil War when families of the fallen  soldiers would decorate the graves of the soldiers each year. On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month. This became known as Decoration Day, as my parents would often refer to it.

Memorial Day, as Decoration Day gradually came to be known, originally honored only those lost while fighting in the Civil War. But during World War I the United States found itself embroiled in another major conflict, and the holiday evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars.

Thank you to all who have and continue to serve our great country. It seems so small compared to the sacrifice that so many have made.

Posted in cultural heritage, Government, Historic Preservation | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Red Atlas

Ever wonder what the Soviet Union was doing about mapping during the Cold War? Well think about what they were doing in sports and by comparison you will start to get an idea of the level of sophistication and investment that they were making in a worldwide mapping effort that began with Stalin during World War II. They were way ahead of Google.

I just started reading, “The Red Atlas – How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World”, by John Davies and Alexander Kent. It’s a fascinating detective story that continues to unfold as the classified maps surface in different countries that were part of the old Soviet Union. Not only were these maps of the highest quality, they were literally works of art.

I remember thinking during the late 1990’s when Land Info, the producer of the USGS 1:24,000 DRG (digital raster graphic) topo maps began offering Russian topo maps that who would be interested in those. Now I know why. The Soviet military mapping program is likely to have produced millions of sheets at a variety of scales. The true extent of the Soviet cartographic enterprise has yet to emerge.

But, this is where the story gets even more interesting. not only did the maps contain the data that we are used to seeing on a USGS topo map, but they contained additional information that could only have been obtained through covert activities. Information such as the name of factories, the type of products they produced, the depth of rivers, their speed of flow, John bridge clearances and much more were notated directly on the maps. The origin of this data is a mystery.

And just to make it a little more interesting the maps that were available to the Russian citizens and tourists were of much poorer quality, at a much smaller scale and contained intentional errors so that they could not be relied on.

For map lovers, it’s fascinating and I have only read 20 pages. For more information click here and enjoy.

Posted in cultural heritage, Data, Government, Historic Preservation, Mapping, remote sensing, satellites, Security | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Topographic Survey Specification for Urban Projects

At 260 pages in length there is no question that a tremendous effort has gone into the development of this Topographic Survey Specification for Urban Projects (2009). It is truly an impressive document that deserves your review to see what can be done if people are interested in the “S word” – standards. Our 3D industry will never achieve the levels of productivity that are possible if we were all working with the same specifications.

From the Executive Summary:

This document contains a detailed topographic survey specification and supporting quality assurance (QA) procedures for 1:250 urban works as implemented by the Quality Bus Network (QBN) Project Office and Dublin City Council. It has been developed over a period of years by a working group including members representing the interests of the city council, private land survey firms, local government, civil engineering consultants, professional survey organisations, and survey software developers. In addition to the specification itself, the document provides a checklist of QA activities to be carried out to ensure that any given survey fully meets the specification in terms of accuracy and content.

The specification has been applied and refined over a number of large projects such that it has been shown to fully meet the demanding requirements of dense urban topographic surveys while being readily achievable by the survey contractor in a cost effective manner. Specifically the specification has been shown to deliver consistent results in terms of high quality cartographic and 3d model output to AutoCAD / MX / Microstation and SCC with well defined relative and absolute accuracies.

Click here for the full document.

Thanks to Shane MacLaughlin, Managing Director at Atlas Computers the Chair of the working group in Ireland that made this happen. This came to me through the OpenLSEF organization that is working on a common language for extracting information from point clouds. This is a perfect example of the benefits of being a member of this organization. Please consider joining this important group.

Posted in 3D Modeling, Data, Government, intelligent cities, Mapping, Mobile LiDAR, Open Source, smart cities, Standards | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

High Precision GNSS App

This almost seems to good to be true, but it appears that Trimble has come up with an app that turns your smart phone into a subscription-based software GNSS  receiver, or something like that. We are talking centimeter accuracy which I guess is all that matters. You can actually sign up for the level of accuracy desired which I am sure determines the price of the subscription.

From the Trimble Website:

“Catalyst features a lightweight antenna that plugs directly into your Android phone or tablet’s USB port. Once it’s connected to any Catalyst-ready or third party location-enabled app, you can use measure, locate, and share the things you map with the world. The little blue dot on your phone just got a whole lot smaller and more accurate.

And, since Catalyst’s revolutionary technology features a software GNSS receiver that delivers high accuracy positioning with an on-demand subscription service, you only pay for it when you need it.”

In addition Trimble Reseller CompassTools is running some type of promo entitled the “Expeditionary Program.” They are looking for ten outstanding applicants to join the program. All you have to do is fill out the form to be in the running. The details are not offered.

Click here for more information on Catalyst. Looks like a big winner.


Posted in Cloud, Data, geodetic, Geomatics, GNSS, Sensors, Surveying, Surveying Engineering | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Using Lidar to Save the Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout

Photo courtesy of Joe Shaw

The National Park Service believe that lake trout were illegally introduced into Yellowstone Lake in the 1980’s. The lake trout are predators of the cutthroat trout whose native range in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming has been shrinking. The Park Service is now spending $2 million per year to locate and remove the lake trout using boats and gill nets in an effort to save the decimated cutthroat population.

Enter Joe Shaw, professor of electrical engineering in MSU’s Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering and co-author of a May 20 article describing the findings in the Journal of Applied Optics. In 2001 Joe collaborated with NOAA to use lidar to locate ocean fish. In 2004 he used a lidar sensor to fly Yellowstone Lake. The sensor required a multi-propellor aircraft which was expensive to use.

Over the next 10 plus years Joe has been working on reducing the size of the lidar sensor to make it more cost effective for the Park Service. His sensor can be flown in a single engine Cessna. During a recent flight Joe was able to locate clusters of lake trout with his new sensor to a depth of 26 feet.

“Two big plusses of using the lidar tool are that we could fly the whole lake in a couple hours and that we could detect any fish in shallow water, not just the ones that have transmitters,” which could save time and money, Patricia Bigelow, co-author and Yellowstone fisheries biologist said.

“I’m delighted that we can do something useful for the Yellowstone ecosystem, because it’s a special place,” Shaw said.

See the complete article by Marshall Swearingen of the Montana State University News Service.

Posted in airborne LiDAR, bathymetric, Environmental | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

SnapSkan Laser Scan Tire Check Service

As my brother explained, there’s a fear factor when it comes people and tires. Taking advantage of that Nokian Tyres P.L.C. is expanding the footprint of its SnapSkan digital tire check service in Finland and Norway. This might just catch on.

As you can see in the photo the sensors are mounted in the concrete floor or in this case a parking garage. As you enter or leave the garage a laser scanner records the tread depth of your tire. It then notifies you via smart phone asking if you would like to opt in to the service. If not, your data is removed.

If you are interested then you are provided with a report about the condition of your tires, along with a promotion for a discount on a tire purchase. The service is free.

“Caring and safety are at the core of everything we do,” Nokian Tyres President and CEO Hille Korhonen said.

“SnapSkan is a unique consumer service and it sets us apart from other tire manufacturers. SnapSkan allows us to communicate to the drivers not only the condition of their tires, but also what effects their condition has on road safety in general.”

Ville Nikkola, the program manager responsible for the SnapSkan service at Nokian, said, “We have received a massive amount of positive customer feedback regarding SnapSkan. Eighty percent of the people we interviewed said the service was effortless to use and would recommend it to others. An even more important figure is that 70 percent felt that the service improves road safety.”

The 3D, laser-based scanning technology was developed by Sigmavision Ltd., an Oxford, England-based company.  They also make a handheld version.

Click here for more information.






Posted in Consumer, Inspection, Sensors | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

MAPPS is Transforming

If you have not been involved with MAPPS recently then now might just be the time to take a fresh look – things are changing for the better.

In case you are not aware of MAPPS, it is the only national association of firms in the surveying, spatial data and geographic information systems field in the United States. MAPPS member firms are engaged in surveying, photogrammetry, satellite and airborne remote sensing, aerial photography, hydrography, aerial and satellite image processing, GPS and GIS data collection and conversion services. The associate members include firms that provide products and services to the member firms, as well as other firms world-wide.

In a recent communication with Brian Raber, President he pointed out that MAPPS is in the process of becoming an association that serves the geospatial community, as well as, their membership.

Brian commented, “As the President of MAPPS, I am excited to report on the numerous MAPPS activities and accomplishments that have taken place during Q1 of 2018. I am proud of the MAPPS Board and the many members that made all these achievements a reality. I cannot express the gratitude I have to those dedicated individuals and their firms who believe in the new path charted for MAPPS. Moreover, the goal of the Board is that your firm and the profession benefits from these successes, and that we continue to celebrate more positive results in Q2.

Let’s keep the positive momentum going by seeing all of you at the Summer Conference in Charleston, SC on July 22-26.”

“The Best is Yet to Come”

Click here for more info and kudos to all involved with the ongoing transformation.


Posted in airborne LiDAR, bathymetric, Business Development, Conferences, Education, Hydrographic LiDAR, Mapping, Orgs, remote sensing, The Industry | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Chartered Institute of Civil Engineering Surveyors

I like the name of this organization. The Chartered Institute of Civil Engineering Surveyors, or ICES is based in the UK and since 1969 has built a reputation as a renowned center of excellence for the science and art of civil engineering surveying. I just had someone remind me today about the “art” part of surveying engineering. It’s not all science.

From their website:

The Chartered Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors (ICES) is an international qualifying body dedicated to the regulation, education and training of surveyors working within civil engineering. ICES is now recognised as the LEADING chartered professional body for civil engineering surveyors. We have introduced RELEVANT AND MEANINGFUL competencies for geospatial engineers and commercial managers which make a difference. ICES will SUPPORT you and your company within the civil engineering industry in developing and demonstrating your professional competence. We understand the civil engineering industry and are FLEXIBLE in our approach, ensuring you achieve your goals.

There are a number of membership levels and required documentation as well as specializations, some which would not fit into my definition of engineering surveying, such as quantity surveyors. However, parts of this organization look like they could be of interest to surveying engineers who work on civil engineering projects around the world.

Watch a very basic introductory video.


Posted in Geomatics, Government, Orgs, Surveying Engineering, The Industry | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Raising the Roof

When Turner Construction needed to carry out a revamp and extension of their Atlanta office, they took the unique opportunity to test-drive some revolutionary technology.

Traditional laser scanning technologies are great for certain applications, but for hard-to-reach, overhead or ‘feature dense’ spaces, a new type of solution was called for.

No 3D model exists of the above-ceiling conditions – and the team knew that relying on conventional methods of survey (such as tape or laser distos) would simply take too long.

Therefore, the team decided to call in BuildingPoint Southeast, their local GeoSLAM distributor. They had heard that mobile mapping might be exactly the fast and flexible solution that they needed.

The team utilized the ZEB-REVO – a handheld, laser scanner weighing in at just over 2lbs. The REVO was deployed on an extendable pole, which allowed the operator to simply ‘poke’ the scanner into the ceiling void.

The beauty of a mobile scanner is the ability to quickly and effortlessly move the scanner – meaning no time-consuming set-ups and very few occlusions (object shadows).

“The mobility of the GeoSLAM unit allowed us to eliminate almost all occlusions which saved time on the modeling because we had a complete picture instead of having to interpolate between shadows that are usually seen in terrestrial scanning,” Omar Martinez from Turner Construction said about the project.

So fast was the scan, that the whole ceiling void was surveyed in just 5 minutes – with a further 5 required for data processing. Traditional techniques would have taken an entire 8-hour working day to complete – and, would be less detailed.

To read the full story click here.


Posted in 3D Modeling, BIM, Construction, Mapping, Sensors, SLAM | Tagged , , | Leave a comment