We are in the midst of the emergence of a new paradigm for data collection. For our purposes, we can best define paradigm as a "model or pattern that is commonly accepted as a way of doing things". In our daily work as technicians, it pertains to the tools and methods we use to perform routine tasks that produce the required results.
A significant change in an accepted paradigm is typically accompanied by an exponential, not just incremental, increase in productivity. Improvements in productivity generate many other positive effects – reduced costs, increased profits, easier workflows, faster production of deliverables, and a general improvement in the quality of our lives as technicians.
Consider how technology has changed accepted paradigms over the last 40 years. A drawing board, pencil and vellum were the first tools of my design career. I resisted CAD until I fully experienced the exponential increase in productivity I could achieve. No more trying to carefully make changes to pencil or ink drawings. The electric eraser stayed in the drawer. Life got better.
During my years in sitework construction, our destiny as a contractor depended on others for topographic surveys, layout, grade staking, and field verification. Levels, grade rods, tapes, and total stations were the tools of the day – until the RTK GPS system became an available tool. Suddenly we were totally empowered with control over our own destiny, productivity, and profits. The benefits weren’t just incremental – they were exponential. Life got better.
Grade control system for motorgraders, bulldozers, and trackhoes continue to have a similar impact on earthmoving and infrastructure construction. Veteran operators, proud of their ability to finely control a massive piece of earthmoving iron, are hesitant to give their hard-earned experience over to an electronic system. But when they experience the results and understand the exponential increase in productivity they can achieve, they don’t want to go back. Life got better.
Mobile mapping systems are writing the new paradigm for data collection across a wide range of applications. There is no hesitation here with words like "may" or "could". The proof is already unfolding around us. Reports from customers using Topcon’s mobile mapping systems confirm it. "Fifty percent reduction in data collection costs." "Four times increase in productivity." "Ten times the quality and accuracy." "Exponential reduction in time."
There are more benefits to mobile mapping. Safety risks related to on-the-ground data collection are completely eliminated by removing personnel from traveled roadway corridors. The quality of information that can be delivered from a mobile mapping system is overwhelming – combining LiDAR and imagery to create new, unprecedented results. Collecting exponentially more x,y,z positions than we could ever obtain with a total station or GPS device. Life gets better and better.
LiDAR is quickly emerging as the technology that will continue to create new paradigms for many applications. Autonomous vehicles using laser scanners for course mapping, change detection, and obstacle avoidance have already been developed in research, experimental, and military applications. Major global companies are pushing to make these systems commercially available to the general public. Laser scanners manufacturers are pushing the envelope to produce smaller, lighter devices with longer range, denser point clouds, and higher accuracy. These new developments will continue to have an exponential impact on the productivity we can achieve.
This is an exciting time for technology as we watch this new paradigm unfold around us. Through this column, I will offer our readers an insider’s view of mobile mapping developments and the challenges that must be conquered to reach the next level.