Why Mobile Mapping is Disruptive Technology

"Disruptive technology" is a term used freely today in a world where innovation is cherished as the ultimate goal in product development. It refers to events that occur when the innovative product or technology works its way into the end-user mainstream, making significant changes to established markets and practices.

I believe that mobile mapping systems can definitely be classified as disruptive technology. To understand why, consider this definition: "A disruptive technology is one that, when introduced, either radically transforms markets, creates wholly new markets, or destroys existing markets for other technologies" (http://moneyterms.co.uk/disruptive-technology/).

This definition is phrased as a "one or the other" equation. After giving this subject more thought, my opinion is that mobile mapping fits all three categories to some degree. Let’s analyze the criteria one by one.

Radically transforms markets

The market here is really about data, rapidly evolving from 2D to 3D. Major software companies are implementing more tools for managing, viewing, and utilizing 3D data as well as engaging in massive advertising and marketing campaigns.

Three-dimensional mobile mapping data may not be the root cause of the transition from 2D to 3D, but it is most certainly fueling the fire. Topcon’s mobile mapping systems have created a new class of data by merging two existing technologies – LiDAR and imagery. This dynamic data product never existed before – massive colorized point clouds fused to 360 images.

In the past, consumers in the data market have been satisfied with multiple single points, whether 2D or 3D, to represent feature objects. Mobile mapping is making a radical transformation, not just in the transition from multiple single points to millions of points collected by LiDAR devices. The new data concept is a totally immersive 3D view of objects and surroundings.

Creates wholly new markets

Markets are defined by the needs of customers and the companies that supply products and services to them. Since mobile mapping is an emerging technology, it is yet to be seen whether a whole new market will develop. But for certain types of businesses, mobile mapping is creating access to new markets that were previously unexplored.

Successful GIS service providers generally excel at obtaining data from various sources and packaging it in a variety of GIS formats to meet the specific needs of clients. The challenge has always been how to get local data with the level of feature detail required in order to create a fully-functional database. Mobile mapping systems facilitate these operations by reducing data collection and processing from months to days. Essentially, they accelerate the entire process.

Mobile mapping LiDAR enables GIS service providers to access entirely new markets. Take the Chilean-base company XYGO as an example. Going under its former name Dmapas, this company grew successfully over a span of 15 years to become the leading provider of business solutions based on digital map data, GIS solutions, and exact street address databases for Chile, Argentina, and Peru. The business goal was to provide their clients with the most complete and dynamic data, spatially organized to help them on their business management.

A new market opportunity for Dmapas was opened when an existing customer required street cross sections for operations planning. This type of deliverable would typically be provided by a civil / survey firm. The purchase of a Topcon IP-S2 mobile mapping system enabled Dmapas to gain access to this new market and initiated the name change to XYGO. Read the story of XYGO’s project at: http://www.topconpositioning.com/news-events/news/press-article/dmapas-launches-topcons-ip-s2-south-america.

Civil / survey firms are another example. To survive in highly competitive environments and challenging economic conditions, many of these firms are exploring new markets for their services. Since mobile mapping data can be applied to a wide range of applications, it opens the door to many new opportunities.

RSS (Rapid Survey Solutions) is based in Australia. The work history of the company’s principal officers was primarily in construction surveying and management. When RSS purchased their IP-S2 system, they immediately put it to work for traditional civil / survey tasks such as as-built drawings of pipeline right-of-ways, and route surveys for pre-planning infrastructure expansions.

As RSS continued to explore the capabilities of the IP-S2, they began to see new opportunities for their mobile mapping services. They are exploring new markets such as accident investigation and 3D modeling of recreational facilities. A complete case study about RSS can be downloaded at http://www.topconpositioning.com/sites/default/files/files/RSS_Case_Study.pdf.

Destroys existing markets for other technologies

It is very obvious that mobile mapping fits this criterion for consideration as disruptive technology. Handheld GNSS devices have been used for years as the standard tool for acquiring data to fill GIS databases. The many advantages of collecting the same (and more) data with a mobile mapping system are becoming widely known. These advantages are so great that mobile mapping will eventually eclipse the GNSS handheld device.

When will mobile mapping shut down the handheld market for data collection? My educated guess is that within the foreseeable future, these devices will mostly reside on storeroom shelves. They may be taken out into the field to capture a few discrete points and information while the mobile mapping vehicle is getting an oil change. Occasional dust removal will keep them from looking like relics of an earlier day and time.

So, do mobile mapping systems meet the criteria for disruptive technology? My opinion is yes – in a VERY disruptive way.

About the Author

Richard Rybka

Richard Rybka consults with Topcon Positioning Systems as an Applications Journalist. He retired from full-time employment at Topcon in January 2012. During his years with the company, he worked as a product application specialist for mobile mapping systems and GPS devices. Richard also wrote numerous application stories that were published in trade journals and was a regular contributor to LiDAR News. He lives in rural Alabama.
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