Autodesk LiDAR News Interview with Justin Lokitz

LiDAR News: Justin, please tell our readers about your position and responsibilities at Autodesk.

Autodesk: I am Senior Product Manager in charge of some of the Infrastructure Planning and Management products at Autodesk, including AutoCAD Map 3D, AutoCAD Map 3D Enterprise and Autodesk Infrastructure Map Server. I manage the lifecycles of those products, including what new features go into them and where theyll go next.

LiDAR News: Please give us a brief thumbnail description of your current CAD and GIS products, including the most outstanding features.

Autodesk: Within the Infrastructure Product Line we essentially have two main products that I would call CAD and GIS products. These include:

AutoCAD Map 3D: this is a model-based infrastructure planning and management application that provides broad access to CAD and GIS data. With intelligent industry data models and tools, you can apply regional and discipline-specific standards. These technologies help you improve data quality, support productivity, and better manage infrastructure assets. While working in a single, familiar AutoCAD-based environment, you can: Directly access and edit more information; Integrate and analyze asset information; and Communicate more effectively.

AutoCAD Civil 3D: this is a Building Information Modeling (BIM) solution for civil engineering design and documentation. Civil 3D is designed for civil engineers, drafters, designers, and technicians working on transportation design, land development, and water projects. Stay coordinated and explore design options, analyze project performance, and deliver consistent, higher-quality documentationall within a familiar AutoCAD software environment.

Considering that the design lifecycle for infrastructure and buildings often requires both engineering and GIS data for planning, design, construction and management there are many other products at Autodesk which also fit the bill of being able to deal with CAD and GIS data. Some of these include Autodesk Navisworks, Autodesk 3ds Max Design, and AutoCAD

It is also important to note that with our recent launch of the new Infrastructure Design Suite, which includesAutoCAD Map 3D, AutoCAD Civil 3D, Autodesk Navisworks, Autodesk 3ds Max Design, and AutoCAD our aim is to address not only the infrastructure lifecycle, but also the interdependency between user workflows and the need to share information (CAD, GIS or otherwise) throughout the workflow and between products.

LiDAR News: From your perspective as a software company, how do mobile mapping systems fit into the planning, design, construction, and management phase of projects?

Autodesk: Mobile mapping systems, like small tripod mounted laser scanners and integrated laser scanning systems affixed to vehicles, are absolutely revolutionizing the way organizations collect mapping and survey data. Only a few years ago, a small firm or infrastructure organization would have to send out a full crew of surveyors and surveying technicians to collect data for every phase in a project; this is obviously time consuming and expensive. Often, the backend of projects would suffer most as a lot of money would be spent collecting only project related data, leaving other existing asset data to sit uncollected for another time and/or another budget. This means that affectively for every asset and every project new surveys would have to be done independent of other surveys.

The result: many organizations knew very little about the location and condition of the assets in the field and they were paying way too much to collect new data for every project. Modern mobile mapping systems have not only made it efficient to collect everything in one shot very very quickly but these systems are also very affordable today; and theyll only become more ubiquitous and affordable over time. Whats more, mobile mapping systems provide great accuracy and can collect a variety of data at the same time even while driving 65 miles/hour down the highway.

So, whether a planner needs to understand existing conditions using 3D photographic data, or an engineer needs accurate surface models, or an asset manager needs to know where his or her assets are, mobile mapping systems are becoming the go-to standard for collecting data. In fact, here, in North America, both the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) have issued recommendations (to fulfill regulatory standards) specifying LiDAR as a cost effective and accurate way to capture information about transmission lines and vegetation.

LiDAR News: Autodesk products feature a seamless data interface between CAD and GIS applications. Mobile mapping systems are being used to collect data for both application platforms. Can you give us your thoughts on this trend, i.e. the convergence of CAD and GIS?

Autodesk: If you think about where CAD and GIS came from, they essentially are part of a big data loop. Whereas CAD is the de facto standard for designing assets, alignments, buildings, etc. GIS typically provides a means by which organizations manage and analyze as-built data and existing conditions that were originally designed using CAD. In this way CAD often is the producer of data while GIS is the manager and viewer of this data.

The problem with this notion is that while CAD feeds GIS with new as-built data and GIS feeds CAD with existing conditions data, the data formats have almost always been very different (i.e. they dont play nicely with each other). Additionally, the two have for a very long time required different skillsets — primarily as a function of a general lack of CAD capabilities in GIS and likewise GIS capabilities in CAD. Today the lines are definitely blurred. As it turns out the people who design assets and create data want to be able to utilize GIS data as a reference for their designs. The same can be said for people who manage GIS data: they require the ability to use design tools built for accuracy and precision to update the data they are managing.

Here, at Autodesk, we have come a long way in being able to deliver standard applications, like AutoCAD Map 3D and AutoCAD Civil 3D, that enable users that go by many titles to work with both CAD and GIS data from within the same environment. Moreover, via an open source project that we created several years ago, called Feature Data Objects (FDO), which provides the foundation for utilizing GIS data in a huge variety of formats from within AutoCAD Map 3D and AutoCAD Civil 3D, users can now visualize and edit GIS data without having to transform it into a CAD format from its native GIS format. And, because the entire FDO framework is open source, and the adoption rate has been great a really interesting thing has happened: third party software companies, like Safe Software, and even independent developers have developed a myriad of FDO data providers on their own.

LiDAR News: BIM is gaining wide acceptance in building design, construction, and management. What challenges do you see in implementing BIM methodology for civil infrastructure projects?

Autodesk: I believe the main challenges when it comes to BIM for Infrastructure vs. BIM for Buildings often comes down to scale and location. While the high-level process to plan, conceptualize, design, construct and manage a building is similar to that of infrastructure, when it comes to infrastructure like roads, highways, rail lines, utilities, oil/gas pipelines as well as telecom networks, the sheer size and complexity of these projects becomes the challenge. That means that all of the software used throughout the BIM for Infrastructure lifecycle must also be able to deal with scale.

Moreover, while buildings can often be designed based on the site plans (which include geospatial location), when dealing with infrastructure, the BIM process must always account for exact positions (on Earth) for every piece of the infrastructure and the assets as part of that infrastructure. And, of course, given the aforementioned scale challenge, when planning for, designing and constructing infrastructure, the process must always be taken into account how that infrastructure is going to affect or be affected by other infrastructure and existing conditions. This is where the real benefits of integrating CAD and GIS come from and why it is paramount that the tools being used as part of the BIM for Infrastructure lifecycle are able to adeptly handle all types of CAD and GIS data.

LiDAR News: What are the features and functions of Autodesk products that facilitate the application of BIM to civil infrastructure?

Autodesk: While there are lots of features in Autodesk products that facilitate BIM for Infrastructure, some of the most important are the following:

FDO: provides the foundation for utilizing GIS data in a huge variety of formats natively from within AutoCAD Map 3D and AutoCAD Civil 3D.

Reality Capture: reflecting the gist of this article, these tools enable our products to utilize survey, point clouds and other data captured in the field. This data helps to inform every step of the BIM for Infrastructure process, from planning through design, construction and management. Reality capture features and functionality can be found in AutoCAD, and AutoCAD vertical products, such as AutoCAD Map 3D, AutoCAD Civil 3D, as well Autodesk Navisworks, and many other Autodesk applications.

Coordinate Systems: the coordinate system engine and library in our Infrastructure Products, like AutoCAD Map 3D and AutoCAD Civil 3D, enables users to apply any real-world coordinate system to their project data such that one can plans, design, visualize and analyze infrastructure and existing condition data in the context of the real world. We also have tools on top of our coordinate system engine and library that enable users to customize or create their own coordinate systems.

BIM for Infrastructure models: 3D designs that contain not only the line work but also the intelligence and metadata specific to infrastructure. Hence, a road model is not just a drawing with a layer called road, its a model contains all of the intelligence, rules and metadata that define how a road would interact within given different characteristics, materials and environmental properties.

Model-based design tools: these are intelligent tools capable of modeling infrastructure in 3D utilizing all of the aforementioned BIM for Infrastructure models intelligence and metadata. For instance an engineer or designer can create 3D models of transportation, land, or water features using AutoCAD Civil 3D objects and data, including alignments, profiles, surfaces and intelligent typical sections while more easily managing the editing of corridors using visual interaction.

Analysis Tools: we have a huge variety of analysis tools in our products that enable users to understand how systems perform or where best to start designing infrastructure. Some of these analysis tools include geospatial tools that enable users to perform spatial queries, create thematic maps, and conduct buffer, tracing, and overlay analysis; Visual analysis tools, such as line-of-sight tools, including point-to-point and sight distance along a corridor, enabling users to visually inspect infrastructure models; and industry-specific analysis tools, like Autodesk Storm and Sanitary Analysis software, that enables users to perform detailed system analysis and create multiple scenarios for storm and waste water systems.

Visualization and Communication tools: it is important that plans and design intent is communicated clearly to representative stakeholders. As such Autodesk Infrastructure products include tools to publish rich cartographic maps, detailed production plans, including fully annotated section sheets, profiles, and grading designs as well as realistic 3D scenes.

LiDAR News: Historically, end-users collected discrete data points and specific feature information for projects. How are your customers reacting to working with point clouds instead of discrete points?

Autodesk: As mentioned earlier, point clouds have made it very efficient and cost effective to collect a whole lot of data without having to send crews into the field to collect only a few points. In some cases we even have regulatory agencies recommending the use of point clouds to collect data. In other words customers are not only interested in point clouds, point clouds are becoming the de facto standard for data collection in many cases. So, I would say that being able to utilize point clouds from within our products is an absolute requirement and no longer just a cool, new feature.

LiDAR News: Topcon provides Autodesk with mobile mapping data under a licensing agreement. How is this data being used and what it its value to you as a software company?

Autodesk: Topcon mobile mapping devices capture very dense points clouds that come with lots of other integrated data, like imagery. We have used these point clouds internally to test product capabilities. We have also used much of this very rich data within marketing materials found on our website and in other marketing assets.

LiDAR News: What new LiDAR management tools is Autodesk planning for the next software release?

Autodesk: Very cool ones. Well leave it at that.

LiDAR News: What is your vision for the future of mobile mapping systems?

Autodesk: I think the future of mobile mapping systems looks pretty exciting. For one I believe accurate 3D data capture (i.e. reality capture) is going to become much more accessible and a lot more affordable in the next few years. In fact, we have developed a piece of technology available as an Autodesk Labs project, called PhotoFly, that turns accurate reality capture into something anyone can do using a standard point and shoot digital camera (

I also believe that as mobile mapping systems and reality capture become more ubiquitous, well also need better ways to store, manage and analyze the vast amounts of point cloud and other data being generated. In order to do this – and provide meaningful results quickly from all of this data – companies, like Autodesk, will likely utilize The Cloud as means to scale from resource limited desktop, laptop and tablet hardware to virtually unlimited processing and storage arrays.

Finally, over time I also think we will see some incredibly efficient and accurate ways to not just capture data, but to better understand it and apply it automatically to models thereby helping to complete the BIM process.

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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