Bentley Systems LiDAR News Interview with Robert Mankowski

LiDAR News: Robert, please tell our readers about your position and responsibilities at Bentley Systems.

Bentley Systems: I am a vice president of software development and am responsible for the strategic direction and day-to-day development operations of Bentleys civil, geospatial, geotechnical, and hydraulics and hydrology products. These products include the well-known brands InRoads, GEOPAK, and Bentley MXROAD; gINT; Bentley Descartes, Bentley Map, Bentley Geospatial Server, and Bentley Geo Web Publisher; and PondPack, StormCAD, SewerGEMS, WaterGEMS, and HAMMER.

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

Bentley Systems: Our software products for CAD and GIS applications (which we believe are not separate and distinct but more on this later), are used around the world to map, plan, design, construct, maintain, and upgrade infrastructure of all types (roads, rail, water, wastewater, stormwater, gas, electric, communications, buildings, campuses, cities, and more). Our products create, manage, and use rich information models of infrastructure assets so that owner-operators and the engineering ecosystem can benefit from better coordination during design and construction, identify problems such as infrastructure conflicts earlier in the process, lower overall costs, and have better-performing assets.

In our road and site design products, the most outstanding feature is the way our 3D models dynamically update during changes. On the surface (no pun intended) this may not sound all that innovative, but the key here is that because we are capturing the design intent during the creation of the model, when something changes we can honor the designers original intent. For example, say a sign is supposed to be ten feet to the right of an alignment and eight feet past the end of a wall. If the alignment or the wall changes location, we can then update the sign location appropriately. By capturing the designers intent, we know how to update the location of the sign.

In our mapping products, our 3D GIS capabilities are quite outstanding. I believe we are going through a paradigm shift in the way we map our world. Just like 20 or 30 years ago, when the world began to shift from paper maps to electronic maps, today organizations are moving from 2D maps to 3D maps. There are many benefits to this shift including better visualization, better analysis, better designs, and better planning. This shift is enabled by technologies such as mobile mapping systems and the capabilities of software packages such as Bentley Map that provide efficient data capture, analysis, and management of 3D data.

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

Bentley Systems: Understanding the existing field conditions is critical to the planning, design, construction, and management of infrastructure projects, and mobile mapping systems, both aerial and terrestrial, are outstanding at quickly and remotely measuring existing infrastructure. The accuracy and density of field data acquired with mobile mapping systems are generally much greater than that of the data acquired using traditional survey methods. This leads to better plans, better designs, fewer surprises during construction, and more streamlined management of infrastructure projects.

As you know, a lot of money is spent during the construction phase of a project, so efficiency is a major concern. Issues must be identified as soon as possible; management and surveying operations must not interfere with construction, and yet the data they produce must be as accurate as possible. This is where LiDAR technologies are so valuable; they allow data to be acquired quickly (limited time required in the field) and remotely (no need to go into dangerous areas), yet they yield highly accurate measurements. For example, to assess if a crane can be brought onto a construction site considering the current road and bridge conditions, a point cloud can be quickly acquiredusing, say, a truckand then can be used to simulate crane deployment and validate clearances.

LiDAR News: Bentley Systems 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?

Bentley Systems: CAD/BIM/GIS convergence has been a hot topic for a while. As I said earlier, GIS technology is moving towards 3D GIS, by defining 3D features with properties and 3D geometries, and then analyzing these features. A good example of this is Bentleys 3D City GIS initiative, which implements 3D GIS for cities, and CAD tools and technologies, which have always excelled at 3D, play a big role in efficient data capture and maintenance. On the flip side, CAD has evolved to be smarter by managing intelligent business data with geometries and graphics, and can create and manage geospatial information. Most of Bentleys engineering products follow this paradigm by creating smart georeferenced features. Take, for example, Bentleys InRoads, which is also a consumer of mobile mapping data.

Laser scanning and mobile mapping technologies support the acquisition of 3D georeferenced information that can be used to address different needs. Platform selection (CAD or GIS, to reuse your expression) is often driven by the targeted usage: asset management or detailed engineering. GIS technology is usually used for asset management and CAD for engineering, where high accuracy and precision are required. As I said earlier, were working hard to dissolve the boundary between these two worlds. For example, Bentleys civil products embed a lot of GIS capabilities, and our GIS application, Bentley Map, is based on MicroStation and benefits from its 3D abilities. Our vision has always been to have a single platform for both the GIS-like planning, and CAD-like engineering aspects of a project.

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? What are the features and functions of Bentley Systems products that facilitate the application of BIM to civil infrastructure? Bentley Systems: Bentley has been incorporating this BIM methodology in our products for some time now. We refer to this simply as information modeling. There are several challenges in implementing information modeling for civil infrastructure projects. One challenge is the breadth and depth of the information required to create a model, and the complex relationships among the civil objects. As I mentioned, weve been incorporating tools in our products to automatically capture these types of relationships so that its as easy as possible for a designer to create a rich information model that behaves as expected when changes are made.

Another challenge is that many practitioners today are used to creating drawings, but now they need to create rich information models. Using models provides many benefits to downstream processes (for example, machine guidance systems), but this requires accurate models.

We have had many tools to validate drawings against an organizations CAD standards for some time, but now tools that validate models against an organizations design standards are becoming much more important. In addition, we are incorporating the traditional 2D views of the infrastructure design into the 3D models to create what we call hypermodels. In this way, we blend the 2D world and the 3D world, making the transition for todays practitioners easier, and improving the value of both the 2D and 3D information.

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?

For a while now, point clouds have been seen mainly as an intermediate data format for creating vector features. The value of point clouds was as a reliable surveying technique able to acquire a lot of detailed information with limited time in the field.

This is still true, and there has been amazing progress by hardware providers to keep increasing this. However, point clouds are becoming important for the market in two new ways.

First, point clouds can be used as is for 3D models defining the field truth. Actually, we see a growing use of point clouds for hybrid workflows. It is almost the same paradigm of combining 2D raster and vector data that first surfaced some 15 years ago. People start using point cloud data and then combine point clouds and features inside the same 3D model. For example, a retrofit project can consist of scanning a site (for example, a substation or a factory), isolating and hiding point cloud subparts corresponding to a piece of equipment to be replaced (this can be achieved using the classification editing capabilities of Bentley Descartes), and then new features corresponding to the new equipment can be designed using vectors. The resulting hybrid 3D model, combing point clouds and vector features, can be used to support clearance analysis.

I used an example from the plant industry, but the same approach can be applied in the context of a rail transit system in which new trains require new signalization. Point clouds of the existing tunnel can be used as a 3D model. Existing signalization can be hidden (that is, tagged as a specific class and then hidden), and then new signalization can be designed.

Second, point clouds bring the field to everyones desks by allowing on-demand viewing and measurement of a detailed representation of the field. Again, a parallel with 2D raster images can be made by comparing point clouds to 2D orthoimages. Having a point cloud accessible on demand to any engineer is a very powerful opportunity.

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

Bentley Systems: First, let me take this opportunity to say thank you again to Topcon. We really appreciate this arrangement.

We strive to have the highest quality software products on the market, and getting data produced with the most recent hardware during our development and test cycles allows us to assure the quality of our products, while providing more time for us to develop high value features and benefits for our users.

Beyond development and testing, we also use the data when demonstrating the software to existing and potential users. Theres no better way to demonstrate point cloud capabilities than by seeing them used with real data, and this agreement with Topcon allows us to do that.

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

Bentley is currently working with its partner Pointools to support point clouds inside the ProjectWise project team collaboration and work-sharing platform.

As clearly illustrated by your previous questions, LiDAR technologys value is directly related to its ability to support engineering during the planning, design, construction, and management phases of a project. This means that infrastructure practitioners expect to manage LiDAR data (that is, point clouds) just as they manage their other engineering content. Too frequently we see point clouds underused, stored on USB flash drives inside the offices of a few specialists. Leveraging point clouds across a wider audience requires an efficient solution to visualize and navigate these huge datasets, as well as to manage and make them accessible.

We addressed visualization and navigation challenges in our platform technology, which you can see in MicroStation and other Bentley products today. We are currently addressing the management and accessibility challenges. Users will be able to easily find and determine the type of their point clouds, as well as efficiently access point clouds by streaming them from a server so that only the required points are downloaded at any given time. This will be provided inside the same integrated environment that they use for their other engineering content: ProjectWise.

Were talking here about point clouds, but it is important to note that frequently, and it is particularly true with mobile mapping systems, point clouds are not acquired alone; other sensors acquire visual images, thermal images, and other types of data. ProjectWise manages images with geospatial location, and it will enable unified management and access to point cloud data, raster data, and other engineering data.

I just want to make a quick comment regarding our plans for upcoming releases. We are working on new capabilities for Bentley Descartes that will help users extract more value from point clouds, with features including classification editing, advanced snapping/draping, advanced visualization or deliverable creation (batch tiling), and more. Keep an eye out for our next release of Bentley Descartes!

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

From a hardware standpoint we can predict future progress by looking in the rearview mirror. Based on this view, we anticipate an increase in scanner frequency, an improvement in positioning systems, and a reduction in the size of the hardware.

This suggests that in the future, while we will continue to acquire data with traditional mobile platforms (such as trucks and aircraft), we will also extend the concept of mobile mapping systems to other platforms. For example, research activities already use backpack systems worn by people walking inside buildings for mobile mapping. Extending the definition of mobile mapping systems is an avenue with high potential for infrastructure.

As mentioned earlier, mobile platforms also frequently involve several types of sensors (for example, digital and thermal cameras). These platforms generate richer datasets, which facilitate automatic processing. While we see point clouds gaining value as is, the holy grail of point cloud processing has for a while been the automatic extraction of shapes and features. We foresee significant progress on this helped by the combination of several different sensor types.

And last but not least, increased adoption of point clouds by end users is likely the biggest trend for the future. To date, point clouds have been used by only a small fraction of the practitioners that could benefit from their use. However, enabled by improvements in both hardware and software, we foresee a wider use of this extremely valuable data type for the future.

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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