Autodesk and Bentley Systems Talk About Mobile LiDAR

A 441Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE

Software is the key to a complete solution for the end-user– there is no question about it. Hardware manufacturers continue to build advanced mobile mapping systems–like Topcon’s new HD Mapper system that collects 1.3 million LiDAR points per second. But when it comes down to the applications, software is essential to transforming massive datasets into bottom-line deliverables for the customer.

Autodesk and Bentley Systems are two of the leading software providers to the AEC, GIS, and BIM communities across the globe. Key representatives from these companies agreed to share information about currently available products and their views on several other poignant issues pertaining to LiDAR. Their comments on mobile mapping, the challenges of BIM for infrastructure, and visions for the future are informative and stimulating. They are well worth reading.

Managing LiDAR data has presented many new challenges to the software industry. A few short years ago, handling more than a few hundred discrete data points in native CAD and GIS programs was difficult, if not impossible. The concept of 3D BIM modeling was not yet conceived.

Data interoperability issues were rampant among customers operating on the large scale, enterprise level. I remember working with one customer who faced the challenge of creating a common database and software platform for all phases of municipal operation–tax assessment, property parcel information, asset management, utilities, engineering, and parks and recreation. The problem was that all readily available collected data (and acquisition of which was already paid for) existed in three different software environments. Merging the divergent data into an interoperable platform took a considerable amount of time and effort.

We can no longer afford these types of inefficiencies that arise from collecting discrete data specific to one software platform for one specific use. Economical collection and use of data throughout the life cycle of a project or across an enterprise is a critical consideration in managing infrastructure in a time of challenging financial conditions.

Today we have mobile mapping systems that include LiDAR and imaging sensors. These advanced systems greatly improve the economics of data collection by acquiring all the data we could possibly need at one time. 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. We have moved beyond the concept of a discrete data point with feature-specific information to the ability to visualize that point in relation to the adjacent environment and context.

Today we are also fortunate that Autodesk and Bentley Systems have overcome data interoperability issues, created homogenous workflows between CAD and GIS, and designed tools to make BIM usable for any type of construction project. These major software companies now include LiDAR management tools as an integral part of their native application. Using these tools with the millions of points collected by mobile LiDAR, we now have access to visually dynamic 3D modeling for planning, design, construction, and facilities management.

From the interviews, its clear that the paradigm shift from discrete point data collection to all-inclusive mobile mapping collection has reached the people at the top who design and create our leading software. We questioned our interview respondents about this ongoing transition and received very perceptive responses.

Mr. Justin Lokitz, Senior Product Manager–Infrastructure Planning and Management Products, replied for Autodesk. "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", he commented. "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."

Lokitz senses the apex of the paradigm shift from his perspective as a software developer: "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", he continued. " 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. "

Mr. Robert Mankowski, Vice President of Software Development, responded for Bentley Systems. "For a while now, point clouds have been seen mainly as an intermediate data format for creating vector features", he said. "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."

Mankowski mentions two new ways in which point clouds are becoming important for the market. " 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. Second, point clouds bring the field to everyone’s 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 featured several recent blogs and articles about embracing the BIM concept for civil infrastructure projects. Theoretically, this is a very sound idea. In reality, most civil designers are stuck in a 2D world and 3D modeling is not widely deployed. Bentley’s Mankowski sees two areas that are impeding widespread implementation: " One challenge, is the breadth and depth of the information required to create a model, and the complex relationships between the civil objects. 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."

Autodesk’s Lokitz offered another perspective on the BIM for Civil approach: "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. "

In the Bentley Systems and Autodesk interviews, you will learn the features and benefits of their respective products that enable and facilitate BIM for civil infrastructure. So today we have software that can efficiently manage these workflows. The real challenge is getting planners, designers, construction managers, and owners to adopt and implement the process.

The short, selected excerpts cited above are just a sample of the stimulating information that can be learned from the full-length interviews. The complete versions can be accessed on the LiDAR News website (www. by following these links:

Interview with Autodesk
Interview with Bentley Systems

I hope our subscribers will take time to read these. The knowledge gained is well worth the effort.

Richard Rybka, Mobile Mapping Specialist for Topcon Positioning Systems, is a contributing columnist for LiDAR News Online. His articles focus on mobile mapping technology, applications and issues of current interest.

A 441Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE