From The Editor: Remember Gutenberg?

A 395Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE

Welcome to the first edition of the LiDAR Magazine for 2012. Hopefully everyone had a chance to "unplug" and enjoy some quality time with your family over the holidays. As you may have already noticed we have BIG news for the New Year: LiDAR Magazine is now in print and we will be distributing the magazine for the first time at ILMF 2012. This is the result of the tremendous support from both our advertisers and readers–thank you. Rest assured we will continue working to improve our offerings.

Before we preview the articles in this issue I wanted to take a quick look back at some of the top 3D laser scanning/LiDAR stories of 2011 and take note of what I think are a few important trends to keep an eye on. There are some who would argue that the most important news for 2011 came from FARO with the release of their Focus 3D. The announcement of this compact and lightweight scanner sent shock waves through the industry as the price point dropped from 6 figures to less than $40k for the Focus 3D. As further confirmation of the far reaching impact of this product Popular Science honored it with a "Best of What’s New" award for 2011.

Next on my recap list for 2011 is the exploding interest in mobile LiDAR. As the year went on it seemed that each conference promoter tried to outdo the other by lining up more LiDAR-equipped vehicles at their venues than the previous. Even the professional organizations got into the act trying to claim mobile LiDAR as their turf for establishing best practices and standards.

While on this topic one of the most contentious debates to hit the industry this year involved the ASPRS LAS committee and their vetting of LAS 1.4. A group of open source proponents got wind of the fact that the new version of the standard was not going to be compatible with previous versions and as they say, "all hell broke loose." In the end, calmer voices prevailed and compatibility with previous versions was restored in the final version.

With much less fanfare, the ASTM E57 data exchange format was released after 6 long years of work by the Data Interoperability subcommittee that I chair. I am very pleased to report that the E57 data exchange format is now being supported in shipping software by many of the leading hardware and software vendors (click here for a list). The rest is now up to YOU! We need end users of the data to specify the use of the E57 standard as the preferred data deliverable.

Within the past month a transportation group at UC Davis published two reports on mobile LiDAR that are certain to become benchmarks in the industry. In addition, an Oregon State University – lead team, of which I am a member, received a $250,000 Transportation Research Board grant involving the use of Mobile LiDAR in transportation applications. And the California Department of Transportation, always a leader in the field, published a set of survey specifications covering both static and mobile LiDAR this year.

The "other" mobile LiDAR front that is also seeing a lot of product development and positioning is "indoor" mobile mapping. This is the last frontier for laser scanning as I see it. The challenge here, of course, is how to locate a moving scanner inside a building when a GNSS signal is not available. One promising possibility seems to be SLAM–simultaneous location and mapping. This technology has been around for 20 years in the robotics world so it would be nice to leverage that wealth of experience and knowledge. Stay tuned.

As a side note, although this story does not directly involve LiDAR technology, it still has major consequences for kinematic systems that rely on GNSS. I am referring to the LightSquared debate, which may be the biggest geomatics technology news story of 2011. With rumored ties to the Obama administration, LightSquared became the enemy of GPS when it proposed 40,000 towers in the US that would broadcast a signal very close in frequency to the GPS signals. Critics predict that the power of this signal will overwhelm the relatively weak GPS signals coming from space. The debate goes on.

A final technology trend that I want to mention is the use of still and video camera technology to capture 3D data (see the article on 4Dimensional Augmented Reality in this issue). This has its place and given the investment that goes into R&D for the consumer market, both in terms of hardware and data visualization, by companies like Google, Microsoft and Nokia, it would not be wise to underestimate the disruptive force that one of these giants could have on the reality capture industry if they decide to.

On the business front 2011 saw 3 important and quite similar acquisitions that are worth noting. Bentley Systems acquired Pointools, Alice Labs was acquired by Autodesk and AVEVA acquired LFM software. This is a noteworthy confirmation of the importance of point cloud processing to all three of these leading digital design software companies. The trick now is integrating these nimble developers into the big machines.

The other organizational item is just a comment on the new organizations that were proposed during the year: John Russo, Ken Smerz and Ray Mandli are the driving forces behind the United States Institute of Building Documentation–USIBD, the 3D Professional Association–3DPA, and the Geospatial Transportation Mapping Association–GMTA, respectively. Kudos to all three for stepping up.

For these orgs to succeed they are going to need volunteers, as we do with ASTM E57. If you have an interest in seeing our industry grow and prosper please consider becoming an active member of one of these groups. We all need your help. This is a chance to give back professionally.

This issue has something for everyone. In case you missed the recent ELMF and/or SPAR Europe events Jan Loedeman provides a detailed recap. If you have a need for automated feature extraction, and who doesn’t, Jody Lounsbury reviews EdgeWise Plant from ClearEdge. Justin Barton and Lyn Wilson reveal how they digitally documented a 14th century step well in India–stunning imagery. Karen Richardson broadens our horizons with an article on how infrared imagery is being used at Hill Air Force base to more intelligently manage facilities.

On the mobile LiDAR front we have 2 articles. Bill Gutelius explains how airborne LiDAR is being used to map airport obstructions, and Mark Cherrington describes how mobile LiDAR was used to respond to devastating flooding in Australia earlier this year. For Jan van Aardt and IPLER–the Information Products Lab for Emergency Response at Rochester Institute of Technology–this is their business.

The team at LiDAR News wishes you much success in 2012 and we look forward to seeing you at one of the upcoming events. Thanks for your continuing support.


Gene Roe, LS, PE, PhD
Managing Editor & Co-Founder
LiDAR Magazine

A 395Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE