From the Editor: The Pace of Change

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Welcome to the SPAR 2012 edition of LiDAR Magazine. In addition to our digital version, in case you prefer we are also now available in print. If you would like to have it mailed, it’s easy to subscribe on our website. Once again, many thanks to our hard working team and to you for your ongoing support and interest.

In this edition we reveal some of the 3D secrets of Stonehenge, we get an insider’s look at the planning needed to complete 18 corridor mapping projects that spanned 5 states, and we learn how automation led to truly impressive gains in the production of bridge clearance reports. In addition, 2 mobile mapping gurus provide their state-of-the-art insights and we go outside the laser scanning world to learn how photography and thermal imagery are being used for building energy audits.

Shifting gears, is it just me, or is the pace of technological change overwhelming the ability of some of our key institutions to manage it? Is there something different about the world we are living in, say over the past 5 to 10 years, or is this just the normal course of events? After all, our world has seen major technological breakthroughs before, like the steam engine, the telephone and we can’t leave out electricity.

Perhaps a more important question is if this is the case, that the pace of change is overwhelming certain institutions then, why does it matter?

First, I want to make note of the operative word in this editorial– "pace" It’s like the difference between velocity and acceleration. I see . pace as acceleration–the rate of change of velocity. As we know, if we are living in a world where the pace of change is somewhat constant then our institutions have a lot better chance of adapting over time, but if the pace of change is increasing it is a much more difficult problem, especially for institutions that find change difficult to manage.

The two types of institutions that I think are currently under the most stress are higher education colleges and universities and certain professional organizations. We could also include government agencies, but let’s not go there.

I think we can deal with the second question first. Why does this matter, because as professionals we need to rely on these organizations for leadership. If these institutions are struggling to keep up with the pace of change then they are not going to be able to provide the leadership that we need to learn about the theory behind new technologies and how to apply them in practice. It’s really that simple.

Many of you know I believe we should treat this as the 3D decade. As our technical world transitions from 2D to 3D our educational institutions have to overhaul their curriculums. In the case of laser scanning and LiDAR that is much easier said than done. Static laser scanners and the associated software are expensive, kinematic systems are off the charts. Most colleges and universities are not going to be able to obtain this technology without the vendors partnering with these institutions.

The good news is that an innovative program like this does exist. Oregon State University, Leica GeoSystems and David Evans and Associates are all working together to better prepare students for the 3D world that they are going to practice in. Perhaps that is why OSU is hiring a number of new geomatics faculty. Kudos to all involved.

Now back to the first question. I made a quick inventory from the perspective of a surveying/civil engineering professional, of what seemed to be the key technological developments of the past 50 years.

In the 60’s I would include the ruby laser and the handheld calculator. In the 70’s I would note the PC and the EDM. In the 80’s it would be AutoCAD, GPS and the total station. In the 90’s the cell phone, email, the Internet and LiDAR. In the "00’s" the terrestrial laser scanner and social media. In the current decade 3D, mobile laser scanning and the tablet/ smart phone. Perhaps this does not match your list, but hopefully it’s close.

I am not sure that I can build a strong case for the current decade to be uniquely different than the previous five, but I will say that most of these previous inventions were much more easily integrated into the existing workflows and that in many cases they were orders of magnitude less expensive than what they replaced. The same cannot be said for the transition from 2D to 3D. This change is much more radical and the initial investment is significant, at least in 3D laser scanning.

I have had some people tell me that it’s the poor economy that is the real cause of the failure of certain institutions. If so, I would say that we had better not count on the economy returning to the "hay days" of the past 5 to 10 years any time soon, which for many people were not all that great to begin with. I would agree that a major related driver is the economy, but I would say it is the effect of global competition that we now have from an expanding world economy. Trust me that is only going to accelerate for the foreseeable future.

Is this just perception? Will the pendulum swing back? Will we regain that feeling of being in control? Not unless we recognize the situation for what it is and take a different approach. One of my favorite Einstein quotes is, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

This transition can be very challenging for some, but if we are willing to embrace change, encourage new leadership and think originally then we can adapt. Please let us know how we can better serve you and let’s promote prosperity.

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