A Challenging Economy Drives Adoption of LiDAR Technology

As I travel the country promoting LiDAR data processing solutions, I am extremely encouraged by the level of interest among established and prospective customers. Living in a world of technology geeks, there was always interest in LiDAR, but one senses a higher level of sincerity and willingness to integrate the technology into organizations, processes and workflows not present just two or three years ago. Obviously much of this current interest is owed to significant technology advances in productivity and overall performance, but I would also make the case that technical advances and difficult economic times are actually having a synergistic effect in supporting LiDAR technology adoption.

At first glance, it might seem counterintuitive that spending cutbacks, lower profits, decreased economic activity and other rather unpleasant attributes of the challenging economy are having a positive effect on LiDAR technology adoption. Yet these economic challenges have in effect pre-qualified much of the market, reduced corporate and technical inertia and motivated an interest in reorganization of workflows and processes. These are all very positive developments for LiDAR technology adoption.

Qualification of prospective customers for emerging technologies is always a challenge, especially smaller companies with limited market presence. So while the pre-2008 economy seemed to offer a larger number of prospective customers, it was difficult to sell many of these companies on new technology that would push them outside of their current profitable business models. The survey industry crash of 2008-2010 actually diminished or removed many such companies tied to very standardized workflows and technologies from the market. Those remaining are essentially qualified as being more diversified in their applications and capable of providing more customer value through unique technical expertiseessentially more consistent with the profile of new technology adopters.

On the management side, one could make the argument that inertia is actually the product of good management practices. Standardization of workflows and processes for profitable operations is a key responsibility of management. Standardized operations are efficient and more easily scaled up for further growth and profit. Of course the downside of standardization is resistance to any change

The efficient integration of LiDAR technology into workflows and processes requires reorganization and retraining of personnel from the field survey team through the downstream engineering and design departments. The IT department must accommodate a significant increase in data storage and transfer requirements. There are also personnel changes as work is moved from the field to the office. Such disruptions were not readily embraced when standardized practices were profitable in good economic times.

The recent memories of downsizing and market disruption have significantly reduced this resistance to change as management recognizes that the internal workflows and processes of yesterday will not necessarily work tomorrow. This buy-in from the top provides the entire organization with support and cover to take on LiDAR technology in a serious way.

Finally, as the industry slowly recovers from the 2008-2010, there seems to be a growing willingness within the technical community to rebuild their organization and workflows around LiDAR technology. Those professionals remaining after the industry shakeout are often overtaxed with responsibility for increased production with fewer resources. With management reluctant to add more personnel, the solution of increased productivity offered by LiDAR technology is becoming increasingly appealing across all technical levels of organizations.

Over the past 10 years, there have been predictions of LiDAR as being the next technology wave to take over the land survey industry. That did not happen, at least at the rate or to the extent predicted over the past decade. What is becoming obvious now is a convergence between dramatically increased LiDAR technology performance and the rebuilding of the survey industry in a way that will embrace the new workflows and organizations associated with the efficient adoption the technologythe stars aligning around LiDAR if you will. So for those firms offering productive LiDAR-based, field-to-finish solutions these challenging economic times may not be so bad.

About the Author

Ted Knaak

Ted Knaak started his professional career as a control systems analyst for General Electric Space Systems Division through the eighties. In 1990, he moved to Florida where he was exposed to lidar technology at Schwartz Electro-Optics serving as marketing/sales and program manager. Mr. Knaak founded Riegl USA in 1993 and has since been actively involved with lidar and laser scanning technology. In 2011 he founded Certainty 3D, a company focused on data processing software and technology solutions for the laser scanning industry. Certainty 3D’s primary product is TopoDOT™ a point cloud/calibrated image processing program for extracting CAD models from LiDAR data. Mr. Knaak holds MSEE and MSME degrees from Brown and Drexel universities.
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