From the Editor: The Surveying Profession(al)

A 663Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE

Welcome to the Survey Summit 2012 edition of LiDAR Magazine. The Survey Summit is being held in conjunction with the ESRI User Conference in San Diego, California, July 21–24. It is co-sponsored this year by ACSM–the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping and NSPS–the National Society of Professional Surveyors. ACSM is in the process of being merged into NSPS according to this document.

I have been reluctant to comment on this merger, or on the state of the surveying profession(al), in general, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the frustration that it causes me to feel. I began my surveying career "pushing rod" in 1969, between my freshman and sophomore years of college. I was working on the construction of a new interchange for the New York State Thruway in Coxsackie, NY. I learned a tremendous amount and had a lot of fun that summer and the next, working for a consulting engineering firm.

It was not going to be my last surveying related employment. In fact, in one form or another I have been associated with the surveying and mapping profession for over 40 years. As with any career it has had its pluses and minuses, but generally speaking it has been very rewarding. As I have noted before with topics involving potential, the really important question is not what was accomplished, but "what could have been?" I think it could have been more.

In 1975 I found myself at the Thompson School of Applied Science, located at the University of New Hampshire teaching surveying. I really did not have the background to be in that position, but luckily I shared my office with a real surveyor and a person who became my long time friend– Harry Berquist. Harry had both the technical training and the practical experience, which over time he passed on to me, at least in part.

The mid-70’s was an exciting time for the surveying profession(al). Up until then everything had been analogue, but this was a watershed moment. Disruptive change was in the air. Hewlett Packard was bringing digital technology to the average surveyor with the first affordable EDM–electronic distance meter and some of the most user friendly software ever created for the desktop. This was the start of the digital era of surveying and mapping.

So my roots are deep in the surveying profession and it pains me to say that for the most part surveyors are their own worst enemy, at least here in the U.S. We have had many opportunities to assume leadership roles as managers/stewards of the land, as in other parts of the world like Western Europe and as technology experts/advocates, but as a profession we always seem to be behind the curve.

Some attribute this to a need for independence. Others might blame it on a lack of educational opportunities. It’s difficult to pinpoint the cause and the effect, although it seems to coincide with the shift to digital, but after 40 years I think it is safe to say that as a profession we have been through enough periods of opportunity that if we had wanted to do something about it we could have.

The most significant lost opportunity I believe involves GIS–geographic information systems and LIS–land information systems. The surveying profession has not embraced GIS/LIS to this day and everyone is worse off for it. There is GLIS–the Geographic and Land Information Society, which is choosing to not join NSPS that has a new goal of becoming the premier surveying and mapping organization in the U.S.–interesting.

In the early 1980’s the BLM attempted to launch the concept of a multipurpose land cadastre. (That concept is now being revived with what is called the FLAIR Act–Federal Land Assets Inventory Reform.) Not coincidentally this was in the same era as the switch to the metric system. These kind of major shifts require strong leadership and perseverance. We all know where they went. A simple requirement that all boundary surveys be tied to the state plane coordinate system could and would still change history, but it’s not going to happen.

The second significant lost opportunity, albeit to a lesser extent involves GPS/ GNSS. In fact the surveying profession has taken advantage of this technology in a utilitarian way, but we have not established our profession as the "go to" resource for the much broader consumer applications that have made GPS a household term.

Similarly I think the surveying profession is losing their opportunity to be the recognized experts in the use of 3D laser scanning. This is particularly evident when it comes to mobile LiDAR where the use of GNSS is required along with an in-depth understanding of error theory, geodetic coordinate systems and map projections. The lack of expertise in these topics is resulting in confusion in the marketplace and in some cases a bad name for the technology.

A key part of the problem is clearly defining who we are. Historically from a professional licensing perspective the state boards have been legislated based on the need to protect the public from a legal, real property-centric point of view. There is certainly a need for this, but what about the surveying professional that is focused more on measurement science in support of GNSS, control surveys, GIS and mobile laser scanning?

Perhaps the answer lies in the licensing model used by the professional engineers. We are licensed by discipline such as civil or electrical and in some states by category of practice, such as structural or highway. I am sure some will argue that they see this as an intrusion, but with licensure comes stature–at least in theory. If we want to be recognized as skilled professionals we have to establish measurement criteria and rules that support this status.

As I said earlier I have intentionally avoided this situation, but as the eternal optimist one can always hope that perhaps the new organization being formed by the merger of ACSM and NSPS, and/or GLIS will produce different results.

A 663Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE

About the Author

Gene V. Roe

Gene V. Roe Ph.D., P.E., PLS... I have over 40 years of experience in the surveying and mapping field. I am a registered Professional Engineer, Professional Land Surveyor and hold a Ph.D. in Systems Engineering. I have taught surveying and civil engineering at the University of New Hampshire, built a 50 person survey engineering firm, and in 1985 founded the first GIS consulting group in New England. In the early 90's I shifted into the software development business where I have focused on CAD/GIS integration, while helping to build successful start ups like Softdesk and Blue Marble Geographics. I hold two US patents for a GPS-based, personal navigation device. I have also worked in the remote sensing arena where I was part of the highly successful development of the ultra-compact, Buckeye LiDAR/digital camera system, currently being used by the military to search for IED's. Most recently I have focused on 3D laser scanning, where I led the effort at Autodesk to integrate this technology into their graphics' engines. As the Chair of the ASTM E57.04 data interoperability subcommittee I am leading a team that is developing a standard data exchange for terrestrial laser scanners. I am also the ACSM delegate to FIG Commission 8 - Spatial Planning and Development.
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