"We Are Now Part of …"

Optech’s 6th International Terrestrial Laser Scanning User Meeting, Nice, France, June 26-27 2012

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Optech had chosen Nice for its latest User Meeting, located along the French Cte d’Azur between Monaco and Cannes. Less famous than the Promenade des Anglais–the boulevard stretching over three miles between airport and marina– is Nice’s charming medieval city center, in which lies the lively Place Rossetti with its numerous crowded terraces in front of the old cathedral. Near to the medieval centre is the large square Place Garibaldi with its famous Caf de Turin, a true must for a seafood-lover. Strolling through Nice the evening before the Optech event, I realized that meeting people is what makes this old town tick, like so many other medieval city centers in Europe.

Less than a mile from the old city is the Novotel Nice Centre, where Optech held its user meeting. With four exhibitors and around 75 attendees the event was small compared to user meetings in the CAD and GIS domains. When it comes to meeting people, however, small is mostly a bonus, especially when supported by an interesting program and modest hosts. No product pushing or marketing fuzz. Lovely.

In his brief welcome speech Julien Losseau, managing director for Optech Europe, noted that his company has to move forward amidst a global financial crisis. The route for that progress he would reveal in a separate presentation following the keynote address.

Keynote address
In his nearly fifty minute presentation, James Kavanagh concentrated on several technological issues affecting the geo-sciences. Of these "the big coming storm of BIM" is the hottest issue. Currently acting as Director of Land within the Professional Groups and Forums department of The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors in the UK, Mr. Kavanagh’s background is in geography, surveying and mapping. In his view, new technologies like LiDAR create opportunities for "crosspollination between construction and real estate and the traditional surveying and mapping industries." Referring to Julien Losseau’s remark about the economic crisis he foresees "a totally different world post this economic disaster, potentially a Euro-zone disaster in the next several years."

Despite increasing threats, he sketched bright opportunities created by emerging technologies. Returning to the big storm of BIM, he explained that when making as-builts in a CADenvironment a huge difference emerges between modern buildings and historic ones. "BIM is fine with new built, as you start from clear architectural drawings for new buildings" he stated, "but the legacy process is becoming absolutely enormous." There is a near-total lack of as-built data needed for refurbishment of the majority of older buildings for which such drawings are non-existent. "We already see companies engaging in that," Kavanagh commented, referring to modern technologies like laser scanning.

As an example of the emerging market for air-borne laser scanning and aerial imaging he presented the inventory of roof space, which is dead space in the commercial lease. Roofs, however, can be used for installing solar panels. Less well-known is that roof space can be utilized as well for water retention by means of vegetated roofs and roofgardens. This is an issue of increasing relevance in large and densely built-up urban areas due to the expected increase in rainfall intensity because of climatic change. Heavy showers already caused flush-floods in the London underground putting the important Circle Line out of action for two days, resulting in huge economic costs. This is only one of several emerging commercial markets.

Later on he addressed BIM for a third time when explaining in more detail two different levels at which building information modeling is introduced and exploited in the UK and the EU. What he called "level-2 BIM" is a rather low-level CAD-related "scanning to BIM." Higher levels of BIM deal with information management and the legacy of building information. At these levels the crux is to correctly hand-over integrated building information–including models–from one client to the following, the next and so on. This creates a demand for integrated BIM, or IBIM, and information processes to be documented according to ISO-specifications. Here the depth of information that laser scanning provides–and its future usability–will drive the various levels of building information management (IBIM). Within this scope, Kavanagh stressed the importance of legacy once more. He ended his informative presentation, which covered more relevant issues than only BIM, by stating firmly: "I think the future is very bright for this type of industry. It is about how we evolve […] to give our clients what they need"

Optech as `part of’ … Teledyne
Next it was Julien Losseau’s turn to inform his guests about developments at Optech since the last user meeting in Prague two years ago. Originally the company was entirely focused on the development and production of laser scanners. That attitude changed dramatically after the acquisition in June 2010 of DiMAC, a Belgium digital camera manufacturer, followed by the acquisition in December 2010 of Geospatial Systems, a United States camera and imaging company. In June 2011 Optech entered into a provider partnership with Cardinal Systems, the developer of the VR suite of photogrammetric mapping software. Its acquisitions and new partnership challenged Optech to change its product portfolio.

Referring to Kavanagh’s keynote address, Losseau stressed that new technologies like scanning and GNSS have given rise to new emerging markets. "People expect something to go faster and quicker," he commented. "We had to take care of those developments to get the knowledge we didn’t have before, with the LiDAR to start from product to solution." By doing so, Optech has changed its strategy from providing hardware to developing solutions for specific markets. This implied the need for integrating data processing in the supply chain. Moreover, Optech, by facing the competition in these new markets, "had to become as big as we could be." That objective led to the acquisition by Teledyne Dalsa Inc. of an initial 19% minority stake in Optech’s parent company in April 2011. In April this year Teledyne raised its stake to a 51% majority. "Teledyne officially became the owner of Optech," Losseau concluded, adding that this majority hasn’t impaired Optech’s independence as one of approximately 35 companies owned by Teledyne Technologies, all focusing on technology.

Losseau continued, "The objective of Teledyne is to only acquire a company that has the potential to be a leader in the market for a specific technology and then to allow that company to perform better." Teledyne itself, he explained, has evolved from a component provider ten years ago to the solutions provider it is today. A comparable evolution holds for Optech: from a laser-scanner manufacturer to a company providing laser-scanners and digital cameras as well as software for processing point clouds and digital optical images in both aerial and terrestrial applications. That is quite a handful when it comes to user support. No wonder Losseau addressed user support at the end of his presentation. "This is a very important aspect of our company" with "24/7 access" he said, then stressing his point by referring to Optech’s product managers Daina Morgan and Dave Adams, saying: "Today we want to consider the after sales, the support maintenance, as a product on its own to better understand what you need and to hear how to improve it." Definitely a wise strategy for a technology company now focusing on a whole spectrum of "solutions" for new markets.

Program highlights
Because most of the two days contained parallel sessions–static scanning and mobile survey–it was impossible to attend every session, but the following examples highlight some of the author’s personal preferences: monitoring an unstable rock slope in Switzerland (Andrew Kos), surveying earthquake damage at ancient buildings in Italy (Arianna Pesci), surveying the capsized cruise ship Costa Concordia (Andrea Faccioli) and railroad mapping in Russia (Inna Bartchan).

In addition to presentations addressing projects and product applications, software presentations were also included in the program: Optech’s VR mapping suite, Terrasolids Terra suite for processing LiDAR data, `R3 Web’ for laser-into-CAD applications (by Gexel), `MIMIC’ for benchmarking MMS configurations (by the Irish National Centre for Geocomputation), `Coltop3D’ for geological analysis, `PolyWorks V12′ for point cloud processing (InnovMetric Software) and `Magelaan’ for automatic mapping of road features and traffic signs (by Viametris).

Informal discussions
Apart from an interesting program, an important virtue of a such a relatively small event is the opportunity to discuss matters in an informal atmosphere. The following illustrates the interesting discussions during coffee breaks, lunch and dinner.

Because of Teledyne’s majority stake and Optech’s recent acquisitions and new partnership a notable expansion towards aerial imaging will be initiated. Will this development imply a lesser focus on traditional markets, predominantly traditional surveying and mapping? Not so, according to Dave Adams, product manager for Industrial and 3D Imaging. This is, he commented, primarily a focus shift from tools like scanners and cameras towards integrated solutions comprising both hardware and software.

Without rigid geometric solutions–implying often complex coordinate calculations–laser scanners and aerial cameras would be pretty useless devices. Many of such geometric solutions had to be developed to make aerial mapping practical by means of coordinate calculations (i.e. photogrammetric principles). Laser scanning is partially based on the same principles. Kavanagh, when asked whether the laser scanning community could exploit lessons previously learned in photogrammetry, boldly stated, "Photogrammetry is dead!" Yes it is, nearly. That condition precisely explains why "re-inventions of the wheel" can frequently be observed with respect to "solutions" for geometric problems in laser scanning.

One such "wheel" involves the correction of geometric biases that occur in MMS data due to frequent GPS outages when operating in urban canyons. Hannu Korpela demonstrated in his Terrasolid booth the unacceptable size of such biases and how easily they can be geometrically corrected by means of an orthophotomosaic. A digital orthomosaic is a standard photogrammetric product that is likely to be available for nearly each and every larger city in Europe.

An interesting lunch discussion addressed digital versus printed information. The role printed media once had is coming to an end. Digital proliferation rapidly is becoming the norm. But many feel that digital information should be free. As the amount of free digital information is already incredible and rapidly increasing, finding valuable information requires digging through the piles of junk information that clog the Internet. In finding a solution for this widelyobserved problem Baoquan Chen, Chinese Academy of Sciences, foresees a role for social media to get around the masses of junk information. In that same discussion the question emerged of how independent free-subscription media can be in their dissemination of objective information when such information is unwelcome for one of their advertisers. According to the overall opinion round the table, truly independent information can not be expected from these media. The solution for this information problem is twofold and deadly simple: consult trustworthy institutions and parties; and organize meetings to freely exchange information.

Ir. Jan Loedeman is an agricultural engineer by education and recently retired from a long career in teaching surveying, photogrammetry and GIS at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. He is also a former editor of GIM Magazine.

A 1.094Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE