3D Industry Pioneers: Geoff Jacobs, Senior Vice President for Leica Geosystems HDS

A 552Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE

For my second interview Geoff Jacobs, Senior Vice President for Leica Geosystems HDS has kindly agreed to participate. I have known Geoff since my earliest days in the 3D laser scanning business. As you will learn, he is truly one of the pioneers in this industry and although he would have preferred to be a professional baseball player (I know the feeling) most of us would not be where we are today without his early efforts at Cyra, where he helped to launch the first commercial laser scanner and the ecosystem that we are all now a part of.

Geoff was formally trained as a chemical engineer which I think helps to explain his careful attention to detail and desire to know how things work. He points out that "chem eng" and surveying have one important commonality–a thorough understanding of error analysis as it applies to taking measurements. On the business side, in the early days he was involved with product management and marketing of new technologies in the business-to-business domain. In fact, he credits his visit to the New York World’s Fair when he was in high school for getting him hooked on "high tech cool stuff" (As a side note, I was on a bus with my high school buddy going to the World’s Fair when I got sick and had to get off the bus and return home. I always regretted missing it.)

Geoff was working at Trimble in 1996 in Silicon Valley as Director of Product Management for their survey products when start-up entrepreneur Ben Kacyra’s new "3D laser scanning" technology came across his desk. It was Geoff’s job to evaluate this new technology. I guess that makes him there at the beginning.

As Geoff says "the rest is history" In . 1998 Ben recruited Geoff and he joined Cyra Technologies as employee #20. He was the first marketing person. At the 1999 ACSM conference in Portland, Oregon the Leica reps saw the Cyrax scanner for the first time and were impressed. Although there were 3 other scanner vendors who launched their products in 1998 Leica purchased Cyra in 2001.

Geoff has been instrumental in the growth of the Leica Geosystems HDS business unit over the past 10+ years and in establishing its leadership position in the industry. Many of us have gotten to know Geoff through the HDS User Conference which he started in 2005 and has now become part of the larger Hexagon User Conference. His tight running of this conference has produced a world class event that delivers on the benefits of attending like few others.

When asked about influential people Geoff did not mention anyone specific, but noted that for most of his career he has worked for companies where the founder was still running the company. This produced an entrepreneurial environment and constant awareness of the need for strategic thinking in order position a company for future growth.

Geoff recently attended Intergeo for the first time in 7 years and he was struck by the number of exhibitors that had laser scanning technology in their booths. Flash back to 1999 in Portland when Cyra was the only vendor demonstrating laser scanning–incredible. He believes that laser scanning is now well on its way to becoming a mainstream measurement technology, easily exceeding his expectations of where the industry might go when he took the risk to join Cyra in 1998.

As far as the key events that helped shape the industry over the past 10 to 15 years he cites the purchase of Cyra by Leica because this was the first "major" vendor to enter the market, legitimizing the technology for the rest of industry. The same applies to Bentley Systems who in 2003 became the first major software vendor to offer point cloud support. Geoff also believes that the evolution of scanners to be more like total stations and the availability of free, intuitive point cloud viewers like Leica’s TruView were also game changers.

Looking to the future Geoff does not think that growth will be a problem for the industry; however prosperity could be another issue. He thinks that although there are many who are quite successful, that on average the industry needs to become more profitable. Geoff thinks there are opportunities on both the vendor and customer side to streamline workflows, become more efficient and make it easier for the majority of people in a firm to make use of the technology.

When asked if he thought laser scanning could be as big as GPS by the year 2020 Geoff noted that GPS had the advantage of being a "purely electronic" technology that as we now see can be miniaturized to fit into a cell phone. Laser scanners have mechanical and optical components that will not lend themselves to those kinds of form factors. He thinks laser scanning will be as big as GPS for surveying, but he is not so sure about the consumer market.

Looking back on his career, to date, Geoff has found his greatest reward in seeing customers truly benefit from the adoption of the technology that he has been promoting. Leica Geosystems and all of us have been lucky that Geoff has been making that happen for customers around the world. He still dreams about what it would have been like to play major league baseball, but we might not have had a laser scanning industry without his vision and leadership.

Gene Roe is the Managing Editor and Co-Founder of LiDAR Magazine.

A 552Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE