Mobile Mapping the Landscape

Of all the potential applications that can be conceived for mobile mapping systems, landscape architecture is likely one of the fields that would be given the least consideration. But the landscape is a very important part of an overall BIM project. This is particularly true when landscape architectural design is an integral part of the site planning process – at the conception of a project, not merely as an aesthetic flourish after the fact.

A sound architectural approach to building and site design benefits from the impact that proper placement of trees can have on heating and cooling costs. Parking lots that would ordinarily be seas of hot asphalt and concrete can be punctuated with cool islands of tree canopy. At ground level, appropriate shrub plantings can provide visual guidance to direct pedestrians along the preferred route to the main entrance. They can also discourage trespass onto vulnerable areas like lawns.

Landscape construction operates under the same reporting and management requirements as any other construction project. Site inspections, pay estimates, and as-built drawings can be time consuming tasks that are necessary but peripheral to the main objectives of getting irrigation systems installed and plant materials in the ground. On large scale projects, accomplishing these contract requirements can be time consuming when accomplished on foot with a measuring tape, notebook, and camera.

Now consider how these mandatory tasks can be efficiently performed using a mobile mapping system like Topcon Positioning Systems (Topcon) IP-S2 HD. This system combines long-range, high density LiDAR with panoramic imagery. To perform a site inspection, the project can be mapped from the safety of a vehicle. All essential data is collected at one time, virtually eliminating return trips to the field for forgotten items.

Back at the office, the collected data is processed on a computer using Topcon’s Spatial Factory software. After processing, the same software is used by the landscape architect to visually traverse the project in panoramic images and a colorized 3D point cloud.

Preparing a site inspection report / punch list is a simple matter. As the landscape architect encounters deficiencies or areas that require remedial work in the images, he can create 3D points, lines, or polygons with pertinent notations in Spatial Factory. These points can then be exported in .txt or shapefile formats and e-mailed to the contractor. At the contractor’s office, these files can be imported into appropriate software programs for viewing and action. The entire process is handled digitally, eliminating tedious paperwork.

Using the same data set, the landscape architect can visually verify quantities for approval of a pay estimate. Additional data economy can be realized by building a digital as-built of irrigation components and landscape plantings as each site inspection mapping run is completed.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of using Topcon’s integrated mobile mapping hardware and software is the ability provided the owner with GIS-compatible data at the end of the project. This can provide a huge benefit in future years for managing and maintaining the landscape and irrigation installation. Landscape architects can actually build a database of GIS shapefiles during the design phase of the project. This data can be imported into Spatial Factory prior to site mappings. Having pre-built shapefiles that are used to map irrigation and landscape objects as they are installed can provide a smooth continuity of data throughout the life cycle of the project from design to management.

Another use of mobile mapping systems for landscape applications extends to providers of maintenance and management services after the installation. DLC Resources, located in Phoenix, have become experts on these services in the challenging environment of the Southwestern desert region. With a yearly average precipitation of only eight inches, water conservation is a critical necessity.

The company had many years of experience using GIS databases to schedule plant maintenance at numerous sites in their area of operations. Collecting information on individual plants with a handheld data collector to populate the database was a time consuming, labor intensive process.

Need drives innovation. DLC searched for a technology that would streamline the data collection process. The company accepted an invitation from RDO Integrated Controls, a local dealer for Topcon’s mobile mapping systems, to engage in a pilot project. DLC’s objective was to determine the density of plantings in a courtyard common area at a master-planned community under their management. Once derived, this density would be used for irrigation and water budgeting purposes.

Even in the small one-acre courtyard, the efficiency of mobile mapping became quickly evident. Data collection using conventional feet-on-the-ground methods would have taken two or more days. Using Topcon’s IP-S2 HD truck-mounted system, the data was acquired in a few minutes.

DLC’s GIS analyst used Spatial Factory to create the shapefile information needed to perform a detailed density analysis in other software. When completed, the studies provided DLC with the accurate information they needed to predict and budget for water demands.

As a landscape architect, I see many other opportunities for the use of mobile mapping systems to expedite routine data collection. One of my favorites is Urban Forestry. Most large cities now employ urban foresters and tree maintenance crews. Urban shade trees are a significant aesthetic attribute, but can also be a liability. Since these trees are located within street right-of-ways or other public areas, the city is responsible for disease control and maintenance. The city will also likely be the recipient of a damage claim when a limb falls from a dead or dying tree.

Most cities now have very comprehensive GIS databases that are used for everything from public transportation routing to scheduling utility maintenance operations. Urban tree layers fit right into the same asset inventory / maintenance workflow.

Regarding the efficiency and safety of mobile mapping systems, I can provide some real personal testimony. Having collected several tree databases – on foot, with a diameter tape, a notebook, and a camera – I am inclined to say that operating a mobile mapping system from the cab of a vehicle sure beats the alternative!

More information and specifications for Topcon’s IP-S2 HD system and software can be found at: .