Conference Review: "If we don’t share, we can’t change"ELMF & SPAR-Europe a promising tandem?

A 2.369Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE

Without hesitation, my answer to the above question is affirmative, as will follow from this recap. The young couple, however, should solve some issues, in preparation of their next combined event, scheduled December 8-10, 2014, and to be organized in the same venue, the PTAPassenger Terminal Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Remembering the previous two conferences of SPAR-E organized in The Hague, Netherlands, and those of ELMF organized in Salzburg, Austria, I got a somewhat mixed feeling when attending their combined conference and exhibition in Amsterdam. Despite all of Amsterdam’s qualities, I somehow missed the mild and pleasant atmosphere of Salzburg, which holds for both the town and the venue. On the other hand, I was no less than cheerful, for reasons not to be disclosed, about not having to go to The Hague again.

The PTA is a superb location at 15 minutes walking distance from Amsterdam Central Station and the city’s historic center with its numerous hotels, restaurants and pubs. To me, the temptation to visit the famous pub "In `t Aepjen" ("In the Little Monkey") situated at the head of the Zeedijk (Sea Dike) was irresistible.

How it ended and … had started
The title of my recap is a quote from Alexandra Grounds’ contribution to the final session of the SPAR-E program. She pointed out that sharing knowledge during events like this is vital for invoking changes "in a number of practices […] to work with […]"; adding that "it does depend on the attitudes" which , need to be adopted. Alexandra foresees social media to get a prominent role to play in transforming the BIM and 3D modeling industry.

The conference ended, odd as it may seem, as the proverbial night candle. Before the programmed joint SPAR-EELMF closing session had started, the dismantling of the exhibition floor was already in full swing. The closing session itself offered a comparable joyless picture. The panel discussion, chaired by Alistair McDonald, started with no more than a handful of attendees in the room, their number gradually increasing to thirty. Fortunately these circumstances did not at all impair the panel discussion itself.

If one reels back in time the ending of the event on Wednesday, the resulting inversed sequence comes pretty near to the start of the event on Monday. There was no common start, as only SPAR-E had scheduled an interesting program comprising a pre-conference session and several workshops and live demos. During the entire Monday afternoon, however, the built-up of the exhibition floor was still going on. And as the joint program was to start on Tuesday morning, the number of visitors to the Welcome Happy Hour at Monday late afternoon wasn’t spectacular.

When re-reading my previous lines, I cannot suppress a friendly smile, because of the picture they trigger in my lively and visually oriented mind. I see a young couple of two independent, energetic and welcoming persons, who just have started a common household. Starting together rarely is a piece of cake. But believe me, the next 2014 joint ELMF & SPAR-E event will be an even more interesting one than this year’s. Why? Because of ….

Program & Exhibition
Two days definitely was too little to swallow the extensive program. Except a few joint sessions and some plenary sessions, the combo ELMF and SPAR-E offered in parallel two complete and largely independent programs. Each program comprised in parallel two presentation sessions, as well as a series of technical workshops and live demos. Together this sums up to six parallel activities to choose from between 9 AM and 5 PM. In addition to this loaded program the exhibition floor too had a lot of interesting stuff on offer. Breaks in between sessions summed up to only two and a half hours a day, which was definitely too little for a full discovery of the entire exhibition. All in all, attending both the program and the exhibition was, as the French say, "a sea to drink"; at least to me. I’m not complaining here, definitely not, on the contrary! Regarding what was on offer, I like to state in Dutch "petje af," or in plain English "hats off."

Due to the two extensive and interesting programs, the spacey and bright exhibition area often looked deserted. Exhibitors commented in various ways. Some spoke a bit disappointed about the lack of traffic along their booth, where others showed excitement about the quality of the visitors they had welcomed. Anyhow, nearly all exhibitors I met wished an extension of the event’s duration. May be it is an idea to pre-start the 2014 ELMF & SPAR-E congress in a truly combined fashion on Monday afternoon: an official opening of the exhibition and a plenary "Program Preview" by experts from both partners.

3D imaging & 3D ModelingSome bits & pieces
Providing a sound overview of all topics presented, is a no-brainer. In the excellent Program Guide the summaries of the two programs alone took five pages; the presentation summaries another 18! Did I perceive any trends? Yes, of course I did. However, as with all perceptions, the result is highly biased by my preferences and hobby horses. To start with the latter, last year’s most obvious trendthe revival of photogrammetrywas seemingly less pronounced as far as the program is concerned. Seemingly because from a product point of view, photogrammetric technologies are to become mainstream in the foreseeable future.

The first keynote speakerDr. Stefan Gehrig, senior scientist at Daimlerpresented a fascinating inside view on the role digital video cameras and on-line image processing play in driver assistance systems as supplied nowadays with the Mercedes Benz top models. And there is more to come; a lot more. In addition to the image-based buzz-words "pixel" (2D) and "voxel" (3D), Mr. Gehrig introduced the "stixel" a concentration , of "stick" and "pixel" Stixels are vertically . oriented linear elements in two images of a stereo-pair. By comparing the images geometrically, a series of neighboring pixels that show identical parallax in vertical direction form one stixel. The purpose of generating such stixels is data compression enabling on-line processing of stereo-video imagery for dynamic scene analysis based on 3D machine vision. In the explanation of this technology Stefan Gehrig never used the term photogrammetry. In sources I’ve checked, it is absent as well. Daimler has branded its Driver Assistance System "6D Vision"1.

Another example indicating that image-based 3D modeling is becoming mainstream in consumer products is Microsoft’s Kinect. Last year at SPAR-E a Kinect was featured in a live demo as part of a prototyped on-line 3D-modelling device. This year in Amsterdam, DotPoduct, from Houston TX, presented and demonstrated its DPI-7, "a handheld self-contained 3D scanner" based on a Kinect fitted to the back of an Android tablet. Shortly after the event I read in my newspaper the buyout by Apple of PrimeSense, the company that has developed the Kinect. More OTS image-based 3D-modelling to come! As side step: in Amsterdam I haven’t seen or heard anything that directly relates to the Google Glass. May be next year?

A last example from Amsterdam to underpin the rapid proliferation of image-based 3D modeling technologies is TruView, a successful free 3D-viewer. Though I had seen it used in several booths in Amsterdam, I never linked the product to the brand name Leica. Jeff Jacobs, VP for Strategic Marketing at Leica Geosystems, hinted me to the origin when we discussed current developments in the 3D modeling industry. When asked about the game-like look-and-feel of TruView, he admitted that its developer wasn’t from the surveying and mapping world. An example to be followed?

A product new to the show this year is the 3D printer. Not so weird regarding the expanding proliferation of simple 3D scanning devices. Janjaap Ruijssenaars of Universe Architecture, The Netherlands, explained in his keynote speech about the 3D design of his "landscape house"2 how a gigantic 3D "printer" has been used to actually build all the house’s components on a 1 to 1 scale with millions of "voxels" measuring 5x5x5 mm each. On the other end of the scale in 3D printers was the DriedeeBox (3iDeaBox), on show in the booth of Almteq3, a Dutch manufacturer of professional 3D printers. Enthusiastically, Gert Westrup, the company’s owner and CEO, explained me the idea ("idee" in Dutch) behind this US$4200 costing box. It comprises the simple UP! 3D Printer provided with a purposely written child-oriented manual and everything else needed to enable school kids to do their own 3D printing. Gert Westrup presents himself as a real 3D aficionado: even his business card is a 3D print.

And what about LiDAR?
Well, actually the common denominator is 3D modeling. The prime issue is using 3D point clouds, not the technology to generate these clouds, such as LiDAR. Yet there are, of course, specific areas of application in which there’s no alternative to LiDAR. Examples are 3D mapping of forest structures; and bathymetry. The latter area is highly specialized, as I discovered when visiting the booths of two leading companies in bathymetric surveys: Pelydryn, UK, and Fugro, Netherlands/Australia.

Rupert Forester Bennett, Business Development Manager at Pelydryn, gave me a crash-course in bathymetric surveying. The Holy Grail is, as I understood it, providing a one-stop-shop with a two-laser system: surveying land and shallow water with one laser and deeper seabeds with the other. Crucial in understanding laser bathymetry is the water penetrating capability of that second laser, which is expressed in a unit called "secchi-depth" 4. The extremes for the secchi depth range from about an inch in very turbid water to about 150 ft in extremely clear water. The most powerful lasers can reach up to 3.5 secchi-depths, which in clear waters is equivalent to about 500 ft.

The market for LiDAR scanners is booming, as I understood from Bruno Lefevre, Sales Director at 3S Photonics S.A.S, a French company producing fiber lasers amongst a lot of other highly specialized stuff5. Their sales in this area have boomed by 250% over the last year.

This year’s bottom line
May be it is a weird speculation, but I expect "scanner" to become a generic term indicating a handheld device for digitally recording 3D models on-line. Whether the basic acquisition technology is LiDAR, imagery plus structured light, or plain stereo-imagery, will be relevant only with respect to specific fields of application. My speculation is based on bits of information I’ve gathered in various booths during my exhibition tour. The public interest in digital 3D models of whatever that can be modeled is exploding. By consequence the potential use of 3D datasets will not only grow, but drastically change as well; and with that, the user requirements.

Product focus is rapidly shifting from the supply sidei.e. technologiesto the demand sidei.e. solutions, or even services. During the combined ELMFSPAR-E closing session, Marius Blom, Director of Business Development and Marketing in Apply Capnor AS, Norway, clearly pointed out that "making the point cloud smarter" is prime, because the business is about data handling. The industry is still young and under development, he stated, therefore "we need a focus, both as an industry and as clients" Here too the . adagio clearly is, in my view, "if we don’t share, we can’t change" .

Chairman Alistair McDonald, in his supportive comment to Blom, indicated that "there is an educational issue" . Yes indeed, because acquiring sound geometric data with rigid accuracy is not as simple as a game-like GUI deceptively seems to promise. Marius Blom warned: "Don’t make it a standard for dummies!" An excellent take home message.

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.

1 An excellent explanation, also including the stixel approach, is available at:

2 See:

3 See:

4 For an explanation see, for instance:

5 See:

A 2.369Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE