We are seeing many agencies jumping on the LiDAR train and for good reason why not go out, collect everything in the right-of-way at high precision and then go and exploit this data as much as possible? This is a great idea in theory, but in practice the value of this information can only be realized through the application of the right technology, tools, and by efficiently applying them to the task at hand.
Choosing the Right Technology
Technology is only useful if it is applied in the right manner when solving problems. In the world of asset data collection, the technology solution that one selects can make or break the budget and the schedule. It is important to consider these impacts when designing your asset data collection solution.
As an example, an iPhone might be used to collect asset data in the field if high GPS accuracies are not required. The camera takes great pictures, the GPS can get you close enough to locate the asset and it is simple and easy to use, creating efficiencies during data collection. On the other end of the spectrum, a LiDAR unit coupled with high-resolution cameras, precision GPS, inertial measurement and distance measurement can be used to compile very accurate data sets which can be used for engineering and design purposes.
So, how does one make the right technology decision when considering these options? The answer to this question can often be found by working the problem backwards. For example, how will the customer make their business decisions? Are they based on precise location information? Or, do they just need an inventory count of these assets? Do they need performance information related to an inspection? Or, will they manage this asset based on assumptions related to its typical life-cycle? The answers to these questions will help determine which technology to apply to execute the project.
Choosing the Right Tools
Choosing the right tools will minimize the risk associated with the completion of a project. I recently had a conversation with a colleague who was impressed with how quickly a piece of software loaded and displayed a point cloud. He was in the process of selecting a software that would be used to extract assets from a point cloud. The project also involved the use of imaging technology to assign attributes and conduct a condition assessment of the asset during this process.
When I asked him how he was going to attribute the assets, he mentioned that he was going to take the LiDAR-derived location and measurement information, take it into another piece of software, load the closest image, and then use their GIS software to fill out the rest of the attributes. Mission accomplished, right?
Choosing the Right Sequence
Time plays an important role in determining the financial and budgetary impacts that technology can play on a project. Returning to the previous example, my colleague was not considering the impact of a disconnected workflow sequence on the overall production rates associated with his project. Since his workflow relied on three disconnected types of technology, it was not efficient, resulting in production rates that were unsustainable from a budgetary and scheduling perspective.
By combining these processes into a single integrated workflow that tied the Right-of-Way imaging with the LiDAR extraction process, efficiencies could be realized through the application of a single, linear sequence. Here is an example applied to the high-precision asset collection project described above:
1. Compiler scrolls through Right-of-Way imagery to find a specific asset.
2. User selects Go to button to zoom to the same location in the LiDAR data.
3. Compiler locates the asset in the point cloud and switches to 3D mode.
4. Compiler selects the location of the asset using the nearest LiDAR point.
5. Compiler draws a 3D profile of the asset and measures its dimensions.
6. Dimensions are automatically added to the assets attributes list.
7. Compiler uses right-of-way imagery to identify the remaining asset attributes.
8. Compiler saves the asset and begins the process for the next asset.
This process defines a single, linear sequence for extracting asset location and attribute information using one integrated workflow. This process can be applied to any asset that is collected using LiDAR or Right-of-Way imaging, or a combination of both technologies. The goal of this process is to create operational efficiencies through the use of the right technology, the right tools and the right time sequence.