Emerging Practices for Comprehensive Enforcement and Compliance Using LiDAR and Other Datasets

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City inspectors are, perhaps, the unsung heroes of every city across the country. From ensuring that our buildings and elevators are functioning properly to checking every nook and cranny of construction sites and cracked sidewalks for possible safety hazards, inspectors’ workloads far outweigh the necessary funding (or gratitude) to keep things running smoothly throughout our cities. A new, venture-backed start-up is helping cities solve this problem with LiDAR

Founded in 2011, Chicago-based CityScan has been incorporating Mobile Terrestrial LiDAR (MTL) for municipalities and utility companies with the end goal of increasing inspection operating efficiency, improving life safety and supporting comprehensive building and infrastructure compliance. CityScan delivers end-to-end data collection, asset extraction from LiDAR point clouds, and integration into permit, case management, and GIS systems to help cities make smarter decisions.

Why LiDAR?
CityScan’s solution was to analyze and incorporate any dataset that an inspector would regularly sift through, such as permit databases, 311 reports and the like, and pair that with precisely measured and geo-located assets from a LiDAR point cloud. The end deliverable provides an unbiased assessment of assets city-wide, along with analytics to compare street-level observation with other public/ private datasets and zoning rules to help cities create a baseline for their asset management systems and prioritize the most relevant and cost effective actions.

"There were so many disparities between what’s really out there and what many cities believed was present on their streets," said CityScan’s CEO David Guttman, "it made sense that a new era of geospatial data-collection could be integrated into outdated city asset management systems."

Initially CityScan considered a partnership with Nokia since they already had LiDAR data on all the roads in the US and around the world. But there were two significant challenges with the Nokia data. First, the data wasn’t recent enough. It wouldn’t be helpful to know there was an unpermitted and unsafe scaffold 14 months ago. Second the data wasn’t accurate enough. While adequate for mapping and logistics products that Nokia provides, CityScan needed much more accurate data. For instance, to support code enforcement against city rules, a permit for a billboard that is supposed to be 500 sq ft needs to be accurate within a few inches.

There are hundreds of companies that have their own LiDAR vehicle and many claim to have the expertise to do this kind of work. After a few false starts with other data collection providers, CityScan starting working with Mandli Communications. Madison, Wisconsinbased Mandli Communications, is a leader in mobile data-collection technologies with extensive experience in large transportation and corridor planning projects.

CityScan and Mandli began working on a couple of very exciting pilot projects with great success. It was at this point that CityScan and Mandli decided to formalize their partnership.

"We chose Mandli because they’re one of the few companies who has shown success in utilizing LiDAR for large-scale projects across multiple state Department of Transportation around the country. Add to that the speed at which Mandli operates and the quality of post-processing and extraction–it was a no-brainer," says Guttman.

As CityScan learned more about the lack of timely and accurate data across city departments, the potential use cases became apparent. Signage inspection was the first to cross CityScan’s radar given that most municipalities require inspections and permits for both on-premise and off-premise (billboards) signs within city limits.

"The problem actually feeds on itself," says Guttman, "Cities are facing budget shortfalls which often hit inspection services disproportionally. As a result of less than adequate inspector resources the illegal and unsafe activities increase and yet the cities now have a smaller set of resources to deal with the problem."

CityScan and Mandli recently completed a pilot for the City of Philadelphia. They needed to reconcile their billboard inventory with operators’ self-reported data. Mandli drove the perimeter of the city (about 100 miles) where the lion’s share of the billboards were and collected MTL and imagery. CityScan then went about the process of integrating the results.

After collecting the drive data, Mandli proceeded to conduct point and vector feature extraction with an extensive list of attributes including images for each asset. By comparing the city’s permit systems, street centerlines, market data and pages of parsed business zoning rules related to residential proximity, height limitation, and licensing records with the assets extracted from the MTL point cloud this data was used to automate the process for inspectors to produce a violation notice and overall statistics to support licensing policy. CityScan was able to give the City an exact accounting of where they were missing out on both lost revenue and overdue inspections.

CityScan’s vision is that with third party code enforcement and compliance driven by accurate and trusted data, we can truly help our smart cities get smarter. With accurate inventories of any asset seen from the street level, city inspectors can reprioritize their workflows and focus their efforts on those tasks that cannot be solved as easily with technology.

City-owned assets weren’t the only objects being inspected and repaired on the streets. Utility companies face a number of similar issues that, just like cities, can be resolved or supported using LiDAR. Regional utility operators often partner with local governments to help alleviate the strain on city inspector resources for streetlight maintenance. Problems can range from excessive utility pole damage to noticeable pole tilt to damaged or downed wires.

A large utility company in the Midwest recently reached out to CityScan for an innovative solution to help inventory all their assets to support internal operating efficiency and asset reconciliation with third party partners such as cities and telecommunication providers.

The agreed upon pilot scope included urban, industrial and rural areas in the Midwest. Again, CityScan called on Mandli’s capability to perform MTL data acquisition and asset extraction. The type of assets and use cases reviewed included non-utility poles device attachment such as cameras, wireless access points and other foreign objects, vegetation and infrastructure encroachment in active components, comprehensive visual inspection including wire sag, manhole, vaults and streetlight inventory.

Just as they had in the area of code compliance for cities, CityScan could provide a precise inventory and crossreferencing of all utility company assets. Further, having an exact asset inventory to work from is proving to be helpful for planning and estimates of new projects, especially readiness to large Smart Grid deployments.

The pilot program not only revealed many use cases that could save utilities and cities millions of dollars in inspections and proactive maintenance, but the LiDAR data and extracted point data is being used to help the utility company update and improve the accuracy of their internal GIS systems as they struggle with archives of old digital models and paper blueprints.

The Road Ahead
There’s no shortage of startups and organizations aimed at making cities smarter. As new technologies find their home in civic initiatives, it’s vital that leaders see beyond the noise and incorporate those solutions that simultaneously move the needle and impact the city’s bottom line.

The introduction of 3D laser scanning technologies for both the public sector, and the private sector, has significantly widened the pipeline for partnerships and opportunities between the two. Sharing the financial cost of the drives and asset extraction is merely the first piece of the puzzle.

Even in its early stages, the case for LiDAR is strong, especially for those organizations that are known for thinking ahead. Mandli has pledged their support to continue to expand deeper into the municipal and utility landscape, assuring CityScan that any non-traditional feature extraction challenge will be pursued with all available resources.

"Rest assured," said John Caya, Director of Business Development, "that Mandli will remain a steadfast partner in helping to expand this new industry as CityScan continues the pursuit of providing a wealth of benefits from LiDAR for asset management and code enforcement for cities and utilities around the country."

David Guttman (CEO)–Over 25 years of financial, operating and technology experience in various capacities with companies from startups to the Fortune 500.
Orlando Saez (COO)–Orlando has led several early stage companies with a combined exit valuation of over $50M.

A 1.534Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE