From The Editor: LIDAR, LiDAR or lidar?

A 513Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE

It’s always interesting to see what topics the contributing authors submit for a particular edition of LiDAR News. We don’t use an editorial calendar with each issue devoted to a single topic (that seems too confining) so it’s a surprise when the articles start rolling in.

In this case I received two articles on the issue of the casing of "LiDAR." I had to wonder if that was just a coincidence, or perhaps an indication that the time has come to address this as an industry. I recall being at a conference a few years ago where Lewis Graham, a LiDAR News contributing author recommended that we simply use "lidar" as the proper casing. The two articles in this issue approach the topic from different points of view, but both are making the case for a similar approach. That could present a problem for us at LiDAR News, but in general I do think the time has come for a unified approach. What do you think?

As of July 1 Mike Tully reminds us that a new NERC rule goes into effect concerning the management of vegetation in electric transmission power line rights of way. These rules have been a major driver of business for the lidar (I am going to make an effort to use this spelling except when referring to LiDAR News) data providers. This is one of those classic examples of the benefits of 3D problem solving. There are a number of variables that have to be considered when analyzing the potential for problems. It’s relatively straightforward with 3D analysis.

On a related note James Young explains that with the higher resolution lidar sensors that are now available the use of a helicopter is not the only solution for supporting vegetation management programs. In fact it may be more economical to use a much lower cost fixed wing aircraft that is still capable of providing the needed point density.

Perhaps the most important news item in this issue comes from Alaska where Mike Gitlin reports the FAA has issued the first license to fly an unmanned vehicle for commercial purposes in the U.S. This is certainly encouraging and well deserved when you consider the 20 year track record that AeroVironment has in the UAS industry.

I recently had the opportunity to witness a demonstration flight of the eBee UAS from senseFly. The reseller who provided the unit noted that he had sold 100 of these systems in the past 9 months. The price is $25k for the base model and $50k with an RTK module. Although the UAS itself was amazing, I was more impressed with the ease of use and the comprehensive features of the software. A lot of thought has gone into this product and one can certainly see why it is selling "like hotcakes" although one has to wonder what people are doing with it , given the current FAA ban on commercial use here in the U.S.

There is no question that the FAA is in a very difficult position with regards to the licensing of unmanned aerial systems. I see both sides of the argument. I am sure there is also the issue of not having enough resources to address the demand for authorizations. It would seem that some of the applications, such as flying topo on the North Slope of Alaska and perhaps mapping farmlands in Nebraska would have a very low probability of conflicts, but when you look at more populated urban and suburban environments there is certainly the need for strict regulation. I am not sure how the balance is going to be struck especially when you consider the issue of people intentionally using them for illegal purposes.

I recently saw a report that indicated young people are now flying quadcopters at outdoor concerts. I guess they are replacing beach balls or Frisbees as a way to have fun. This is just one example of the almost impossible task facing the FAA. I certainly think these types of UAS with the ability to hover are going to soon dominate the structural inspection services market. The improved safety that these systems offer for inspecting bridges, tunnels, dams and other similar structures makes their use an obvious choice once the FAA gives the go ahead.

I have a couple of quick notes on everyone’s favorite topic–standards. I have been noticing that the ASTM E57 data interoperability standard has been included in a number of recent articles from authors outside the U.S. who were discussing issues related to the storage of point cloud data. That is very encouraging, but it is still only scratching the surface of the benefits that could be gained from the use of this powerful data format. It’s up to the consumers of point cloud data to make their voices heard on this topic. The vendors are listening.

John Caya reports that the Australian roads organization is referencing the TRB Mobile LIDAR Guidelines. I hope you are taking advantage of the Learn Mobile Lidar website that is beginning to gain traction with the transportation agencies. It contains a wealth of free information.

On a final note I had the opportunity to visit my colleague Michael Olsen at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. In addition to being in a beautiful part of the country it is obvious that the geomatics program is a well-respected and funded program at OSU. Of course they have their wish list of new technology, but thanks to their partnership with Leica GeoSystems and David Evans and Associates they have a state-of-the art survey equipment lab that includes GNSS receivers, multiple laser scanners plus the latest total stations and digital levels. They even have an old HP 3805 distance meter and I actually saw a 100′ steel tape laying on a bench.

Over the past five years Mike and his fellow colleagues have been growing this program at an impressive rate while many civil engineering programs around the U.S. have been phasing out surveying and geomatics. They deserve a lot of credit and support from all of us.

Gene Roe, LS, PE, PhD Managing Editor & Co-Founder LiDAR News Magazine

A 513Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE