Behind the Scenes at PECORA 19: ASPRS Divisions Firm Footing in the Shifting Sands of Geospatial Technology

The American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing recently held the PECORA 19 Symposium (November 17-20) themed Sustaining Land ImagingUAS to Satellites. Established jointly by the US Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) the PECORA symposia series dates back to the early days of Earth observation satellites in the 1970s. The 2014 PECORA meeting was held in conjunction with two international groups: Commission I of the International Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ISPRS, of which ASPRS is a member) and the International Association of Geodesy (IAG).

The focus of this of symposium, held every three years, has historically been land imaging. The symposia series is named for Bill Pecora, a former USGS Director responsible for orchestrating the early Landsat satellite missions). Consequently, much of the agenda focused on the topic of satellite remote sensing and land cover mapping, especially in consideration of the recent satellite launches of Landsat 8 and the Sentinel missions of the European Space Agency (ESA).

From the Symposium Chairs, Tom Holm (USGS) and Charles Toth, Ph.D. (The Ohio State University), The Symposium clearly continues the Pecora tradition of focusing on the applications of satellite and other remotely-sensed data to study, monitor, and manage the Earths land surface, as well offers a unique opportunity to explore new technologies to improve satellite data analyses, quality, access, and preservation with the Joint Symposium of ISPRS Technical Commission I and IAG Commission 4.

In addition to technical presentations, two important business items were conducted during the PECORA meeting. The ASPRS Board approved formation of a new technical division — the Unmanned Autonomous Systems (UAS) Division. The Board also approved the new ASPRS Positional Accuracy Standards for Digital Geospatial Data, which have received extensive internal and external review.

While much of the focus was on land imaging,, the conference also featured talks on GIS, lidar, and the UAS platform. The ASPRS Professional Divisions associated with each of those specialties held committee meetings during PECORA spotlighting topics that were at least as engaging and up-to-the-minute as the main conference program.

Amid concerns that the ASPRS membership base has not kept pace with the expansion of the geospatial industry, the ASPRS Professional Divisions have continued to be extraordinarily productive. The Professional Practice (PPD), Remote Sensing Applications (RSAD), Primary Data Acquisition (PDAD), Photogrammetric Applications (PAD), GIS (GISD), and LiDAR (LD) Divisions are producing webinar trainings, as well as documenting best practices, quality metrics, and in the case of the LiDAR Division, an adaptive data file format. Each of the four Divisions which were assembled during PECORA 19 (all except the Photogrammetric Applications and Remote Sensing Applications Divisions which did not hold meetings) charted ongoing and new initiatives for each rapidly-advancing sub-discipline.

To take the most appropriate example, the LiDAR Division has a full slate of action items for the next two years. During PECORA, Dr. Chris Parrish, Oregon State University Associate Professor of Civil Engineering who is at the helm as LD Director, outlined a number of these objectives through 2016. Among them, the Division proposes to assemble airborne LiDAR laser safety guidelines as well as developing data acquisition and quality standards for platforms beyond airborne LiDAR, specifically mobile mapping and terrestrial laser scanning (TLS). As an aside, NASAs September 2014 announcement of the GEDI (Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation) LiDAR mission was too recent to make the conference agenda, but as the LD broadens its standards development across platforms, it is foreseeable that members of the Division might take up and evaluate GEDI-derived data in the future.

LD Assistant Director Jason Stoker of the USGSbriefed members on the USGSs 3D Elevation Program Initiative (3DEP) a national imperative to collect LiDAR-derived elevation data for the United States in accordance with the LiDAR Base Specification, authored by another very active LD member, Karl Heidemann. Stoker also posed to the members the question of representing data collected with new technologies with the LAS format. Specifically, the LD is going to be investigating Geiger-mode LiDAR(a subcategory of Flash LiDAR which uses array-based detectors and large FOV as compared with more traditional scanning systems) as well as structure-from-motion (SfM). Both Parrish and Stoker endorsed holding panel sessions on emerging LiDAR technologies during the upcoming ASPRS annual meeting, newly titled The Imaging and Geospatial Technology Forum, next May in Tampa.

Furthermore, the PECORA LD meeting also brought updates on developments with LAS, the ASPRS-maintained LiDAR file specification. Regular LiDAR News readers are familiar with one of its columnists, Lewis Graham of GeoCue Corporation, who is the former LiDAR Division Director and present Chair of the Divisions LAS Working Group (LWG). As of last year, the LWG has extended the LAS format to allow for greater customization with the development of Domain Profile Descriptions; the first profile description, Topo-Bathy LiDAR, for topographic-bathymetric applications, is now available on the ASPRS website.

The LWG may also be developing software tools to validate compliance of LiDAR data with the LAS specification. Lastly, as it regards LAS, Parrish noted that the LD is preparing to address and include point uncertainty information in the LAS specification (an underserved issue in data collection which was highlighted in Gene Roes April 2013 editorial), as well as guidelines for modeling the total propagated uncertainty (TPU) of a LiDAR datasetan initiative of particular interest to Dr. Parrish.

Finally, the Certification Committee is nearing the release of the newly accredited Professional Certification as a Mapping Scientist or Technologist in LiDAR, perhaps as early as next year. If the LiDAR Division is any indication of the breadth of activity occurring within the ASPRS Professional Divisions (and there is reason to believe that it is, given the PAD authoring the seventh edition of the Manual of Photogrammetry and the PPDs soon-to-be-released Guidelines for Procurement of Professional Services), the reach of the Society will be extending far and wide in the next few years.

Given the wide adoption of the LiDAR Divisions LAS file specification and the marketability of ASPRS Professional Certifications, it seems that the productivity of the Professional Divisions is continuing to serve the needs of the geospatial information community notwithstanding the size of ASPRS membership base.

ASPRS is restructuring to take better advantage of the interest and implementation of geospatial technologies in the public, private, and academic sectors. Because new developments in imaging and sensing are occurring at a frenetic pace, ASPRS is retooling its message to attract new members who are interested in making the best use of geospatial information and improving standardization. From the Divisional meetings which took place at PECORA, ASPRS will soon have a much stronger case to make to potential members.

USGS, NASA, and ASPRS are planning to hold PECORA 20 at the hometown of the EROS Data Center in Sioux Falls, SD in 2017.

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