From the Editor: Taming the Tumultuous Times

I have joined LIDAR Magazine as our geospatial world whirls amongst spectacular advances. Recent visits to the 56th Photogrammetric Week in Stuttgart and the enormous Intergeo event in Berlin underlined the vibrancy of both the stakeholders and the technology. It is a weighty responsibility and considerable privilege to try to help you discern the directions we are taking. My position as managing editor has some airborne emphasis because that is the focus of my own experience and we have ideas to deploy further editors with skills in terrestrial and mobile LIDAR.

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The Stuttgart event was epochal, in the sense that it was the first presided over by Professor Uwe Srgel, chair of the Institute for Photogrammetry at the University of Stuttgart. Appointed in 2015, he took over from Professor Dieter Fritsch, a world name in modern photogrammetry. These professors stay in their posts for decades, so this change was significant! We are interviewing Uwe to find out what’s going on. Uwe’s field is synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and this topic unsurprisingly featured in the tutorial preceding the main event. Our industry has moved beyond the myth of competitive technologies and we seldom hear from Luddites who think you don’t need photogrammetry because you have LIDAR or vice versaso we will try to present to you updates on the complementary technologies that may be used in conjunction with LIDAR. Amongst many memorable presentations was a masterly comparison of “traditional” and emerging LIDAR technologies (Geiger-mode, single-photon) from a scientific point of view by Dr. Boris Jutzi, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, providing succinct, invaluable background for understanding the recent arrivals.

For readers who have not attended Intergeo, the sheer scale is hard to assimilate. The focus is the trade showhundreds of booths, some bigger than the biggest I’ve seen at the San Diego Auto Show, spanning six halls of the Berlin Messe. The throngs on some of the booths were reminiscent, too, of auto enthusiasts anxious to get up close with a new Corvette or Aston Martin! In three days it is impossible to visit all these booths, so one must travel with a list of must-visits. The vibrancy of our industry was reflected in the many new products on show, some of which had been previewed in Stuttgart two weeks earlier. There is no question that customers of the exhibitors continue to benefit from higher performance, more economically delivered, than ever before. First impressions can be misleading, but we remember the enormous number of unmanned airborne systems (UASs) of all shapes and sizes, and the range of successful integrations that have been accomplished. I am in the early stages of preparing a feature for you on the integration of LIDAR on UASs, which is rather more demanding than integrating a camera on its own.

I’ve been around in the photogrammetry world for decades, first in academic life in London, then in private industry, working for system suppliers in UK, Switzerland and US. I became conscious of LIDAR in the 1990s, but I remember a turning point when I was working for LH Systems, a joint venture between GDE Systems and Leica for the development, marketing, sale and support of photogrammetric systems. My boss, CEO Bruce Wald, another geospatial veteran, called me in one day and said something like, “I’m not very sure what this LIDAR thing is, but I want you to keep an eye on it for us.” Perhaps three years later, we acquired Azimuth Corporation, a manufacturer of airborne LIDAR sensors in Westford, Massachusetts. The Azimuth AeroScan became the Leica ALS40 and the rest is history, but I want to catch up soon with Ron Roth, co-founder of Azimuth Systems and popular globetrotting LIDAR guru, as he works on the integration of Sigma Space into the Hexagon empire.

Many of us have noticed with approval the increasing number of jurisdictions that have made their LIDAR data available free of charge. LIDAR compressor Martin Isenburg recently reminded us on LinkedIn that Scotland has joined the throng. As a Glaswegian, I spent a nostalgic few minutes on the portal looking for coverage of the haunts of my youth. We’re planning an article to report on the progress of similar availability across the globe. A rather parallel, perhaps less riveting yet equally critical, trend is the publication of guidelines for LIDAR acquisition, for example those for Canada published in Septemberwe have a duty to keep you up to date on this too.

Since I am “mature” an “industry, veteran” or whatever euphemism you , prefer to use for a boomer, perhaps you will indulge a soupon of nostalgia. Having retired from full-time work in the summer, I have been trying to reduce the volume of my belongings by scanning my thousands of technical papers. This week I came across a paper by G. Babbage, reprinted from The Canadian Surveyor, volume 19, no. 2, pp 133-146, June 1965, “The subtense barits use and its errors” . The paper describes measuring, with a theodolite, the ends of a horizontal bar set up over a point to be positioned, giving a standard error in distance of 0.8 inches at 300 feet. Measurement required great care, so perhaps some tens of points could be measured per day. Contrast this with a terrestrial laser scanner, such as the one demonstrated to me at Intergeo, measuring more points by a factor of at least 106, with higher accuracy and no manual computation! The second nugget is Bergstrand’s 1949 description, “A new distance measuring equipment” This was . the dawning of electromagnetic distance measurement, of which LIDAR is one of today’s most fantastic manifestations. What is the relevance of this? Firstly, marvel at how our technology has advanced in only two or three generations. Secondly, reflect that even with the incredible tools at our fingertips, projects continue to be challenging, requiring imaginative, rigorous use of appropriate hardware and software to meet the goals. More key to success than ever is human ingenuity, albeit no longer for laborious, repetitive field observations or office computations. Accompanying this dramatic progress and unlimited potential is a delicate framework of certification, licensure, ethics, standards, guidelines and procurement regulations, which we have created and maintain to ensure that the client receives what is expected. More of this in issues to come!

Enjoy the magazine

A. Stewart Walker, Managing Editor

A 376Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine is HERE

About the Author

Dr. A. Stewart Walker

Stewart is the Managing Editor of the magazine. He holds MA, MScE and PhD degrees in geography and geomatics from the universities of Glasgow, New Brunswick and Bristol, and an MBA from Heriot-Watt. He is an ASPRS-certified photogrammetrist. More articles...