Summer Learning

I’m writing this at home in the hinge of a diptych of learning opportunities. I’ve just returned from the AEC Next/SPAR 3D conference in Anaheim, California. Organized by Diversified Communications, this is another combination of two conferences that have existed separately for many years. SPAR 3D dates from 2003, so this was the 16th in the series. AEC, however, dates back 40 years, with events both in the US and overseas. The relationship with Diversified Communications began 18 months ago, resulting in the renaming to AEC Next in 2017. The total attendance was nearly 2000 and there was a lively exhibition.

There were far too many high quality presentations to mention here, so we look forward to the proceedings and I hope to persuade some presenters to author articles in LIDAR Magazine. If there was a theme to help us discern a direction for the future, it was “an era of convergences”. Technology continues to delight us with its development and exuberance, for example terrestrial and mobile lidar systems are lighter, cheaper and faster, and new platforms such as drones are well accepted. Meanwhile software improves apace and visualization, including AR/VR, does justice to the excellent data. In these pages I’ve often underlined the complementarity of technologies and SPAR 3D reinforced this message. Indeed, an unrelated example from a book I am reviewing for PE&RS springs to mind. The author mentions several times that the extraction of vegetation information from hyperspectral imagery is much improved if lidar and photogrammetry are brought into play1.

Two keynotes, one on the design and construction of NVIDIA’s new headquarters in Santa Clara, California, by presenters from NVIDIA and international architectural firm Gensler, and one on integrated project management, brought home to me that, however wonderful are the measurement technologies at our disposal, the reality of creating and constructing a modern building is daunting, the domain surely of especially imaginative, talented and persistent individuals and their teams.

Listening to a presentation, in a parallel session on autonomous technologies, by Quanergy CEO Dr. Louay Eldad, I was reminded that automotive lidar, consisting of firms aspiring to provide large numbers of small systems at economical prices for vehicles to run with varying degrees of autonomy, will increasingly influence traditional geospatial lidar, with its expensive, specialist systems sold in more modest quantities. If I were better organized, I would have known this long, long ago from the 2016 bumper holiday issue of The Economist2. This delay—not opening it till May 2018—is not born of some Calvinist delight in delayed gratification, but of burying the issue beneath a pile of other unread material. At that time the race was on to miniaturize lidar and suppliers were beginning to ship units to car manufacturers or automotive-component suppliers, using either solid-state or MEMS-based approaches. Next month I am visiting May Mobility in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to find out how they are deploying Cepton Technologies lidar on their autonomous vehicles.

An entirely different application of lidar to cars enthralled the audience in a parallel session on digital historic preservation. Australia is home to the only surviving 1914 Delage Type-S grand prix car. After the engine of this unique vehicle failed, it was scanned inside and out—a task that involved considerable challenges on its own—and the results were used to create molds by 3D printing, from which a new engine was cast in a foundry. It worked and the presentation ended with a video clip showing the car back on the road!

This week I am bound for Las Vegas to attend HxGN LIVE 2018! This is the annual user conference of Hexagon, the Swedish conglomerate that has acquired Intergraph, Leica Geosystems and numerous other geospatial companies. It should attract several thousand participants. This is a far cry from the first user group meeting I organized—the Kern DSR UK user group meeting in York, England in December 1987, with perhaps 20 attendees. During the week, I hope to make progress on several articles in the pipeline about Hexagon—the history of its linear-mode lidar, the dawn of single-photon lidar, the marvels of spaceborne lidar and the strategies behind geospatial content programs. The highlights, however, will not be these articles but what we hear from the podium and see amongst the exhibits: without doubt there will be product introductions, significant incremental developments and innumerable, remarkable applications. More on this in the next issue!

I was reminded that it is some time since I reported encountering a particularly interesting piece while scanning my archive. I came across a paper by Peter Mott, a director of the UK company Hunting Surveys, “The use of radar altimetry in the mapping of a reservoir”. The document has no further information on its provenance. The background was a project Huntings was awarded to generate 1:50,000 mapping with 20-foot contours of an area of 1500 square miles around the river Niger, deliverables due February 1960. The aerial photography was flown from 20,500 feet in the Fall of 1959 and airborne profile recorder lines along the sidelaps between the strips of photography were flown at between 5000 and 10,000 feet. The reduction in the labor hours to provide ground control in Z was 78%. The RMSEZ of the APR points was around 4 feet, but increased rapidly with flying height. The paper is very detailed and makes for fascinating reading. Why does this matter? As I’ve said before in these editorial pages, we must not forget the absolutely incredibly progress made in our subject—compare what was achieved in 1959, using an active radar sensor and flown without GNSS or IMU, which had not been invented yet, with the performance of the sensors discussed by authors in this issue. After the title page of the article is a full-page illustration of Hunting’s DC-3 aircraft: note that the Basler BT-67 flown for Woolpert for their post-hurricane lidar analysis, described in this issue, is a much updated derivative of that very aircraft!

Other than playing bridge, few activities take my mind off matters geospatial more effectively than assembling IKEA furniture, with which I have populated homes in several countries since the late 1980s. Readers will have noticed that a robot has been developed by Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, capable of assembling an IKEA chair. It has two arms, both with cameras and force sensors, but does it use lidar?

Let me end on a lighter note. Much as I enjoy bringing you gems from The Economist—or from the past—that impinge on what we do, I would relish being able to bring you more from the world of fiction. Lidar folk figure rather infrequently in that medium, sad to say, but for this issue I happened on something that is at least reasonably close. Last Stories is a collection of short stories by the acclaimed Irish novelist William Trevor (numerous awards and five Man Booker nominations), published posthumously this year3. In one of the stories, a cartographer is reunited with a former student; the two fall in love, but it doesn’t turn out well, the usual course for passion in the fictional north of England…


1 Pu, R., 2017. Hyperspectral Remote Sensing: Fundamentals and Practices. CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, Boca Raton, Florida, 466 pp.

2 Anon, 2016. Driverless cars: eyes on the road, The Economist, 421(9021):111-112, 24 December.

3 Trevor, W., 2018. Last Stories, Viking, New York, 224 pp.

About the Author

Dr. A. Stewart Walker

Dr. A. Stewart Walker 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.