Summer Highs

I had the privilege, along with publisher Allen Cheves and professional land surveyor Jason Foose, County Surveyor, Mohave County Public Works, Arizona, to represent LIDAR Magazine at the spectacular HxGN LIVE 2018 event in Las Vegas in mid-June. This was the first time I had attended this event and it was the real thing, orchestrated, up-beat and packed with information. There were more than 3500 attendees from 70 countries. The event made a big impression on me. Early on, the press were taken on a tour backstage to see the massive audiovisual effort behind the big keynotes—enormous screens, duplicate projection systems, lots of people who knew what they were doing. As we waited for CEO Ola Rollén to take the stage, smoke swirled around but I didn’t see any mirrors! Starting from a concise description of Netflix eclipsing Blockbuster Video, Ola introduced pillars of disruption then moved on to Hexagon innovations such as the Exalt “platform of platforms” and the autonomous connected ecosystem. As the days hurried by, we became used to senior executives in snug designer suits and no ties striding on to the stage and giving almost flawless presentations without notes. I asked Hexagon Geosystems president, Jürgen Dold, how businessmen develop this expertise. He assured me that it is just hard work and practice and his own keynote was unsurprisingly excellent. He came on stage with a backpack, from which he unveiled the new BLK3D and RTC360 products. It’s now 49 years since I first came in contact with the industry, as a rodman on construction sites, but only now do I realize that what I was doing was reality capture! Many of the keynotes, as well as the conference summaries, are on YouTube—take a look!

Shortly afterwards, Allen attended the Esri International User Conference in San Diego, a bigger and similarly polished performance. The rise of user conferences, run by big suppliers such as Esri, Hexagon and Trimble, as well as lots of smaller ones such as Blue Marble and nFrames, raises interesting questions. Do these supersede, compete with, or not affect traditional conferences? Given the limited budgets of attendees, the third of these is unlikely. Critics may decry user conferences as no more than congregations of customers consuming “Kool-Aid”; while vendor staff give the big presentations and there are multiple vendor presentations and exhibits, however, there are also numerous excellent, not necessarily parochial, customer presentations and fine exhibits from partner companies. Remember, too, that many of them are replicated, at a smaller scale, at the regional, national or lower level. The user conferences, therefore, have reduced the number of general conferences that vendors’ customers can attend each year, resulting in a consolidation of conferences, producing fewer, bigger, more vibrant, more successful events that draw bigger audiences. Examples already mentioned in these editorials are ILMF/ASPRS and SPAR 3D/AEC Next. C-level executives must breathe sighs of relief that their managers and other professionals can update effectively with less investment in labor days and travel. We seem to be headed in the right direction.

Some issues ago, we published an article based on my visit to Cepton Technologies, an automotive lidar start-up in Silicon Valley. Cepton recommended that I talk to one of their customers, May Mobility, which uses autonomous vehicles for “community-scale fleet transportation” for its customers. I visited them and the article is in this issue. Each vehicle, however, has a human attendant, ready to pounce on a custom-built T-bar that activates a drive-by-wire control system, if the unexpected arises. This inspires customer confidence, rather like the elevator attendants in department stores of my youth, yelling exotic attractions, such as “haberdashery” and “millinery”, as the doors opened. Perhaps more exciting to readers, though, is May Mobility’s use of sensor fusion: they depend on a vast number of sensors and use the data from them not only for vehicle control but also for database update when the vehicles return to the operations center for charge. I’ve been espousing sensor complementarity and this case is an exemplar. While automotive lidar is not the first focus of this magazine, we acknowledge that the huge market size—millions of vehicles per year—is extremely likely to motivate innovations beneficial to the ALS, TLS and MMS worlds, so we keep an eye on it. The New York Times1, for example, recently ran an article about the debates taking place in cities over schemes such as May Mobility’s. Will they work at all? Will they really outperform buses or Ubers? Should New York City repair its ailing metro or cover the tracks in concrete and fill the tunnels with “platoons” of AVs? The problem is that the specter of AVs is a disincentive for cities to invest in conventional transportation, so existing infrastructure deteriorates or remains inadequate. Some players liken this dilemma to that 80 years ago when freeways were the innovation fighting for investment with conventional solutions. Is it OK to do nothing while cities wait to see how the technology evolves? The debate abounds with smart participants, yet the answers are frustratingly elusive.

In the last issue I raised the arcane topic of lidar in fiction and had to concede some ground to cartography, which is better represented. Another cartographic hero paces the pages of a short story by the celebrated Australian author, Peter Carey, entitled ‘“Do You Love Me?”’, which is set in an imaginary world governed by the Cartographers, whose mapmaking can control activity in the real world.2 Intriguing!

LIDAR Magazine’s new website is up and running, easier to use and much more visually appealing than its predecessor. All issues of the magazine are available there, but provides a lot more besides, such as press releases and other news. We can offer customers combined print/digital opportunities and guarantee our writers more exposure. Navigate to and enjoy!

I am indebted to Wendy Lathrop, doyen of journalism on our sister magazine The American Surveyor, for drawing my attention, just as this editorial was going to press, to a piece in The Press of Atlantic City3, about a “bright yellow, boat-like buoy that floated off a dock at Gardner’s Basin[, which] will use high-tech instrumentation on deck to help Danish offshore wind company Orsted place wind turbines for its Ocean Wind project, planned for 10 miles off Atlantic City.” It continues, “The most important equipment on the buoy is the FLiDAR, or Floating Lidar, unit on board. It shoots lasers up to 200 meters in the air to take wind speed and direction measurements, said P.S. Reilly, president and CEO of Axys Technologies, which developed the buoy.” Wendy, of course, homes in on the big issue, whether we would prefer “flidar” or “Flidar”, but argues that these visually appear as something completely unrelated to the real measurement tool involved. Pedants will relish this dilemma, but I wonder whether it’s early days yet and the acronym will evolve into something else if usage rapidly accelerates…

1 Badger, E., 2018. “Driverless cars? Transit leaders see yellow light”, The New York Times, 21 July, pp A1, A15.

2 Carey, P., 1995. Collected Stories, Faber & Faber, London, 353 pp.

3 Brunetti, M., 2018. Spending a year at sea to find best spots for wind turbines, The Press of Atlantic City, 16 July.

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...