During HxGN Live, held this past June in Las Vegas, Nevada, Managing Editor Stewart Walker caught up with Carl-Thomas Schneider, VP Business Development, Hexagon Geosystems, and several other Hexagon team members for a quick discussion of where things stand and how they came to be:
Q LIDAR Magazine (Dr. Stewart Walker): You began in surveying and geodesy, with degrees from Hannover and Braunschweig. Had Wilfried Wester-Ebbinghaus passed on when you attended the latter? Then you went to Volkswagen?
After finishing my Diploma at the University of Hannover, I continued as a postgraduate at the Volkswagen R&D department and received my PhD degree in 1990 from the Technical University of Braunschweig. Prof. Wester-Ebbinghaus moved from the University of Hannover University to the Technical University of Braunschweig in 1986.
Q LM: You became joint CEO of AICON 3D Systems, which Hexagon acquired in 2016. Please tell me more about that.
I founded AICON 3D Systems in 1990 and established the company as a global provider of camera-based 3D metrology systems for quality control, testing and reverse engineering in various industries. When we joined Hexagon in 2016, AICON had 150 employees and subsidiaries in Asia and North America.
Q How did this acquisition fit within Hexagon’s overall strategy?
The acquisition strongly supported Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division. Please see here for further information: https://bit.ly/2YyxqrC
Q How is Hexagon doing? How do this year’s results compare to last year’s? It seems that the long-term growth objectives are being met, with both gross revenue and earnings (EBITA etc.) increasing year by year, and that the company has strong long-term plans. Is any of the divisions proving to be a cause for concern?
Hexagon has steadily increased its EBIT and is on track to continue do so. Q1 results were released in May and almost all figures were on the increase (for more information, please see here: https://bit.ly/331925z). Our diversified portfolio enables us to offset downward turns in any one division with another throughout the year.
Q How is business development organized across Hexagon, which seems to be quite a complex organization?
Again, we have a diversified portfolio across many industry sectors. We also have an active and healthy M&A strategy to fill any gaps we identify across the market. We’re consistently on the lookout for new opportunities and markets, such as the Leica BLK247 we just released at HxGN Live that opens doors for us to the surveillance sector.
Q What is Hexagon’s strategy towards acquisitions? Is there a size ceiling or floor? Is the strategy based on innovative technologies, gaps in the Hexagon product palette, new verticals, or what? How do you tackle the make-or-buy quandary in these cases?
Where there is a gap in expertise, we acquire. When we want to enter a new market, we partner or perhaps put our M&A strategy into effect. Our course of action is determined on a case-by-case basis, carefully examining all the factors of the particular scenario to make the most informed decision.
Q Our magazine, of course, is involved in lidar, including airborne, MMS, TLS and, increasingly, automotive. I was Leica’s product director on the airborne side almost 20 years ago! Hexagon has products in all four of these areas, isn’t that correct? Do you think it has a big play in automotive?
Yes, we do operate in all of these areas and quite a few more. Our acquisition of AutonomouStuff has brought us into the autonomous vehicle market (see here for more information: https://bit.ly/2OwESUL), where we see a strong match with our lidar solutions in this area. Furthermore, our mobile mapping portfolio also opens doors into automotive as it is vehicle-agnostic.
Q In a recently published research report, Global Marketing Insights not only forecast massive CAGRs for the lidar market and various segments within it in the 2019-25 timeframe, but said that there would be parternships, mergers, acquisitions and so on as firms try to position themselves to take full advantage of the growth. Do you agree with this and what does it mean for Hexagon? Maybe this would be a good point at which to comment on the relationship with Matterport, which I heard about in the context of the survey of Frank Lloyd Wrights’ Taliesin West near Phoenix, Arizona.
Brian Smith, emerging technologies product manager at Multivista and construction technologist at Leica Geosystems: At Hexagon, we collaborate with strategic partners to strengthen our portfolio and fill in gaps. The partnership between the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation (FLWF), Leica Geosystems and Multivista, for instance, was formed in 2018 (more details are available here: https://franklloydwright.org/3dlab/about/ and https://bit.ly/2GE2iB5). This summer, Leica Geosystems will be conducting data capture for Taliesin Wisconsin. This will be another unique test of technology and pioneering new data capture processes for preservation and architecture. Our collaboration with Matterport is around the technology of the Leica BLK360 and is outside our initiative with FLWF. These partnerships are just a couple of many examples of where we’ve found opportunities to branch into new markets and close gaps in our offerings.
Q Last year Hexagon announced huge performance improvements in its bathymetric and topobathymetric lidar sensors. These were dramatic—have you seen a corresponding improvement in your placement within the market?
Anders Ekelund, vice president of airborne bathymetric lidar at Hexagon’s Geosystems division: We are a leader in bathymetric lidar with our Chiroptera and HawkEye airborne sensors. The market is still emerging, but, during the last years, we have seen a steady growth, mainly caused by both an increasing number of hydrographic offices which start to use the technology for shallow water charting, and also an increasing number of mapping organizations which start to use the data for flooding analysis in rivers. We expect to see a continued growth, similar to the development of airborne topographic lidar a number of years ago.
Q Although I represent LIDAR Magazine, I am a photogrammetrist by training. Would you like to say something about what’s going on in Hexagon on the photogrammetric side?
My former company AICON 3D Systems is now part of Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence and integrated in the Portable Product Line (together with measuring arms and laser tracker). AICON is continuously developing photogrammetric systems for close range industrial applications. Just recently a high-end photogrammetric camera, the C1, has been released for high accuracy demanding industrial applications.
Q The Hexagon Content Program or Service, as I saw it called today, is leading-edge on technology but also on business model. Would you like to say something about this, including the engagements with customers and partners?
Paul Smith, product strategist, HxGN Content Program: The HxGN Content Program, providing unparalleled quality airborne imagery and lidar, is our answer to the new data economy. We’re seeing our customers using it innovatively, including coupled with machine learning to automatically detect roadway types and parking for autonomous navigation, supporting insurance industry partners for post-disaster recovery, and helping field crews to be safer during on-site inspections.
Q Any thoughts on drones?
Valentin Fuchs, UAV business director at Leica Geosystems: We see UAV as an additional technology sensor part of the tool chain for professionals requiring accurate geospatial 3D data, such as surveyors, contractors and so on. Thanks to photogrammetry solution, it is becoming very simple for clients to get accurate 3D data from a larger area than with traditional methods – it opens new business opportunities. Combining UAV data with other Reality Capture sensors like Laser Scanning or Mobile Mapping systems, allows to get a complete Digital Twin of objects which has not be able before. With Leica Aibot solution and the Leica software ecosystem, users are able to get high accurate survey type accurate data to trust. The more the data can be trusted, the better actions can be derived in Surveying or Construction or other industries.
Thank you for your time and thanks to Penny Boviatsou for setting up our session(s).
Esri Imagery Summit and User Conference
“To See What Others Can’t”
Every summer, close to 20,000 geospatial professionals descend upon San Diego to gather inspiration from the preeminent GIS software developer, Esri. The firm now supports an astounding 350,000+ organizations globally*.
An annual treat tucked into conference tote bags is the “Esri Map Book”, a sampling of work from customers around the globe. In the preface of this year’s edition (#34), Esri founder Jack Dangermond congratulates those selected for inclusion, explaining that their work “illustrates how Spatial thinking is helping professionals from many fields make better decisions and then act on them in a new way”.
These days, when discussing sensor or imagery integration trends, sooner or later, one is bound to encounter the “weaving” metaphor. Considering individual data sources as thread(s), GIS software operates like a loom, weaving a multitude of strands into a complex pattern that affords users the “big picture”. While this is great for researching known patterns and trends, it has become increasingly valuable in identifying previously unknown patterns and other root causes. Ongoing advancements in cloud computing and machine learning promise an entirely new realm of possibilities in this regard.
“You can’t fix what you can’t see”
Esri places considerable emphasis on developing (data) sources. In this vein, the Imagery Summit was formed, creating a forum to discuss the satellite imaging and remote sensing ecosystem, an area that produces what many would consider to be a “main thread”.
Here are some of this year’s “Notable quotables”, comments shared by panelists at the 2019 Imagery Summit:
The global sensing revolution
“It’s not just an observational revolution, it’s a global sensing revolution. We have drones going underwater, satellites, cell phones in our pockets with increasing ranges of sensor data, and it’s our job to figure out how to utilize all of that and make it interoperable as best we can. There’s a lot of misconceptions out there about the different use cases that are revalent within different data sets… People need to understand and better specify where imagery matches the problem.”
—Will Marshall, Planet
“Lidar has been a game changer for NRCS (National Resources Conservation Service) for conservation planning and design. Historically, we relied on mixed use topographic maps for a lot of our planning work; now, thanks to lidar, we can generate really accurate one and two-foot contours in some of the areas where they’re doing land leveling and trying to control water via water management systems, both for controlling runoff for nutrients but also for keeping the water in place for crops. The engineering community has really embraced this (lidar). At first, there was some reluctance to use it because it came from a fixed wing aircraft—now that they’ve seen it, and have taken their own methods to verify it, the acceptance has really skyrocketed.”
—Steven Nechero, NRCS, a division of USDA
The digital revolution
“The digital revolution within our field office from hard copy maps in every field office, every county across the US, taking analog imagery and turning that into ortho products, and now the revolution with the 3DEP program, promising lidar, wall to wall for the lower 48 states, farmers and ranchers have access to this information not just for farm production but for conservation efforts such as trying to keep soil erosion in check, monitoring the (effect) on waterways, different wildlife habitats, it’s an exciting time to see how much the data is being integrated and how the end user community has been empowered.”
—Steven Nechero, NRCS, a division of USDA
“While machine learning is overhyped in some areas, in certain classes of problems, like feature identification from images, such as (identifying) a ship, tree, road or house, that sort of thing has been largely solved—previously, this required teams of analysts and PhD’s in GIS to get this sort of information out— interns can now automate roads and buildings in minutes. This brings the use of imaging to a far larger group of people than it once was….”
—Will Marshall, Planet
“There’s an 800 lb.
gorilla in the room, in the accuracy and precision of datasets—there’s a huge amount of legacy data that’s tied to imagery—when we move that data around, I’m talking spatial accuracy, you have to go back and correct the topology and the vectors and analyze them. Deep learning is going to require some deep cleaning…”
—Robert White, MAPPS
“I’m seeing imaging and GIS convergence, govt and private sector convergence, the proliferation of data and the ability to extract information from it at scale using machine learning—people are seeing that we can apply this, that it’s not just a demo, that we can actually effect the mission.”
—Tony Frazier, MAXAR
Unveiling of ArcGIS Excalibur, a new image exploitation tool
Users closest to the front lines have described a transition to an “imagery first reality” in which imagery sits atop GIS systems and principles; much of this has to do with the imagery itself, considering the quality, portability and integration capability of today’s datasets. Esri’s new extension, “ArcGIS Excalibur”, serves to integrate image exploitation. Esri explained:
“Part of the Esri Geospatial Cloud, ArcGIS Excalibur is a project-based imagery application that modernizes and enhances image-based workflows through intuitive experiences.” Users may “view drone, aircraft, or satellite imagery as collected along with authoritative geospatial contextual and operational layers; assign and manage imagery exploitation tasks across the organization; compile, publish, share, and disseminate dynamic information products to consumers and devices in multiple formats.”
*User information supplied by Esri.