To Have and to Hold

Geo Week 2020 Postponed

Our March/April edition has much to do with the Geo Week 2020 series of conferences, originally slated for March 22-26 in Washington D.C. As this edition went to press, conference organizers were ultimately forced to postpone the events, the result of an unfortunate set of circumstances thrust upon countless leadership teams faced with curtailing the highly infectious COVID-19 virus.

The Geo Week banner was created by Diversified Communications to describe the co-location of three geospatial conferences—International LIDAR Mapping Forum 2020, ASPRS 2020 Annual Conference and MAPPS 2020 Federal Programs Conference. Nominations for the LIDAR Leaders Awards, a joint initiative of Diversified Communications and LIDAR Magazine, were accepted for the third time: once again, we received a bevy of high-quality submissions and the Advisory Committee agonized at length over its selections. There is a preview of finalists on page 6. Also previewed are the ILMF keynotes, talks that invariably set the tone for each year’s forum.

This year, Geo Week was transitioned to Washington, D.C., a change from the usual Denver venue and an opportunity for the event to grow. Early indications were that this was indeed happening: registrations at various milestones were ahead of those last year. At the time of this writing, the COVID-19 virus was wreaking havoc across the globe, casting a shadow over any event arranged to bring far-flung peoples together. Meetings large and small have been postponed or outright canceled, while others have been beset by travel restrictions imposed by employers or local governments—all in attempt to contain the virus. In the words of motivational guru Denis Waitley, we should “expect the best, plan for the worst and prepare to be surprised”.

As we pine for happier times, let us enjoy the content in this issue. I always like to find a context for each issue’s articles, exploring how they exemplify excellence or trends in the industry, the profession and the technology, not dissimilar to what Geo Week represents!

We lead with a piece by Jennifer M. Wozencraft of Joint Airborne Lidar Bathymetry Technical Center of Expertise (JALBTCX—your editor struggled to pronounce this during the 2019 Lidar Leader Awards presentation) about a coastal project in Alaska in which some of the work was done by Woolpert. Following that, we have a piece about Ron Chapple, whose GEO1 company operates out of Hawthorne airport, not far south of LAX, and acquires still and video imagery as well as lidar for clients across the globe. Ron’s work over the past 20 years spans a remarkable series of projects, including novel archaeological work, and, more recently, dispatches to Hawai’i, Mount Everest, the jungles of Colombia, and the urban environment of Hong Kong.

Amongst all this, you’ll find a range of company listings, many of which were contributed by companies that planned to exhibit during Geo Week. We offer these in attempt to “set the stage”, familiarizing you with firms that are driving our industry forward.

Last but not least, you’ll find an interview based upon a visit I made to Applanix, the Canadian GNSS/IMU wizard which was acquired by Trimble in 2003. I didn’t have to do much—the piece is an interview of Joe Hutton, director for airborne products. Joe spoke, I recorded, and we learned in depth not just about Applanix as a company but about the evolution of GNSS/IMU technology and the trend towards UAV applications of both photogrammetry and lidar. Sometimes it’s best to relax, let the expert speak, and absorb the wisdom!

I’ve written in previous editorials about the useful insights we sometimes gain from sources outside the geospatial mainstream. Recently, I enjoyed a piece in Photonics Spectra about automotive lidar1. In LIDAR Magazine, we often publish articles on companies whose primary markets are automotive, i.e. autonomous vehicles and advanced driver-assistance systems, and we have updates in the pipeline on Quanergy Systems, Cepton Technologies, Velodyne LiDAR and Intel. Owing to fortuitous parallels between automotive and UAV applications, these companies’ products have made an indelible mark on the geospatial landscape, for example mapping and smart cities, since their price points reflect both the requirements and the depth of the R&D pockets of the car industry. Smolka’s article gives some background that helps us understand the synergies. He notes that there was approximately $1.2b venture capital investment in lidar in the first nine months of 2019. He characterizes trends and it’s an intriguing exercise to surmise how these could affect those of us in the geospatial world.

Lastly, I want to mention a couple of things I’ve read, concerning mapping in one form or another, but not closely related to our lidar world. At the end of an essay on particle physics, The Economist quoted Jon Butterworth, a member of the team that discovered the Higgs boson in 2012: “My whole career there’s been a very clear road map of what we need to do next and now there isn’t one. We’ve outgrown our road map. Experiment is ahead of the theory. It’s an interesting and difficult time.”2 It’s tough being a particle physicist these days. Is there a lesson for the geospatial leadership? The second is another of those delightful coincidences we encounter in the geospatial world. I wrote on our digital site about moderating a session on smallsats at the recent GeoBuiz Summit in Monterey. One of the panelists represented the Canadian company GHGSat, which specializes in detection from space of emissions such as methane. One of its satellites detected a plume of methane apparently from a gas pipeline in Turkmenistan3. Further observations through the year suggested the leak had been fixed. There’s a lot more to the story, but it’s a privilege to have been on the same platform as a company so clearly on the leading edge. Long may it continue.

Let’s end by returning to the mainstream: airborne lidar from manned aircraft. I scribbled a few words for the magazine’s digital site about my recent visit to the 2020 Los Angeles Geospatial Summit, held at the University of Southern California on 28 February5, and expressed my delight at receiving a copy of the beautiful Esri book GIS for Science. This immediately became bedtime reading, even before I could finish Isaacson’s tome on Steve Jobs (I picked this up second-hand for $1—who wouldn’t?). It didn’t take long to come across a superb essay on landslides and other natural hazards in the state of Washington6. Lidar is the underlying technology, the data is available on the Washington Lidar Portal and extensive further resources are provided by Esri7. The company’s vast marketing reach will ensure that lidar’s contribution reaches the desks of scientists across the globe. Have a look!

1 Smolka, G., 2020. Market trends in automotive lidar, Photonics Spectra, 54(1): 56-61.
2 Anon, 2020. Physics: assembling the future, The Economist, 434(9175): 57-59, 4 January.
4 Anon, 2020. Climate change: the methane hunters, The Economist, 434(9179): 69-70, 1 February.
6 Coe, D., 2019. What lies beneath, Wright, D.J. and C. Harder (eds.), GIS for Science: Applying Mapping and Spatial Analytics, Esri Press, Redlands, California, 237 pp: 22-41.


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...