Keep the Home Fires Burning

Many of us continue on lock-down, while the wait for definitive good news seems interminable. Some localities and non-essential sectors of the economy in the US have permission to re-open, yet the citizenry is not entirely convinced that the risks have been adequately mitigated. It seems certain that normal life and travel are some months away and that there will be permanent changes, involving, for example, routine testing and vaccination Most of all, there are so many imponderables that it is hard to be decisive—but sinking into a slough of pessimism is unlikely to be helpful.

This issue contains an interview with Mark Meade of Quantum Spatial which is a refreshing counterpoint. His firm has almost its entire headcount working productively from home and all aircraft are flying. Doubtless, Quantum Spatial’s competitors are equally adept. All these companies undertake vast projects across the US and beyond, meet challenging timelines and price levels, and, in the process, stretch the technology and uncover its capabilities. Along the way, Quantum Spatial has been acquired and is now an NV5 company. Mark’s answers to our questions whet the appetite for detailed accounts in the near future!

Speaking of big US geospatial services companies, we also have articles from Surdex, discussing when customers need to refly projects with lidar, and Dewberry, on the role of topobathymetric lidar in monitoring nesting sites in Florida of the Cape Sable seaside sparrow.

We cross the Atlantic and move from big companies to small. We have previously featured the UK company Routescene1, which manufactures a pod for UAV-lidar, and in this issue they provide an interview with their customer, FlyThru, about its UAV-lidar work and experiences with Routescene equipment. One of FlyThru’s projects is set amidst fabulous scenery just north of the town of Oban in Scotland, an area well known to your managing editor. Recommended!

Many of the lidar presentations we hear or read include remarks about the vast quantities of data that are generated and how difficult it is for some users to exploit it. Many of these users work in the Esri environment and will be interested in the interview with Ron Behrendt of Beyron, a consultancy in Montana, who has prepared software to ease the flow of data from the Riegl database into ArcGIS.

I’ve started putting a few words on our digital site each time I listen to a webinar and will continue to do so, but my priority here is to pay tribute to the organizers, moderators and presenters of these events. I’ve enjoyed ASPRS webinars recently—one, in their GeoBytes series, on the Equal Area map projection, and another, under the banner “Virtual Cloud & Coffee” on “Machine learning with Dr. Qassim Abdullah.” Qassim is ubiquitous these days, a lidar doyen: I attended a virtual public meeting of the Hydrographic Services Review Panel, which advises NOAA, and he was a new member, and a Geo Week webinar, “What’s the future of lidar?”, in which he was a panelist alongside Ron Roth, Jim Van Rens and Martin Flood—high-quality stuff! I logged into a webinar run by the organizers of the Intergeo conference and trade show about the use of UAVs to help the battle against covid-19. And LIDAR Magazine was the premier sponsor of a two-day webinar, “Right-of-Way Asset Mapping Virtual Conference Experience”, focused on Fort Collins, Colorado, but with many presentations of much broader interest. There is, unarguably, a tremendous variety of top-quality fare available to help us keep up-to-date. Press releases, professional journals and trade magazines continue to arrive. We regret the lack of face-to-face contact, but we are hardly short of information.

The Geo Week conference, organized by Diversified Communications (DivCom) to co-locate ILMF 2020, ASPRS 2020 Annual Conference and MAPPS 2020 Federal Programs Conference, was postponed and relocated from Washington, DC in March to Chicago at the end of July, adding the postponed AEC Next and SPAR 3D events into the mix. This doesn’t look especially promising, given the numbers in Chicago at the time of writing, and we empathize with the DivCom decision-makers. We have learned, however, that ASPRS has decided to opt out of the Chicago event and is organizing its own virtual conference for late June. ASPRS will be hosting a separate online event, “ASPRS 2020 Annual Conference Virtual Technical Program” on June 22–26. This is intended as an opportunity for ASPRS Geo Week 2020 presenters to have their work publicly disseminated and published without further delay. ASPRS will assemble technical sessions from existing ASPRS Geo Week 2020 abstracts and organize a single track of technical sessions offered as secure, access-controlled Zoom webinars from 11 am to 6 pm EDT. Poster authors are welcome to participate in the virtual program with 15-minute oral presentations based on their accepted abstract topic. ASPRS will publish proceedings in the ISPRS Archives from written manuscripts submitted by registered presenters who participate in the virtual program. This is a new direction for ASPRS and its emphasis on members’ needs is welcome.

My verbosity ran me out of space in the last editorial, so I was unable to tell you about something that caught the eye, a short piece in the February issue of Photonics Spectra2 about Scheimpflug lidar. To photogrammetrists of my vintage, Scheimpflug is an optical condition that had to be satisfied in optical rectifiers so that every point on the projection plane was in focus. Scheimpflug lidar, on the other hand, was developed by Mikkel Brydegaard Sorensen at Lund Laser Centre in Sweden about ten years ago. The purpose is to detect insects. Previous approaches used extremely unwieldy atmospheric lidar. Sorensen and two others founded FaunaPhotonics3 in 2014, initially to develop sensors for monitoring different aerial and aquatic fauna. A Scheimpflug lidar system was the first sensor used in the company, which now works internationally on the monitoring of insects and zooplankton. Look up Scheimpflug lidar and read more about it—it’s fascinating. We geospatial folk may not be doing much in terms of insect monitoring, but it’s going to be increasingly important as our world changes. Another rather intriguing development that is somewhat peripheral to us mappers is the use of vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs) for measuring the actions of drivers and passengers in cars4, i.e. very short range measurements that give another input to advanced driver-assistance systems. VCSELs are used in depth sensing in devices such as smartphones, for example Apple’s Face ID module, so R&D investments are supported by high-volume sales. Applications include checking for infants left in the car, or whether the driver is awake, from sensors in the rearview mirror or steering wheel. Methods of 3D sensing with VCSELs include structured light and time of flight, both with their merits and demerits. Could VCSELs be another technology that derives from automotive applications but finds a second home in geospatial? The range appears to be way too short, but lidar never ceases to surprise…

Riemersma, G., 2020. LIDAR Magazine, 21-23, Jan/Feb
2 Fløistrup, K.M., 2020. 3 questions with Kiri Miyaca Fløistrup, Photonics Spectra, 54(2): 54-55, February.
Hogan, H., 2020. Car in-cabin sensing is within sight, Photonics Spectra, 54(4): 32-35, April.

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...