Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

It seems to have been an interminable summer, followed by a prolonged Fall. The political situation in several countries has hit severe turbulence. Covid is tenacious and loathe to recede. Climate change is not universally accepted, yet in southern California the seasons feel increasingly uncoupled from the calendar – I shop for drip-irrigation parts, as temperatures day after day top 90°F, from a Home Depot stuffed with paraphernalia for the holiday season…

LIDAR Magazine readers, however, have much to celebrate; despondency should not invade our technological lives. We are fresh from Apple’s announcement of the iPhone 12, complete with lidar. In the geospatial world, when costs plummet and advanced capabilities become available to vast new markets, we have coined the term “democratization”1. Few luminaries, however, would have had in mind, however, the abundance of Tim Cook’s devotees. What will they use it for? In the Fall 2020 issue, we featured Intel’s lidar innovations2 and a recent announcement describes an application to measurement of packages and palettes3: perhaps enthusiasts need barely wait for their new devices to zip along the supply chain.

We have commented frequently on the flow of lidar advances from the automotive world to the geospatial. We covered not only Intel, but also Cepton, Schott and Velodyne in the last issue. In this one, we add DeepRoute and Quanergy. More will follow. Will all these lidar sensors from the automotive world fly on UAVs or be integrated into MMSs? Probably not, but those that do will make a difference. Yet LIDAR Magazine’s roots and the focus of many of its readers lie in surveying and mapping. We bring you three fascinating accounts of applications: the national mapping agency of Romania using lidar to analyze water bodies, Woolpert facing the challenges of deploying a Leica SPL100 in Hawaii, and Dewberry processing lidar data to assess changes to the topography of Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Maria. We’re delighted also to include a description of the ASPRS LAS Working Group, which works on refining and updating the LAS format specification as users’ needs evolve. Indeed, I learned from a recent teleconference that ASPRS is planning more work in the area of topobathymetric, bathymetric and underwater lidar. The assessment of DJI’s new Zenmuse L1 lidar/camera in “Random Points” resonates: Lawrie Jordan’s mantra, oft repeated for at least a generation, “The map of the future is an intelligent image”, has an update—for some applications, the information source of the future is a colorized point cloud.

We have been blessed with numerous virtual conferences, webinars and other online fare, which offer some relief to those of us who yearn for travel and face-to-face contact. The Lidar Leader Awards were presented remotely, as were the glitzy prizes of Geospatial World. ASPRS, Esri and ISPRS ran versions of their major conferences online. A striking characteristic of these events has been the high quality and the lack of technical glitches. LIDAR Magazine is pursuing a number of presenters for written articles, though of course these must differ from the ones already being published in, for example, the Annals or Archives of ISPRS. Most recently, we have enjoyed the very professionally mounted and marketed remote version of Intergeo. We are still trying to absorb the host of product announcements and other news that the event fomented. ASPRS works regionally too: its Florida Region offered a one-day Fall 2020 LiDAR Workshop, complete with keynote by Jim Van Rens and presentations by several geospatial services companies, while its Pacific Southwest Region produced its 1st Annual Symposium on Remote Sensing & Wildland Fire (RS Fire 2020) in four two-hour sessions. Readers who have taken advantage of some of these while also tuning into companies’ webinars about new products and applications will have enjoyed wonderful value in their home offices. We all hope for a return to normality in 2021, but we eagerly leverage these resources to stay current.

There’s little space left to report gems from the popular press. Though not lidar-specific, an article on cadastral mapping reminds us of the unarguable benefit to GDP of land reform, a favorite theme of the Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto, who gave a keynote at the Esri International User Conference some years ago4: some countries have a long way to go. Satellite lidar and radar data from ICESat-2 and Cryosat 2, however, feature in a piece about MOSAiC, Multidisciplinary drifiting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate, mounted in a German icebreaker, Polarstern, which sailed north from Tromso, in Norway, and allowed itself to be carried along by the ice for several months5. In the last issue, we described how iinside was using lidar to monitor separation between people in spaces such as airports. This company has merged with CrowdVision. The market for such systems is energized by covid, of course, so it has been interesting to read an account of another system, from Amorph Systems and VANTIQ, which uses thermal cameras and lidar, in conjunction with security camera footage and data about flight information and passenger flows, to identify possible sufferers and make decisions whether to intervene, for example by closing areas suspected to be contaminated6. Closer to the ground, robots from Boston Dynamics are remarkable because they can walk, but one of their first missions is laser scanning of a Ford plant to create a digital twin7. The most amazing application of lidar we’ve read about recently, however, relates back to the article about Schott in the last issue. Today’s large astronomical telescopes have multiple mirrors, carefully arranged so that a composite image can be obtained as if it came from a single, enormous optic. The relationships between the seven mirrors of the Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile are determined by Absolute Multiline Technology from the German firm Etalon, which uses lasers at 1532 nm to measure distances between the mirrors to 0.5 μm8. The results should furnish the telescope with a resolving power equal to 10x Hubble when it is completed in 2029. Astounding!

Phones, cars, maps, understanding the night sky—lidar is paramount. While scanning my files, I came upon an introduction to TLS for professional land surveyors. Compiled only 16 years ago, it described TLS as “a technique in the early stages of development”9. We are privileged to have experienced such profound, precipitous change. Our profession is nothing if not timely, for it surely stands upon an informational revolution.

1 The classic paper of this genre, perhaps, is that of the Austrian photogrammetric genius, Franz Leberl: Leberl, F., 1991. The promise of softcopy photogrammetry, Ebner, H., Fritsch, D. and Heipke, C. (eds.), Digital Photogrammetric Systems, Wichmann, Karlsruhe, pp. 3-14, A more recent contribution is: Cheves, A., 2019. Democratizing photogrammetry: quick-takes with Phillipe Simard of SimActive, Inc.,, 31 October 2019. The theme is brought up to date in Lee, T.B., 2020, Lidar used to cost $75,000—here’s how Apple brought it to the iPhone,, 15 October 2020.
2 Walker, A.S., 2020. Intel makes lidar too: renowned chip-maker launches low-cost lidar, LIDAR Magazine, 10(4): 44-47, Fall 2020.
4 Anon, 2020. Property rights: parcels, plots and power, The Economist, 436(9211): 37-39, 12 September.
5 Anon, 2020. Arctic explortation: Pole position, The Economist, 435(9199): 68-70, 20 June.
6 Riley, R., 2020. Integrated optical system helps contain COVID-19 in airports, Photonics Spectra, 54(6): 18, June.
7 Anon, 2020. Automation: walking with robots, The Economist, 436(9209): 63-65, 29 August.
8 Coffey, V.C., 2020. The fight for first light: extremely large telescopes, Photonics Spectra, 54(9): 30-36, September.
9 Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, 2004. An introduction to terrestrial laser scanning, 6 pp.
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...