A New Beginning?

Welcome to 2021. Last year—and, indeed, early this year—we fingered the fabric of democracy, continued to eviscerate the environment, and mismanaged the worst pandemic in 100 years. Room for improvement. Will 2021 be less bad? Of the innumerable aphorisms about new starts, I picked just one, from Seneca, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

While our leaders ponder the great issues of state and the maintenance of our planet, those of us in the trenches have to keep renewing something rather more mundane, yet critical if we are to communicate correctly—the words we use to describe what we do. Sometimes we need an up-to-date glossary of terms. A compact one1 has been published recently in The Photogrammetric Record, a UK-based, peer-reviewed journal published by the Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Society. Compiler Stuart Granshaw is the most meticulous of editors, so this glossary, which is the fourth edition, is significant. I counted 94 instances of “lidar”. Of course, it’s quite useful also to those of us who dabble in photogrammetry! The references on page 147 are a fascinating collection.

This is our annual Aerial Technology Showcase issue, in which we highlight not only the legerdemain and industriousness of geospatial service providers but also the ingenuity and innovation of system suppliers. We lead with a meaty piece by Mark Meade of NV5 Geospatial (as Quantum Spatial was renamed on 10 December 2020) and Kyle King of Oklahoma Department of Transportation, presenting the vertical and horizontal accuracies achieved with three platform/sensor combinations flown over an area with numerous carefully surveyed check points. The results are amazing in both accuracy and consistency. Reflect for a moment on what lidar can do in the right hands.

We follow the lead article with three intriguing application stories. Emily Mercurio of CivicMapper and Srini Dharmapuri of Sanborn discuss lidar’s contribution to stormwater management. Steve Snow of Esri describes yet another case of spectacular archaeological advances as a result of lidar data being available—this time on a Mayan site. And regular contributor Al Karlin, together with co-authors from Dewberry and Southwest Florida Water Management District, compares topobathymetric lidar with more traditional hydrographic technologies for mapping inland waterways. On the technology side, we’ve posted on our digital site a piece by Greg Smolka of Insight Lidar about developments in frequency-modulated, continuous wave lidar2.

I’ve written often in these pages about the influx of lidar sensors to the geospatial world from the automotive world, where the principal motivation is autonomous vehicles (AVs). Maybe it’s time to reflect for a moment on AVs’ progress. A recent piece in the popular press suggests3 not that the vehicles are stalling but that the path to total adoption is not as easy as we hoped. So it’s timely that we publish an article by Bernd Braunecker, who headed optics development at Wild and Leica in Heerbrugg for many years, giving the measured view of a Swiss physicist, backed up by a useful overview of relevant technologies. We have noticed, nevertheless, that AV startup Nuro has been given a deployment permit by California’s Department of Motor Vehicles to make deliveries by AV4.

Following Evon Silvia’s piece in the last issue about the ASPRS LAS Working Group5, we bring the first of his reports on the WG’s bimonthly meetings. This relates well to the article about OGC by two of the organization’s big names, Scott Simmons and Stan Tillman. ASPRS owns the LAS format standard, but OGC has designated it as a Community Standard. OGC has formed a Point Cloud Domain Working Group, which should make a big difference to lidar data interoperability, especially on the dissemination side.

Many readers know that the state of Florida has been incredibly active with lidar for 20 years. The Florida Region of ASPRS runs lidar workshops every year in cooperation with the University of Florida. As a result of covid , the last one, on 22 October 2020, was virtual. We proposed to the organizers of the event that we publish those presentations for which the authors were willing to provide written articles. The result will be a special issue containing 13 articles from the meeting. Look out for it next month! The workshop was one of many first-rate virtual events during 2020—see my comments on our digital site—and we are pursuing several authors as a result.

There’s a short article in Photonics Spectra about airborne and satellite imagery6. It’s interesting because there’s material about Hexagon’s enthusiasm for hybrid sensors with lots of quotes from Ron Roth. Hexagon has made the image library in its HxGN Content Program available free of charge to government agencies and nonprofits involved in the fight against covid. The article is remarkably wide-ranging and also covers Headwall Photonics’ solutions that combine hyperspectral and lidar sensors on the same platform.

Times, therefore, are somber for the planet and its citizens, yet promising and invigorating for lidar. Let’s end on a lighter, rather lidar-free note. Leisure time during the holiday season presents an opportunity to view movies that we would not normally have chosen. In my home, our selections are sometimes marks of respect for stars no longer with us—wonderful choices following the passing of Diana Rigg, Sean Connery and John Le Carré last year. Do you use the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)? Does every editor need it? The current, second edition was published in 1989 and consists of 20 volumes totaling 21,728 pages. My neighbor, a PhD in mathematics from MIT, owns this colossus, but laments the lack of a lectern in his lounge! The second edition is being digitized and the third, due to be completed in 2037, will probably never see hardcopy. Electronic versions have been available since 1987 and the OED has been online since 2000. I took the time to view the 2019 film The Professor and the Madman, starring Mel Gibson and Sean Penn, based on a curious and serendipitous friendship between OED editor James Murray, a linguistic genius from Scotland without a college degree, and William Minor, a US Civil War veteran with mental health issues who submitted numerous definitions. Great stuff!

Finally, let’s try to look onward and upward with the help of UAVs. We all know about drone swarms, the importance of which seems greater in defense applications than lidar data acquisition, but please glance at https://www.edinburghshogmanay.com/ to enjoy UAV formations seeing off 2020 and welcoming 2021. Ingenious and uplifting! We hope to bring you similarly inspiring stories from the lidar world as the year unfolds.

1 Granshaw, S.I., 2020. Photogrammetric terminology: fourth edition, The Photogrammetric Record, 35(170): 143-288, June 2020.

2 https://lidarmag.com/2021/01/12/fmcw-lidar-seeks-fortune/

5 Silvia, E., 2020. LAS: what’s on the horizon, LIDAR Magazine, 10(5): 12-16, October/November 2020.

6 Freebody, M., 2020. Earth imaging reveals the true state of land, sea and air, Photonics Spectra, 54(11): 26-33, November 2020.

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...