Florida Open for Lidar Business

The focus of this issue is lidar in Florida. I wrote earlier about the lidar workshops series run by the ASPRS Florida Region and the University of Florida, of which the first online one took place last October. After the event, I approached the organizers and suggested publishing some of the presentations in the magazine. I am enormously indebted to one of our regular contributors, Dr. Al Karlin, who helped me with the project and acted as a conduit to the authors. No less than 13 articles emerged! Al himself provided a short history of the workshops to give a perspective, then he and Matt LaLuzerne compiled a summary of a session in which the various Florida organizations that collect lidar described what they had been doing. There are ten articles from the commercial sponsors, one of which is an interview with RIEGL USA senior vice president, James Van Rens, based on his keynote at the workshop. Finally, one of the academic presenters chose to publish with us and we’re pleased to print Allison Senne’s study of seagrass, where airborne imagery was used but future work will benefit hugely from topobathymetric UAV-lidar. We hope you enjoy these articles. They go well beyond Florida—Jamaica and Tonga, for example—and reflect the energy and imagination of the workshop organizers in assembling a high-quality program.

We’ve been able to prevail upon Jeff Lovin, senior vice president at Woolpert and president of ASPRS (until Dr. Jason Stoker takes over on 31 March 2021) to give us an industry outlook. This embraces not only technology but also the effects of the pandemic—valuable insights from an industry veteran. And, of course, we have Lewis Graham’s “Random Points”, yet more well thought out advice from an acknowledged expert.

We appear—in the US at least—to be reopening after covid. The lidar community has high hopes that the Geo Week conferences take place as scheduled in Denver in February 2022. The ILMF Advisory Committee has been working hard with Diversified Communications on the program. We look forward to the fourth incarnation of the Lidar Leader Awards. In the short term, however, continuing caution is recommended, even by those who have been vaccinated. I’m writing this just after a week of celebrations, with Pi Day on Sunday and St. Patrick’s Day on Wednesday. Let’s hope the former doesn’t turn out to be a geospatial superspreader, as its festivities will have attracted the sort of uninhibited throng who’ll put a samurai sudoku to one side in order to attack Dave Lindell’s “test yourself” puzzles in The American Surveyor. Fortuitously, a less cheerful event fell between the two and we hope that the admonitory spirit of cave idus martias spread through the week…

As I noted in my previous comments on the excellent online events that have emerged during the pandemic, one of the highlights was the Geospatial Summit run by the Spatial Sciences Institute (SSI) at the University of Southern California, which took place on 26 February—the 11th such event and the first online. SSI was assiduous in inviting me to attend in order to report on the day1. The number of attendees varied thoughout the day, to a maximum of 130. The goal of the meetings over the years has been to present some of the ongoing geospatial activity in the greater Los Angeles area and in particular to give students opportunities to present both verbal and poster papers and to learn about employment opportunities. After an opening session on “Data and Dashboards: Using GIS to Communicate in Crises”, with an emphasis on covid, came, for me, the best part of the day—the student poster session and the discussions with the presenters. One of them had surveyed oyster beds using remote sensing, but admitted that topobathymetric lidar was her dream sensor. Next were three student lightning talks, with well known respondents from Esri, USGIF and Maxar Technologies. No less than seven sessions were available called “lunch and learn”, then the main session of the afternoon was Zoom rooms to talk to 17 companies and organizations. The final session was “Customizing your applications: making the data work for you”, with expert speakers from Northrop Grumman and Maxar Technologies. If you’re anywhere near LA, think seriously about attending next year’s event, on 25 February. There was rather little lidar on this year’s program, but I’m confident next year will be different!

More recently, I joined a packed one-hour event, “How to utilize 3D mesh models for smart city and AEC applications,” sponsored by Aerometrex and hosted by Gavin Schrock of Geospatial Media. This topic shows how we are moving forward, i.e. beyond merely creating the mesh models but actually using them. Chris Andrews of Esri spoke about 3D mesh in ArcGIS, then the session entered a vigorously international component. Christian Doehring, speaking from Calgary, presented Pureweb’s approach to publishing and streaming, then a presentation, by Ray Henry in Ireland, from the start-up Ambiflo, discussed applications for mobile telecommunications. Gavin rightly pointed out that it’s nevertheless important to understand the “heavy lifting” that must go on before the digital twin can exist and be exploited and Matt Walker, from the Aerometrex office in Brisbane, Australia, took up this theme. With good planning so much can be packed into an hour! The bimonthly meeting of the ASPRS LAS WG will be reported by Evon Silvia on the website and it’s gratifying that revision 16 is ready to go. ASPRS is limbering up for its annual conference, once again virtual. This will be rather a marathon, because it’s packed with excellent presentations, with a five-day program starting on 29 March 2021.

As a result of my involvement with LIDAR Magazine, I have had the great honor of being invited by Underwriters Laboratories to participate on their Standards Technical Panel 4700, “LiDAR and LiDAR Systems”. The goal is a standard concerned with lidar safety. I find myself privileged to be amongst a group of top engineers from lidar sensor manufacturers, automotive companies and safety organizations. I may have to request your help on this, so will report again once the group gets going.

How’s this for a one-paragraph description of our science? “Using laser light in the same way that sonar uses sound and radar uses radio waves, ‘lidar’ technology is used to build digital models of all sorts of environments. Ecologists use it to estimate forest biomass, film-makers to produce simulacra of famous cities that can then be trashed in spectacular computer-generated mayhem. Would-be-autonomous vehicles use lidar to spot obstacles. If your phone recognises your face in the dark, it is because it is running its gentle infrared lidar across your features. Thanks to their precision, lasers can pick up movement, too. Some lidars measure wind speeds by tracking dust motes in the air. Spies use lasers reflected from windows to snoop on conversations; the tiny vibrations in the glass caused by voices on the other side create measurable variations in the wavelength of the reflected light.”2 This makes it sound exciting, to be sure, but omits mapping and charting, surely the bedrock of many of lidar’s spectacular achievements. These applications are special, not only to the readership of LIDAR Magazine, but also because they excel when lidar data is fused with that from other sensors—and this is performed at scale. Nevertheless, as I never weary of saying, it means we lidar folk are mainstream and will have plenty to do…

2 Anon, 2021. Lasers: outshining the sun, The Economist, Technology Quarterly, 9 January 2021, page 10.

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...