An Abundance of Caution

“They changed their minds, flew off, and into strange vagaries fell…” Guided by Milton’s words from Paradise Lost, we’re gently resuming travel—but it’s a strange feeling and there’s an abundance of caution. I discovered that NV5 has an office close to my home and this became my first business trip for almost 15 months. I will write this up for you, because the facility is the focus of NV5’s UAV mapping operations, which have a substantial lidar content. With both internal clients from across NV5 (which goes way beyond NV5 Geospatial) and a growing external customer-base, the services of this unit are in demand. NV5 is never idle when it comes to acquisitions and its recent purchase of Geodynamics, headquartered in Newport, North Carolina, constitutes an instant expansion of NV5’s hydrographic and coastal science capabilities. Intriguingly, I met NV5’s chief synergy officer, Scott Kvandal, whose role is to ensure that all these acquisitions work. Thereby hangs a tale. Back in the twentieth century, when I was working for Leica Geosystems, skilled CEO Hans Hess was fond of the phrase “leveraging synergies”. Those were my pre-MBA days and I didn’t really comprehend. I fully appreciate now that the success of an acquisition is dependent on effective integration into the culture and operations of the acquirer. If two plus two doesn’t equal a lot more than four, then the acquisition is just squandered sweat. NV5 is facing this challenge sensibly.

After the excitement of the last issue, supersized with articles about Florida, we bring to you a more typical offering. The tide of Florida lidar talent has not ebbed, however, and we have a very practical contribution by Ben Wilkinson and Andrew Lassiter of the University of Florida about targets for use in lidar surveys. We have a follow-up from Florida lidar guru Al Karlin to his earlier Puerto Rico piece. Then we fly west to California, where Kass Green, well known Berkeley consultant and author, reports on how consortia of public-sector organizations in or near the Bay Area have contracted for lidar data so that they can have access to very detailed, accurate topographic and vegetation maps in order to manage wildfire risk and many other challenges. There are two further, stylish contributions from the Golden State. Christopher Anderson of Bay Area start-up Salo Sciences talks about his firm’s application of complex analytics, rich in artificial intelligence (AI), to satellite imagery and lidar for monitoring wildfire risk. We enter the Pacific with an account by Jennifer Wozencraft of the Joint Airborne Lidar Bathymetry Technical Center of Expertise (JALBTCX) of the mapping of the California coast by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and its federal and private-sector partners. These articles draw from airborne lidar, mainly from manned aircraft, but no issue of LIDAR Magazine these days would be complete without something equally exciting from the automotive side. So we continued west, across the ocean, for an interview with HanBin Lee, founder and CEO of Seoul Robotics, a Korean start-up that supplies hardware, firmware and perception software which works with a lidar sensors from many suppliers. The issue ends with “LAS Exchange” and “Random Points” by our regular contributors, Lewis Graham and Evon Silvia.

The contents of this issue, therefore, are fine reading, but also link well to what we have in store. In the next issue, we have a companion paper about another USACE geography—mapping the shorelines of the Great Lakes. Global warming, changing water levels and human activities in this vast, critical part of the US merit the best geographic information, of which USACE is a key provider. This article is based on a presentation at a virtual meeting of the ASPRS Eastern Great Lakes Region last year and will be prefaced by a short piece from region president Shawana Johnson.

I have dwelt in these pages on the benefits the geospatial world has enjoyed as a result of automotive-grade lidar sensors finding their way on to UAVs and road vehicles, resulting in economical mapping systems that offer impressive performance. As automotive suppliers pursue the goal of autonomous vehicles, not only driverless cars, but robotaxis, vehicles for moving containers around ports, etc., sensors and the related firmware and software are crucial. The suppliers are busy not only innovating but also chasing the funds they need to grow. The use of special-purpose acquisition companies, which we covered with respect to Velodyne Lidar1, has become popular—many other sensor supplies have followed this path, including AEye, Innoviz, Luminar and Ouster. We have interviews with two of these in preparation, and another with Neural Propulsion Systems, as well as technology articles from Lumotive and Quanergy Systems. The market is complex: some of the suppliers make sensors and, perhaps, an accompanying SDK, whereas others provide sophisticated software based on AI approaches such as deep learning. Some use their own lidar sensors; some, third-party products. We will try to help you sort this out.

For all this automotive excitement, we must not forget the suppliers that introduced airborne and terrestrial lidar and thus transformed the mapping activity. Teledyne Optech, for example, has recently mounted strong webinars and we are seeking articles on their sensors, such as the Optech CZMIL Nova. Meanwhile, our next issue will contain an article by multiple authors from USGS and other federal agencies about the efficacy of a sensor from Leica Geosystems for both 3DEP and NAIP. The interview with James Van Rens of Riegl USA in the last issue further underlines the strength and vibrancy of these market-leaders. They are cornerstones in the commercial world that provides the means to collect geographic information and is in constant flux: the acquisition by Teledyne Technologies of FLIR Systems, which itself acquired UAV manufacturer Altavian, makes the point!

As I’ve observed on our website, ASPRS recently held its annual conference, again virtually, and we are approaching a number presenters as prospective contributors. That brings us full circle—back to traveling. ASPRS is planning its participation in the Commercial UAV Expo Americas event in Las Vegas on 7-9 September 2021, which seems almost certain to go ahead live. The ASPRS workshops are likely to focus on what the Society does best—certification, calibration, standards and guidelines. Indeed, I wonder whether its range of publications should be expanded with a manual of UAV-photogrammetry and UAV-lidar. Readers with thoughts on this are welcome to write in!

Let’s peer a little further out. Researchers at three UK universities are using lidar to construct high-definition holograms that can be projected on to a car’s windshield to allow drivers to “see through” objects, alerting them to potential hazards. It’s early days yet and so far they’re experimenting with TLS data sets, but the concept is fresh in the sense that it’s in the ADAS rather than AV world2. Finally, please take time to view a beautiful, mainly photographic history, in flipbook form, entitled 100 Years Innovation Heerbrugg3. The jubilee celebrations were hard hit by the pandemic, but this is one result and it’s superb!

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...