It’s a good time for lidar

Many of you, I hope, will read this during the Geo Week conferences in Denver in February 2022. At the time of writing, we remain concerned about the seriousness of omicron’s threat—but we’re making travel plans. The year has opened well for hellenists, whose education is often derided these days. Our knowledge of the alphabet, for example, enables us to understand the long road ahead, from omicron onwards, as pandemic becomes endemic. Meanwhile, democracy, a term originally coined to describe electoral systems in Greek city-states in the fifth century BC, seems destined to become a 20th century relic as countries occupied by most of the world’s population use, or are about to adopt, more modern political systems.

Enough etymological sophistry! Where are we now? Geo Week offers a thrilling technical program, a packed exhibition eagerly anticipated by symposiasts1 and exhibitors alike, strong co-located events, and the presentation of awards, including the Lidar Leader Awards, a joint initiative of Diversified Communications and this magazine. LIDAR Magazine is elated that the adjudication process deemed Martin Isenburg worthy of the Outstanding Personal Achievement in Lidar Award. This is the first posthumous Lidar Leader Award and we hope readers share our recognition of this remarkable lidar guru who left us so very early2. The Outstanding Team Achievement in Lidar Award goes to Minnesota 3DGeomatics Committee, an exemplar of dedicated groups of scientists, bureaucrats and other lidar professionals and proselytizers, especially in government at all its levels, toiling in the evangelical and educational trenches both internally and outside their organizations, before an RFP for lidar data collection is even issued. The Outstanding Enterprise Achievement in Lidar Award has been won by the French company Outsight for its Augmented Lidar Box and the Outstanding Innovation in Lidar Award belongs to Australian visionary Emesent for its Hovermap, a scanning unit for drones to provide autonomous mapping in challenging, inaccessible areas such as mines. The Outstanding University Achievement in Lidar Award will be decided at Geo Week. As always, a host of nominations was received for all the awards and the decision-making was tough—we are grateful to those involved. These Awards have proved popular and symbolic. Long may they continue.

We have advertisements in this issue for two live events later in 2022: the annual AUVSI meeting, called XPONENTIAL 2022, which takes place in Orlando in April; and the XXIVth ISPRS Congress, in Nice, France, in June. These will both be memorable, for lidar and much more. We admire Diversified Communications, AUVSI and ISPRS for navigating the tumult to enable us to learn and network.

As a veteran reader of claims about the demise of photogrammetry, I’m not surprised when similar assertions are made about lidar. Rand Voorhies, CTO and co-founder at inVia Robotics, is of the opinion that lidar is being superseded in robotics by 2D imaging sensors assisted by machine vision and deep learning3. But he admits that his argument is focused on robots working indoors, whereas lidar’s role on outdoor vehicles is undisputed. Here’s another thought. Most readers of this magazine are familiar with large sensors mounted on crewed aircraft or rather less expensive ones on UAVs. Sales of sensors of the former type number in the low hundreds per year; in the latter, the thousands. Think, however, about an automotive lidar supplier making a sale to a car manufacturer or tier one supplier for ADAS purposes: such a contract could involve hundreds of thousands of vehicles, maybe even more, with one or more lidar sensors in each. And the even bigger AV market is just arriving! Those of us in the geospatial world will continue to benefit from the cheaper, better sensors that these massive contracts—and the competition to win them—engender.

The articles in this issue are, in different ways, associated with trends. Many of them are summarized by Qassim Abdullah, Woolpert’s brilliant lidar luminary, in the latest of a series of annual predictions that began life as a blog on the Woolpert website4. His comment on lidar in robotic vacuum cleaners is an unintended counterpoint to Voorhies! We are honored to publish this jointly with Photogrammetric Engineering & Remote Sensing, one of the truly great geospatial journals round the globe, and the Geo Week newsletter. Abby Chew of Phoenix LiDAR Systems recounts her company’s relocation from Los Angeles to Austin, the eastward trek championed by Elon Musk among others5. The move went well and Phoenix has embarked on a new product line, RECON, aimed at prospects with less deep pockets than the existing customer base.

We’ve published many articles by the big US geospatial services companies. Some describe themselves as AEG—architecture, engineering and geospatial. Yet, regardless of nomenclature, most of them go beyond just the acquisition and processing of geospatial data and offer a broader range of services. Sometimes we are not fully aware of their strength and reach. NV5 has grown dramatically in recent years, for example, partly through a series of acquisitions. As a result, it has a facility close to my home office where NV5 centers much of its UAV sales and operations. This came about as a result of acquisitions and I was invited by regular magazine contributor Mark Meade and local manager Mike Stys to visit and see what was going on. This is reported here and it’s intriguing that NV5 lays special emphasis on the proper integration of its acquisitions in order to maximize the resulting synergies.

Many readers were excited about Woolpert’s acquisition last September of AAM and Optimal GEO, the leading global geospatial services companies headquartered in Australia and Alabama respectively. Like NV5, Woolpert is poised to capture synergies, without which acquisitions hold less allure. LIDAR Magazine hopes, moreover, to benefit in the form of more articles from the southern hemisphere.

Acquisitions can also have the opposite effect. Many readers will be disappointed that there is no “Random Points” article in this issue. The reason is that GeoCue Group, of whom columnist Lewis Graham was president and CTO, has been acquired by mdGroup, which owns the well known UAV supplier Microdrones. We congratulate Lewis and wish him well on the next phase of his career. We also thank him warmly for a stream of thought-provoking pieces. Lewis and his team grew GeoCue through years of endeavor. We hope they are enjoying the fruits of their labors.

I end with an apology. I couldn’t resist some irony at the beginning. Though “panglossian” includes the Greek word for tongue in its derivation, it’s mainly drawn from the name of the tutor and philosopher in Voltaire’s satire Candide. Nevertheless, a surge of excessive optimism may be just the thing to carry us, like technological surfers, into a memorable 2022. After devouring a holiday gift, John Le Carré’s masterful Agent Running in the Field, I am tackling Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. We’ve all heard the beginning of the long opening sentence, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Take the first clause!

1 Attendees at a conference or meeting; the word is derived from the Greek for “fellow drinker”!
Anon, 2022. City limits: the future of Austin, The Economist, 442(9279): 25, 15 January 2022.

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...