Quarterly Forecast

This issue marks our shift to four print issues per year—to bring you more substantial magazines, with more articles in each. This issue’s content begins with an important piece by three authors from the University of Stuttgart, establishing that UAV collection of both imagery and lidar, with suitable ground control and careful processing, can yield remarkable accuracies—better than 1 cm. This opens up dramatic possibilities for monitoring structures, checking for subsidence etc. Indeed, establishing ground control of sufficient accuracy to tie down such UAV-derived networks is a challenge in its own right! LIDAR Magazine is not a peer-reviewed journals, so when renowned names from universities publish with us we are honored and delighted.

Readers know Leica Geosystems, part of Hexagon, and its lidar units have been described in these pages on many occasions. The evolution of Leica Geosystems is complex; suffice it to say that it began with a company founded in Heerbrugg, Switzerland by the brilliant designer Dr. Heinrich Wild. Some of its products, such as the T2 theodolite and the A8 and B8 stereoplotters, became workhorses throughout our industry. An exciting series of events planned to mark Wild’s centenary in 2021 was disrupted by the pandemic. We are fortunate, therefore, to have secured an article written by Leica Geosystems physicist Dr. Eugen Voit, who retired in 2018 and has become deeply involved in investigating and recording the history of the company. Eugen provides a concise, engaging perspective and many readers will want to dig deeper as a result!

At the component rather than company level, an article by Dr. John Wilson of BrightView Technologies describes his company’s approach to the design and manufacture of technology for the shaping of laser beams. This matters for automotive applications, not only looking at the situation on the road ahead and around the car, but also monitoring what’s going on inside, for example checking for driver fatigue.

Regular contributor Dr. Alvan Karlin of Dewberry has been busy and we have two of his articles. The first is a synopsis of the 13th Lidar Workshop run by the University of Florida and the Florida Region of ASPRS. The second shows how a test flight of Dewberry’s CZMIL Nova sensor pinpointed springs and feeds that form part of the intricate network supplying Florida’s critical wetlands. Major springs, of course, have already been mapped, but the remoteness and dense vegetation have precluded the recording of many less significant karst features until now.

The University of South Florida (USF) has been a frequent contributor to the lidar workshops. Two of its academics, Laura Harrison and Steven Fernandez, have submitted an article about the lidar education available there. It’s extensive and large numbers of students learn not only how to use hardware and software but also how to apply them to interesting, practical projects.

Harrison and Fernandez begin with the statement, “Demand for employees with education and training in advanced geospatial technologies is at an all-time high…” They introduce the USF response by explaining that two units within the university are working together, “… to create the nation’s most advanced hands-on training opportunities in lidar and geospatial technologies.” It’s very strange, therefore, that, shortly before I wrote these words, I received a disturbing e-mail from Jon Mills, professor of geomatic engineering at the University of Newcastle in the north of England. Jon has published extensively on photogrammetry and lidar and is well known in EuroSDR and ISPRS circles. His graduates are employed in the geospatial industry around the globe. He had the unpleasant task of informing his department’s mailing list that the School of Engineering is closing down two undergraduate programs in geospatial engineering—BEng Geospatial Surveying and Mapping and BSc Geographic Information Science—owing primarily to low levels of recruitment of students. There is no criticism of the product, i.e. the geospatial education that has been provided for many years, or of the abilities of the graduates from these programs. There are simply too few students for the programs to be viable. If you want to write to the University’s vice chancellor, I can share Jon’s e-mail with you. It appears that Newcastle and USF are moving in completely opposite directions, yet the Newcastle experience perhaps has a parallel in the US: the average age of professional land surveyors is high and is not decreasing, due to the small numbers entering the profession. Why are we unable to attract young people to our geospatial world with its glittering technologies, challenging projects and societally beneficial results?

Last in this issue is a review of the second edition of High Resolution Optical Satellite Imagery, a book by four famous authors that’s worth a read even by lidar folk, because earth observation from satellites is so pervasive—every day we see images of war in Ukraine, devastation of the Amazonian rain forest, etc., so it’s worth knowing more about how they are acquired and used. The book comes from Whittles Publishing, a small operation located in Dunbeath, a little village on Scotland’s northeast coast. Whittles has published numerous well known geospatial texts, so I became fascinated that a publishing house in such a remote location should figure so prominently. On a recent vacation in Scotland, I passed through Dunbeath while following the North Coast 500 route which the Scots have marketed so successfully, so I contacted Keith Whittles in advance and we met for a couple of hours. A charming Englishman with BSc and PhD degrees in geology, he was offered an assistant professorship in Scotland, but instead joined the publisher Blackie in Glasgow. His career was successful, yet he decided to set up on his own 37 years ago and moved north. His premises are a converted mill. I had assumed that he would have a tiny office and do everything remotely, but, no, there are five employees, who work partly in the office and partly from home. Typesetting and printing are contracted out, but there’s a lot going on in Dunbeath.

My Scottish trip ended in Edinburgh. I met up with Dr. Roger Kirby, who retired some years ago from the Department of Geography, University of Edinburgh, where he had led courses in geomatics and glacial geomorphology for decades. Roger lives in Haddington, close to an area of archaeological significance. Archaeologists are curious whether faint circular features in public lidar data could indicate the site of a motte-and-bailey castle. If the suspicion were confirmed, funding would be sought for UAV-lidar data and perhaps even an investigation with ground-penetrating radar. Sadly, there are no resources even to have the point cloud examined.

My reading on vacation was limited, but I enjoyed positive pieces from the UK press about autonomous vehicles1 and artificial intelligence2. The former ends with the words, “… buckle up for the driverless revolution, but expect a few potholes on the way.” On returning home, my local newspaper had a long piece about potholes3, a ubiquitous plague in San Diego. The city has hired Fugro to conduct a detailed survey. The article is not explicit, but I suspect Fugro will be using one or more of its ARAN 90004 mobile mapping systems with special lasers to monitor surface roughness. A survey isn’t a cure, but it’s a good first step…

1 Yeomans, J., 2023. My day in a robocar, The Sunday Times, 2 April 2023, Business p6.

2 Parsons, K., 2023. AI can power productivity beyond our dreams, The Sunday Times, 2 April 2023, Business p6.

3 Garrick, D., 2023. Where are San Diego’s worst potholes? A laser-equipped van is roaming 2,800 miles of city streets to find out, Poway News Chieftain, 70(47): A4, 13 April 2023.

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...