Florida Lidar Flourishes

This scribble has been created in the unusual environment of the lobby of Harrah’s Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, while waiting to check-in for Hexagon’s HxGN Live! event – more about that next week. It’s a busy time for LIDAR Magazine and the recent highlight was the Lidar Workshop convened jointly by the University of Florida and the Florida Region of ASPRS. This was the 14th in the series, the 13th held face-to-face and the 7th following the hybrid format established during the pandemic. It was the 12th located at the Mid-Florida Research & Education Center of the University’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in Apopka, Florida (the exceptions were a completely online event in 2020 and a hybrid event held in the hangar of GPI Geospatial in 2021). The in-person attendance was 68 and an additional 78 joined remotely, from as far afield as Canada, India and the West Indies.

The format followed the traditional pattern, starting with an FL-ASPRS business meeting led by LIDAR Magazine regular contributor Al Karlin. At the outset, however, he warmly thanked the 13 sponsors, whose generosity had helped make the meeting possible. Indeed, he added, Dewberry and RIEGL had sponsored all 14 workshops. There was a new gold sponsor, 3DEO, and a new silver one, GdB Geospatial.

After the business meeting, there were six state agency updates, with presenters from two of the Florida water management districts (WMDs), two Florida state agencies and two federal ones. The Suwannee River WMD presentation included material on the University of Florida collection of more than 160,000 historic aerial photographs. The work of scanning and georeferencing has been aided by Dewberry. The result is a fascinating archive of great value, a tremendous achievement. There was reassuring news from the South West Florida WMD – the USGS Florida Peninsula Lidar Enhancements are complete! The presentation contained some hard questions about repeatability and recency. Xan Fredericks, USGS National Map Liaison for two states and two territories, gave a 3DEP update. Moving from topographic to topobathymetric/bathymetric/sonar, the presentation of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection was centered on the Florida Seafloor Mapping Initiative. The session continued with more marine mapping from the Florida Coastal Mapping Program. There was a fine report from Stephen White of the National Geodetic Survey (NGS), part of NOAA, addressing the topic, “NGS Coastal Mapping Program: shoreline, imagery, and nearshore bathymetry,” and including descriptions of the impressive work going on. At all these meetings, your reporter feels overwhelmed by the sheer amount of lidar data acquisition and processing going on in Florida – by numerous local, state and federal organizations, which in most case contract out to the private sector – the whole ecosystem prospers accordingly.

Keynote speaker was David Stein, also from NOAA, talking about NOAA’s Digital Coast, a partnership of organizations built to offer data, tools and training. This is national, not just Florida.

After a lunch break, there were presentations from the platinum sponsors, Dewberry, McKim and Creed, Pointerra and RIEGL. These were measured, informative and interesting – factual rather than parochial. We have marveled for decades at the continually improving, high-performance, intricate, innovative products from vendors. Two examples emerged from My-Linh Truong’s typically meticulous presentation of RIEGL products – the upgrade possibilities from the VQ-1260 to the VQ-1460 airborne lidar system, and the considerable performance improvement from the previous to the current version of the RiPROCESS software. Yet we have equally admired the size, resources and project completions of the service companies. They evolve rapidly too, a characteristic brought to bear as one of the presenters announced the delivery of a new MMS only the week before. It became clear, too, that service companies as well as suppliers of hardware and software are industriously seeking applications for the AI/ML, especially deep learning, in areas such as point-cloud classification and feature extraction, for example hydrology, structures and electric poles. Jamie Young was able to go into some depth on Pointerra’s felicity with utility networks and Amar Nayegandhi, another regular contributor to LIDAR Magazine, described how Dewberry has an Enterprise Innovation Program to foster progress. There is no doubt that they have been successful and that their processes are enormously faster than human operators, though no-one claimed 100% success and effective QC is key.

This was reinforced in an “AI/ML and lidar roundtable”. The panelists were the presenters from the previous session, all well-known industry figures, and the chair was Prof. Stephen Medeiros, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. The discussion mainly reinforced what we had heard in the previous session.

The gold sponsors presented next – Pickett & Associates, Frontier Precision Unmanned (a separate division of the huge Trimble reseller), GPI Geospatial, 3DEO and Woolpert. Many of the impressions were similar to those received during the presentations of the gold sponsors and two statistics from the Woolpert presentation made an impact: the company has invested $70m in lidar technology and has worked in more than 50 countries. Also, like most of the other sponsors, it provides cloud-based solutions. The GPI Geospatial presenters showed a scan of the workshop venue that they had made earlier in the day and brought a NavVis system for members of the audience to try out. Dr. Kimberley Reichel of 3DEO gave an intriguing presentation, because many of us have wondered whether there would be more than one player in Geiger-mode lidar outside the closed military world. Her company, certainly, has a background in MIT Lincoln Labs and the Department of Defense, but the presentation was open and full of strong introductory material for those less familiar with Geiger-mode. The “sweetspot” for 3DEO is data acquisition from crewed aircraft at medium altitudes. One of the frequent applications is flying over jungle in search of certain activities.

Your correspondent, unfortunately, missed the academic presentations from four Florida universities, but for good reason: he had to attend a meeting of the 3DEP Subcommittee of the National Geospatial Advisory Committee; more will be written once the findings of this subcommittee become public. The academic presentations, however, will not be forgotten: Al Karlin will cover them in a summary of the meeting, to be published both on the website and in a print issue. Meanwhile, we will approach some of the workshop presenters to see if they would like to submit articles to us.

Despite attending several of these workshops, your correspondent still felt strange joining in the darkness before the West Coast dawn. Yet it was a privilege to participate in the lively, successful lidar community in Florida, where the technology has been brought to bear in so many ways to facilitate the state’s growth as well as its preparedness and resilience – all the more important as Floridians batten down the hatches for the 2023 hurricane season.

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...