#5 – Ron Chapple

Ron Chapple has devoted his amazing career to flying helicopters, first for cinematography, but then to acquire imagery and lidar for geospatial purposes. His work has won multiple awards, including a Pulitzer prize, and has been instrumental in the discovery of archaeological wonders in Latin America. His company, GEO1, was acquired by US geospatial services giant, NV5 Geospatial, in 2022 and Ron now serves as Vice President Global Strategic Solutions – Digital Twins, NV5 Geospatial. In the podcast Ron discusses his life in flying, his transition to geospatial, the acquisition by NV5 Geospatial, and the creation of and data acquisition for digital twins.

Episode Transcript:

#5 – Ron Chapple

March 11th, 2024

Announcer:           Welcome to the LIDAR Magazine Podcast, bringing measurement, positioning and imaging technologies to light. This event was made possible thanks to the generous support of rapidlasso, producer of the LAStools software suite.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Welcome to the LIDAR Magazine podcasts. My name is Stewart Walker and I’m the Managing Editor of LIDAR Magazine.

My guest today is Ron Chapple, Vice President, Global Strategic Solutions, Digital Twins at NV5 Geospatial. Ron came from the world of aerial cinematography for which he moved into geospatial services. He was the Founder and CEO of a company called GEO1, offering flying imagery and lidar acquisition services out of Hawthorne, California, a little south of Los Angeles.

GEO1 was acquired by NV5 Geospatial, Inc, a wholly owned subsidiary of NV5 Global, Inc. in June 2022 and Ron is now part of the senior leadership of the acquirer. Ron, we welcome you to the LIDAR Magazine podcasts. Thank you very much for finding time for us today. I’m looking forward to the conversation.

Ron Chapple:        Stewart, thank you, first of all, for the invitation and really happy to be here to speak with you today.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Well, before we turn to the main business of the day, I want to go down a sidetrack just because it’s interesting. Listeners may have seen a very recent article in The Economist entitled, “Podcasts Turn 20: Aural History” They were first noticed in February 2004 and podcast is a portmanteau word—maybe we’d call it a mash-up—from iPod, not the iPhone because it hadn’t been invented yet, and broadcast.

Happily, the alternatives of audio blogging and guerilla media didn’t catch on; 43% percent of Americans and 30% of Brittons listen to at least one podcast per month. The iPhone was a massive accelerant and the first standalone apps came out from 2010 to 2012.

There are four million podcasts out there, so I’m very grateful to listeners for choosing this one. What will be next? Maybe podcasts with video. Listeners who have any interest in this should look at for a forthcoming book entitled, “Podcast Journalism” of which the author is David Dowling.

So, Ron, again, welcome to the LIDAR Magazine podcasts. Many of our listeners know your name and your work very well, but I want to talk a little about that first so that everyone’s in the same page.

So, we’ve given your job title at NV5 Geospatial. So, is it right, then, that the name of your company—GEO1—lives on in spirit only and all the companies acquired by NV5 operate under a single brand?

Ron Chapple:        Yes, Stewart, that’s correct. GEO1 does live on in spirit and our team now are fully integrated into NV5.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Thank you. Well, I’ve got the nomenclature correct. We’ll return to the acquisition later, but let’s first talk about you and relate the present to all the fabulous work that you’ve done for several decades.

You began business life as a commercial photographer, then you became an aerial cinematographer and your company, Aerial Filmworks, dates back to 2004. And then you moved to geospatial work and GEO1, I think, was founded in 2015.

And some listeners may have noticed an article in the March/April 2020 issue of LIDAR Magazine entitled, “Ready Willing Able: The SWAT Team of Lidar.” And the author Jeff Winke reported that it was a 2009 client request for high-resolution video of an electrical circuit that stirred your interest in matters geospatial, leading to the founding of GEO1 as the survey and mapping division of Aerial Filmworks.

That’s a brutally sharp summary of a remarkable career. Would you like to say more about your early life, how you got into flying and how your career progressed?

Ron Chapple:        No, of course, Stewart, and that’s a great question and I’ll have to go back in my memory here a few years. Really starting out life as a photographer, you had the choice of being in the studio or you had the choice of being on location and I always wanted to travel but travel at anytime is expensive.

So, I thought I would be a location photographer which led me to lots of location assignments and lots of travel; I’ve seen just incredible locations.

Eventually a client at one point saw my work and saw some of the aerials and they thought, “You should do more aerials and have you ever thought about aerial video?” And, again, I was intrigued by the idea and started researching it and found that there was a market just ready to explode.

At that time, Planet Earth had just come out and it was the first incredible, gyrostabilized aerial video that had been presented on the big screen and that, I think, is the early formation of what got me excited about doing the aerial work other than just incredible unique perspectives when you’re in a helicopter or now, of course, you can get some similar perspectives from flying a drone.


Ron Chapple:        And I’m happy to talk about what you said – mentioned about a transition into geospatial work and doing our first utility job or our first electric infrastructure video. When that client asked us to do a video, we were like, “Why do you want a video of a power line?” and we just all joked that we were going to win an Oscar for the best power line award.

We were using this quite expensive stabilized gimbal system and the video looked awesome, but the first question after we delivered it was the client said, “Where am I? I don’t know what pole I’m looking at.”

So, this dates prior to the technology allowing you to overlay date and time and GPS position onto video other than in a military operation. So, we designed our own system that would bring that data together so now the client could see an overlay on our award-winning video that would have date and time and GPS location.

We later worked with the manufacturer of that gimbal to start having an overlay of the actual numbers and the flight path and the circuit lines that were there, so it was very much an early introduction into augmented reality.

From there, we got a taste of the geospatial world which I should also probably reference back a little bit, Stewart, that when I was doing aerial imagery, just photos, people would say, “That’s beautiful. Where is that?” and that “Where am I? Where’s that?” question kept haunting me going, “How can I bring that information into the work that I’m doing?”

Fast forward to the power line video to adding the geospatial data, the next step became adding lidar to our portfolio of services.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Now, before we focus our conversation entirely on geospatial, I think it’s worth saying, and many listeners already know, that your career boasts many highlights: multiple Emmy awards, a Pulitzer Prize and working in some quite amazing parts of the world.

The Pulitzer Prize, for example, was won after GEO1 acquired video and lidar of the entire US/Mexico border in an endeavor for USA Today. And so, that video enabled viewers the ability to observe the division between the countries from above and the lidar was used to create an interactive virtual simulation allowing users to walk alongside key points of the wall. And then there were interviews and stories about people living along the border.

What do you remember most about that project?

Ron Chapple:        Just the idea when we first talked with USA Today that they were interested in flying a helicopter through from the entire border from one coast, the Gulf Coast to the Pacific Ocean, was just amazing.

And then as we talked, we started developing the ideas to add the georeferencing to the video and then add the lidar and the high-resolution imagery for the purposes of creating a virtual reality experience.

All these ventures are not a vacuum, by any means. I had a great team, Phil Carter who is our Aerial Acquisition Director now for NV5 for helicopter and UAS, was deeply involved in that. And just a ton of credit to the people at Gannett Media for having the courage to try some new technology and see how that worked out to be able to not only for the viewer to know where they were but to help geolocate the actual stories.

So, the stories themselves are – if there was a reporter or a photographer, those images were also georeferenced as to precisely where they happened along this entire 2,000-mile border.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Now, another project of which I’m sure you’re very proud is your work in Ciudad Perdida in Columbia where your GEO1 team worked with National Geographic explorer Albert Lin to acquire lidar in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

So, that’s an isolated, difficult-to-access coastal mountain range very overgrown. So the data that GEO1 provided was used to model and analyze it. It would have been very time consuming or almost impossible on foot. What do you remember about that one?

Ron Chapple:        Well, that was a great one. First of all, I mean, Colombia is absolutely beautiful. I’ve been working in Colombia on various projects probably now for 10, 12 years. The interesting part about Ciudad Perdida is that they started to do some renovation to the landscape after they made the first discovery on foot, but that they knew there were going to be other areas, so they renovated and rejuvenated this area so that people could hike there.

It’s roughly a two-and-a-half day hike to get to this location, but fortunately they’ve, on the top it, cleaned up the platforms that were built there for this ancient civilization to have structures.

So, by helicopter it was really on a half hour or so from the nearest airfield, assuming you can get through the often low-lying clouds. We were always watching the clouds to make sure we had an exit point. So, the safety in choosing the right helicopter company definitely comes to mind.

So, we landed there and we’d already made our flight plans. At that point, one of the innovations that we had created was to take two RIEGL sensors and put them into the same pod and we both canted and clocked them so that every point of view would receive up to four, say, laser pulses.

And then we also did a 50% side lap so that we had the equivalent of eight pulses times—I don’t know, it was a 600,000 pulse rate—being able to push lots of lidar pulses down into that jungle to be able to create as accurate DEM as possible.

The technology was new for its time versus just flying one sensor in an airplane. Our sensor was on the nose of a helicopter and we were terrain following so that we were always staying the same distance above the jungle which was maybe 400 to 500 feet or so.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Yes, it’s interesting that in a way you were developing technologies there that have been widely adopted since then. For example, having lidar designed so that the laser points forward, nadir and backward to make sure that there are multiple pulses on particular objects in the landscape.

And then also the idea of flight planning and flying at varying heights to follow the terrain so that the pixel size of the imagery and the spacing of the lidar remain fairly constant. So, you were there already.

Ron Chapple:        What do they say? Necessity is the mother of invention?

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Yes.

Ron Chapple:        So, we are always looking for how to deliver – I don’t know if the right word is better data, but higher-fidelity data or simply data that would be able to provide the base for future analytics.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Now, I think that’s perhaps a good segue into my next question. Thinking back for when you transitioned from cinematography to geospatial services, did you ever worry about moving off your original turf?

Or, on the other hand, were you sure that the skills essential in the cinematography world, and I’m thinking of things like flying in a very tightly specified way, capturing imagery of the very highest quality and doing that in a timely and often urgent fashion, were you sure that those skills would translate very well into the geospatial world?

Ron Chapple:        I can’t say I was sure, Stewart, but what I did think about is that when we were doing aerial cinematography, it ultimately ends up as pixels on a screen, whether it’s a computer screen or the big screen. And lidar data or imagery is also pixels. We were just bringing another form of pixels to the audience.

And much like a feature film takes many, many people to collect the imagery, lidar takes people to collect the data, you have to edit that data, present that data, visualize it. Many of the steps were parallel in both industries.

So, really making that jump, we already knew the helicopter platform, we already had the logistics piece worked out, so we really just continued on using our base knowledge of how to get things done in extreme locations under tight deadlines and transform that into the geospatial world in collecting lidar.

But I think for me the important part is that we’re still collecting pixels and the data now can tell a three-dimensional story, not just a two-dimensional story.

So, no matter how dramatic a location might be when you were filming it, the wide-angle lens flying low, up and over waterfalls, it still was presented in a two-dimensional flat screen. Now that lidar data and photo mash digital twin is presented in a 3D environment, whether that is on a 2D screen looking at 3D or through augmented reality or virtual reality.

For me, that three-dimensional aspect took that two-dimensional world and just exponentially exploded it into new opportunity and new ways to see the world around me.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Thank you. And now for a word from our sponsor, rapidlasso, supplier of the LAStools lidar processing software.

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Dr. Stewart Walker:                Now, Ron, you’ve mentioned developing the nose pod in which there were two RIEGL lidar sensors. In terms of developments that you made yourselves, I think you also worked to minimize the use of GNSS base stations and then you also developed a system called (MultiCam). Would you like to say anything about these developments?

Ron Chapple:        Sure. I remember when we were first being trained by the lidar technicians because I – I mean, back at that point, Stewart, I couldn’t even spell lidar and we were learning what’s the importance of a base station and the limiting factor seemed to be that you had to pick up the base station and move it or have a couple of base stations and then leapfrog them along the electric corridor they might be surveying which seemed terribly inefficient.

So, I just offhanded said to the RIEGL tech, I said, “Why can’t we just get rid of these things?” Unbeknownst to me, Trimble was already working on their PPRTX product and I believe that this would have been the forerunner of NV5 Geospatial but Quantum Spatial had already been one of the companies testing the accuracy of PPRTX.

So, when that came along and we could eliminate base stations for that first level of processing, it was really an eye opener for us. We could then offer the client a tiered approach: like, we can get this much accuracy without base stations; if we bring base stations in, not only can we improve the accuracy to a two-centimeter, three-centimeter level, but we now also have the data to verify that accuracy.

So, that was, I think, a big transition not just for us but for everyone in the industry.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                I think it was. And the (MultiCam) system?

Ron Chapple:        The (MultiCam) system came about because we had been researching and starting to get involved in creating digital twins. So, we were looking at what is going to provide the best data – and this, of course, is in talking with some of the companies that were doing the processing at the time and it became very apparent that the more angles and the more images you had of a structure, the better model that would be created from that data.

So, the (MultiCam)—which is really just a glamorous word for five cameras or eight cameras in a box—came about and we worked with Gray Mitchell, who is also now a full-time employee of NV5, to design a system where we could put in the beginning five phase-one cameras and then for some projects up to eight phase-one cameras where the cameras were pointed nadir and then front, back, left and right.

In the cases where we added additional cameras, they were for longer lenses to pick up more detail in specific areas. So, we definitely pushed the limits on that one to be able to record that much data at the same time.

I think the statistics, Stewart, were about just a little over one gigabyte of data per second. We were acquiring data at a – at least an 80% forward lap and an 80% side lap so that these projects would end up with tens of thousands of images that would fill up hard drive after hard drive.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                And finishing off this discussion of your own developments, I noticed a rather unconventional part of your data acquisition arsenal called JumpVR. Would you like to same something about that data capture experience?

Ron Chapple:        Sure. Jump is a virtual reality experience where you walk into this venue and put on a wing suit and you’re standing at the edge of a three-foot platform, you’re harnessed in and when you drop on this virtual reality helmet and look down, you’re now 3,000 feet above the surface.

So, our role in the project was to collect data at a one- to two-centimeter resolution so that you could literally see the boulders and the pebbles and the rocks and the trees. So, we flew this in an incredibly rugged area called Notch Peak in Utah where the cliffs were 3,000 feet.

So, the first flight plans that our team did worked great for some of the areas I’ll call a little flat or like the tops, but after that it was like all bets off and working with a great pilot we did both our planned flight plan and then we also flew a lot of what we called freelance lines.

So, we would see areas that we didn’t have good coverage on and we would go back and then freelance a line to do the terrain falling to make sure we had data that was covering every part of the area of interest. And then this was all put together by a company called Metatexel that then delivered the product to Limitless Flight which is the owner of the Jump experience.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Did you also have to develop any software of your own to process all this remarkable data or were you able to use off-the-shelf software products?

Ron Chapple:        For the most part everything has been off the shelf. Stewart, I can’t think of any particular software that we’ve developed with the exception of that we may have taken software and used it in a way that had not been used before or we really pushed the limits of the software that needed to have input from the software company or the manufacturer to make tweaks in their hardware or software to help us meet our goals

It’s absolutely helpful to have really good relationships with your suppliers, whether that’s Phase One or RIEGL or Trimble. Those three companies have been fantastic in the development of our solutions.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                I think that’s very important advice and I think that’s one of the reasons why the geospatial industry has such amazing capabilities now; it is that relationship between the users and the suppliers of very high-tech equipment and that relationship enables the system to be optimized.

So, many of those projects that you completed would have required ground control points; maybe not the ones early on, but the ones more recently. Now, I know that NV5 has many experts and subcontractors that can acquire these, but did you have to do some ground control work yourselves before your company was acquired?

Ron Chapple:        Stewart, we did a little bit of that but we recognized that that not was not our area of expertise so we always contracted ground control points out to a third party.

That also speaks to the collaboration within the industry. I think that in so many cases you can be a competitor one day and you’re a colleague the next day that you can always reach out to other companies and work passes both ways and for me that was just both reassuring and empowering.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Yes, well put. That is another characteristic of our industry that I’ve certainly experienced in a number of occasions in my career.

So, let’s now talk about digital twins because that’s your responsibility now within NV5 Geospatial. Now, many people think that these digital twins are very high quality, immersive models of a real-world entity: that could be a hospital, it could be a whole city. And those models are generated from imagery and lidar.

But wouldn’t you say that there’s a bit more to it than that?

Ron Chapple:        Yes, absolutely. First of all, everyone you ask what is a digital twin will have a different definition. So, it’s becoming a very overused word much like AI. If you go to whether it’s Geo Week or any other conference, you’re going to hear digital twin and AI in every single presentation.

So, there needs to be a process to demystify what a digital twin is and what it’s not. What that comes down to, I think, Stewart, is that the digital twin will be unique based on what the client’s needs are.

You could break a digital twin down into, say, broad categories like an environmental twin or an urban twin or a building twin, but the cool part is the ability to look at digital twins from the level of, first of all, scale. So, are we creating a digital twin of an entire city or an entire state? And then, how granular do we need to get with that digital twin to meet the client’s needs?

So, if it’s a property owner, our team can zoom all the way down into the building to a component level to be able to create a digital twin of how that particular room or facility operates and then you can pull all the way out to being able to see the entire city.

And very much of this, as I mentioned before, is transforming 2D into 3D so that you have more context to the capture. It’s not just a flat representation, it’s a living, breathing model that is based on the behaviors and the relationships of each component of that digital twin.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Now, I know that your team has created digital twins of the Khumbu Glacier, the Hong Kong International Airport, Vancouver International Airport and many others. What resolution in terms of pixel sizes of imagery and point spacing of lidar are needed?

And I understand, as you’ve just said, that these vary according to the project and what sort of accuracy? And I’m interested there particularly in the airport projects.

And then finally you obviously acquired the data, the imagery and the lidar but did your company actually make those digital twins or did you work with another company to do that?

Ron Chapple:        Our core strength is realizing the entire project. So, we work closely with vendors whether it’s actually producing the twin or the helicopter company. So, it’s very much about pulling together the right team and having the vision to bring everybody onboard to deliver the product, much like a company might hire a crew to do the ground control points and I’d view that the same way.

This also comes out to the film industry: you pull a bunch of experts together, every person whether it’s an audio specialist or a person that is really great at filming underwater or filming aerials, you bring that entire team together to be able to have the crew you need to tell the story. And that can change depending on what the needs are.

As far as resolution and accuracy, most of the time in a helicopter we might be flying at, say, 400 to 600 feet and if we’re using ground control, the absolute accuracy is always better than three centimeter. Frequently it’s in the one to two range. That, of course, will vary across an area and also you’re dependent upon the quality of the ground control points as well.

The resolution that we’re acquiring, I would say the highest resolution is going to be in that two-centimeter range up to, I think, lowest resolution we’ve done might be in the eight- or nine-centimeter range.

Part of that, also, when you’re in an urban environment, the resolution is going to change based on the distance from the sensor. So, the top of the building is going to have a higher resolution than the street below it because we simply can’t get the aircraft or helicopter or drone down to all those different levels.

The cool part about the software these days to make photo meshes is that they default to the highest resolution image for that one particular area so we’re able to integrate multiple sensors—aerial, ground, drone—into the same model to deliver a higher fidelity experience for the client.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                I don’t have expertise of flying an aircraft at all. So, I do have a couple of questions. I’m just interested in this. The Khumbu Glacier, obviously, is a high-altitude site. The two airports that we mentioned are at sea level but have very dense air traffic.

So, were there special challenges there for just getting your flying accomplished?

Ron Chapple:        Yes. The primary requirement for any challenging environment, whether that is an immense amount of air traffic, say, like in the LA area to working with an expert pilot or experienced pilot that has flown the Khumbu Glacier right there at the base of Everest, so, we always will work with a local vendor with the add-on that if we are not familiar with the, say, helicopter provider, we might bring in what we’ll call a safety pilot or a safety team that we already know and trust to do inspections on the equipment or to do a test flight to make sure that when our operators are stepping into the helicopter or airplane that we’re going to be safe.

In the case of the Khumbu Glacier, we just lucked out into three perfect bluebird days that were almost windless, so it just worked out perfect; couldn’t have timed it better.

The other interesting part is that when you’re planning these flights, local knowledge of what the winds could be like or safety conditions is critically important.

In the case of the Khumbu Glacier, we were in an airbus that – I think the nomenclature is an AS350 B3, just an incredibly powerful single engine aircraft. But even then we were flying right up to 20,300 feet.

Our operator, Phil Carter, was in the helicopter by himself, the helicopter is stripped of everything expect the necessary seats and we don’t even go full fuel so that we can be able to manage the altitude limits better.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Have you worked only with helicopters or have you used larger aircraft as well?

Ron Chapple:        So, NV5 has every capability there is from doing subsea multibeam sonar with large ships to do doing fixed wing at 10,000 feet with drone and helicopter and terrestrial and all in between.

My direct experience has always been with helicopters. I’ve probably got, I don’t know, 5,000 hours sitting in the backseat driving a camera system.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                These numbers are incredible. So, I suppose from what we’ve just been discussing, these digital twin projects, GEO1 was already expert in digital twins before the NV5 acquisition.

Now, obviously on the one hand your specialist expertise would have made you a target for acquisition, but I’m sure it was also the work that – you did some work, in fact, for Quantum Spatial—which is now an NV5 company—back in 2018.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                No, that’s correct, Stewart, and the relationship goes back much further. We had been working with the predecessor even to Quantum Spatial which was (Watershed Sciences) probably at least 12 years ago.

So, many of the people that I work with today I’ve known for 10 to 12 years, but as a vendor partner versus being on the same company. So, those relationships were well-established. I joke that we went from sitting at the kids’ table to sitting at the big people table.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                I think you underrate yourselves. But going on to the acquisition, I’m sure that you and your team were excited about the opportunity that joining NV5 would provide. How did you view the advantages and disadvantages of the acquisition before you signed the documents and how do you think it’s worked out for you and your team?

Ron Chapple:        Stewart, really well. There were several things that I was looking for: the first was the opportunity for upward mobility for our team, so we had roughly 25 fantastic folks. But as a small company you can only get to a certain level unless the company is growing just exponentially quickly.

So, this is kind of a “proud papa” moment, but at least a half dozen of our people have all moved to higher and much higher positions within NV5 and I believe everyone has extended their knowledge, increased their experience setting them up for a healthy, long-term career within the geospatial industry. So, that for me was really satisfying.

And the second part is that as a small company unless you are venture capital- funded, and we were not, buying new sensors that are increasingly more expensive or coming out more quickly is challenging for a small business. So, to be part of a larger enterprise, when you have ideas and you have opportunity, you can make a business case for an investment in that sensor.

And that was, say, probably the other primary reason. So, you’ve got career paths for team members and you have opportunity within not only the existing sensors that NV5 own, but new investment that might take place in the future, not to mention being around 1,400 other incredibly talented people.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Yes, I think that’s important. It makes for a challenging and also satisfying environment for your work. And I think mergers and acquisitions are fascinating as is business strategy. So, I want to circle around that a little bit.

A number of familiar companies have been acquired by NV5 in the last seven years or so; not only yours but also Visual Information Solutions which was part of L3Harris, a company called Axim Geospatial. There was one called (GEO Dynamics), we’ve just mentioned Quantum Spatial and then there was (Sky Scene).

And I remember writing a little about that when I did an article about NV5 Geospatial’s local office here in San Diego. And the company, of course, has made a number of nongeospatial acquisitions which aren’t really our concern today.

But I’m curious about the underlying strategy. Does NV5 simply want to grow faster than it can organically or is there more to it? I mean, I found the L3Harris acquisition interesting because what that brings to the table is a software suite, ENVI, IDL, Jaguar and others. But why does NV5 need these and does it have the skills to develop markets, sell and support a software portfolio? I find this whole business discussion intriguing.

Ron Chapple:        And Stewart, I can’t answer anything about internal strategy. As a public company it’s just not something that we can do. But what I can talk about is that geospatial services and software go hand-in-hand and that if we just look across the business landscape, of course we’re hearing AI, we’re hearing digital twins, we’re hearing immersive experiences, so not only is geospatial important to people obviously in the geospatial industry, but it’s important to every industry.

So, whether it’s a major retailer that’s delivering products to your doorstep or a medical company that has multiple locations, geospatial data is becoming a core value to the enterprise across all of industry would be my perspective on that.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Thank you. Yes, and I think that does help us to understand. So, I want to change the subject a little bit and be more general. I know that in some ways, Ron, you consider yourself an explorer and certainly you have visited and captured data in a number of rather remote, inhospitable places.

Now, suppose we could say that nowadays most places in the world have been visited but probably not explored in the sense that little may be known about aspects of those environments such as geomorphology, flora, fauna.

So, what are your thoughts on mentoring and encouraging the next generation of explorers?

Ron Chapple:        I love that question, Stewart. Mentoring and thinking about that next level of exploration really is a good driver. It allows all of us to not only encourage people that – whether young or old have an interest in geospatial to be able to talk about the ways that the Earth can be explored.

And again, I’m not going to be an expert in all those ways but I think of whether it’s multispectral or the work that, say, our geodynamics team does with multibeam sonar under the ocean or whether it’s geomorphology.

All of these techniques are just accelerating the rate that knowledge is coming in front of us and it’s going to take not just people collecting data, whether that’s teams building and running satellites or whether it’s crews flying drones and whatever sensor goes on them, but it’s going to take tons of people to analyze this data and to look at it in new ways.

I think the idea for me of AI and if I can use that phrase here, is just that we can look at hundreds or thousands or millions of combinations of data at the same time and begin to look at relationships that we never knew could have existed together or the possibility that they could have existed.

I think in business and being an entrepreneur, I was fascinated by the outliers like the company that asked us to do the video of the power line. To me that was an outlier but it was so fascinating that you had to follow that path and I think with the multiple data sources that are just – we’re getting bombarded with and we’re able to analyze them faster and faster, we’re going to begin to see answers or questions that we never thought to ask before and all of that is desperately needed.

Obviously, climate change is just upon us. The fires in Texas today, who would have thought of that a few years ago? There’s just so many ways that we are going to have to use all these data sources and all of these geospatially organized data sources to view the future and to explore things that we’ve never even thought about exploring before.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Well, this has been a wonderful conversation. Let me try to summarize and then put one last question to you. So, you’ve had a truly amazing career. You’ve reached the zenith of your profession in terms of acquiring imagery and lidar that have made a huge difference on so many remarkable projects. Now you’re turning your skills to the growth and success of one of the US’s geospatial services giants and, in particular, your focus on digital twins.

You’ve mentioned the importance of workforce and that was one of the themes that cam up this year’s Geo Week conference in Denver. But another theme that I think came up that is interesting, there’s no question that we geospatial folk can make a difference, that’s clear. We can acquire data and we can derive from it the information, knowledge and wisdom that enables decision makers to act well.

I sometimes worry a little that we aspire to be the decisionmakers, not just one of the big inputs to the decisionmakers and that’s a quantum leap and I wonder whether digital twins could be the area where that awkward transition whereby we geospatial people become decisionmakers could happen? Do you have any thoughts on that before we close?

Ron Chapple:        Really interesting, Stewart. I’m going to be thinking about that one for a while. When you do provide more data and if that is in the format of a digital twin where the digital replica is actually getting information in real time from the real world and then feeding back information, we’re creating a system that is able to integrate data at an incredible velocity.

Will that lead to better decisions? It will lead to the opportunity to make better decisions is probably where I would be at at this point. So, I don’t know if we become decisionmakers as much as we provide more data to make better decisions.

Of course, that’s an opportunity to add that type of consulting to a geospatial practice to help make those decisions, but we need to figure out if those are decisions within the engineering realm or are they within an educational realm or a political realm. But to me, just the idea that we can provide more data is really important.

I would also add we – you were talking about workforce. Our workforce needs to grow exponentially just to keep up with demand, but we absolutely need to bring in a more diverse workforce that comes from many different walks of life, different ethnicities, different countries, different perspectives because all of those perspectives are going to help us grow as an industry.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Yes. I think that’s an excellent way to finish, Ron. Thank you very much, indeed. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation and I wish you well in your work with digital twins.

I’m sure listeners will have thoroughly enjoyed your company and comments today and I hope that we will be able to have further NV5 Geospatial guests and projects in our podcasts.

I also want to underline our gratitude to our sponsor, rapidlasso GmbH, the company founded by the late Dr. Martin Isenburg that supplies the popular LAStools lidar processing software.

We hope you will join us for forthcoming podcasts. We are expecting some guests whom we believe you’ll want to hear.

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This edition of the LIDAR Magazine Podcast is brought to you by rapidlasso. Our flagship product, the LAStools software suite is a collection of highly efficient, multicore command line tools to classify, tile, convert, filter, raster, triangulate, contour, clip, and polygonize lidar data. Visit rapidlasso.de for details.