#6 – Ron Roth

Ron Roth, Product Manager Airborne Topographic Lidar, Leica Geosystems, part of Hexagon talks about his life in lidar since the mid-1990s and about the evolution of Leica Geosystems’ airborne topographic lidar product line, of which the latest model is Leica TerrainMapper-3. He explains the trend to hybrid airborne systems that capture both imagery and lidar. He also touches on the topobathymetric, bathymetric and single-photon lidar parts of the portfolio.

Episode Transcript:

#6 – Ron Roth

April 15th, 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 Roth who is Product Manager, Airborne Topographic Lidar for Leica Geosystems which is part of Hexagon. Now, Ron is extremely well-known in the lidar world; many of us regard him as guru. He’s been the guiding hand behind the Leica ALS series of airborne topographic lidar sensors and its successors for almost 25 years.

He was a cofounder of a startup in Massachusetts called Azimuth Corporation. In 2001, this company was acquired by LH Systems, a joint venture between the Swiss surveying and photogrammetry system supplier Leica and the US defense contractor GDE Systems.

So, Ron and I worked together from when that acquisition was just an idea all the way through to the launch of the ALS50 sensor in 2003 and I suppose the rest is history.

Ron works remotely from his home in Annapolis, Maryland, but before remote working was de rigueur, he was based at Hexagon’s Lanham, Maryland facility and that was formerly the headquarters of Sigma Space which was acquired by Hexagon in 2016.

By way of background, you may want to know that we had two articles in LIDAR Magazine about some of this: one was titled, “Ron Roth Helps Steer Single-Photon” and the other was “Sigma Space Brings Single-Photon to Hexagon.” Those were published in the June/July and the November/December 2018 issues, respectively.

And, indeed, Ron was on the front cover of the June/July 2018 issue. I’m happy to say he hasn’t aged much. So, Ron, welcome to the LIDAR Magazine podcasts.

Ron Roth:             Well, thank you, Stewart, and thanks for the guru reference. Can I put that on my resume?

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Oh, absolutely. I’m sure future employers will be interested. {Laughter} So, Ron, maybe to start, it would be fair to say that perhaps the Leica TerrainMapper is the product closest to your heart in the sense that it’s the latest incarnation of the airborne lidar system that you developed when you were a cofounder of Azimuth Corporation in Westford, Massachusetts, the one that was acquired by LH Systems in 2001.

And recently, Leica Geosystems has unveiled the TerrainMapper-3. So, let’s start with that. What’s new about TerrainMapper-3?

Ron Roth:             Well, let me back up a little bit first. So, historically there’s always been this focus on growth of pulse rate; this is the ability for the lidar system to collect more data from the ground. And there is something very similar to Moore’s Law, for those of you who are in the semiconductor industry, where it was predicted that the number of transistors on a semiconductor would double every X number of years.

And that has essentially happened with lidar as well, growing from our early systems with 15 kHz pulse rate up to 2 MHz pulse rates that we see commonly today. And along the way we’ve added things like gated multiple pulse in air or MPIA functions, then ungated MPIA, even higher scan rates, greater sensitivity, tighter system integration and modularity that allows the same kind of lidar modules to be used on multiple systems. So, those are the historical trends.

As for TerrainMapper-3, it represents our ninth generation of lidar systems overall and is the third generation in our TerrainMapper series. It has some significant improvements and some totally new concepts. The systems have always been noted for flexibility; this includes both our prior ALS series as well as the TerrainMappers and TerrainMapper-3’s feature set is no exception to that. It makes it even more flexible.

We’ve done things like reducing the beam divergence, increasing field of view, higher scan rates and two entirely new scan patterns as well as adding on-the-fly waveform recording and waveform attribute calculations even at the full pulse rate. So, that makes this really an ideal solution for so many needs.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Thank you. So, we’re up to date on the latest generation of the product. So, let’s step back, Ron, and learn a little more about you as a person, your early life, how you got into lidar. Please say a little more about the formation of Azimuth Corporation and also the other principles whom I’ve met: Doug Flint, Bob Eaton, the location in Massachusetts, the facility. What happened to those other people?

And also, tell us about the early development of that sensor from Azimuth Corporation which was called the iTero scan. I remember one thing about it, that it could fly at what seemed at the time an incredibly high altitude compared to its then-competitors. So, how did the acquisition by LH Systems come about?

Ron Roth:             Well, in terms of career, I started in optomechanical design; I was a design engineer for a number of years in the electro-optics field working with both night vision and infrared reconnaissance systems and I moved into more customer-facing product management roles both at companies such as Honeywell as well as Holometrix before helping to take the electro-optics group of Holometrix private as Azimuth Corporation.

We continued to focus during that time on custom range-finding hardware which was the business of our electro-optics group at Holometrix and we’d continued that from the early years of Azimuth after its founding in 1991 up until about 1998 when we accepted a contract to build a fully integrated custom scanning lidar system.

Well, one thing led to another and we ended up joining LH Systems in 2001 about this time of year. Our facilities, which were in Westford, Massachusetts, was a relatively compact facility where we did all the initial manufacturing as well as the design and support and marketing of these systems. So, it was quite a lot in a small facility.

Lead Azimuth cofounder, Doug Flint, he still actively networks in the lidar community after having taken on a few different roles in other parts of our industry and our third cofounder, Bob Eaton, unfortunately passed away in 2014 after having worked in the field of laser distance measurement for roughly 40 years.

We had quite an experience base there and that experience base over the years has been gradually assimilated into our divisional headquarters which is over in Heerbrugg, Switzerland.

The original Azimuth AeroScan or Leica ALS40 system was designed for an unusually high latitude; it was a very specific design for greater than 6 km flying height with a very wide 75-degree field of view and it offered what at the time was an unheard of pulse rate of 15 kHz; this was back in 1998.

Early sales of that system were made solely by word of mouth: we didn’t have a website, we didn’t participate in the tradeshows like we do today and it turned out that LH Systems was interested in getting into lidar through some form of acquisition and heard about us via that same word-of-mouth channel.

So, they did their initial due diligence in parallel with us responding to a suggestion from one of our contacts, a guy by the name of John Welter who now is the president of Hexagon Geosystems, Geospatial Content Solutions Division and he had suggested that we make ourselves known to LH Systems. We did that and discussions immediately moved in the direction of an acquisition. So, the rest, as they say, is history.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Yes, indeed. And perhaps we could go through that just a little bit starting with the AeroScan and, it, as you’ve said, was named the Leica ALS40; it was named to be in parallel with the new digital camera, the ADS40 which was launched at the ISPRS Congress in Amsterdam in the year 2000 and there were several subsequent models: the ALS50, ALS50-2, ALS60, 70, 80 and eventually the TerrainMapper.

So, please take us quickly through the course of development of this system and I think it may be fair to say that that course of development reflects the progress of airborne lidar as a whole.

Ron Roth:             It does. The development process for AeroScan is also analogous in some respects to how we continue to develop our new systems in this modular fashion. When we built AeroScan, we actually took modules that we already had existing within our company; these were developed for custom laser range measurement systems and we added to those off-the-shelf GNSS/IMU, so position and attitude record subsystems, scanning, data logging and software.

So, we pulled together a number of both off-the-shelf internal and external modules and created this scanning lidar system, our first. So, this is much the way we integrate imaging and lidar modules into the various hybrid systems we manufacture today.

The original standalone lidar product continued to develop over the years and that was driven by a couple of major forces; one is to simply take advantage of component or device enhancements, things like diode pump lasers and then fiber lasers with faster pulse rates and shorter pulse widths, improved position and attitude sensing equipment, faster datalogging, larger capacity storage  media, et cetera, while internal developments focused on things like getting around speed-of-light issues by using at first a gated and then ungated multipulse in the air techniques and ultimately on-the-fly waveform analysis.

Interestingly, though, what we might have called a lidar system back in the late 1990’s is now largely incorporated into a single module or Hyperion modules within the more highly integrated systems, particularly the hybrid systems that we offer today where things like GNSS/IMU, data logging, stabilization and user interfaces are shared by both the lidar and the camera modules.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                I remember going back some time presentations that you did at user conferences, tradeshows and so on, you had a slide that plotted the accuracy of airborne lidar which was on the Y-axis against time which was on the X-axis and the line of best fit through those accuracy points looked as if it was (inaudible) approaching the X-axis.

Now, clearly, accuracy lidar, airborne lidar has improved substantially over the 25 years of your involvement. Could you comment on the magnitude of this accuracy improvement from the late 1990’s to the present?

But also I think it’s interesting the varying contributions of the various components to the (sounds like: etter) budget. I’m thinking of things like laser-ranging (sounds like: etters), scan angle (sounds like: etters), GNSS (sounds like: etters), IMU (sounds like: etters) and, indeed, maybe even the approach that’s taken to estimating the bore sight and lever arm following calibration flights. What do you think about that changing (sounds like: etter) total and (sounds like: etter) budget over the years?

Ron Roth:             I remember the very graph you’re referring to; I actually still maintain it. So, there are two graphs that I like to maintain over time and one is the maximum pulse rate of the fastest systems in the market over time and also the typical error levels that we’re seeing over time.

And when I first presented this graph, I tracked a rough idea of the accuracy of the data delivered by these systems over time and in the early days it was such a steep learning curve, we were getting better faster at such a rate that it looked like the error levels would approach zero which, of course, hasn’t happened.

But what has happened is the error levels in early lidar systems which might have been in the 15 cm or higher range, they have gradually come down to the point for the past few years where we see accuracy levels that at one point or another can get as good as 2 or 3 cm RMSE. So, that’s a huge improvement when you think of how much error we’ve eliminated.

So, the fundamental part of your question is what contributes to that, how have we been able to do that? And this really relies on both hardware and software.

On the hardware side I would say that GPS or GNSS technology has allowed us some improvements in things like position information, the raw position information and the IMUs have gotten smoother and less noisy, they can respond to higher and higher sample rates. For instance, the IMUs we use today, sample orientation and lateral accelerations at a rate of 500 Hz. So, fairly fast compared to airplane motions. So, those have all contributed.

I would say probably the biggest contributor falls on both the hardware and the software side. On the hardware side the improvements in laser range finding and range accuracy have gotten significantly better and this is due to things like shorter pulse widths in the lasers, better fidelity in the laser pulse shape; those are all things that would have hurt our accuracy in prior generations.

Also, the software that’s used to calibrate the systems, to model every single error source in a system so that we can backout as much of that as possible and also the software that allows us to precisely align the data from adjacent flight lines so that you have one nice contiguous point cloud without a lot of discontinuities in it.

So, those are the things that have contributed the most and have gotten down to this sub-5 cm and in cases as good as 2 or 3 cm RMSE vertical accuracies.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Thank you. And now for a word from our sponsor.

Host:                     The LIDAR Magazine Podcast is brought to you by rapidlasso. Our LAStools software suite offers the fastest and most memory efficient solution for batch-scripted multi-core lidar processing. Watch as we turn billions of lidar points into useful products at blazing speeds with impossibly low memory requirements. For seamless processing of the largest datasets, we also offer our BLAST extension. Visit rapidlasso.de for details.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Does Leica Geosystems still offer three systems for airborne image acquisition: DMC4, ADS100 and CityMapper-2? DMC4 and CityMapper-2 both use several medium format cameras inside a common housing and CityMapper-2 supplements this with lidar based on the TerrainMapper-2. Is that right?

Ron Roth:             Well, the product right now consists of several systems and most of our systems are now a hybrid with the exception of the DMC4. The DMC4 is our large-format imaging system, the CityMapper-2 series is the oblique hybrid system, so collecting both lidar and oblique camera data. CountryMapper, which is a large-format hybrid system, so it’s analogous to having a DMC4 with a lidar inside it, and the TerrainMapper-3 which is a lidar nadir imaging hybrid.

The CityMapper-2 continues as our workhorse for city modeling applications and it’s the latest version of the industry’s first oblique system that has an integrated lidar. For the CountryMapper introduction, we built on our Hyperion-2 lidar unit, increased its field of view, its scan rate, reduced its beam divergence and that resulted in the Hyperion-3 generation of lidar units. So, that’s what’s used in the CountryMapper.

Further lidar enhancements were made for our TrainMapper-3 product and that adds a new elliptical field of view and a skew-ellipse scan pattern. The latter allows a unique combination of improving a long track spacing while also improving point density and it does so beyond the limitations that are imposed by scan rate and aircraft speed. So, that’s kind of a really unique feature in the TrainMapper-3 system.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Now, as well as CountryMapper there was another one called ContentMapper?

Ron Roth:             Yes, and this is really a three-part story and we’ll start in the middle with DMC4; the DMC4 was based on the internal ContentMapper development and it was our first commercial offering of a system that used composite imagery or composite imaging. It allowed multiple 150 megapixel cameras to produce single photogrammetric quality four-band image frames, so single large-format frames. In effect, large-format imaging without the need for monstrous monolithic arrays that would be needed, for, say, a pan sharpen system.

Incidentally, those monolithic arrays, as much fun as they would be to work with, it’s nearly impossible to find a manufacturer that would be interested in manufacturing them anymore. So, we work with the best focal planes that are available in the market today and those tend to be coming out of the professional photography markets and they are very, very impressive.

By adding a lidar to the DMC4 imaging subsystem, that yielded the CountryMapper large-format hybrid system. And the Hyperion-3 lidar module was introduced specifically for CountryMapper and reduced the laser divergence as well as increasing things like fields of view and scan rate to be compatible with the needs for this large-format imaging system.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                So, do you think in the future that Leica Geosystems will focus primarily on hybrid solutions? As these capabilities you’ve mentioned, of the medium format cameras, as these capabilities grow, it’s increasingly hard to see a role for specialists image-only sensors such as ADS100 and DMC4s. Is that right or am I being a little naïve?

Ron Roth:             I don’t think so. I think that’s really true. We will continue to focus on hybrid technology. If you think back, though, on the imaging components, if you look today at the imaging sensors that are available commercially they have roughly 14,000 or 15,000 pixels across the field of view. That’s about 20% more than what was considered a large-format digital imaging system back when we introduced the ADS40.

So, it really shows the extent to which focal point technology has grown, but also that we really have to follow the limits of what’s available for commercial photography applications and things like that.

So, we will continue to incorporate these commercial technologies in our hybrid systems and we will focus in that direction. One of the benefits to that approach is that the developments that we do in any particular module, whether that’s an imaging module or a lidar module or a data logging module, any of those improvements accrue to any sensor that uses that type of module. The market definitely sees the value in hybrid sensing in any case and there are some emerging “me too” kind of products that integrate both the imaging and the lidar.

The investigations into that approach, that hybrid approach, began over 10 years ago where we surveyed customers and they uniformly told us that if we could build a two-in-one system that could do both imaging and lidar for significantly less than the price of two independent systems, they would be very interested. And in the intervening decade, tightening data buyer budgets and competitive forces continue to confirm that this is a valid approach, that people need to do more with less.

So, systems like DMC4 fill that gap for a large-format, image-only sensor and will continue to do so until such a point that the market shifts completely to the equivalent hybrid-sensing type system like CountryMapper but the great think about CountryMapper is that it allows the acquisition of both large-format imagery and at the same time lidar data so you have no temporal shifts between the two.

Similarly, the CityMapper series systems can fill all the applications of both a standard lidar system as well as performing hybrid oblique city modeling. So, the kind of flexibility of this hybrid approach is unique and adds a lot of productivity to various applications.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                So, we’ve spoken to a great extent up until now about hardware and implicitly as opposed to firmware. What about software? I guess in the early days you wrote low-level software at Azimuth that delivered lidar point clouds in a simple way, perhaps a text file and this continued into the LH Systems era and beyond. Customers had to use third-party products.

I remember we once visited, you and I together, the facility of Cyra which had also been acquired by Leica. That was in San Ramon, California, and we wanted to find out if we could use any of their software for the airborne systems.

But now you’re in an enormous company that has software development, a very sophisticated variety, spread all across the globe. So, how do you see the software evolution?

Ron Roth:             Well, your historical retrospective is dead-on. I mean, the original data output that we had in our lidar systems was formatted as this easily readable but very bulking ASCII XYZ text files. And this was essentially because there as very limited software on the market to display aerial lidar data. I think at the time of AeroScan and ALS40 the only thing available off the shelf was Esri’s 3D Analyst.

Spreadsheets, of course, were never an option for data display or analysis even at those relatively low 15 kHz pulse rates; you could probably process a couple of seconds’ worth of data. However, the original data format itself evolved into a much more efficient compact binary format that ultimately because today’s LAS file format.

LAS has been adopted by pretty much every software provider worldwide and those third-party developers find different ways of classifying and displaying lidar data that’s presented in the LAS format.

We did actually investigate that Cyra Cyclone (inaudible) laser scanning software for display of our point clouds and it did work. One of the advantages of the original Cyra software is the way it was spatially indexed it could have very fast zoom and roam capabilities.

However, there are application-specific reasons why terrestrial lidar data software is formatted and handled in the way it is. So, the two data streams have largely stayed separate.

We continue to develop our processing software and it now includes full-display capabilities along with robust data alignment, filtering, QC capabilities. And as for data display we’re now basing our processing on a common internal data format that is also being used by other Hexagon sensor solutions outside of our division. So, there is some coming together of that now and that format also allows extremely fast zoom and roam capabilities.

That said, there continues to be interest market wide in easily fusing the point cloud data from terrestrial, mobile, airborne, even hand-carried systems, especially with the increased use of indoor scanning for BIM applications.

For all businesses delivering data to end users, the key is having data storefronts that can handle all kinds of data and Hexagon clearly works on that as well.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                So, let’s change course for just a moment and muse a little about yourself. You haven’t risen to be CEO of Leica Geosystems, although I guess you’ve done your fair share over the years of leveraging synergies. Perhaps you’ve preferred, as many of us do, the day-to-day contact with products, product developers and, above all, customers.

Many is a time I’ve wanted to say hello to you at a tradeshow but there was a line of customers awaiting your attention. That’s got to be a marvelous feeling. You also weren’t scared of rolling up your sleeves. I remember how you made in your home workshop in Acton, Massachusetts, beautifully carpentered display stands for which we preferred the nomenclature plinths on which to set the sensors at tradeshows.

And then more recently you’ve moved lock, stock and barrel from Massachusetts. So, how’s that gone? How have you stayed motivated for all these decades?

Ron Roth:             Well, true, there are others that would say – as the toddlers would say, “They are the boss of me.” But that’s okay. It’s a unique perspective to see a product develop over two-and-a-half decades—that makes me feel old just saying it—and having been a part of it from the very beginning.

I do continue to enjoy interacting with customers, with sales staff, with marketing and working in that space between customers, in effect what’s wanted, and engineering, in effect what’s possible, in order to develop what comes next. So, that’s been one of the things that does motivate me.

Even today, though, we have a team where everybody rolls up their sleeves, but we do have more help with putting together parts and plinths for our tradeshow exhibit. So, a little less going on in my workshop; most of my home workshop time is spent satisfying my boating and home improvement addictions and the move to Maryland with its milder climate than Massachusetts has allowed me to more than double the length of time I get to go boating each season. So, no complaints there.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Yes, and I suppose when one thinks about this home improvement, boat improvement coupled to your quite eclectic interest in the arts and entertainment, people would want me to ask you, is it true that you’ve got two garden sheds?

Ron Roth:             {Laughter} No, only a single garden shed at this point; just the “he” shed.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                I understand. So, let’s change the tack again and talk a little bit about topobathymetric and bathymetric lidar. Leica Geosystems offerings in this space are the Leica Chiroptera-5 and Lyca HawkEye-5 which are the current instantiations of systems that came about as a result of the acquisition in 2013 of Airborne Hydrography AB, otherwise known as AHAB, spun off the Swedish Saab group.

I hope that in the future we can have your colleague Anders Eklund on a podcast maybe later this year to talk about the bathymetric side. But perhaps I can ask you to what extent do these systems have things in common with the topographic systems? I know that you’ve already rationalized them in terms of the use of common components, but is there scope for further consolidation?

And let me, before you answer, ask listeners to forgive me with a very short trip down memory lane. It wasn’t always so natural to use common components. I remember fondly a time more than 20 years ago I managed to bring you and a guy called Felix Zuberbühler, who was one of the product managers from the airborne camera side, together in a room to brainstorm the creation of new flight planning software and after a few faltering moments you and Felix accelerated, synergies occurred, and the software really happened.

So, could you maybe comment on these things?

Ron Roth:             That is, indeed, a trip down memory lane. We worked hard and I would give much more of the credit, if not all of it, to Felix for the introduction of what we now call our FlightPRO software and that’s been successfully managed for many years since its original introduction.

But that was one of the projects in which we had to now all of a sudden accommodate different kinds of instrumentation. So, for years the software that was used to either control or use an aerial camera only had to deal with aerial cameras and now all of a sudden we were developing software for planning, software for system operations, software for post processing that had to be able to handle data from a number of different inputs, whether it was scanned film or a digital input from a digital imaging system or from a lidar system. So, this is all a really interesting question.

As for our bathymetric systems, they are really topobathymetric systems, so they integrate both topographic and bathymetric scanning modules and cameras as well. So, another true hybrid and it would be great to have Anders on a podcast to have him tell you a little bit more about how these things have developed over time.

They have made increasing use of components common to our topographic and hybrid and imaging systems including the use of some of the same imaging modules, GNSS/IMU modules, operator and pilot interface hardware, stabilization platforms, and also the mission planning and some of the mission execution software.

So, we try to make maximum use of common components across all of these product lines; any place we can use common hardware we do, or software, for that matter, and any time we look at a module or technology, we always ask ourselves, “How can we implement this to make it really a topnotch capability in varying single mode or hybrid systems?” So, that includes topobathy systems as well.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Now, would you like for the benefit of listeners who may not have read those articles in the magazine those years ago, would you like to say something about the acquisition of Sigma Space and the subsequent course of events.

The sensor there is the SPL100 and I know that Sigma Space has been involved in specialist business for NASA and the Department of Defense. It’s well-known for that. And that SPL100, I believe, is based on a 532 nm green laser.

And also, and I think this is very exciting, Sigma Space has developed the detector that’s used in the (ISAT2) satellite lidar system which is still flying.

Ron Roth:             Yes. So, there’s been a lot of business through that Sigma Space operation that was acquired in 2016; the Sigma Space Team in Lanham continues its operations under our Hexagon US federal business and they continue to develop new and derivative systems, derivatives of the SPL technology particularly in that single-photon lidar area and mostly for defense contractors.

They do also continue to support NASA engineering needs, engineering support. And as for single-photon applications, they have explored bathymetry from time to time; we have not marketed our SPL systems for that application. That said, we know that investigations have been performed by some of the customer base to get a first look at those possibilities.

Interestingly, the green laser originally and is still used in single-photon systems; it can penetrate water at some levels, so it’s an interesting possibility and it’s in its infancy at this point and may be a little bit like what powerlines were to topographic lidar, say, in the early 2000’s where it was more of a curiosity and then later it became a real business. But we’ll see where that goes in the future.

And regarding things like wavelength selections, as you may know lidar in general, decisions on wavelengths are often constrained by the availability of both a practical laser to generate the wavelength and to generate optical pulses with the right characteristics, but as well having sensitive enough detectors that can see this laser’s wavelength.

So, the particular challenge in single-photon applications where the detection needs to be super-sensitive and the pulses are extremely short, you tend to have to defer to the detector selection as opposed to letting laser selection drive it. Detector selection tends to drive the ultimate laser selection.

Without going into detail, I would say that like linear mode technology, SPL technology continues to be developed.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Thank you. So, my penultimate technical question is perhaps close to some listeners’ perception of the marketplace. Where do you stand with respect to UAV lidar? I know that one of your competitors has introduced numerous systems to serve this market whereas another has really produced only one and we both know that that market is very well served by low-cost sensors with their origins in the automotive market.

Do you think in any way you’re missing out in that area?

Ron Roth:             Not at all. Actually, our reality capture group in Hexagon Geosystems introduced a few years ago the BLK2FLY system, so that’s an integrated airborne lidar UAV. So, we are actively participating in that market.

The characteristics of a UAV-type system and the markets they’re sold to are different enough from those of our crude airborne systems that they’re handled by a different part of the company.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                I understand. So, we’ve talked in some detail about what’s happened to airborne topographic lidar systems over the quarter century or so that you’ve been involved. What would you say are the biggest changes, then, in lidar over those decades?

Ron Roth:             I would say there’s two main ones: first is that—and it’s almost humorous—practitioners in the mapping industry are no longer stressed out trying to turn squiggly lidar contour lines into smooth ones. Everyone now recognizes that with the high spatial resolution of lidar elevation data, squiggly contour lines are actually a correct representation of reality even though they’re not as pretty as those smooth contour lines of yesteryear that are pretty from an artistic standpoint.

Second, and perhaps more gratifying, is that a really large portion of the population at large now knows what lidar is. You can see it being used in numerous TV shows, documentaries, things like that. Twenty years ago we had to explain what lidar was every time we wanted to talk about why we were using it. Now if you start describing the use of a lidar system in a given application, people’s natural response is, “Oh, yes, you mean a lidar, right?” So, that’s probably the second major one and the more fun one.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Yes, indeed. So, what’s the future, first of all, for Hexagon Geosystems and then for Ron Roth?

Ron Roth:             Oh, that’s one of those “I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you” questions. As for our corner of Hexagon Geospatial Content Solutions, we certainly will continue to focus on providing data services and industry leading instruments focused on hybrid technology.

Everyone everywhere in our market, particularly the data end users, are being asked to do more with less. So, we strive for efficiency and acquisition, processing, and data delivery and that encompasses both our hardware efforts as well as our software efforts.

We used to say, “Fly once, use many,” maybe that’s a bit simplified. Customers want the best and most current data so you’re never going to fly something just once. But they want that current data and they may be interested in different modalities, but it imaging, be it lidar, be it other near-IR. So, maybe it’s more appropriate to say, “Fly as little as possible and use it in as many places as possible.” The hybrid approach certainly satisfies that requirement.

As for me? I plant to spend several more years in this industry and try to increase my lidar imaging and experience base by, let’s say, another 10%.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                Ron, thank you very much, indeed. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation and I wish you well with your work, with Leica TerrainMapper-3 and its successors.

Ron Roth:             Thank you, it’s been a pleasure.

Dr. Stewart Walker:                I’m sure listeners will have thoroughly enjoyed your company and your comments today. I hope we’ll be able to have further guests from Leica Geosystems and other parts of Hexagon on our podcasts.

I also want to underline our gratitude to our sponsor, the popular LAStools lidar processing software. We hope that you’ll join us for forthcoming podcasts. We are expecting some guests whom we believe that you will want to hear.

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