Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mobile LiDAR: Law #13

Mobile LiDAR is not all fun and games, but it does feel like it some days.

What could be more enjoyable than mounting a couple lasers on top of a 4 wheel drive SUV, cruising at highway speeds, shooting it at everything that the eye can see and calling it work? It’s a career that would have Tim “The Toolman” Taylor stand-up and say “more power, ARGH, ARGH, ARGH”, (although our system is manufactured by Optech, not Binford). How about adapting it to fit a boat, an all-terrain vehicle or a hi-rail? Now we’re talking… it’s like a sophisticated NextGen video game that would make my twelve year old son envious. In this context, it’s easy to forget that the laser is a highly advanced optical imaging system, operated by experienced survey technicians, which is used to collect vast amounts of precision data for a multitude of real world applications. If engineered correctly, a Mobile LiDAR unit will serve as a cost-effective survey grade solution that can be used to generate high quality project deliverables in a surprisingly quick timeframe. This is where the fun stops and the real work starts.
Baker's Mobile LiDAR unit is mounted on a Hi-Rail equipped truck
to perform a collection on a railroad corridor.

The implementation of a mobile LiDAR project can often be a rigorous undertaking, sometimes involving hurdles that would challenge the greatest of the world's Olympic sprinters. First and foremost is the sale. You would think that the system’s efficiency, accuracy and safety features would enable the technology to sell itself, but the resistance to change innate in economic buyers sometimes results in the need for the “hard sell”.

There’s hardware and software configuration, system calibration, survey control, and pre and post processing procedures that must be painstakingly followed to ensure a quality data output. And let’s not forget the logistics of scheduling… Mother Nature is not always the most forgiving of patrons. Mobile LiDAR data collections are serious business. However, if managed properly, it might just give four wheeling on a muddy summer day in the bayou a proverbial run for its money in the fun and games category.

Got LiDAR?


David Fekete is GIT Operations Manager for our Harrisburg, PA office.  He joins other manager's within Baker's GIT Service Area as a guest author to the blog.  In the coming weeks, additional guest authors will continue providing content from a different perspective.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mobile LiDAR: Law #8

Today’s best practices will be tomorrow’s old habits.

We hear a lot about “Best Practices;” but first off, let me say that I’m not a fan. Context, culture, and regulations dictate our practices. What equals success in one market may not work in another. And not all locations are created equal. So, for most purposes the terms, “good practices”, “suitable practices” or “useful practices” make more sense to me.

So what makes a good/suitable/useful practice…a so-called best practice? Since bottom-line is critical in business, any best practice must be measurable and must contribute to the bottom line. If a practice isn’t cost effective, it isn’t going to happen. Systems must support change in practice, and processes must allow for interaction between the users and the implementers.

Being a relatively new technology, change in Mobile LiDAR is rapid. So while the technology is cutting edge, the processes for developing our LiDAR projects ought to be our old habits. Today, they represent good/suitable/useful practices…the so-called best practice.
  • Plan, Plan, Plan – You’ve heard about GIGO: Garbage in Garbage out. It’s as true in Mobile LiDAR as in any other project type. To avoid GIGO, getting ready for the project is as important as the actual work that follows. (See Project Planning - GPS post)  Identify all state and other relevant agency specifications and project coordinate systems. Develop a mission plan for data collection. Perform system calibration, reconnoiter geodetic control for SBET processing and establish necessary survey control necessary post processing of LiDAR data. 
  • Get the Data – Set up base stations on geodetic control.  Collect the GPS and Mobile LiDAR data . Perform preliminary data processing, including data extractions and SBET creation; and finally, generate the point-cloud. 
  • Process Data – Transform, tile and classify point data. Produce intensity images. Make various extractions. 
  • Develop the Product(s) – Digital Elevation Models (DEM's), Triangulated Irregular Networks (TIN's), contours, breaklines and detailed planimetrics. Generate tile and project level-set metadata. 
  • QA/QC – Don’t treat QA/QC as a final step. Incorporate it in every instance. 

You’ll definitely get the best product with these best practices.


Donna Kristaponis is GIT Operations Manager for our Reno, NV office. She and other managers within Baker's GIT Service Area will be providing guest postings over the coming weeks.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Re-purposing the Cloud

Sustainability is a hot topic these days. The high-density point-cloud generated from a single Mobile LiDAR collection is a virtual poster-child for sustainable solutions. A key advantage to utilizing Mobile LiDAR on most projects is the ability to re-purpose the data for a myriad of uses or downstream projects. Rarely, if ever, do we get the opportunity to fully capitalize on the wealth of captured information on a single project. But if you’re an organization with diverse needs or numerous departmental groups, such as a local municipality, the ability to re-purpose the point-cloud for multiple projects creates exponential cost savings each time the data is exploited.

Land Development is another great example. We recently deployed our system to capture the as-built condition of a business and technology center in Chesapeake, VA. The center is relatively new, so there are still a number of vacant parcels that have yet to be developed. Scanning the entire complex took about an hour; but from that single collection, the developers not only obtain an accurate as-built of the site, but can also re-use the data to:

  • Develop land-use classification models;
  • Create animated fly through’s or 3D renderings to entice prospective tenants;
  • Quickly assemble to-scale 3D architectural renderings for the design/review process; or
  • Analyze and assess the enforcement of local codes/ordinances relating to sight-lines or green space.

The fascinating part is these were just the first things that came to mind. I think our motto sums it up pretty well. Unlimited Data…Infinite Possibilities!


Jonathan Soulen is GIT Operations Manager for our Virginia Beach, VA office.  He and other managers within Baker's GIT Service Area will be providing guest postings over the coming weeks.