Bill Emison has been employed in a variety of technical sales and marketing positions within the geospatial industry for the last fifteen (15) years. Currently, he is commercial sales and marketing account manager for the Geospatial Solutions division at Merrick & Company, a professional services engineering firm based in the Denver Tech Center.
ZEB1 handheld scanner
The final two days of SPAR International in Houston last week left me with many pages of notes and lots of insight into rapidly evolving commercial markets that utilize 3D technologies in their daily operations.
Takeaway #1: All Markets in Play!
More than any specific technology, I was impressed at the number and variety of new, innovative and highly-focused solutions being presented to a wide variety of industrial markets. From academics and entrepreneurs to established industry vendors, it was clear that today’s commercial enterprises demand cost-effective solutions that are technology agnostic and deliver immediate value to the operator.
During one of the Civil & Municipal Infrastructure sessions, a group of student researchers from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute demonstrated an autonomous “aerial robot” performing laser scanning of a railway bridge to support facility inspection/assessment, as well as rapid infrastructure modeling and analysis. What was most notable about this presentation was that this entire system was developed with fairly basic hardware components that utilized minimal computing power to effortlessly guide the robot in and around the structure to capture all surfaces – amazing!
I also loved the session involving the utilization of the ZEB1 handheld scanner (from 3D Laser Mapping) to capture a large limestone mine in Denmark for input into Minecraft – a very cool geo-gaming application! Also notable was the presentation of “deep learning” data processing techniques from Sravan Puttagunta of Solfice Research, a technology start-up out of Berkeley, CA. He described their cloud-based technology as “AI (artificial intelligence) for 3D maps”, that promised to “teach computers how to make maps from 3D point cloud data.” Admittedly, I’m still trying to fully understand their approach, but I do believe that it has technical merit and could seriously impact traditional LiDAR data processing approaches.
Takeaway #2: VHS or Beta?
During Thursday’s session on unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the Civil & Municipal Infrastructure track, several vendors presented their solutions and discussed current issues within this emerging technology space. Given the multitude of UAS platforms and sensor payloads being offered, it reminded me of the videotape format “war” surrounding the mass introduction of video cassette recorders (VCRs) to the US market in the late 70s and early 80s.
The moral of that history lesson is that the most advanced technology doesn’t always guarantee market success, and therefore listening to your customer’s needs (ex. better reliability, longer duration) may end up being crucial factors to a “winning” solution. To this end, UAS vendors need to provide affordable solutions that provide immediate value by precisely targeting and solving operational issues, which can often develop into a chronic headache for management.
Takeaway #3: Integration = Innovation
Perhaps my favorite session of #SPAR15 was the executive panel at the end of the day on Thursday. Led by Chris Zmijewski, the panelists offered truly valuable insights into their use of 3D technologies to accurately capture, model and manage the highly-complex industrial facilities under their management.
For me, it was very encouraging to hear executives that clearly understand how laser scanning is typically just the first step in managing the entire life cycle of their plant infrastructure. Phil Davis with BNSF Railway emphasized his need to completely visualize all rail infrastructure and supporting systems “between the fences” to improve worker safety and reduce expensive (unnecessary) field trips.
The panel discussion also touched on the topic of systems integration, as it refers to the interconnection of infrastructure assets and supporting information systems including asset management and work order management. The panelists agreed that for organizations to be effective, all business units need to work on an accurate “common” infrastructure model that represents an operational reality, allows for rapid decision-making and supports efficient management practices.
To summarize, the 3D technologies market space is exploding with technical innovation and novel business applications that are sure to revolutionize the management of commercial and industrial operations across the globe. The overall industry outlook is very bright, as technology continues to ruthlessly bore forward, leaving a large wake of innovative technical disruptions which will positively affect our society for years to come.