Web Exclusive: Conference Recap: Imaging the Future

April 30, 2009
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Tom Greaves presented the welcome and introductory address at SPAR 2009.


Surveyors, mappers, engineers, GIS specialists, contractors, architects, archaeologists, metrologists, security providers, academic researchers, utilities managers, project managers, anthropologists, defense contractors, mining companies, heavy construction firms, naval and aircraft manufacturers, departments of transportation, geophysical exploration companies, safety agencies…the list goes on. These are the professionals and organizations that were represented at the SPAR 2009 conference. For reasons generally ascribed to the state of the economy, attendance was down about 9 percent from 2008. But well over 600 people gathered to discus one thing-the use, application and leveraging of laser scanning technology.

The conference was energetic, intense, diverse, cutting edge and focused. Tom Greaves, the CEO of Spar Point Research LLC, the conference organizer, reported that 81 percent of the attendees were from the United States representing 43 states. The international attendees came from 27 countries. Fully 65 percent represented end-users, while the rest were from hardware and software providers, industry associations, press and others. The number of sponsors who exhibited at this year’s conference showed a marked increase: 53 were represented this year versus 31 from last year.

Hans Hess spoke on "Geomatics on the Move."

The Business Case for Scanning

Preliminary events included a boot camp for 3D laser scanning and another boot camp for forensic and security applications. This year’s SPAR conference was once again co-located with the conference of the International Association of Forensic and Security Metrology (IAFSM). This partnership has been synergistic in the past, and it proved to be equally valuable this year. The 3D laser scanning boot camp was by reservation only and ended up being sold out. Despite the fact that so many of the attendees have been highly involved in laser scanning activities, a capacity crowd of more than 165 people chose to attend this introductory event covering topics such as terminology, how laser scanning works, when and how to use laser scanning, planning and cost estimating, and typical work flows.

The main conference began with a plenary session led by Greaves, who estimated that the volume of laser scanning business in 2008 grew about 10 to 15 percent to $425 million. Due to the economic downturn, Greaves broke with tradition and did not forecast 2009 business. He talked about some of the trends he has observed both during the year and from the the new companies and products being highlighted at SPAR 2009.

Hans Hess, former CEO of Leica Geosystems and president of his own Hanseco AG consulting firm, was the first keynote presenter. As one of the pioneers in bringing laser scanning tools to commercial reality, he has been an observer of this particular scene for quite a while. He pointed out that the primary trend currently with laser scanning is data fusion-that is, don’t just grab a point cloud; fuse it with data from other technologies such as photogrammetry, GPS, inertial and even video to have a mashup that provides information in a way that may not have been considered possible by the developers of the individual technologies. He also talked about developments that we are likely to see more about next year: multispectral scanning, close-range scanning and image ranging (one shot or flash that makes hundreds of thousands or millions of measurements of the scene).

The Riegl booth at SPAR 2009.

Hess also talked about how 4D imaging (normal 3D plus the element of time) is fast becoming a highly leveraged tool for construction, process and other monitoring, security, and other applications. Finally he pointed to the fleet of mobile mapping vehicles in the parking lot outside as evidence that mobile mapping, which dominates this year’s agenda, is no longer on the cutting edge. He indicated that more and more people from a huge diversity of applications and information needs are seeing the benefits of laser scanning or laser scanning integrated with other technologies to meet their requirements for better and faster data and information at lower cost.

The second keynote speaker was Charles Matta, an architect and director of Federal Buildings and Modernization for the General Services Administration (GSA). He covered his agency’s commitment to being a good steward of a rather large complement of federal buildings ranging from the historic to the ultramodern, from warehouses to buildings holding thousands of office workers. He showed how a large and increasing demand for laser scanning services has become necessary to support their work in building information modeling (BIM). As a result, GSA has a well-developed business case for the use of laser scanning. (Matta invited participants to discover more at www.gsa.gov/bim). His final remarks reflected on the stimulus package recently passed by Congress, which calls for GSA to quickly renovate, rehabilitate, green up and otherwise improve the buildings it manages, as well as develop a small amount of new construction. He asked the service providers in the audience to track the calls for proposals-many of which are for small businesses-that involve some aspect of laser scanning services. In addition to primary contractor opportunities, he suggested that there may be opportunities for many more firms to act as subcontractors due to the fast tracking of so many projects. (More information on available projects can be found at www.fedbizopps.gov.)

The third and final keynote of the plenary session was presented by Daniel Livecchi of the U.S. Secret Service and this year’s president of IAFSM. Under a restricted mode of presentation due to the sensitivity of the material presented (no recording devices, no open-forum questions), Livecchi presented the importance of urban modeling for events where national security is an issue. He illustrated this need with a case study on the Democratic Convention of 2008 (which was held in Denver). Dovetailing with Hess’ presentation, Livecchi showed how laser scanning and many other geomatics technologies are being combined to provide those charged with security to model, simulate and manage the security and safety aspects of large events.

The Topcon booth at SPAR 2009.

Technologies for Today and the Future

SPAR’s two-and-a-half-day program following the plenary session included tracks on industrial plants, mobile mapping, forensic and security planning, civil and transportation topics, geotechnical and mining, nuclear facilities construction and modifications, new software technologies, managing and leveraging geospatial information, BIM validation and integration, digital heritage, asset management and security planning as well as a host of technical seminars presented by the exhibitors. An important additional track on the last day was an update on the activities of the ASTM E57 3D Imaging Systems Committee. Work in progress on proposed standards as well as information on standards that have already been established was presented by the committee and subcommittee chairs. The committee has subcommittees working in the areas of terminology, test methods, best practices, data interoperability and strategic planning. Some of the standards are only proposed, some have been established and are constantly undergoing review for improvement, and others are so early in discussion that they have yet to be even proposed.

The exhibit area at SPAR continues to be a place of energetic interaction. New products on display included MDL’s low-cost scanning head, which is also available in a single unit integrated with GPS and IMU and operable from a laptop, and Pinpoint 3D’s CAD model generation product called Zipline, which is reputed to require smaller numbers of points to generate the models and reduce the size of data files. Among the new companies exhibiting at this year’s conference were Earthmine, a firm specializing in photogrammetrically derived near-range 360° georeferenced streetscapes, and ClearEdge3D, whose EdgeWise product is reputed to generate CAD models and extract other features from point clouds faster and more accurately than traditional methods.

The Leica Geosystems booth at SPAR 2009.

Exhibitors remarked about the high degree of interest from well-qualified attendees. Even institutional exhibitors such as schools, associations and trade industry groups seemed pleased. Kevin Williams, CEO of ClearEdge3D, attended his first SPAR conference three years ago as an employee of SAIC. It was then, due to his experience working with aerial LiDAR data, that he was able to see a need for his newly announced CAD model generating software. He came to SPAR with a product yet to be shipped and with low expectations. However, he and his staff were overwhelmed with inquiries about the product. “I knew there’d be some interest from people involved with BIM,” Williams said, “but I wasn’t expecting so many people ready to sign on the dotted line!” The event also generated ideas for improvements to the software. “We got ideas we’d really like to implement-perhaps even some of them will get into our first release,” he said. “Everybody in attendance was top notch-at the head of their games. I don’t think I could have found a better place to introduce a new technology like ours.”

Greaves was satisfied with the outcome. “We got about 12 percent of our attendees from Colorado,” he said. “Changing our location to Denver was good in view of it being a world hub for geospatial expertise-we had an excellent response from the local community of industry experts.” Speaking of the attendees at large, he said, “The can-do and make-do spirit of SPAR 2009 attendees is remarkable because it spans the public sector, engineering and surveying organizations both large and small, and some of the industry’s most talented and innovative hardware and software firms.”

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