Point of Beginning

Bridging the Gap III

September 1, 2005
Data was a hot topic at this year's summit...



"It's all about the data." This was the main point made by Mike Weir, surveying industry manager for ESRI, at this year's Survey and GIS Summit held July 23-26 in conjunction with the 25th annual ESRI User Conference in San Diego. "Technology," he continued, "is important, but the data is vital." This idea resonated with many of the 260-plus attendees at the summit. John Schmidt, a returning attendee and president of NCAD Corporation, Erlanger, Ky., said, "Last year, the theme was bridging the gap. This year, the gap was bridged by a four-letter word: data."

Data was indeed a hot topic at this year's summit, and products and methods related to data accuracy were discussed and debated in many technical sessions by the surveyors, engineers and GIS practitioners seeking to open the channels of communication and create opportunities for themselves in the GIS arena.

Duties and Data

On the first day of the conference, Gary Kent, LS, director of surveying for the Schneider Corporation, Indianapolis, Ind., congratulated everyone who had come to the conference. "You have set yourselves apart as leaders simply by participating," he said. "As [leaders] we bear a heavy burden. We need leaders to step up and help fulfill the promise that GIS holds." Kent compared GIS to a child and told the audience, "As leaders, we are its parents and must not limit its potential by our preconceived notions." He then listed three vital duties leaders must perform: identify, cultivate and articulate the vision. Kent said, "Data is what we do. Leadership is who we are."

To bridge the gap and open communication about the roles and interactions of geospatial professionals, a trio of introductory talks titled "What We Do" were given by a surveyor, an engineer and a GIS professional. John Stock, PLS, chief surveyor for Maricopa County, Ariz., listed the surveyor's tasks as finding the land, researching public records, performing field reconnaissance, measuring with sophisticated tools, making professional decisions on boundary locations, setting monumentation, and performing topographic and bathymetric surveys. "The duty has not changed for the surveyor," Stock said. "His data must still be a known and stated quality, and it must be sufficient, understandable and retrievable." Stock also noted that surveyors share the tasks of construction layout and geodetic and photogrammetric control with others in the geospatial industry.

W. Tracy Lenocker, PE, president of Lenocker & Associates, Orange, Calif., echoed the theme that surveyors and engineers must both use the same data. He illustrated a cycle of development-planning to design to construction to maintenance-and pointed out that the key areas where GIS is needed fall under planning and maintenance. From his perspective as a civil engineer and a surveyor, Lenocker said, "We forget that GIS is a tool that we need to share with others."

Jack Avis, PLS, GISP, director of GIS for Marana, Ariz., stated that GIS practitioners "create cartographic maps and images; acquire, create and maintain geospatial data layers; perform geographic analysis and modeling; and develop enterprise GIS solutions and services." Avis explained that his city's GIS department has "a never-ending thirst for new information," particularly the need for current data. "None of the information is any good if it isn't new," he said. "The currency in data is always being challenged and though it's difficult to do, we try to keep up."

Products and Accuracy

The National Geodetic Survey (NGS) heightened its presence at this year's summit. Charlie Challstrom, NGS director, said that since his agency is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, "We're looking for links with businesses." To network for these relationships, NGS was a platinum sponsor of the Survey and GIS Summit, and two dozen NGS employees attended the conference. Curt Smith, geodetic state advisor to Idaho and Montana, presented on the products and services offered by NGS. He stated that the NGS vision is that "everyone can know where he or she is and where other things are anytime, anyplace." He listed and described many of the products NGS offers, including the National Spatial Reference System (NSRS), Online Positioning User Service (OPUS), Continuously Operating Reference Stations (CORS) and NGS datasheets, but told the audience that the number one product offered by NGS is its "personnel behind the scenes."

Don Buhler, chief cadastral surveyor and representative for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), informed the audience that his agency provides surveys of federal interest lands, surveys of Indian lands, and geographic information and consultation on the Public Land Survey System (PLSS). He noted that the biggest service provided by the BLM is the perpetuation of monuments at PLSS corners.

Michael Dennis, PE, MSCE, a geodesist with Shephard-Wesnitzer Inc., Flagstaff, Ariz., gave two dynamic presentations about the complexity of modern positioning and the consequent need for spatial data standards development. "GPS is amazing technology," he said, "but a lot is happening in the background. Professional users must understand how it works." Dennis reviewed the foundational science of geodesy behind GPS and said, "There's an unbelievable number of ways to get wrong results from GPS." He sparked a lot of discussion among summit attendees with his description of four major sources of positioning error, which included geodetic data definitions and reference coordinates, grid coordinate systems and computations, vertical datums and height systems, and accuracy estimation and reporting.

The opening day of the summit concluded with a panel session moderated by Challstrom. Three NGS employees, along with Stock, Lenocker and Avis, fielded a variety of questions from attendees on topics ranging from height modernization to whether GIS is a profession.

On the second day of the summit, attendees split off to attend break-out technical sessions and listen to successful case studies. Thirty presentations were categorized under topics such as land management; spatial data quality; surveying and GIS integration; engineering and engineering design; and more. Bruce Schneider, GIS coordinator for Mohave County's IT department, Ariz., attended a session by Gary Kent titled "Why Don't They Fit? Legal Descriptions and GIS Parcel Conversions." Schneider said, "Gary Kent's talk about parcel conversion is something that most of us on the GIS side don't know the history of." He added, "I wish I'd heard it two years ago."

Other popular presenters included Ray Carlson, PLS, president of Ray Carlson & Associates Inc., Santa Rosa, Calif., and Robert Young, RPLS, president of Digital Mapping Services, Corpus Christi, Texas. "GIS can generate work for you in more ways if you open up your picture of work. The window has opened for us and we won't turn it away," Carlson said. His surveying company now specializes in creating GIS maps for wineries in his region of California. Young presented on his company's survey grade data collection for water/wastewater departments.

Joining the GIS Crowd

On Monday, July 25, the summit was combined with the rest of the ESRI User Conference. More than 13,000 people crammed into the San Diego Convention Center to listen to Jack Dangermond, ESRI president, describe his vision for the future of GIS. "We need to, as a species, learn how to better manage our world," Dangermond told the audience. "And GIS is particularly valuable as a framework for managing human activities."

"We are moving to[ward] a geodata-rich society," Dangermond continued, adding that he envisions the rapid evolution of a "GeoWeb," a large distributed global GIS that will connect individual GISs in a system of systems. To address this future, Dangermond outlined ESRI's core software strategies: to enhance the ArcGIS desktop, to strengthen and simplify geodata management, and to extend the ArcGIS server. Version 9.2 of ArcGIS, which will be available in early 2006, has been designed to meet these objectives. In ArcGIS 9.2, geodatabases will become richer, integrating various surface data types (vector, raster, LiDAR, etc.) into a new high performance data structure known as terrains, which will provide better file sharing capabilities.

In the afternoon, attendees were privileged to hear the keynote address from Dr. Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and U.N. Messenger of Peace. She used examples of her inspiring work with the chimpanzees in Africa to illuminate a message of hope and inspiration. "Every action we do has an impact on the world around us," Goodall said, "and we have a choice what kind of impact it will be."

The final day of the summit featured more technical presentations and the opening of the exhibit hall. Attendees visited manufacturers' and agencies' booths to see the newest product releases and hear about the latest happenings in GIS. (See sidebar on page 17 for new product information.) In addition, the Surveying Special Interest Group (S-SIG) held its semiannual meeting. The S-SIG is a multidisciplinary group consisting of geospatial professionals who seek to promote the integration of surveying and GIS. At the meeting, Donny Sosa, surveying industry coordinator for ESRI, said, "We want to keep up the intensity and all the buzz we've felt the past couple days." He urged those with feedback on the summit and ideas for the future to E-mail their input to surveysummit@esri.com.

Sidebar: New GIS-related Releases

A number of manufacturers exhibited newly released products on the ESRI show floor. Topcon, Livermore, Calif., released the GMS-2, a GIS mapping GPS receiver. The GMS-2 provides 50 channels for dual-constellation satellite tracking and can be used in DGPS or static mode. Two choices of field management and mapping software are available: TopSURV-GIS and TopPAD. In addition to operating as a GIS receiver, the GMS-2 can be configured to be a field controller with its Windows CE operating system. The GMS-2 also features an integrated digital camera, electronic compass, SD memory slot and USB port.

Trimble, Sunnyvale, Calif., showcased its TSC2 Controller, a handheld field computer that provides wireless operations in both field and office, working in conjuction with Trimble GPS survey systems and total stations. The Trimble TSC2 Controller has a unique changeable cap that enables the use of removable media such as memory cards, GPRS, GPS, camera and product scanning functions, extending data logging capabilities and potentially increasing productivity. The TSC2 controller also provides USB and serial RS232 communication options; data can be transferred to a PC or another TSC2 controller using a cable, Bluetooth, CompactFlash or SD memory card media.

Surveylab, Wellington, New Zealand, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) exhibited their joint product, the HAMMER (Handheld Apparatus for Mobile Mapping and Expedited Reporting). The HAMMER captures data digitally and generates reports on demand, allowing the user to act proactively and remediate situations while in the field. It features a laser distance meter, 12-channel GPS receiver, digital camera, digital compass and inclinometer. The HAMMER also has Bluetooth and WiFi capabilities, a removable SD card, an external antenna port and USB and RS232 ports. One key HAMMER feature is a single pushbutton activating a number of automated and time-saving measurements at once. To use this feature, an operator aims the unit at the target and presses the record button, which captures a digital image; obtains GPS positioning, azimuth, distance, elevation, inclination and other metric attributes; and then stores the data in a database with a time/date stamp and unique project/identifier attached.

@Last Software Inc., Boulder, Colo., demonstrated SketchUp 5. SketchUp enables users to design and communicate in 3D on both Macintosh and Windows platforms. SketchUp 5 brings new features to designers, including a suite of terrain tools called The Sandbox, which creates ways to model terrain and similar organic shapes, and add roads, building pads and parking lots.

The Sandbox allows the projection of 2D geometry onto complex 3D surfaces. Enhanced sketching tools include depth-cued edges that make the foreground of a model darker than the lines in the background, giving it a more realistic feel. An improved user interface with new toolbars and icons gives SketchUp a new look while enhancing intuitiveness and simplicity.