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Cyborg Surveying & You: The Basics

January 17, 2012
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There is a lot to think about when it comes to being a professional in the field of spatial science. The number of changes occurring in technology, understanding, and legal standards add to and erode the concepts of being a PLS and spatial engineer on such a regular basis that understanding and finding applications is often difficult. With such chaos, many new business concepts and possibilities are available, but not all of them will work.

When considering the different types of work handled by geospatial professionals, the basics can be broken down into three parts:

1. Production
The ability to create spatial data has gone from time-tested manpowered methods to autonomous, all-encompassing systems. Field crews using total stations, scanners, photogrammetry, and GNSS technology create the basic usable information that people can buy, sell and apply. Doing the groundwork in putting out physical, visual cues such as flagging also is handled here.

Increasingly, professionals can also produce valuable data by mining datasets produced by remote sensing rather than by creating discreet points. The next technology shift is in using 3D photogrammetry to create models with tools such as Microsoft Photosynth and Autodesk's suite of programs and then separating out all the features. All the current data-mining tools are expensive and complicated, but less expensive and even free options are emerging rapidly thanks to the evolution of open-source software.

2. Management
After data is produced, it must be turned into something usable. A scan may show an entire city block in great detail, but what the client needs is just where the cracks in the cement are or the location of a single lot. Management also deals in the storage and inventive application of this data. GIS is a good example, where the more accurate the base information, the better (and more valuable) the results become.

Through emerging capabilities such as autonomous feature recognition, data mining and modeling become much faster and easier. The combination of feature extraction in a GIS environment can allow us to build datasets at will and let clients shop those databases like a supermarket. Making information buyable in convenient pieces could be a successful business strategy.

Implementing an augmented reality application to let anyone see the information overlaid on the actual environment without physical markers is a logical next step and one that relies on using satellites for references rather than benchmarks.

3. Consultation
The single most important asset in our line of work is experience, and consulting is where years of experience, books of certifications, and the professional approval from peers and former clients comes in. Someone may have the data created and edited, but without an explanation of how to use it, the data is often overwhelming. With the myriad of choices now available, having someone to point out the easiest path is invaluable. As the entry barrier lowers, being able to explain the necessity of key pieces of data will separate the players from the pros.

Surveying companies mostly fall within the production side of this triad but certainly can enter the other two fields. I believe every geomatics firm should provide all three services. I’ve spent the last two months putting together a list of projects that falls under each of these three categories and will be posting the results of bringing my ideas into reality and hopefully success.
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