How to Drive Demand for LiDAR
Over the past decade, awareness of the benefits of using LiDAR data for mapping has grown and acceptance has spread into new markets, but a common complaint is, “The data is too hard to use.” Matt Boyd, co-owner and co-CEO of WSI in Portland, Ore., has his own ideas on this topic. He believes that each client’s situation requires customized products, and a consulting business model focused on client use and interaction with spatial information is the way to go. There is no off-the-shelf solution because, in reality, there is often a varied user group for every dataset. What’s more, it isn’t just about the data. “We deliver valuable information that can be applied to a suite of problems,” he says. “It’s just not effective to deliver a LiDAR dataset and say ‘Good luck!’ to a client.”
The challenge is to create a tool that can be used by all the stakeholders involved in a project, regardless of their technical expertise or knowledge of LiDAR. “People are excited about remote sensing but disappointed at the point of data delivery because they can’t make total use of the information contained in the data,” Boyd explains. “Everyone shouldn’t need to know CADD or GIS. If only three out of 100 people in an organization can make use of the data, that’s a wasted opportunity to employ spatial information and to better serve clients’ needs.”
To recapture that market, Boyd and his team have made a substantial effort in the last few years to increase the “consumability” of the data they deliver. “We ask ourselves how quickly our clients will be able to synthesize the information,” he says. “Our goal is immediate synthesis and effortless interaction. That is what makes data consumable. If there are 100 people in the department, 100 people should be able to use, synthesize, and share the data for whatever they need to do with it, from the budget person to the field person.”
WSI has developed a dashboard based on proprietary software and a viewing tool that allows any user to access the information they need by pulling from LiDAR data, optical imagery and other layers of source data. By working with interactive animations, a user at any technical level can create customized reports, public announcements, educational materials, etc. By making information accessible to a broader user base, a project as a whole becomes more efficient and productive. The dashboard may include capabilities such as feature extraction, PLS-CADD modeling, hydrology tools, vegetation characterization and analysis, habitat analysis, 3D visualization tools and custom compliance reports to meet the various needs of the client.
“WSI’s approach to user-friendly data solutions can be applied to many applications, such as natural resource management, utility management, urban planning and forest management,” Boyd says. “Although there are some commonalities between the datasets, assuming one-size-fits-all creates data inefficiencies, namely by reducing the number of individuals that have access to spatial information.”
The customized concept seems to be working well for WSI, which opened for business in 1999 (as Watershed Sciences, Inc.) specializing in thermal infrared aerial photography of watersheds. The company recently relocated into a 12,500-square-foot office space in Portland, Ore., to accommodate its 126 employees. About 65 percent of its business now comes from the utility industry, for which WSI primarily provides survey-grade high-resolution LiDAR (>30 pts/m2) fused with optical imagery (1-2” pixels) and georeferenced HD video. WSI has found that simultaneous data collection with its UltraCam Eagle digital aerial camera, an Optech Orion LiDAR sensor, and a Cineflex HD video camera is a highly efficient method of providing integrated and useful datasets for its clients.
“WSI will continue to develop applied remote sensing solutions in response to the real-world problems faced by our user community,” Boyd concludes. “We want to enhance the exchange of information to the point where everyone can easily access the geospatial data they need.”