Geospatial Events Focus on Innovation and Integration
Francois Gervaix, product manager, surveying for SenseFly, did the best job of describing what was different about InterGeo 2017. In terms of his own company, he described four product launches the prior year in Hamburg and then said, “We had great products, but what people were asking for was a solution.” This year’s event, held in Berlin, reflected the result of what might best be described as a lot of parallel thinking by many manufacturers.
Here’s how Gervaix explained the process for SenseFly. They defined market segments and then identified who were the customers within those market segments. The next step was to spend time with some individuals who best reflected a cross section of customers (by segment) and determine SenseFly’s strengths and weaknesses. The process clearly did not just focus on products, the exercise was designed to yield a better picture of what the market was saying it needs.
Better integration appears to be the answer, and SenseFly wasn’t the only company represented at InterGeo that was getting the message. In brief, SenseFly recognized that many customers already have base stations and other tools. Its series of solutions includes Survey 360, which it says produces outputs that are compatible with the user’s existing CAD, survey and GIS software. Just how far this goes beyond the basic functionality surveyors would expect from a UAV company – flight planning, control, collection and basic data management – will be demonstrated by users. Meanwhile, in the competitive segment of UAV hardware, SenseFly seems to be saying it recognizes users aren't just buying drones, they are upgrading survey and mapping solutions using this new technology.
Improving and Integrating
With that said, the “i” word was getting a workout at Riegl’s booth as well. At least some of the discussion had to focus on the many hardware upgrades being announced. The Ricopter M, for instance, which is capable of flying with multiple sensors, was not the only technology innovation or significant upgrade being discussed. But, keeping with the unofficial theme of integration, Riegl’s LMAP Initiative was also in the spotlight. According to Riegl, the LiDAR Management & Analytical Processing Initiative has a workflow for aerial and UAV LiDAR collection using Web-based technologies. From there, data processing with Riegl’s RIPROCESS allows use of industry standard exchange formats to upload data to the cloud where further processing can be done with Esri technology.
While that discussion talks about Riegl sensors on a Riegl UAV platform, the company was also promoting mounting kits enabling Riegl sensors to fly on other popular UAV airframes. So, to some extent, data integration and hardware integration were both topics for discussion.
In the sensor category, Riegl had quite a few announcements as well. Its miniVUX-1 was being touted as a versatile, lightweight laser scanner which Riegl demonstrated in its UAV version and also in the DL or downward looking version. An integration kit was also available.
The 6.3-pound bantam weight scanner boasts a 46-degree field of view and a scan speed up to 100 scans per second and measurement rate up to 100,000 measurements per minute.
With its VZ-I series, Riegl was promoting its future-oriented processing architecture, which uses Internet cloud technology to communicate and share data among users and applications and also permits remote control from a smartphone.
User interface wasn’t limited to the technology side. Simple improvements like reducing the weight of sensors, adding handles, and providing better connectors/couplings for ease of use demonstrated manufacturers were listening and responding on multiple levels.
Over at Trimble, the SX-10, introduced last year, received some upgrades. New firmware turned on some vertical capability while the screen was improved to give better daylight visibility. A ruggedized tablet was also being offered in a bundle with the SX-10.
On the software side, Trimble Business Center got some better integration and some enhanced tools in the form of a history log that provides data on what was collected, when, where and by whom. While Trimble said its GNSS offers the user the capability to choose and operate from different constellations, there was also some openness on the data management end. More manufacturers are exporting data to Trimble Business System (TBC), the company said, and Trimble touted its data interoperability with Bentley, Esri and other systems.
In addition to hardware discussions, Topcon shared a new Web-based service for integration with the MAGNET Collage desktop mass data processing software — MAGNET Collage Web. The Web-based service, said Topcon, is designed to simplify collaboration and sharing of 3D point cloud data.
MAGNET Collage Web is accessible through a Web browser that integrates with the MAGNET Collage Office version to allow users to publish and share their mass data maps in a user-friendly and intuitive 3D Web-based environment, according to Jason Hallett, vice president of Topcon global product management. “The solution offers more universal access to point cloud models by eliminating the need for installed software with high-performance computing requirements.”
He added that MAGNET Collage is designed to offer a “single environment” solution for professionals processing and publishing data from laser scanners, mobile mapping devices, modern paving scanners, and traditional surveying instruments.
“Use of scanning technologies in the survey and construction industries has experienced an uptick in recent years. Scanning hardware has advanced in its ability to capture job site data, and software innovation is accelerating to match that development,” Hallett continued. “Overall, the technology is in an early-adopter phase when it comes to some of the common industry applications such as creating topographic maps, stock pile volume calculations, as-builts, and quality control. Our new service removes previous barriers for project teams looking to share 3D point cloud models inside their company or as a service to others,” said Hallett.
Topcon’s announcements didn’t stop there. At Bentley’s Year in Infrastructure event, which followed InterGeo a week later, Topcon Positioning Group announced advances in its direct communication between Bentley Systems design applications and the Topcon suite of software solutions. MAGNET 4.3.1, the MAGNET Enterprise Data Manager is designed to allow operations to directly access Bentley ProjectWise data with MAGNET Field, MAGNET Office or MAGNET Enterprise applications, the companies announced.
“The updates are part of our commitment to working with third-party software applications, such as the Bentley offering, to provide efficient data exchange and a seamless workflow,” said Topcon’s Hallett. “When connected to MAGNET Enterprise from MAGNET Field, you can directly upload and download data from [Bentley’s] ProjectWise, allowing surveyors or machine control model builders [to] upload or download iModels or other project file types,” he explained.
This wasn’t the end of collaboration announcements by Topcon and Bentley. Topcon said it was joining Bentley in its “Constructioneering Academy.” The two companies described the joint goal to “provide opportunities for construction industry professionals to learn best practices in . . . a process of managing and integrating survey, engineering, and construction data to streamline construction workflows and improve project delivery.”
At Bentley’s Year in Infrastructure in Singapore, CEO Greg Bentley led off with descriptions of the company’s Connect Service using the Microsoft Azure cloud-based platform. The news ran deeper than this and other alliances (including one with Topcon Positioning Systems). Bentley was focused on connecting digital workflows in infrastructure projects and extending that capability from suppliers to infrastructure owners.
Using his term “constructioneering,” which Bentley described as “when engineering and surveying and construction are a continuous process that isn’t handed off from one to the other.” He offers an example where a partner using Topcon’s reality capture brings digital data into Bentley’s Context Capture and then into the engineering reality meshes, which engineers can then put back into the cloud platform where other stakeholders could use the data and repeat the collaboration process, adding their own input.
Topcon’s CEO, Ray O’Connor, described this approach as confronting the problem of automating construction the way manufacturing is automated. “How can we connect the engineers with the operations that are going on on the site?” he asked. “If we don’t get the construction side and the engineering side calibrated together, we won’t solve the entire workflow problem,” he continued. “This isn’t about solving one area of the processing, it’s about solving the entire process,” he concluded.
Bringing the discussion down to a more terrestrial level, Nicole Stephano, senior manager of information mobility with Bentley, and Mike Schellnase, vice president of software development for Bentley, explained that the Azure-based cloud services Bentley and O’Connor were talking about allow suppliers working on an infrastructure project access to information on the project without a need for complex or costly IT infrastructure. What they described is a process for integrating suppliers – large and small – into the information flows, allowing better deliverables management and field data management in a more open, neutral IT infrastructure.
This, they said would apply to anyone involved in the supply effort of a project – not just suppliers of physical materials, but services as well. (i.e. surveyors) Using a system of standard methodologies for “invitations” to the project, it breaks down some of the impediments of collaboration. With little or no IT investment by suppliers, the approach deals with firewalls and systems issues to bring together the supply chain, they continued.
That’s another term starting to gain some currency in construction and infrastructure development – supply chain. It’s one that is familiar in the manufacturing and retail segments, and there is a growing movement to bring some of those same disciplines to construction. After all, said Simon Hailstone of Cambashi, in a casual conversation at the event, a construction project is just a massive, one-off manufacturing process. If you take Hailstone’s comment to heart, it’s easy to ask where would Ford Motor Company be if Henry Ford had continued making custom automobiles instead of standardizing processes and linking together the components of his supply chain.