The survey and geospatial professions are made up of a diverse set of disciplines. The skills, the tools, and the knowledge required by the individual geospatial professional vary with that person’s career focus or with a company’s business model. Following trends and keeping up with developments in the technologies and techniques as they advance becomes a significant challenge because most of the learning and networking opportunities available to practitioners are vertically focused.

Associations often represent surveyors, photogrammatrists, aerial imagery and geospatial intelligence. Manufacturers and suppliers will often develop broad user events, which may cover a range of applications and attempt to stitch together a fairly complete view, but they will be limited to the tools and processes supported by a particular manufacturer and its partners. Other vertical events focus on a specific technology or segment, like GIS or unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

All of these events are valuable, and they produce substantial volumes of information and knowledge for those in the profession. The problem is, the vast majority of professionals can only take in one or two of the events that most closely match their immediate needs. The good news is that all of the groups and events appear to be working to provide context as well as content.

One of the bigger events for the geospatial field is the InterGeo Expo. With 640 exhibitors from 40 countries, its 2018 event in Frankfurt, Germany grew 10 percent from 2017. The organizers forecasted attendance of 17,000, but final reports indicate the event was attended by over 19,000 visitors from over 100 countries. Not only was the exhibit hall large and diverse, it was also crowded. Despite having parts of the exhibit that were focused (Interaerial Solutions Expo and Smart City Solutions), it was clearly a challenge to see everything.

InterGeo has, and continues to, emphasize digitalization as a theme. Specifically, tying the role of geolocation to the broader trend in digitalization. “Without geo-components, there would be no digitalization,” says Hagen Graeff, chief representative of DVW and conference organizer. “It’s as simple as that,” he adds. Though it may never achieve widespread use, Graeff, representing the German Society for Geodesy, Geoinformation, and Land Management, offers “diGEOtisation” as a term to describe the “intertwining of geodesy, geoinformation, and land management.” Whether or not the term sticks, the context for coining the term positions the goals of the InterGeo expo.

This year incorporated another major element. On the Monday before the InterGeo event officially began, the first European Drone Summit featured a day of sessions and presentations by members of the industry and key government officials. Though the focus was on Europe, one of the conclusions was that the drone segment as a whole needs some global consistency in its standards and regulatory schemes.

The Role of InterGeo

During a press conference, some of the principal exhibitors/sponsors were asked about the event and about industry trends. Commenting on the event, Dr. Jürgen Dold, president of Hexagon’s Geosystems division, says that half the time their representatives in their booth were speaking English. This has increased from other events, he says, and demonstrates how much more international the attendance has become. Dietmar Bernert, vice president of the [German] Federal Association of Construction Software, adds that the audience has become more multi-faceted. It is more international, and there  is more representation from construction and surveying. The attendees’ interest is in solutions, he says.

Hansjörg Kutterer, president of host DVW, adds that, even in this digital age, you cannot replace personal contact.

Looking at Change

Bernert pointed out that what is taking place is a complete change for everyone in the construction industry. They now have a connected environment. For people working with these solutions, their professional lives will change, he says. This will drive change at universities as well.

Dr. Dold adds, these connected processes will help to build new business models where underserved businesses will be affected. The focus is on solutions and, in the process, both surveying and construction will be easier. It is truly a sharing economy, he says.

We have technologies to capture lots of data, says Andreas Sinning, managing director of Trimble track, survey and scanning. He describes the core business of the profession as data collection. The challenges include: How do we make use of the data? How do we make it useful? How do we maintain the value of the data?

Artificial Intelligence

Asked about artificial intelligence, Sinning comments that Trimble uses AI in products, and in the area of AI, the geospatial industry competes with the automotive industry for talent. The problem, he notes, is finding the experts.

With AI, you perform your analysis and you train it. In mobile mapping, you see a sign 10,000 times and recognize it the next 10,000 times.

DVW’s Kutterer points out that the geospatial solution is not always AI. Sometimes, the term is misleading, he points out. You have data from inside and outside a building. You need an algorithm; you create a digital twin. “You need the support of a good algorighm; that’s the next step.”

Despite the buzz about AI, one panelist notes that the “intelligence” of AI is still only equal to about that of a six-year-old child. Kutterer comments that, despite the “intelligence” being limited, AI does help to create a better job for the human by helping to remove much of the task or process that is repetitive.

Kutterer responds that it is important to promote geo-information, and to demonstrate why it is important to do a survey to help manage the geo-information.

From the Floor

Given that there was a Drone Summit ahead of the InterGeo expo, UAV announcements seem like a good place to start.

DJI already holds a dominant position in this space, but it took the opportunity at the European Drone Summit to announce its Phantom 4 RTK. Based on the popular Phantom 4 platform, the Phantom 4 RTK provides centimeter-level positioning through the addition of an RTK receiver. It also created the TimeSync system to align the flight controller, camera and RTK module continually. To support the RTK module, the GS RTK app uses two planning modes: Photogrammetry and Waypoint Flight alongside a traditional flight mode. Another addition is the D-RTK 2 Mobile Station, which provides real-time differential data.

On the fixed-wing side of the spectrum, senseFly launched the eBee X. Part of the news here is the range of camera options. The SODA 3D photogrammetry camera has a 1-inch sensor, which changes orientation during flight to capture three images for a wider field of view. The Aeria X is a compact photogrammetry camera with APS-C sensor to provide D-SLR level imaging quality in varying light conditions, but at a smaller size and weight versus the D-SLR. The Duet T is a dual-camera thermal mapping rig that includes a 640-by-512 pixal thermal infrared camera and a SODA RGB camera.

Moving from the air to the surface, Hélicéo was showing its SuperBathy bathymetric drone. The catamaran unit offers dual electric propulsion and a variety of sensor choices. Sensors include echo sounder, LiDAR, multiparameter probe, SONAR and side scan. The unit weighs 15-pounds and features manual or automatic steering. According to the company, it can be deployed and operated by a single operator and can acquire mesh data from a few centimeters up to a meter.

Sticking with bathymetry, Leica Geosystems announced the Chiroptera 4X and Leica HawkEye 4X. The latest upgrades introduce a new bathymetric LiDAR high resolution technology that increase the bathymetric point density by a factor of four.