Laser scanning and imaging systems are rapidly making their way into every surveyor’s toolkit. Two-thirds of respondents to a POB study conducted in partnership with Clear Seas Research at the end of 2018 reported they currently use laser scanning/imaging tools. While some are new to the technology, others have had a number of years of experience with the tools. Among the implications of longer-term use are the prospects that users are on their second generation of gear and/or they are increasing the number of lasers in their toolkit.

Purchasing intent is strong, with over 40 percent of respondents planning to purchase among the various categories of equipment. It’s tempting to suggest that everyone is planning to buy something, but that could be a stretch, and we’ll just leave the observations to the numbers of respondents saying they will buy a particular type of gear.

Which tools are geospatial professionals most likely to buy?
Aerial LiDAR 40%
Terrestrial Mobile LiDAR 38%
Photogrammetric Cameras 38%
Satellite Imaging/Remote Sensing 37%

One positive note from the current data is an improved attitude about where the surveying profession falls when it comes to laser scanning/imaging technology. The number of respondents who feel the surveying profession may be squandering an opportunity to lead in laser scanning has dropped over the last three studies.

Views on Industry Potential for Laser Scanning/Imaging
  2018 2017 2016
Surveying profession has the opportunity to lead, but isn’t moving quickly enough. 46% 53% 60%
Surveying profession is leading the way in implementation. 45% 28% 20%

Lasers are still not as common as GNSS and GIS in surveying workflows, but they have certainly achieved a prominent position. Among the categories of laser tools exhibiting significant gains, terrestrial mobile LiDAR has seen a 2.7x increase over the last three study periods.

Tools Used in Surveying Workflow
GIS/GIS Services 83%
Total Stations 68%
Laser Scanning/Imaging 64%

In the field, lasers are holding their own in topographical mapping, but exhibiting some significant growth in construction applications. But the tools are not without their challenges. Users stress the importance of transparency when it comes to moving data.

Growth in Demand for Laser Scanning/Imaging
  2018 2017 2016
Construction 57% 22% 20%
Architectural/BIM 44% 13% 46%
Topographic Mapping 44% 58% 44%
Energy/Utilities 26% 32% 24%
Transportation 26% 43% 30%
Industrial 25% 10% 20%
Environmental 12% 10% 16%
Deformation Monitoring 9% 15% 8%
Hydrography/Bathymetry 7% 7% 2%
Mining 5% 2% 4%

Manufacturers are continuing to improve and enhance their scanning tools and the supporting software and information systems. Enhancements and innovations include solid state devices with no moving parts, miniaturization, and increased range and speed. Greater capacity for data gathering, storage, and processing can also enhance field operations and reduce post-processing time and complexity.

It is impossible to separate developments in other areas and their potential value to surveying applications of laser tools. A major force is the continued development of autonomous vehicles. Many manufacturers who provide laser scanners used by surveyors are also helping to develop applications and enhancements for their hardware in autonomous vehicles. Off-road applications such as precision agriculture and construction are already enjoying the benefits of more autonomous operation. By design, the same technologies that provide the precision location and imaging from the survey side are also helping guide autonomous tractors and earth movers.

The research and development and the lessons learned in application of the range of tools for geolocation and imaging in both the surveying field and autonomous vehicle guidance are bound to provide mutual benefit. A recent satellite launch that will enhance GNSS capabilities within the next couple of years is just one example. Autonomous vehicles need to process location and image information in real-time, and as those capabilities evolve, surveyors will also be able to see more instantaneous results in the field.

Usage of Laser Scanning/Imaging and Other Tools
  2018 2017 2016
Terrestrial Mobile LiDAR 50% 38% 18%
Photogrammetric Cameras 50% 32% 30%
Phase-based Stationary Terrestrial Laser Scanners 47% 45% 38%
Aerial LiDAR 41% 35% 18%
Time-of-Flight (Pulse-based) Stationary Terrestrial Laser Scanners 40% 30% 44%
Ground Penetrating Radar 39% 25% 16%
Satellite Imaging/Remote Sensing 35% 20% 22%
UAVs 38% 38% 33%
Number of Stationary Terrestrial Scanners in Use
  Currently Use Will Use Next Year
None 0% 3%
1 28% 26%
2 - 4 41% 36%
5 - 9 18% 19%
10 - 19 8% 9%
20 or more 6% 8%
What are the 12-month purchase intentions?
Phase-based Terrestrial Stationary Scanners 46%
Terrestrial Mobile LiDAR Systems 44%
UAVs 44%
Aerial LiDAR Systems 41%
Photogrammetric Cameras 41%
Satellite Imaging/Remote Sensing 41%
Ground Penetrating Radar 39%
Time-of-Flight (Pulse-based) Terrestrial Stationary Scanners 38%
Most Important Laser Scanning Capabilities
Ability to translate easily between data formats/applications 70%
User interface to the scanners 46%
Compatibility with field accessories 46%
Data storage capabilities 38%
Cloud- or web-based portal access 36%
Professional Training on Laser Scanning/Imaging
  2018 2017 2016
Have trained in the prior 12 months 39% 25% 24%
Plan to train within next 12 months 56% 58% 50%

What the Charts Tell Us

  • With two-thirds of study respondents using laser scanning/imaging tools, there is still room for growth. Many geospatial professionals will add mobile laser tools to their toolkit.
  • Purchasing plans for imaging tools aren’t limited to laser-based systems. Photo imaging and ground penetrating radar have a prominent place on surveyors’ shopping lists for the coming year.
  • Perceptions in the profession have not always been that surveyors were leading the way in using laser scanning/imaging tools. That attitude is beginning to move from the negative to the positive.
  • Surveyors acknowledge they have increased, and plan to continue to pursue, training to get the most value and potential from the tools.
  • It’s not surprising that GNSS positioning tools are a dominant part of a surveyor’s workflow. Lasers are continuing to make gains, with higher end tools like total stations and laser scanners represented in two-thirds of surveyors’ workflows.
  • Mobile scanning has increased in both terrestrial and aerial applications. The newcomer that could play a growing role as size and weight, along with speed and range, of scanners improve is unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
  • Though it appears a small minority of users will phase out the use of stationary terrestrial scanners, most of the movement is towards multiple units. While the number of respondents reporting fewer than five units shows a decline, the number with five or more is rising.
  • Mapping and construction dominate the applications for laser scanning/imaging. A longer-term view could offer some more insight into whether the dramatic increase in the current demand for laser scanning/imaging in construction is due to a boom or a more sustainable growth factor.
  • When it comes to data, users imply they would like more of an open-systems approach. The message is clear that capabilities to translate between formats and move data between applications is vital. Though a little further down the list, interfacing with scanners and compatibility with field equipment implies users may be experiencing some issues with data flows and interfaces between equipment from different manufacturers. While the data don’t quantify the specifics of why data capabilities top the list, users have focused their responses on data matters rather than hardware issues such as speed and range.



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