At times, the geospatial world sounds like it is “throwback Thursday.” When the press conference at InterGeo convened, moderator Günter Knappe noted, “Digitization could be felt in the world of geodesy and the world of surveyors. How can we take processes in mathematics and visualize them differently in maps?”

If that sounds like the 1980s or 90s when “digital” was novel, it may be that the comments were meant to be more reflective than a comment on the current state. But, part of the speaker’s intent was to focus on moving forward. “In the coming 25 years, for surveying … we as a trade need to push the boundaries and find more ways to create value that is also beneficial to the environment, more resource-efficient.” He cited artificial intelligence and automation as significant tools in this effort. More automation will allow efforts to exploit the data being created to be scalable. This will include linking more of the technologies being used, improving software, and automating processes that flow between data acquisition and the ultimate deliverable. 

If it sounds like this scenario automates human participation out of the picture, it doesn’t. Knappe said there will always be a role for human beings, but, “if you think of yourself as indispensable in the future, that’s a problem. It’s not just about technology, we need new mindsets.”

Ron Bisio, Vice President of Geospatial for Trimble, noted collaboration will be key. He sees the various technologies all working together. He calls it a digital ecosystem and cautions that without this digital ecosystem, the environment will be dominated by the big players. Standards will help ensure that data from different sources can be used together, he added.

Taking up the discussion with BIM, Karen Weiss, Senior Industry Strategy Manager, Civil Infrastructure Owners for Autodesk, said, “BIM is all about the creation and exchange of digital information across a project lifecycle, whether it’s buildings or infrastructure.” Those information flows go well beyond design, she continued.

We need to start using some of that information in construction and ultimately in operations and maintenance where we have 80 percent of the asset’s cost, Weiss added. Speaking of an alliance between Autodesk and Esri, she said one of the lessons was that geospatial information informed BIM processes. “They’re not separate. And, in turn, BIM processes or BIM is going to feed GIS systems in the future, and that’s going to help us with that lifecycle of data exchange.”

Weiss explained, “If we really think about it as the creation and exchange of structured information, people start to think about the benefits of it a lot more broadly than if we just think about it as 3D modeling – which has benefits, but it is a little bit limited. The focus now has to be on taking action.”

There was plenty of action on the show floor. With 705 exhibitors and 20,000 visitors from over 100 countries, it isn’t possible to cover everything that happened. We can provide a few highlights. Stay tuned to POB and for further reflections from InterGeo.

Mapping for Autonomous Vehicles

Looking to the future and the role of surveying and geospatial is bound to land on autonomous vehicles at some point. Mitsubishi Electric has formed a joint venture with Japanese tier 1 automakers and map makers to make a precise map of all of Japan for autonomous driving. “We’re trying to make the same precise map in the United States as well,” said Kenji Nakakuki, Division Manager, High-Precision Positioning Systems Business Development Center for Mitsubishi. 

In addition to precise mapping in Japan and the U.S., the company is testing systems for infrastructure maintenance. As Nakakuki describes it, they can combine the precise mapping data with road surface data at the same time. 

Mitsubishi is also getting into the hardware side. They are making a high-precision GNSS receiver that can be used for UAVs, Nakakuki continued. 

Another joint venture that includes Bosch will offer high-precision services in Europe and North America. “By using a portal service and by using our high-precision positioning receiver, we can have centimeter-level precision,” he pointed out.

Nakakuki emphasizes that while there needs to be precise static data, the real time data, will be incorporated into the map data to create a dynamic map. At the moment, this is the target – precise mapping and real time data to build towards the dynamic map. 

Continued Growth for UAVs

“We had to start developing consumer drones and move to professional drones, then invest in sensors and software, then invest in services in order to build the offer,” explains Gilles Labossiere, CEO of senseFly. The black and yellow fixed-wing drones have become a familiar sight at geospatial events. It was important a couple of years ago to develop and offer a “full solution,” according to Labossiere, because there were no solutions. 

“Now we need to choose our niche. Long term, we are transitioning from full solutions to an open ecosystem so that our customers and our partners can seamlessly integrate their solutions,” Labossiere continued. He offered an example from the energy industry where senseFly worked with a solar engineering group to develop a solution which uses a senseFly fixed-wing drone. The solar group is now able to offer that solution directly and through the senseFly distribution channel. He continued, pointing to a partnership with Trimble that had been announced just ahead of the show.

While this represents the experience of just one UAV maker, it does not seem far from what is happening with other manufacturers. With regard to UAVs, their presence on the show floor has not diminished. In fact, a European Drone Summit was co-located with InterGeo for the second year. And, on the floor itself, drones were less apart from the displays and more a part of what many companies were offering and demonstrating. Echoing the senseFly experience, some of these solutions are partnerships.

Just as senseFly has had to decide whether to focus attention on developing UAV hardware or full solutions, it appears others have also decided to partner where appropriate rather than develop a full set of deep resources to research, design, and build some geospatial tools. The UAV segment is one area where this is more apparent.

Labossiere also commented that he viewed the regulation of the UAV sector as a sign that it would continue to grow. There is no need to regulate if there is no growth, he said. This also speaks to the shift to partnerships with companies that have a deeper expertise in UAVs. As governments across the globe work on how to manage airspace safely, the technical requirements placed on commercial drones increase. And, UAV designers and manufacturers are more likely to benefit from developing expertise in tools like sense-and-avoid technology. Similarly, if the regulators should begin to establish airframe standards, this would be an area for aerospace engineers and designers. That’s a different core competency than those employed by designers of geopositioning, metrologic, and laser systems.

Those developments, enhancements, and improvements have continued and were being announced before, during, and after the InterGeo show. Watch POB and for continuing updates.