Leica Geosystems introduces a new concept: High-Definition Surveying.

Every decade or so a new technology comes along that enhances a surveyor's work. The 1980s saw the emergence of the reflectorless total station (TPS) and the '90s introduced the eventual proliferation of the global positioning system (GPS). Later still, the implementation of aerial Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology, satellite imaging and even photogrammetry offered surveyors technological advantages. And now, in the first decade of the new millennium, Leica Geosystems (Atlanta, Ga.) has introduced HDS (High-Definition Surveying), a concept that promises to bring significant improvement in speed, accuracy, detail and cost to the surveying industry.

Unlike TPS and GPS, instruments that capture single-point measurements one point at a time, HDS systems-like 3D laser scanning-capture thousands of points per second, scanning an object or scene with a continuous sweep of a laser beam. The resulting "point cloud" resembles a glorified photograph made of hundreds of thousands of individual measurements, each with exact x,y,z coordinates as well as an associated color (RGB) value.

But, HDS is more than the 3D laser scanning technology that has been catching on in the surveying arena for a few years, promises Erwin Frei, Swiss national president of the New Businesses (Cyra) Division of Leica Geosystems. HDS offers the surveyor, and thus, his client, speedier processing of data captures and deliverables with more detail and of higher reliability.

Defining HDS

The term HDS represents more than terrestrial laser scanning alone, as scanning is only one component of the HDS concept. HDS embodies everything involved in the process of capturing data, from software to workflow to training to output-it describes an entire process, not just a tool. The process includes the data capture (laser scanning) and the data utilization (such as creating instant deliverables like sectional cuts or contour maps using specialized software).

The biggest changes HDS promises to bring to the industry are threefold: the high speed of data collection (with the resulting increase in field productivity), increased safety to users, and most importantly, the high level of detail. In regard to safety, HDS systems survey remotely, which allows hard-to-reach or dangerous terrains to be captured safely and with a minimum of interruption.

High-Definition Surveying benefits both surveyor and engineer, and promises to establish faster, safer and higher quality data capture as a new industry standard in data capturing.

As is being realized by the surveying community, very dense point clouds provide an unprecedented level of detail that bring significant benefits to both surveyors and their clients. Once a scene is captured, intelligent software allows the fast extraction of engineering data, whether in the form of 2D planimetrics, sections or as 3D models. This process can be automated and it delivers a level of detail that virtually eliminates ambiguity and ensures that engineers visualize, measure and understand conditions of a project. This, in turn aids in the production of higher quality designs with virtually no missed data.

Leica has concentrated the HDS concept on two core markets: plant works and civil engineering¿both areas where surveyors play a core role. From here, HDS will permeate into many other areas, including infrastructure, telecommunications and all vertical markets involved in these areas.

The Leica HDS 3000.

The HDS Instruments

The hardware that makes this new concept work is the new Leica HDS 3000, introduced at Intergeo 2003 in Hamburg, Germany last month. The first of its breed and the first to be developed specifically for surveyors, the pulse-based HDS 3000 laser system includes such standard features as instrument setup over a known point, instrument orientation and optical leveling. Scans can be quickly and easily geo-referenced and set up to known coordinate systems.

The physical appearance of the HDS 3000 sets itself apart from any other instrument in the surveying market as well. Its rugged housing looks and feels like a total station, albeit a total station on steroids. The scanner features a full 360 x 270 degree field of view, which can create a dome of point clouds with an effective circumference of 200 meters. When the instrument is moved to capture additional scenes or objects, a seamless automated registration process allows different scenes to be stitched together into one combined scene directly in the field, significantly enhancing overall field and office productivity. And a built-in megapixel camera maps RGB information to each point, creating photorealistic 3D images for better visualization.

Leica will also make available the phase-based HDS 4500 and 4550 laser systems, which are reported as capturing 625,000-plus points per second. While these systems do not have the range of the Cyrax 2500 (renamed the HDS 2500) or the 3000, they are good options for capturing interiors of all kinds, such as plants or tunnels.

Savvy Software

As software is a major component to the success or failure of any workflow, so too is the software of the HDS concept. The previous success of Cyclone software for the progressive surveyor is now enhanced and tailored for HDS in a version 5, offering its users more features designed specifically for the surveyor, like support for station and alignment rotation; onscreen measure and display; and export into many popular surveying and land development formats. Cyclone's unique "Virtual Surveyor" has also been updated, now providing cut/fill volume calculations (using TIN surfaces) and cut/fill deviation controls. It can also sample TIN surfaces to grids (ASCII export).

Edge detection, another popular feature for the semiautomatic extraction of edges, has also been enhanced, a definitive advantage for the surveyor. The program comes with updated navigational capabilities allowing a surveyor to move around a scene with greater ease and speed than before, courtesy of the high-resolution image mapping and speedier LOD functions.

The greatest advantages of Cyclone 5.0 is the data capture solution, which "stitches" different scans together and fully georeferences their points, making it easier for the user to extract information in any context of need for engineering designs or any other deliverable.

The Prep and the Launch

With the vision in mind, Cyra and Leica employees with surveying backgrounds got to work molding the HDS concept, hardware and software. Frei notes that a customer group helped with the hardware, software and entire workflow process so that every element under the HDS umbrella provided solutions for the true surveyor's needs. Workflow testing included what is really used by surveyors abroad.

Leica sees this emerging technology not only as non-competitive with current methods, but even as a promising way to expand the surveying market significantly.

"HDS will expand the market to allow users to do things they haven't been able to do," Frei says.

But, he also promises, "This is an emergent type of technology; this is just the beginning."