Just outside of Houston, a varied group of professionals gathered for the fourth annual SPAR conference on laser scanning from March 25-27, 2007. Organized by Spar Point Research of Danvers, Mass., the conference grew this year to host 575 participants from 27 countries. Attendees represented companies and organizations from law enforcement to the civil sector, transportation and building markets, and process and power plants. All came to share, network and learn about the rapidly evolving world of laser scanning.

Tom Greaves, senior analyst and managing partner of SPAR, initiated the conference by remarking on the diversity of the industries and markets represented by the conference attendees. Greaves encouraged attendees to “take this special opportunity to learn from someone outside [their] sphere.”

SPAR Managing Partner Tom Greaves honors Ben Kacyra for his progressive efforts in the early days of laser scanning.

Keynote Kick-off

In addition to a variety of technical sessions, SPAR presented tracks on: civil, transportation and building; geotechnical, mining and tunneling; process, power, offshore/marine; construction; dynamic survey and LiDAR; historic preservation; and forensics. Some of the tracks were highlighted with introductory keynote presentations. Doug Eberhard, virtual technology officer for planning, engineering, and program and construction management organization Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB), gave the civil, transportation and building keynote. Eberhard described PB’s virtual design construction (VDC) process and showed examples of “infrastructure supermodels” created by PB. Going beyond 3D, Eberhard said, “We’re starting to get in[to] 5D. We’re creating as many Ds as we can.” The additional dimensions he referred to were time and cost.

Dr. Martin Fischer, director of the Center for Integrated Facility Engineering (CIFE) at Stanford University, gave the construction keynote. Fischer raised many of the challenges facing the industry, contending that user interfaces need to improve, and that those involved in the construction process need to find a better way to get the right information at the right time. Echoing PB’s Eberhard, Fischer commented on the dimension of time, saying that it should be part of our engineering, construction and facility models.

Ben Kacyra, co-founder of Cyra Technologies (acquired by Leica Geosystems in 2001), presented his new initiative called CyArk, a foundation that aims to preserve world heritage sites through laser scanning. Because of growing threats to world heritage sites, which range from terrorist activity to earthquakes to rising water tables, the goal of CyArk is to document world culture while it is still available. CyArk is partnering with heritage site owners, hardware and software manufacturers, service providers and corporate sponsors to preserve archival survey data of endangered sites at www.cyark.org.

Right on Track

Bruce Jenkins, senior analyst and managing partner of SPAR, moderated the dynamic scanning track. He noted that presentations on mobile scanning operations went “from ground-based to rotary to fixed-wing to rail-based.” Among the highlights were sessions on government projects. Michael Trentacoste of the Federal Highway Administration described his agency’s efforts to collect data on drivers’ patterns. FHWA is developing a prototype set of technologies that includes terrestrial laser scanning, real-time video and ground penetrating radar (GPR) to rapidly and cost-effectively map the health of the nation’s roadways. Jim Schwing, manager of surveying and scanning operations for Fluor Government Group, described his firm’s 10-year effort to clean up a former uranium-processing plant in Fernald, Ohio. Fluor used LiDAR and other technologies to quantify the movement of contaminated soils.

The construction track alternated between real-world applications and academic research. Dr. Burcu Akinci of Carnegie Mellon University discussed her research on quality control during construction by comparing as-designed models with as-builts. Akinci warned that it’s important to focus on what information is truly needed so “you don’t end up with ridiculous amounts of data,” and proposed automated scan planning as a way to ensure that users capture all needed vital information without becoming overwhelmed.

Dr. Jochen Teizer of the Georgia Institute of Technology described his work in the RAPIDS (Real-time Acquisition and Processing for Information Decision Systems) laboratory. Teizer returned to the theme that construction must factor in time and cost to operate within a 5D model. Teizer focused on the safety concerns associated with scanning construction accidents, and suggested using 3D video range cameras as tools to capture static and moving objects on jobsites.

Sean McDaniels of the Nevada Department of Transportation discussed the challenges his state has faced in implementing scanning for asset management. Although McDaniels urged attendees to clarify scope before beginning a project, he also recommended, “Collect more [data] than you think you’ll need.” He continued, “Train your crews to think forward. Two months down the road [when the scope of the project expands], a good crew will say, ‘Don’t worry, we’ve already captured it.’” McDaniels also stressed the necessity of proper training and said, “I see this technology like moving from drafting tables to CAD.”

Tech Tools

Twenty-three exhibitors displayed their products and services at SPAR 2007, including seven new sponsors: Avatech Solutions, Blom Maritime, COADE Engineering Software, DCMS (Data Collection & Management Services), InteliSum, Navisworks and Topcon. “We were delighted with the results from exhibiting at the SPAR conference,” said Bruce White, vice president of infrastructure solutions for Avatech. “We found that attendees were genuinely interested in Avatech’s unique ability to help their companies streamline processes and workflow so they can quickly provide cost-effective deliverables using scanned data.”

Ken Carlson, unit manager of survey, mapping and right of way for the Denver office of A/E/C consulting firm Carter Burgess, commented on the conference's technology offerings. “The equipment demonstrated along with the application and integration software was awesome,” he said. “Significant progress has been made in providing solutions to data collection problems, especially in the manufacturing and refining markets. One of the problems I see is overselling the capabilities of the process as it relates to the civil engineering market, similar to what happened with airborne LiDAR.”

Summing up the conference, Bruce Jenkins said, “We’re happy because [of] the cross-pollination of different industries…. [People] are sharing their learning and discoveries with each other.”

At press time, details for SPAR 2008 were not yet available. Stay tuned towww.pobonline.comfor details.