You can tell when a storm front is approaching. There’s a slight shift in the color of the atmosphere, a certain smell in the air. It’s generally nothing to worry about--unless you’re unprepared.

Signs of impending change in surveying and mapping are equally subtle: An increased interest in laser scanning and 3D modeling; a sudden drop in the cost of scanning technology with the promise of further democratization; a convergence of technologies and workflows along with a shift in favor of data management; the distant hum of unmanned aerial vehicles. This slow-moving front has the potential to rearrange the geospatial landscape.

Those who have been out ahead of these developments would say the trends are nothing new. After all, laser scanning has been around for more than a decade. Over time, an apparent disconnect between technological capabilities and business realities has lulled some professionals into complacency and turned others into survivalists. But at the recent FARO 3D Documentation Conference and RIEGL LiDAR 2012 conference, I noticed something different. Discussions have moved from LiDAR to technology integration, and from initial excitement to practical implementation. It seems as though some of the change has already occurred.

At SPAR International 2012, being held April 15-18 near Houston, Eric Andelin, CP, GISP, group manager at Woolpert, will share how merging mobile LiDAR with static laser scanning and traditional survey technologies provided the Texas Department of Transportation with valuable data for a complex design-build project. (See page 16 in this issue for a sneak peek from Andelin’s presentation.) The new U.S. Institute of Building Documentation (, which was explored at SPAR International 2011, will formally launch at this year’s event and will provide a platform for individuals from diverse backgrounds and dissimilar roles to come together to address common challenges. An Esri user meeting will discuss the management, analysis and simulation of LiDAR data in ArcGIS. And a session on next-generation photogrammetry will provide a glimpse of emerging 3D data capture technologies.

Some professionals remain disinterested, and others are wary. But there is an increasing segment of the profession that is eyeing the horizon with anticipation. They have planted seeds of opportunity and plotted the steps toward a successful future. Like the spring storms that clear the air and revive a dormant landscape, the shift in thinking will stimulate new areas of market growth in unexpected places.

Watch, listen and plan accordingly. The transformation may be closer than you think.