Traditional surveying with total station (reflectorless or not) is coming to an end. OK I said it. Based on several conversations I have recently had with surveyors, this is becoming more true every day. The president of a 50 person survey firm told me last week that he foresees a near future day where standard, traditional surveying will be essentially over.

Laser scanning can shoot hundreds of feet radially from the gun’s position and capture detail unheard of by total stations, all in just a few minutes. If you capture calibrated pictures with the scan you will obtain ever increasing value from the cloud.

I find it interesting that about half the people I chat with about scanning have guns that are severely underused. Others are in use every day.

Based on this I venture to say that these people don’t know how to use the technology, don’t know how to sell it or don’t know what to do to extend the value of the cloud to their clients. Perhaps the problem is that they use the cloud for an explicit purpose, perform that function and then allow the cloud to die a rapid death due to non-use. The cloud should be pushed into production and the vast majority of scanner users do not understand this seemingly obvious fact.

Think out of the box for this emerging technology.  In my opinion a point cloud should be valued as being better than a surface model. As well it should, it contains far more information than does a DTM. They contain highly densified points, RGB values, intensity and background images. We should be demanding far more activity and deliverables from the clouds we shoot and process.

What additional uses have you all found from point cloud data? All of the major manufacturer’s now support them in one way or another. Research this and select the best solution(s) for now and the near term. This is one technology that isn’t going away, in fact except for minor augmenting of the data that the scanner can’t see well; it will rapidly replace traditional surveying.

Please don’t scoff at this, LIDAR has already replaced huge segments of traditional surveying and safety rises dramatically when scanning is used on highways and intersections. It is here to stay and will usurp more survey hours.

Image: A cloud is superimposed with a streetview photo. In it, breaklines have been extracted, paint stripe profiles computed and camera locations identified with asset management for utilities. For a related article, see "Virtual Stringline," Site Prep, December 2010.