On March 8, the Transportation Research Board (TRB) released a prepublication version of the new “Guidelines for the use of mobile LiDAR in transportation applications.” Developed through funding from the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP), the document was compiled over a year and a half of diligent research by a team of experts, led by Michael J. Olsen, PhD, EIT, a professor of Geomatics at Oregon State University (OSU). Other team members included Craig Glennie of the University of Houston; Gene Roe of MPN Components and LiDAR News; Marcus Reedy, director of surveys for David Evans and Associates (DEA); Fred Persi of Persi Consulting; David Hurwitz and Keith Williams and Halston Tuss of OSU; Anthony Squellat of DEA; and Mike Knodler of Innovative Data Inc.

The guidelines are performance-based and provide guidance on the data collection categories that are appropriate for transportation applications as well as general recommendations concerning the critical issue of data management. “The intent is to place the responsibility for quality management on the geomatics professional in charge and to increase the longevity of the guidelines by making them technology-agnostic,” Olsen said in making the announcement. “This also provides flexibility for the inevitable improvements in the technology, which in some cases are currently being pushed to the limit, while at the same time establishing a direct link between proper field procedures, documentation, deliverables and the intended end use of the data.”

According to Olsen, the 250-page document fills a critical gap in mobile LiDAR guidance. “Departments of transportation are very interested in the technology and can see its value, but there’s not a lot of guidance on how they can effectively use it and how it can be implemented into their workflows,” he said. “One of the big struggles right now is those that are involved with geomatics technology already understand the value of LiDAR and importance of it, but they have a hard time explaining it and getting their management to see the potential. This technology is hard for anybody in the industry to keep up with, let alone somebody who has other things on their plate and has to make decisions about where to allocate funds and where to allocate resources. So this document can be an important educational tool.”

Despite its length, the guidelines document is really just a starting point. Olsen said efforts currently under way by the Geospatial Transportation Mapping Association (GTMA) and ASPRS to delve into the details of best practices in collecting and processing the data will be a valuable next step in moving mobile LiDAR technology forward. The guidelines panel is also in the beginning stages of developing interactive e-learning modules to help agencies understand and implement the guidelines.

All of these initiatives will play a crucial role in driving the adoption of LiDAR technology. “Right now, state departments of transportation and other agencies are being asked to do a whole lot more with less resources; that’s where we see this technology coming in,” Olsen said. “It’s a very efficient way to gather a lot of data and a lot of information that can be used by a lot of people across their organizations, so it has the potential to reduce costs for them quite a bit. Understanding these benefits and learning how to apply the technology is key.”