Mobile LiDAR is a hot topic of discussion among surveying and mapping firms and their clients. Benefits such as safety and speed make the technology attractive for transportation surveying and mapping applications, and the ability to generate rich datasets is increasingly valuable for state transportation departments and other public and private organizations.

But there is often a significant hurdle to applying mobile mapping on a project: cost. With only a handful of systems in operation, mobilizing a unit to a specific location can be expensive. And with many of the mobile LiDAR units themselves priced at $750,000 or more, most surveying and mapping firms can’t afford to add the technology to their toolbox. There’s also the intimidation factor. For firms that have primarily been involved in traditional surveying, the workflows and data management capabilities required with mobile scanning can seem overwhelming.

Recognizing a need in the market, Seiler Instrument & Manufacturing Co. Inc., based in St. Louis, recently began offering a rental program for the Trimble MX8 Spatial Imaging System. Craig Williams, PLS and manager of the geospatial operations out of the Seiler Indianapolis office, says the program is designed to help users answer key questions. “When we’re talking to firms about possibly purchasing these systems, everyone wants to know, ‘Does it really work? How complicated is it? How much time does it take?’ All these questions are answered once you do a pilot project,” he says.

Although this is not the first mobile LiDAR equipment rental program (3D Laser Mapping began offering a fractional ownership plan in its StreetMapper system in 2011, and SCANable rents both the MDL Dynascan M150 mobile mapper and Dynascan S250 mobile scanner), it is the first program of its kind for Trimble MX8 rentals. Williams also stresses that Seiler’s program goes beyond the equipment.

“It’s not just, ‘Here are the keys to the truck, hit the easy button and start driving’; it’s much more involved than that,” he says. “We come alongside the user and basically hold their hand from start to finish. We go out with the truck, drive the project with them, show them what goes on behind the scenes and then go through the software process back in the office so they can see the value of the data, the time required, the effort, and what they would be getting themselves into if they decided to purchase a mobile mapping system.”

So far, most of the projects using the rental system have been small—just large enough for service providers to evaluate the technology without losing money. Seiler charges a daily fee that includes training and support from Williams and certified Trimble MX8 support engineer Ryan Swingley, PLS. “It’s mostly an educational process,” Williams says. “Users know they’re probably not going to make money on the project, but where else can they really take a serious dive into the technology and not spend a whole lot of money purchasing a system?”

Firms with experience in mobile mapping can also rent the system to supplement their own equipment on a project. For example, Seiler recently deployed its MX8 to assist with a month-long project. Williams acknowledges that this type of rental can be an expensive option but says it offers flexibility for firms that aren’t ready to invest in purchasing a new system. “The investment has to make sense from a business perspective,” he says.

Ultimately, what Seiler hopes to accomplish is a greater understanding of mobile LiDAR technology. “One of Ryan’s favorite sayings is that LiDAR data is dumb,” Williams says. “It’s just data. It’s the intelligence you add to it by segmenting it out and classifying it and organizing it in an intelligent fashion for your clients—that’s what makes it valuable. We’re trying to show customers everything that’s involved—the good, the bad and the ugly—because that’s going to help them make better business decisions.”