Last fall, AECOM successfully used mobile mapping for the data acquisition and initial survey on the third section of the Honolulu Rail Transit Project on the Island of Oahu in Hawaii. The project marked a turning point in the application of mobile LiDAR technology.

Although successful projects have been completed across the U.S. over the last several years, mobile mapping has progressed in fits and starts. While some high-profile applications have flourished, others have floundered due to problems with data collection, extraction or application. It hasn’t been uncommon for a service provider to approach an engineering firm with a proposal, only to learn that they had been burned in the past and were reluctant to try again. Such a scenario is typical for a rapidly evolving and rather expensive technology. The learning curve is high, and early adopters aren’t always successful the first time around.

Fortunately, continued technology advances and a substantial amount of relationship-building has kept the door open for service providers to try again. With some initial hesitation, engineering firms are once again testing the waters. This time, the benefits are clear.

The ability to streamline the collection of high accuracy data, keep surveyors out of harm’s way and maintain an active database that substantially reduces or completely eliminates return visits to the field has broad-reaching implications for the way engineering design projects will be handled in the future. The question has moved from “Can we trust this technology?” to “Where can we use this technology next?” Compact systems are making mobilizations easier and less expensive, and improved processing software is speeding the turnaround of deliverables.

Mobile mapping has entered an exciting new phase in engineering design. Get ready; this could be a wild ride.