There are two types of cooks: Those who follow a recipe as a precise set of instructions, not to be deviated from, and those who look at a recipe as a set of guidelines, a springboard for their next culinary creation. I fit into the second category. This is very frustrating for my husband, who is most definitely in the first group-to the extent that when he cooks, he pre-measures all ingredients into separate containers and adds them in at the exact moment of need as defined by his strategic plan, “the recipe.” Cooking to my husband is science and for me it is art. We both combine ingredients, follow basic steps, use tools and produce results (some good, some bad and some ugly).

I see a similar correlation between traditional surveying and the new advances in technologies. Noted author Russell C. Brinker said, “Surveying is the science and art of making the measurements necessary to determine the relative positions of points above, on, or beneath the surface of the earth, or to establish such points.” The science is composed of all of the basic principles that must be followed to achieve the measurement. The art is how we choose to solve the problem.

With the onset of new tools and the adaptation of methodologies, we have to be able to reconcile the past with the present and evolve the rules for the future. At the same time, we should never look to technology to replace the basic theories and principles of true measurement. It is the ability to combine the theory with the tools to solve a problem that creates value.

So in all of this, where do standards fit in?

I would argue that they are the medium that rectifies the past with the present. We have these amazing tools, but if we cannot develop the standards to prove the ability behind their results, then how do we sell the value in their deliverables? And what group should be charged with developing such standards: government, academia, big business, small business, professional organizations … all of the above?

With all of the options, and the playing field wide open, the scanning community of users and developers is waiting for leadership to emerge. Perhaps this is why the announcement at SPAR International about the new associations generated so much interest. Finally, it seems, someone is paying attention. During the session on creating national standards for infrastructure surveying, panelists Raymond Mandli, president of Mandli Communications, and Lincoln Cobb, technology facilitator for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), openly addressed the lack of understanding within the FHWA and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) about laser scanning. Track chair Robert Dingess, president of Mercer Strategic Alliance Inc. (a lobbying and public affairs firm), pointed out that President Obama’s fiscal year 2012 budget request includes a $293 million funding request to establish the Highway Safety Data Improvement Program. With the capabilities of laser scanning to efficiently collect the data for this program, firms that offer laser scanning and 3D imaging services could play a key role-if an awareness of the technology and its capabilities, as well as its limitations, can be adequately conveyed to the decision-makers.

Dingess noted that there is a limited window of opportunity, both because of the budget timeframe and the rapid advance of technology. As the cost of acquiring 3D data plummets, the floodgates on using the technology will open. Without standards, key projects could easily be compromised through an inappropriate application of technology. If that happens, future laser scanning opportunities will be off the table for everyone.

Do we need another association? The surveying profession has experienced too much division already within the last couple of years as the existing associations vie for political supremacy. It seems certain that the creation of more associations will only further fracture our profession at a time when we most need to unite. Additionally, it is still unclear whether the types of standards being discussed by the GTMA would meet the needs of surveying firms involved in laser scanning. Yet the need for laser scanning standards is undeniable, and no one else has stepped up to the plate.

Creating a practical set of standards will require an enormous amount of time and effort. Someone needs to take the lead. Whichever organization chooses to focus on this pressing task will undoubtedly garner a great deal of support. We’re watching, waiting-and hungry.


What do you think? Do you agree that laser scanning standards are needed? Who should lead the charge to create those standards? Share your comments at www.rpls.com.