Wednesday, August 24, 2016

By the Numbers

Today we kick-off our new “By the Numbers” Blog series.  As Surveyors, Geographers, Scientists, and geospatial professionals our daily life is consumed by numbers.  This series will focus on some quick FAQ’s, stats, specs, and facts we thought you’d find interesting as well.
  • An average Mobile LiDAR project occupies 1 LiDAR system for 4-5 days (mobilization, collection, and demobilization).
  • 1 LiDAR system can regularly capture 60-100 miles of data per day in normal driving conditions.
  • Each of our 4 LiDAR systems travels 35,000-40,000 miles each year.
  • Since purchasing our first Mobile LiDAR system we’ve:
  • Completed hundreds of projects;
  • Performed collections in 29 States (and multiple Countries);
  • Successfully completed projects for 25+ Departments of Transportation or Transportation Agencies;
  • Fostered tens of Millions in economic impact;
  • Captured hundreds of miles of railway; and,
  • Coached numerous agencies through their development of Mobile LiDAR Guidelines.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

We Can’t Stop Imagining the Possibilities!

Copyright, Hanna Barbera and Warner
Bros. Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
As a kid I was introduced to the concept of flying vehicles (cars) from watching The Jetsons. My adolescent imagination ran wild with thoughts of the freedom found in such flight. While I did not know the definition of an autonomous vehicle at the time, the picture here apparently shows a limited controlled and largely autonomous family vehicle. Autonomous machines and vehicles are abuzz in our technology thinking today. Many visionaries have imagined flying cars. Some have actually produced results. The future of flying cars is much closer than you may be aware. On June 21st of 2016, the FAA approved a new petition (it was not the first for the company) for an exemption to Terrafugia’s vehicle “…allowing a vehicle in the Transition® street-legal airplane configuration to be certified as a Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) with a maximum takeoff weight of 1,800 pounds. This is a significant increase over the allowance received in 2010 which granted the Transition® a 1,430 pound weight limit, the same as currently imposed on amphibious LSA.”

To see the video of this Terrafugia vehicle in flight use this link: or

How does this sort of technology relate to Michael Baker? When our company entered the Mobile LiDAR market seven years ago, we spent a lot of time here at our company discussing, amongst our LiDAR team and clients, the real issues we encounter with occlusion of LiDAR from either the ground (mobile) or from an airplane (aerial). In either scenario, line of sight limitations won’t let us see the top of things from the ground, under things from very high in the air, or through things in either case. If only I could attach wings to our Mobile LiDAR vehicles! If only I could economically put a commercial LiDAR system on a vehicle like that envisioned by Terrafugia!  Such a vehicle of course has to be engineered to configure its wings and propellers to consider the placement of LiDAR
and camera systems. But, I’m a bit ahead of the point I want to make with any emerging, converging technologies.

While I patiently wait for a more visionary and technologically feasible solution for deploying high density, engineering-quality mobile LiDAR systems that can fly as well as be driven, I can now turn with some hope to Part 107 of the FAA’s implementation of commercial small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) for interim possibilities. Keep in mind, at the top of my list of the impediments to complete success with any LiDAR approach is occlusion. Getting full 360 degree coverage of an object or area of interest is especially challenging with Mobile LiDAR projects, since some sites are inaccessible with driving. Roof tops on flat buildings are a practical impossibility. From the air, we can potentially collect data with sUAS using imagery and small LiDAR systems to fill those occlusion areas and data voids resulting from line of sight limitations with Mobile LiDAR systems. With sUAS we can fly low, hover and fly in a very controlled way to fill voids in Mobile LiDAR data. Temporal updates for specific areas of interest (e.g., change) can also be performed cost effectively with sUAS against an existing point cloud previously acquired with LiDAR.

As a long term FAA Section 333 exemption holder for commercial sUAS operations, Michael Baker can now look at the certain less restrictive conditions and the possibilities and opportunities created in Part 107 (

Two areas that catch one’s imagination are:

  • No operations from a moving aircraft.
  • No operations from a moving vehicle unless the operation is over a sparsely populated area.

For the first of these, I am sure there is a reason why somebody might or could want to fly a sUAS from another flying aircraft, perhaps attempting to fly and operate a sUAS while also flying in a hot air balloon comes to mind for some purpose (expanded line of sight).

I now know I can’t fly a sUAS from the Terrafugia TF-X. That fact might keep me from soon placing my order for one of those flying cars. I need to think through the impact of the sUAS limitation with my desired TF-X. But, the Terrafugia TF-X is so cool, anyway! I have to categorize this FAA limitation as a minor annoyance not to be able to fly my sUAS from the TF-X.

I still want to imagine a Mobile and Aerial LiDAR system on that TF-X flying car.

For the second FAA case of allowing operation of a sUAS from a moving vehicle, I think there are some possibilities for this application with Mobile LiDAR. This sort of flight operation must occur under the correct and safe circumstances. The FAA will apparently allow us to operate a sUAS from a moving vehicle under the right, approved scenarios and with an added exemption issued by the FAA and for specific area(s). This sort of exemption can be applied to rail lines and perhaps controlled roadways. I can’t yet imagine all the possibilities for us, yet. But, the marriage of integrated Mobile LiDAR and sUAS will happen very quickly here at our company. Soon our Mobile LiDAR systems will roll out on nearly all projects with their sUAS(es) as part of their compliment of equipment for survey control, imagery and LiDAR. Getting the remote Pilot – Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Airman Certification comes next.

I’ll have more insights on that process later.


Robert Hanson is Senior Vice President and Michael Baker's National Practice Lead for Geospatial Information Technologies.  Bob is known as a visionary and futurist within our ranks and was the driving force for Michael Baker's acquisition of our first Mobile LiDAR system in 2009. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Throw Back Thursday

A recent article from POB quoting our very own Bob Hanson on "Tips for Managing Big Geospatial Data" got me thinking about an old post mentioning Zettabytes.  The article written more than 6 years ago (long before we had 4 SG1 systems on the road) talks about the volume of data collected.  Bob's reference to the size of data we collect today was not in our comprehension back then.

For Throw Back Thursday, I offer a picture of Michael Baker's first computer.  (Mr. Baker is the gentleman with the striped suit.)  I don't know the specifics of the computer pictured, but I doubt Mr. Baker could have ever envisioned the volume of data we're working with today.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Throw Back Thursday

For our first "Throw Back Thursday" post, we go all the way back to 2010 with the Dick Henderson Bridge project in St. Albans, WV.  It was our first Mobile LiDAR collection from the water.

Our client already had a barge on-site to support inspection and other activities.  Therefore, we were able to simply drive the vehicle onto the barge and collect the underside of the bridge in a matter of a couple hours.  Using painted survey targets on the bridge, we seamlessly merged the data from the barge with data collected on the bridge.  In a previous post titled "West Virginia - Preliminary Information", the trajectories from the two collections are presented.

The data was utilized to help develop design alternatives for public consumption.  They can be viewed on the West Virginia Department of Transportation website.  Furthermore, the information aided in the development of a demolition plan, including a controlled blast.

As mentioned in Tuesday's post, it is rewarding to see the completed projects.  The bridge officially reopened in October 2013, as covered by the Charleston Gazette Mail.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Picture of the Week

My friends and coworkers know that when I travel with my family, I prefer to drive rather than fly.  It’s not that my wife doesn’t know how to pack/dress to go through security smoothly.  It’s because I love to see new places and stop at roadside attractions.  We ultimately endeavor to visit all 50 states together.

A trip last week to Traverse City, MI for the MAPPS Summer conference afforded the opportunity to put more miles on the family car.  While I don’t necessarily route our trajectory through past Mobile LiDAR projects, we almost always hit one or two along the way.  Although many of the projects have long been collected, processed and delivered, the remnants (targets) are still visible – every 500’ – 1,000’.  

The white chevron target of a past Michael Baker Mobile LiDAR project is visible in the shoulder. 
The spacing of Mobile LiDAR targets makes them easy to spot - add a painted number and the marking's purpose is undeniable.  The most rewarding part is not the evidence of targets, but new travel lanes, resurfaced road or other infrastructure improvements which were the basis of our work.