Monday, April 16, 2012

Mobile LiDAR: Law #3

Hard Drives are Cheap – Time Isn’t

I can sum up Law #3 in two words – Be Efficient!  We make it a requirement for each individual on the team to perform their duties in the most efficient manner, and additionally strive to find better, faster, cheaper ways to perform that work.  But as manager’s we also have to look at initiatives holistically – and sometimes that means creating a little additional work for one group while counteracting that with greater efficiencies for another.

We see this most commonly in collection activities where, just as in real estate, “Location, Location, Location” surely comes to mind.  If there’s any confusion during collection activities about whether a small area should be captured or not, the standing order is undoubtedly to collect it.  An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.  Yes, you are going to have a slightly higher expense for the field crew effort; and yes, data storage is absolutely a concern (especially with systems that are generating 48+ MB of data every second), but external hard drives are inexpensive.

Thankfully, as external storage drive capacity steadily grows, prices continue to fall.  You can run out to a local store and by 1TB of storage for under $100.  I remember back ten years ago when I upgraded my 16MB thumb drive for the new shiny 128MB version.  It was going to solve all of my data-transfer issues for $120.  Today, our LiDAR system would gobble up that device in 3 seconds.  But really it’s all relative.  The same approach to efficiency ten years ago is still perfectly valid today – only now we’re dealing with larger data volumes; and that volume presents other opportunities to enhance efficiencies.

Conventional surveys typically yield just a single-use dataset; but the high resolution and finite detail captured by a Mobile LiDAR survey presents numerous opportunities to re-purpose captured data (see “Re-purposing the Cloud”).  In this method, efficiency gains are not recognized immediately; but if you’ve got the time, and more importantly a projected user, it’s always less costly to leverage your current location and capture the data while you’re already there.


Aaron Morris is GIT Operations Manager in Baker's Ridgeland, MS office. In addition to his many daily responsibilities, Aaron also serves as the Program Manger for Mobile LiDAR operations, author and editor.

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What is Mobile LiDAR?

Mobile LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) systems are comprised of vehicle-mounted lasers, cameras and GPS/INS navigation systems to capture highly-detailed and accurate three-dimensional (3D) topographic information for surveying and engineering applications. Michael Baker International became an early adopter of Mobile LiDAR technology by acquiring our first system in 2009, with further expansions in 2014 and 2015 that increased our fleet to four (4) Optech Lynx SG1 Mobile LiDAR systems. Over that period our systems have completed more than 300 projects throughout 29 different U.S. States (and multiple countries), and encompassing hundreds of thousands of miles. Our project portfolio includes applications in roadway design, 3D modeling, railroad corridors, signaled intersections, utility infrastructure, asset management, pavement condition assessment and airport infrastructure.