Thursday, June 30, 2016

Back in the Saddle

It’s not very common that I, or the rest of the LiDAR Center’s management team for that matter, get the opportunity to physically sit in the driver’s seat and be part of the daily logistics train. But as luck would have it, on two such occasions over the past year I’ve had the opportunity to road trip with a Mobile LiDAR system.

Operating 4 Mobile LiDAR units (see Launching a Fleet) gives us the ability to be in many more places than ever before, but that’s only possible if there are LiDAR technicians available to transition the units from project to project. Even the most dedicated staff need a couple days off between long deployments; so needless to say, these trips were born out of necessity.

It’s been a little over 8 years since I’ve had the opportunity to do any field work, but it didn’t take long to get right back into the swing of things. Logistical efficiency is the name of the game. The more efficiently we perform on the work site and move between projects, the more projects we complete each deployment cycle, and the more cost savings we pass along to our clients. Think of it as “Just in Time” surveying.

Often overlooked and frequently taken for granted are the intricacies associated with the transition of field equipment/personnel between projects. The majority of people give no more consideration to a mobilization event than the time it takes to briefly consider the 1-2 day line-item on a project’s Gantt chart. In reality it’s a well-choreographed ballet of driver swaps, pit-stops, bio-breaks, traffic avoidance, and ad-hoc photo-ops.

Mobilizations are all about time-management. More aptly, it’s all about minimizing the loss of time. Speed limits and known construction sites establish the baseline for maneuvering from A-to-B. Accidents, thunderstorms, low overhead clearances, impromptu parades, flat tires, ice fog, volcanic events, presidential motorcades, and the occasional late night burrito lurk beyond every bend in the road looking for the opportunity to delay your arrival (and yes, I’ve encountered all of these, and many more in my day).

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that the drivers’ job is just a mindless exercise of maintaining 10-and-2 on the wheel and keeping it between the lines. Every delay, regardless of severity, and every spotted mile-marker evokes a seemingly-constant mental recalibration of the projected arrival time and the logistical changes that need to be coordinated.

Each and every time the vehicle stops you lengthen the amount of time you’ll be on the road that day. And with a 3-foot tall set of equipment strapped to the roof, there’s no options for the driver-thru. So each trip quickly reverts to a game of “how long can I wait”.

  • Can the radio go loud-enough to drown-out the incessant squeaking/rattling coming from the toolbox that vibrated loose? 
  • Will the fumes in the tank get me to the travel plaza at the next exit that has a deli and a Dunkin Donuts, or do I pull over now at Mr. Bob’s Country Gulp-n-Guzzle with the slowest pumps known to man? 
  • Can I make it to the in-and-out convenience of the Rest Stop, and what are the chances it’s closed due to budgetary cutbacks?
My hat’s off to the unsung heroes of the road trip. It was a great refresher on how much I appreciate our amazing team of operators.

Aaron
LiDAR Services Director

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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.