Pushing beyond the limits of technology in 2018

Mar 2018 | No Comment

Perhaps sooner than we imagine, we will be talking about stitchless laser scans, flying laser scanners and voice-controlled total stations

Dr Burkhard Boeckem

Chief Technology Officer of Hexagon Geosystems

Self-learning total stations. Onebutton laser scanners. Calibrationfree, forget-the-bubble GNSS receivers.

Just a few years ago, these concepts would have been unheard of in our industry. Today, they’ve not only become accepted, but, dare I say, expected. Technology is on a continual evolution, and at Hexagon, we are developing not just instruments and software to lead this evolution but mindsets to open the space and creativity to push beyond today’s limits for future innovations.

Where do we see these opportunities? All around.

Technologies for everyone

To begin with, for technology to continue to evolve, it must be accessible to more people. I’ve shared before my fear our industry equates innovation with more difficult processes. This simply isn’t nor should be the case. If we can’t bring everyone along on our innovation journey, and instead raise barriers to entry and leave them behind, are we even really innovating?

We are continually seeing the adoption of the idea of creating technologies for all – making devices more intuitive, creating software to be more immersive, simplifying operations. Moving technology that was exclusive to only a few and developing it to be more inclusive for all, we are seeing real innovation across the board. At the core creation of the Leica BLK360, the world’s smallest imaging laser scanner, was the concept of bring technology to a wider audience. Breaking down barriers to entry of technicality and expense, this reality capture solution was made for simple operations, capturing 360-degree HDR spherical imagery and 360,000 points per second laser scan at the single touch of a button. Pulling from the LiDAR technologies created within the Leica Geosystems’ portfolio, the BLK360 is the epitome of taking large, exclusive, purpose-specific platforms and transforming them into small, inclusive, all-encompassing devices to provide a fit-for-purpose solution to all.

Moving from the cloud to the edge

Technology originally evolved statically – it wasn’t shared but stayed to one location. Then the power of information sharing was realised, entering the cloud. Several users could access the same information and work together in better collaboration.

An issue with cloud computing, though, is the time it takes for devices to access the central information. When you’re out in the field, especially in tough outdoor situations where you have poor connectivity and poor bandwidth, and you need insights quickly to make informed decision, waiting for a central hub to first receive your data, then process it and finally send it back is not ideal. Enter edge computing where data processing is done at the outermost edge of the network, as in on the device.

We recognise the speed at which measurement professionals need to work, and that’s why we develop our sensors with powerful, fit-for-purpose processors on board. Our laser scanning solutions use more and more edge computing to process the millions of points collected for faster, cleaner results. When 3D models can be completed in the field, users not only realise time savings, but they can also make the best-informed decisions on site, making re-visits to sites to collect missed data nearly obsolete.

Going further than IoT

For the Internet of Things (IoT) to truly work, the device-generated data must be meaningful. That data must first be understood and then be connected in an open system. Only after this clarity and integration will the IoT truly be beneficial and purposeful for technology evolution.

In an open system, this meaningful data creates an ecosystem of shared insights. When different service providers enter a shared economy of information, not only do they provide the whole picture, but they also enhance their own offerings. No longer are they operating in a silo providing users a single piece of information, but they give the controls of the complete project to the stakeholders.

Consider a town located at the foot of a mountain, like we have so many of here in Switzerland. With monitoring GNSS receivers, total stations and interferometric radar placed along a potential avalanche route connected to processing software, like Leica GeoMoS or IDS Georadar’s Guardian, any movement, any deformation from the norm is immediately communicated. When the local town’s emergency services have GeoMoS or Guardian integrated into its operations centre, first responders are immediately alerted.

The benefit doesn’t stop there, though. Imagine if this town’s transportation department has already captured evacuation routes with laser scanning mobile mapping platforms, such as the Leica Pegasus:Two . These two departments share this data – deformation monitoring and evacuation route details – and they develop a shared economy of information that can create a safe, effective and life-saving early warning system. When we evolve past just the IoT, we find endless possibilities.

Automating for more than just easy operations

According to the Standards & Poor’s Report, by 2030 there will be more than $50 trillion in infrastructure construction needs, yet only around $24 trillion will be available for this construction. This gap will not be bridged by operating as normal. Another technology evolution in the form of automation must be implemented to become more productive with what we currently have.

What does automation in construction look like? A machine operator no longer must worry about grading to a specified accuracy – input the measurements and the job can be automated to milimetres. Avoidance digging zones of cables or pipes are no longer a constant threat as they can be automatically detected and alerted to the operator. With personal protection systems, the safety of anyone working on a construction site is substantially increased.

In our business, automation comes in the way of sensors and workflows. Without the time-consuming tasks of diving through the processes and the big data, sensors combined with reliable workflows, like the Leica iCON machine control and IDS GeoRadar detection systems, marry information to action. Together, daily tasks on sites are automated, freeing up experts to concentrate on the bottom-line driven aspects of their jobs of gaining valuable insights to make deliverables better, on time and on budget.

Creating smart cities from digital realities

With a global population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 and more than half of that already living in urban centres, cities are undergoing their own technology evolutions to become safer and more efficient for citizens. Yet, cities can’t fully realise their potential as smart cities until they first become digital cities, and that comes from creating the digital reality.

To create the digital reality of a city, we must first digitalise every aspect – buildings, infrastructure, public transportation routes, surrounding terrain, documentation – everything. Then, we must make it smart. How? By taking that ecosystem of now digital physical features and supporting elements and connecting them to advanced insights. With analytics we garner from machine learnings and artificial intelligence, such as automated 3D object reconstructions, combined with the digital assets, we now can draw insights and make better decisions from the complete picture instead of a fragmented cityscape.

In Shanghai, the city has been captured with our airborne LiDAR sensors to create a complete digital reality of the city. This is the first step, and we are now working with city officials to create a smart digital reality of the city. This moves the city toward becoming a smarter city, connecting services, insights and informed-decision making to best support the more than 25 million people who live there.

Technology never stops evolving

Perhaps sooner than we imagine, we will be talking about stitchless laser scans, flying laser scanners and voicecontrolled total stations. If there is one thing I have learned in my position as CTO, it’s certainly that technology never ceases to advance and amaze.

I’m excited to have a front-row seat to this evolution and to work with those leading the charge. My colleagues at Hexagon and our customers are finding and developing opportunities every day to push beyond the limits of technology and witnessing the impossible become possible. I hope you will join us for the journey.

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