Small Firm – Big Innovations
The Early Days
One of the pioneers in the airborne LiDAR industry is Robert, “Bobby” Tuck. His firm Tuck Mapping Solutions, Inc. is a leader in the use of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft to collect highly accurate LiDAR data for a number of industries.
Bobby is a graduate of Carson Newman University with a BS in Pre-Engineering. He is also a graduate of Virginia Polytechnic and State University with a BS in Civil and Mining Engineering. In 2000 he went back to school at King University and obtained a MBA. Bobby recalls, “I worked in the coal mining industry and highway construction industry until 1985 when I started Tuck Mapping Solutions.”
In the mid 1990’s Bobby was asked to fly a new kind of airborne sensor system. It was actually the first LiDAR system produced by Optech. “The reason that I was asked to fly the system was that it required a mainframe computer to operate the 5k system and my Navajo was one of the few twin engine planes that had a cargo door that could accommodate the large computer,” Bobby noted.
They flew several projects that included I-64 near Richmond, VA. Bobby actually introduced Virginia DOT to LiDAR through this project. Tuck Mapping also worked with John Chance on another research project for highways on US 58 near Damascus, VA. He also presented the results of this project to the VDOT staff.
In 2000, Tuck Mapping teamed with TerraPoint in building a LiDAR system for helicopters and obtained the FAA approval for installation on their Bell Jet Ranger. Bobby recalls, “Three years later, I decided that I wanted to combine the LiDAR with a medium format camera so I teamed with Applanix and RIEGL to put this breakthrough system together. I contracted Applanix to integrate the RIEGL LiDAR and the DSS 322 on a single plate with a navigational system that would trigger both systems during the flight. This system was trademarked as the EagleEye Mapping System. Our goal was to produce 2” vertical accuracy LiDAR for highway design.”
Bobby was told that it was impossible to get LiDAR to 2 inches because at that time, most firms were producing FEMA maps with 4 foot contours. In addition to not being able to produce 2” accuracy, people also said that that there was no market for that high accuracy data. “I ignored both schools of thought and we went about developing the workflows to process LiDAR to 2 inches and later to less than one inch. We designed special mounting systems for the helicopter to absorb the vibration and we made very precise measurements of the lever arms to improve the accuracy. This is now standard in the industry,” Bobby commented.
Also in about 2002, a company by the name of TerraPoint was asked to take a helicopter LiDAR system to Afghanistan to map the highways between Kabul and Kandahar. Bobby was asked to take his helicopter to Afghanistan to do the mapping but he politely refused due to the war.
As an alternative, TerraPoint’s Paul Mrstik came up with the idea of putting the helicopter system on a truck and driving the highway to obtain the required mapping. Bobby noted, “The entire pod that was built for our helicopter was removed, sent to Afghanistan and placed in the back of a pickup so that the roads could be mapped from the ground. To the best of our knowledge, that was the first mobile LiDAR mapping system. The system was later put on a boat to map bridges. I learned a lot about LiDAR from Paul Mrstik, P.E. He was a true pioneer in this industry.”
Tuck Mapping currently has three RIEGL LiDAR systems – a LMS-Q560, VQ-480, and LMS-Q680i. The LMS-Q560 and the VQ-480 are mounted in Bell JetRanger and LongRangers. The LMS-Q680i is mounted in the Navajo. The VQ-480 is paired up with a Leica RCD30 digital camera and the LMS-Q680i is paired with a large format UltraCam FalconPrime digital camera. Tuck maps with BAE SocetSet software and they classify their data with TerraSolid software.
“The first system that we built with TerraPoint introduced us to the RIEGL line of scanners. When we purchased our RIEGL LMS-Q560 scanner, we were the first company to be trained on the use of RiPROCESS for the post-processing of RIEGL scanner data.” Bobby commented, “RIEGL is our choice for scanners for several reasons. One is that being the first trained by the manufacturer and at the factory, we have a long history with RiPROCESS and exactly what made the software work well. We also planned our missions around giving the software the info it needed to calibrate to the highest level of accuracy possible. By working with the developers and builders of the system, we got to know not only the founder and CEO of RIEGL, Dr. Johannes Riegl, but also the key hardware and software developers and engineers.”
Bobby continued, “I was impressed with the fact that the RIEGL employees have a pride in building a system that is built to last for a long time. I was able to sit with the engineers and see the entire system being constructed and tested. There is a mentality at the factory that they want to be known as people that build a system that will function for its intended purpose for many years without the constant nagging small problems that plague many systems. I have been flying RIEGL systems for over fifteen years and have never had a system fail as of yet. I cannot say the same for many of my other systems.”
In driving around Austria with Dr. Riegl, Bobby commented that he could see there was a pride in his staff for permanence and Dr. Riegl said that was the way the Austrians think. Bobby noted that in the U.S., the curbs are made of concrete, which often decay in just a few years but in Austria, the curbing is made of granite. The houses are also built to last for hundreds of years and this mentality carries over into the company’s products. Dr. Riegl commented that he builds systems to last at least for 15 years trouble free. He has certainly accomplished this.
Mining Site Volumes – Tuck Mapping provides monthly volumetrics for a major mineral mining operations in the Eastern U.S. This mining operation utilizes three large draglines to uncover the material that they are producing. Once the overburden has been removed, the mineral is processed and then shipped around the world.
The mining pits contain approximate 1000 acres and the area of the final product covers a couple of hundred acres. Tuck Mapping has a window of one or two days at the end of each month to acquire the data for the volumetric mapping. The mine site is located approximately four hours from our airport and on many months of scheduled mapping, we have to work around foul weather in getting to the site. Once the data is acquired, our client wants the final volumetric of the overburden moved in the past month and the volume of processed material to be delivered to them within 24 hours.
We evaluated the use of imagery for the volumes as opposed to using LiDAR and the point cloud for the volumes. We determined that the LiDAR could be done in a more cost effective manner and could be done in a timely manner. We have been completing this project for the last 24 months and except for one month where we had storms for multiple days at the end of the month, we have been able to accomplish the requirements that were placed on our firm. At the end of each year, we utilize the mapping from the monthly surveys to compile a single map of the entire mine site.
New Power Plant – Tuck Mapping was asked to provide the mapping for a potential new power plant on the East Coast. The first project involved a group of four or five different areas near the potential site. Those sites were mapped for the client and within a short period of time, Tuck was asked to map several more adjacent sites. There were then requests from multiple other clients wanting mapping.
They determined that it was in the best interest of the client that there was one set of control rather than have four or five sets of control that came from different base stations or NGS control. It was decided to fly a very large area on spec using the control from the primary client because Tuck wanted all of the different projects to be in the same coordinate position. Tuck advised all of the new clients that wanted mapping that the control had been set for the project and if they wanted to add control, for them to come off from some of our existing control network.
The job continued to grow in that the locality wanted a water line mapped for about thirty miles to one of their water plants. The potential sewer lines had to be mapped from the power plant site to the treatment facility. Roads had to be designed to the plant and the supporting facilities, so we had to collect more mapping.
The LiDAR mapping was acquired by Tuck’s helicopter and the RIEGL VQ-480 scanner. The imagery was collected by the aircraft using a Leica RC-30 camera. A Google Map was made of all of the project areas that had been mapped in the region around the plant and when a request for new mapping was made, the new area was superimposed over the prior coverage to see if the area had already been acquired and mapped.
Bobby noted, “We have done many projects in a short period of time that we could not have done with just photogrammetry. This has allowed us to invest in very good equipment such as the helicopters and RIEGL scanners to produce high accuracy products at a fraction of the cost of our previous photogrammetry.”
“We currently have two helicopter systems equipped with RIEGL LiDAR to provide accuracies in the range 2 inches vertically. Starting in August 2016, Tuck Mapping’s Piper Navajo aircraft will be collecting data with the RIEGL LMS-Q680i and the UltraCam FalconPrime simultaneously. We can provide high accuracy LiDAR and high resolution five band imagery in a single pass,” Bobby explained.
Bobby believes that the UAS technology is ahead of the FAA rules which have recently been released. He predicted, “RIEGL has developed a UAS with a LiDAR scanner that will be able to collect high density data over a large area once the FAA allows beyond visual line of sight flights. We have put the VUX system into our aircraft and mapped over 450 miles of levees. Unfortunately, this could not be done today with a UAS, due to the FAA line of sight requirement.”