Investing in Airborne LiDAR

The Opportunity
The decision to bring airborne LiDAR in-house requires a significant investment in both people and technology. Lidar News recently had the opportunity to interview Carlos Prieto and Ken Comeaux at SurvTech Solutions to learn more about their experience.

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SurvTech Solutions, with corporate headquarters in Tampa, Florida, has been performing terrestrial laser scans for approximately ten years. They have used terrestrial LiDAR to collect data for topography, power plants, mine processing plants, commercial buildings, storage tanks and silos, airports, libraries, hotels, dams, drained ponds and environmental dig sites. SurvTech has delivered raw point clouds, parametric CAD models and Building Information Models (BIM’s) to a wide range of customers.
In the past, when airborne LiDAR data collection was required on a project, SurvTech would use a subcontractor. That would all change in 2017 with a decision to invest in a laser scanner, lease a Cessna 310 and to hire a team of experienced airborne laser scanner professionals.

“In early 2017, SurvTech Solutions took delivery of a RIEGL LMS-Q1560 airborne laser scanner, giving us the capability to provide private and federal clients with cutting edge, accurate, high-density elevation data,” explained Carlos Prieto.
Carlos Prieto and Ken Comeaux were the key staff hires made as part of the investment in bringing the airborne data capture task in house. The airborne team has been involved in airborne LiDAR collection and processing for the last 19 years – since the beginning of commercial airborne LiDAR sensors. This has provided SurvTech with vast experience and a unique perspective on the planning and execution of successful LiDAR projects.

The Technology
Before making the investment required to purchase an airborne LiDAR sensor, Ken Comeaux, researched all the available systems. Carlos noted, “Over the years, our airborne team has had experience with most LiDAR sensor manufacturers and we did consider other leading, high-altitude LiDAR sensors. Factors like value, footprint size, scan pattern, point cloud smoothness and accuracy were at the top of the list of considerations. The RIEGL LMS-Q1560 scored consistently high among the competitors.”

SurvTech Solutions found the RIEGL LMS-Q1560 provided the best sensor for a diverse range of applications. This included collecting both large and small areas while obtaining accurate elevation data and imagery for different types of projects and various flying heights.

With a robust 800 kHz laser pulse repetition rate and a usable 58-degree field of view, the LMS-Q1560 can cover larger areas in a single mission, thereby increasing the airborne efficiency on every project. Another highly attractive feature was the rotating polygon mirror, which produces parallel scan lines per channel, yielding a uniform scan pattern with a slight forward and backward look in the non-nadir direction. This provides the ability to capture data from multiple angles effectively and accurately without the need to increase point density.

The RIEGL LMS-Q1560 also provided an RGB solution to SurvTech via the fully integrated Phase One iXA-180 camera for concurrent LiDAR/image collection, capturing 80-megapixel RGB images with exceptional image quality suitable for highly accurate planimetric /topographic mapping and easy integration into SurvTech orthoproduction workflows.

Start Up
“Installation of the sensor system was flawless,” Carlos commented. “We followed the instructions and it worked properly the first time we tried it.”

The use of RIEGL’s RiACQUIRE and RiPROCESS software presented a bit of a learning curve initially. RiACQUIRE handles the airborne acquisition while RiPROCESS takes the raw LiDAR data and merges it with navigation data to produce uncalibrated point clouds in LAS format v1.2 or v1.4. Beyond this step, the data fit perfectly into existing SurvTech workflows for calibration, classification and edits using TerraSolid and other platforms.

SurvTech Solutions has recently acquired and processed over 10,000 square miles of LiDAR data for several county-wide projects requiring elevation data to USGS Quality Level 2 specifications. “SurvTech’s RIEGL LMS-Q1560 has helped our clients meet their topographic LiDAR needs with the latest LiDAR technology, delivering high-definition datasets efficiently and quickly,” noted Carlos.

To date, SurvTech has found the key benefits of the RIEGL LMS-Q1560 to be:

• Unique scan pattern for best point spacing on the ground, producing optimum point distribution.
• Innovative forward and backward looking capability, enabling data capture from multiple angles.
• High altitude operation up to 15,000-feet with large field of view
• Waveform data output

Carlos summarized, “SurvTech Solutions under the leadership of David O’Brien, President and Stacy Brown, Vice President will continue to provide high quality products using the latest 3D technology available, both in acquisition and processing of terrestrial and airborne platforms. Since the RIEGL LMS-Q1560 has the capacity to collect full waveform data, we are investing in R&D efforts to take advantage of this capability in order to benefit our clients and provide a more complete three-dimensional description of the point cloud data, specifically within the vegetation canopy.”

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