Lidar News Interview with Jerry Dueitt

Lidar News Interview with Jerry Dueitt

Jerry Dueitt, Manager of Systems Engineering, GeoDigital

Lidar News recently had the opportunity to interview Jerry Dueitt, Manager of Systems Engineering for GeoDigital. Jerry shares his industry insight on collecting mobile and airborne lidar data.

Can you please provide a brief overview of your professional background and experience with 3D laser scanning/lidar technology, as well as a brief history of the growth of your group and its use of 3D technology? Please include an idea of the timelines.

I began my LiDAR journey in 2003 at TerraPoint writing post processing software. I moved into hardware development and integration in 2006. I joined GeoDigital in 2011 in a similar capacity. In 2016 I assumed responsibility for all of our R&D efforts. In that time I have seen mobile mapping go from an experiment on our lab bench to being deployed in Afghanistan and then to widespread use. Our group’s use of LiDAR has grown as the capabilities of sensing hardware has expanded. We have gone from acquiring a few thousand miles of corridor work to completing over 30,000 miles of acquisition and processing in 2020.

Can you provide an inventory of some of the primary 3D surveying and mapping hardware and software that you currently use, as well as any other related products? Please include an idea of the timeline of purchases. 

On the hardware side we have been strong advocates of the RIEGL line of LiDAR equipment. We started down that path integrating LMS-Q120 and LMS-Q140 lasers for both airborne and mobile surveys. In 2006, we constructed an early mobile mapping system utilizing four LMS-Q120 lasers. Around 2008, we took delivery of our first LMS-Q560 scanners. Eventually growing to having three of those scanners in the fleet. From there, around 2010, we acquired the early VQ-380 scanners specifically designed for wide corridor applications. That was followed up with a purchase of a VQ-480 around 2011. Starting in 2020 we have continued modernizing and expanding our fleet of sensors with the purchase of seven new scanners. To meet demand, our fleet is expanding to being able to field up to eight airborne systems, two mobile mapping systems, and will support UAV capacity in house. 

On the software side, we utilize a wide assortment of software. We strive to use off the shelf software where we can, and do in-house development when we have expertise to offer that is not met by a commercially available package. Our automated processing factory uses a host of RIEGL software tools (SDCImport, RiANALYZE, RiWORLD, etc.), LAStools, and in-house developed processing modules. In addition to the automated processing factory, our analysts utilize industry standard software such as the TerraSolid suite and custom developed tools and extensions.

What attracted you to the use of RIEGL hardware and software? Did you look at other products? Why did you choose RIEGL?

The accuracy, reliability, and performance of RIEGL’s hardware and software is what drew our attention. Having seen the reliability of their hardware in early helicopter systems demonstrated that they were built to endure the rigors of field work. We ask a lot of our scanners, and they dutifully go out and do their job day in and day out. When combined with the stability of the produced data, we could not ask for more. 

Over the years we have evaluated other scanners for various markets and applications. Time and again the quality of the hardware, the repeatability of the results and the ease of integration kept pulling us back to RIEGL. Acquiring and processing data at the scale that we do requires the greatest uptime of the hardware, and the dependability of the downstream software to process the acquired data quickly and accurately 

How do you integrate RIEGL products into your workflows? What were some of the challenges with that? What were some of the best practices and lessons learned?

We take a number of approaches to integrating RIEGL’s hardware and software. We have always done our own hardware integration of RIEGL’s scanners with the exception of our LMS-Q1560. This has allowed us to integrate new sensors for evaluation and production purposes quickly to meet customer needs or to evaluate future product offerings. This control has also meant that the data is consistently acquired and organized to feed our automated processing center as well. With our LMS-Q1560, we do operate RIEGL’s turn-key RiACQUIRE system as that system is a very stable payload in terms of configuration. On the software side, we leverage all RIEGL post-processing modules (SDCImport, RiANALYZE, RiWORLD, etc.) to some degree. We also utilize RiPROCESS to validate any anomalies and work with RIEGL’s support team on the rare times issues arise. 

The major challenge has always involved bringing a new sensor family into the inventory. Just ensuring that we are employing the latest libraries and tools has always resolved our issues. From the experience of bringing in new sensor families, we have developed some best practices of validating any available updates to libraries (RiVLIB, etc.) and processing tools (SDCImport, RiANALYZE, etc.) on existing data before processing data from new sensors. Once we moved to that practice, integration challenges nearly disappeared. Similarly, we have developed a process of quarterly testing and integrating the updates from RIEGL. These integration test suites have been instrumental in detecting new features in the tools, and slight changes in operation.

Can you provide a brief overview of two or three of the projects where you made use of RIEGL’s technology? Can you provide any thoughts on time savings vs. other methods? Any thoughts on return on investment?

At this point it is hard to think of two or three projects where we have not made use of RIEGL’s technology. To highlight two projects using RIEGL’s technology, I’ll focus on one of our transmission utility customers in the northeast of the United States, and a distribution utility customer in New England. 

One of our customers engages with us on an annual survey of their entire transmission network. The aim for the customer is to validate regulatory compliance on their NERC regulated lines, and compliance to internal policies on their other lines. This survey generally takes a couple of months of system acquisition. Once we are on site, the reliability and consistency of RIEGL’s hardware and software eliminates the need for daily calibration checks and reduces unproductive aircraft hours with system maintenance issues. That reliability and performance has allowed acquisition to be turned in significantly below anticipated costs.

Another customer has engaged us to perform a vegetation management survey of their distribution network in New England. They were looking to evaluate the impacts of an enhanced vegetation management program on circuit reliability during storm events. This survey was completed with a mobile mapping solution equipped with a multi-camera array. This high resolution imagery integrated with the LiDAR data was key for the customer. The flexibility of our acquisition system allowed all of the data to be tied together very seamlessly. Collecting this data in heavily vegetated areas, and in urban areas brought in a number of positioning challenges. RIEGL’s RiPRECISION was utilized and allowed this data to be brought together with high accuracy in a timely manner. This processing reduced the number of re-drives required due to GNSS coverage issues. 

What do you see in the future for the use of 3D technology on your projects? Are you investigating other advanced technologies that will open up new business opportunities?

The use of 3D technology is only going to continue growing in our utility business; both traditional projects and new advanced programs. The scale of vegetation analytics both at the transmission and distribution level keeps growing. With customers focused on both cost and time to delivery. Luckily, the market has continued to provide solutions to address both of these goals. RIEGL’s newer scanners have enabled us to fly higher and faster to improve costs and reduce acquisition time. 

Another trend that we are seeing is a new focus on turning 2D GIS into a 3D model of the infrastructure. Advances in LiDAR scanners and imaging sensors have enabled applications for customers to accurately locate their infrastructure in the 3D world. The imagery and the high definition LiDAR has also enabled applications of determining connectivity as customers start to embrace GIS models that require connectivity information for advanced distribution and outage management systems. 

We are always exploring new advanced technologies to enable new business opportunities and solve our customer’s business needs. We focus first on the business need and figure out what technologies enable the desired outcome. While we are a very LiDAR heavy business, we do not approach every problem looking at how LiDAR saves the day. To that end we have explored and deployed AI based approaches for data analysis to reduce human intervention in processing, and to direct human resources to the particular problems that are not well automated. That comes from both the imagery and LiDAR side of our business. We continue to evaluate other sources of remotely sensed data such as data acquired from satellite platforms for fit into our customer’s business case. 


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