Matt O’banIon – Younger Geospatial Professional Interview

I have been lucky to know Matt O’Banion for a few years, since his days as a grad student under Mike Olsen at Oregon State University. Here’s a look at a hard working, YGP that is on an inspiring growth path.

Photo of Matt O'Banion

Matt O’Banion

Please provide a recap of your post high school education and training. Do you have any licenses or certifications? Are you a member of any organizations?

I attended University of California, Davis for my undergraduate education and earned a B.S. in Geology. The fieldwork component of my undergraduate degree was my first introduction to the value of surveying technology including transit compasses, total stations, and GPS. I was intrigued that these tools could make measurements in the field that could later help us piece together the geologic history of a given location.
Following graduation from UC Davis, I joined the onshore geotechnical engineering division at Fugro Consultants. Most of my work at Fugro involved drilling borings and developing geotechnical engineering recommendations for the built environment; however, I was acquainted with the world of geomatics when I became involved with an urban levee evaluation project for the California Department of Water Resources.

This project warranted the use of helicopter-based corridor lidar mapping of existing levee alignments to establish the as-built geometry of the levees. As part of a research and development effort, I worked to generate digital 3D models of the levee corridors using high resolution lidar-derived topography, subsurface geophysics data, and geolocated soil borings. The resulting models were used to assess the levees based on water seepage and slope stability simulations.

During this time, I also had the opportunity to assist my wife with her Masters research, which involved the acquisition of terrestrial lidar along the Mojave segment of the San Andreas Fault. These opportunities exposed me to the capabilities of modern surveying technology and motivated me to explore the discipline further.

In 2012, I began looking into graduate school programs where I could focus on geomatics and geotechnical engineering. I ultimately attended Oregon State University (OSU) and worked with Dr. Michael J. Olsen. I quickly became aware of the important role computers play in the processing, analysis and visualization of surveying data, and I dedicated my coursework and research to topics in geomatics and computer science.

Attending the Geomatics graduate program at OSU was the opportunity of a lifetime that provided access to leading geomatics experts, state-of-the-art surveying technology, access to academic and professional conferences, and the ability to survey and conduct natural hazards research in remarkable locations throughout New Zealand and Alaska.

I was aware of basic surveying tools and techniques prior to attending OSU but it was not until I had the opportunity to take courses from the Geomatics Faculty at OSU that I began to realize the extensive nature of the surveying profession and all the opportunities it offers.

During my time with Fugro, I earned my California State Professional Geologist License and while at OSU I served as an officer for the American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) OSU Student Chapter, two years of which were as President.

Photo of Cadets Surveying at West Point for Matt O'Banion

Cadets Surveying at West Point

Can you provide a timeline with description of the positions you have held in the surveying profession to date?

2008 – 2013: Staff Geologist with Fugro Consultants, Inc.
– Technically not a surveying specific position but I interfaced with surveyors and was exposed to many aspects of surveying and mapping technology and applications.
2013 to 2017: Research and Teaching Assistant (TA) at Oregon State University
– Participated in research focused on surveying and mapping of landslides and post-earthquake environments.
– Served as a TA for the Civil Engineering Capstone Design course. Assisted project teams with all surveying and geospatial analysis requirements for their design projects.

-2017 to Present: Assistant Professor at the United States Military Academy – West Point
– Teach classes covering Photogrammetry, Surveying, and Remote Sensing
– Conduct research focused on 3D surveying techniques (i.e., laser scanning and photogrammetry), Immersive visualization of 3D geospatial data, and error propagation of laser-based survey measurements.

Please describe some of the technology that you have become skilled in using and any challenges associated with using it on a daily basis.

I am most familiar with terrestrial laser scanning technology and the associated acquisition, processing, and analysis techniques related to civil engineering and geoscience applications. I also have experience with UAS photogrammetry, GNSS, total station-based surveying, and the immersive visualization of 3D geospatial data.

The biggest challenge with these modern surveying technologies is keeping up with the fast innovation cycles and maintaining proficiency with the various systems that all differ in subtle ways. The tools are becoming more capable and complex, however, in some cases, the associated software and user interfaces are becoming over-simplified. Although it is important that software is user-friendly, capable surveying professionals should not be prompted to simply press buttons and hope the software does what is expected. While some degree of software-based automation is beneficial to the surveying professional, insight into the underlying processes must be provided for a user to leverage their theoretical understanding of fundamental surveying methods.

Do you think this will be a long term career for you? Why or why not?

Yes, I hope to have a long career related to geomatics because it is a very applicable and dynamic field. The technology used for surveying is constantly improving and it is becoming relevant to an increasing number of applications and industries.

Laser Scanned Statue of George Washington from Matt O'Banion

Laser Scanned Statue of George Washington

What are a couple of ideas that could attract more young people to the surveying profession?

It is important that the geomatics community continue to generates awareness regarding the many applications of surveying and the remarkable tools that are currently available including UAS, laser scanning, photogrammetry, and survey-grade GNSS to name a few. I don’t think many young people who are interested in modern technology are aware of the applicability of advanced mechanical/optical systems (e.g., UAS and surveying instruments), high performance computers/software, and video game technology (e.g., GPUs, 3D modeling, and immersive visualization (AR/VR)) to the surveying and mapping profession. Skills in this area are very marketable in the private and public sectors and a career in this field can be extremely rewarding.

Any further thoughts or comments, perhaps how you see all of this technology changing the world?

Before working for the U.S. Army, I was aware of how valuable surveying and mapping technology is to private industry and the civilian sector, but I am becoming increasingly aware of its relevance and importance to the U.S. Department of Defense. Whether being used for enhanced simulation and training of soldiers, improving situational awareness in the field, or gathering critical intelligence (GEOINT), geomatics plays an important role in supporting and protecting the brave men and women that choose to serve and defend our country.

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