Spicer Group Expands Remote Sensing Capabilities with…

Spicer Group Expands Remote Sensing Capabilities with 2nd Mobile LiDAR System

By Jeremy Dancer, PS (Project Surveyor)


Editor’s Note: This article is being reported as a narrative as told by the author.

Spicer Group Inc. is a surveying and engineering company that’s been in business since 1944, when it was established by Cliff Spicer (a surveyor and engineer). Surveying has been in our DNA since our beginning.  The company saw steady growth over the years, but the surveying group was primarily there to support the engineering projects.  With the surveying department under new leadership beginning around 2005, we began to expand our service offering and explore new surveying technologies.  In 2006 we purchased our first terrestrial scanner and were the first consultant to begin scanning bridges for the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to complete design surveys while keeping surveyors out of roadways.  That leap helped us expand our skillset, develop, and grow our LiDAR team and gave us confidence to continue expanding into new territories.  

Remote Sensing

In September 2013, we were the first consultant in North America to purchase the Leica Pegasus One mobile LiDAR system.  Mobile LiDAR was the catalyst to allow our group to expand nationally.  As an early adopter of mobile LiDAR technology, we engaged in scanning projects throughout the U.S. to support transportation design, city-wide asset management and telecommunication buildout projects.  That early experience allowed us to build some longstanding relationships with clients that came to rely on our team to deliver what we say, when we say – every time.  Over the next 7 years, we continued to expand our technological capabilities and geographic reach.  We have since come to acquire 7 drones with 8 licensed remote pilots, a fleet of marine vessels with single and multibeam sonar, various mobile LiDAR system upgrades, and of course we continue to provide static terrestrial laser scanning.  

We currently complete over 200 miles of transportation design surveys annually, and last year we completed over 12,000 miles of mobile LiDAR scanning for asset management projects throughout the United States.  In 2005 our survey team was working out of two offices in Michigan and consisted of approximately 15 staff members.  We have since grown into one of the most technologically capable survey teams in the Midwest consisting of 58 professionals working out of 6 offices in Michigan and Georgia. We currently have several career opportunities posted for more surveyors and related staff as the demand for our services continues to grow.

Moving to the Next Level

Having been providing mobile mapping services using the Leica solution for the last 8 years, we were ready for the next big investment to expand our capabilities.  We considered all available brands, but RIEGL stood out on several fronts.  RIEGL has a local support team.  This new unit has dual scanners at 1.8Mhz each, which allows us to scan freeways at a much faster speed creating a safer environment for our scan team to legitimately travel at the same speeds as the motoring public. The unit has an integrated spherical camera and the option to integrate higher resolution external cameras.  The software workflow and automation built into the processing and alignment of scans also helped convince us.  Based on our experience and evaluation of competing systems, the RIEGL solution just seemed to be the most robust and advanced in the current marketplace.

Integrating New Technology into the Workflows

We have had very few challenges compared to 2013 when we were part of the small group of consultants pioneering mobile LiDAR services.  There were many hurdles then, including challenges and do-overs, but we are much better today, and far more advanced because of those challenging experiences.  Our team members are experts at mobile mapping fundamentals with well-established workflows and processes, and at this point we’ve seen almost every situation. Therefore, our learning with this new system was limited to the RIEGL hardware and software process.  

RIEGL’s focus is on building great hardware and software to get us to a usable, precisely aligned, controlled and verified dataset.  RIEGL doesn’t create tools for downstream use, so we are free to use whatever the best third-party application is to produce the derived end products.  That was appealing to us.  Historically, we have found there are much better tools available via third party for doing point cloud extraction and developing LiDAR – derived products, and we want to continue to be able to use those third-party products, and we want it to be as easy as possible to get there.  In simple terms, we wanted the best solution to get us from raw data to an expertly aligned and calibrated point cloud as fast as possible, so we can use the data in the best third-party application—and RIEGL fit the bill.

Project Case Studies and ROI

  1. The day after we completed training with RIEGL on the new system, we started an 80-mile interstate project on US-23.  The entire freeway including every interchange was scanned totaling about 400 miles of scanning.  We intentionally waited to scan this project with the new RIEGL system because we can scan at 75mph and roll with traffic, rather than maximum 50 mph with our previous system.  It’s not that the previous system has an inherent speed limitation, but 50 mph seemed to be the sweet spot for desired data density.  The high scan rate and dual scanners of the RIEGL system really improved the efficiency and safety aspect of this project.
  2. Immediately following the US-23 project, we had 8 days of scanning to execute in Iowa for a great teaming partner of ours. This project consisted of scanning multiple small cities throughout Iowa totaling close to 300 miles of roadway. Not only were we able to collect more efficiently, we were also able to process the data more efficiently using RiPROCESS. We were able to process each day of collection and validate the LiDAR within days of collection. Utilizing RIEGL’s software allowed us the ability to get a georeferenced point cloud and 360-degree imagery in a fraction of the time it used to take us to get the same deliverable. Ultimately, this allowed us to get the final data in our client’s hands sooner than expected. 

As for ROI.  We’ve proven to ourselves over the last 8 years that mobile mapping technology can have significant ROI if executed properly.  The results do not come just because you buy a system.  To make mobile mapping successful, you must have a dedicated team in place whose only job is to focus their time delivering the highest quality data and data products, competitively and on time.  This is the only recipe for growing a mobile mapping business. With some of the efficiencies we have already experienced with the VMX-2HA, we expect to see even better value and ROI with our new RIEGL system.

Looking to the Future

We are always watching the marketplace to see what’s next and if it fits our business model.  I see the use of 3D technology continuing to grow and evolve in the coming years. This is evident by the continued increase in companies entering the market.  Specific to the mobile mapping segment, I see dramatic change coming as all vehicles on the road will someday have some type of active sensor, and wireless connectivity will be robust enough to stream the data for broad data aggregation.  

Someday, I expect there may not be a need for LiDAR service providers to collect mobile data because it will be readily available through online, crowd-sourced methods that due to statistical sampling will have a high degree of absolute accuracy, plus the ability to improve it through ground control techniques.  

Our goal now, is to continue to build our expertise and grow to improve on the LiDAR-derived product offering from our team, so that one day when accurate crowd-sourced LiDAR data is readily available, our team will be well positioned to be able to continue to leverage that data to produce industry-leading deliverables and information products.  That vision is still many years away, but I believe it will be the future.

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