Versatile Mobile LiDAR Changes the Game for Bowman Consulting

Versatile Mobile LiDAR Changes the Game for Bowman Consulting

Lidar News recently had the opportunity to interview Seth Gulich, Florida LiDAR and UAS Manager for Bowman Consulting about their investment in drones, lidar and 3D laser scanning. 

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 company and its use of 3D technology? Please include an idea of the timelines.

I have always gravitated toward the 3D scanning and LiDAR technology since early on in my career. I received a BS in Surveying Engineering from Penn State University in the spring of 2017. I focused a lot of my spare time on scanning and doing some basic modeling of buildings around campus. While there, I gained experience using Topcon and Leica scanners.

After my junior year in the spring of 2016, I started out as a summer intern for Bowman Consulting. I was working on laser scanning projects from week one. 

Bowman acquired their first terrestrial scanner around 2013. Right now, we have grown to having 6 terrestrial scanners that are regularly in use. We use scanners on everything from supplementing traditional field work, building and façade monitoring, bridge and other infrastructure projects, volume calculations, architectural models, and floor plans.

In 2018, Bowman ventured into mobile mapping technology. We demoed a lot of systems and ultimately went with the LidarUSA system purchasing a Snoopy A-series HD with the Velodyne HD32 sensor. I have been spear heading a lot of the implementation and use of the different LidarUSA systems we use.

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. 

Bowman is constantly watching the development of new hardware and software packages that enter the markets. We regularly re-evaluate the workflows and systems we are using. We keep a sizeable list of equipment and software to help with the diverse set of projects we work on. Most of our terrestrial scanners are Leica, and we use a lot of their software as well because of this. Pix4D, TopoDOT, Global Mapper, Autodesk Recap, Revit, Civil 3D and MicroStation are the other big ones we find ourselves using most days.

On the mobile and UAS side of laser scanning, we exclusively use LidarUSA systems and their Scanlook PC software suite. The Snoopy A-series HD is definitely our work horse. When it comes to wanting to supplement topo and do bare earth models, it does exceptionally well at penetrating vegetation, especially when considering the price point. For higher accuracy UAS work, we can turn to a RIEGL VUX1-UAV. My favorite system to use from LidarUSA is their Mapper Z. That sensor in combination with their control adjustment tools, has given us incredible results on transportation projects. 

What attracted you to the use of LiDARUSA products? Did you look at other products? Why did you choose them?

When we first saw a demo of a LidarUSA system, the immediate things that stood out to us was the ease of use and versatility of the system. I have been able to train Bowman Consulting employees on how to run a LidarUSA system and collect data over the phone and with a few quick videos. They do a great job at making it that easy for most applications.

The fact that LidarUSA designs their systems to be multi-use really stood out to us on the return on investment side of things. At the time when we were looking to make the investment, most were restricted in one way or another to being a UAS – based or a vehicle – based system. The wide variety of sensors they work with was another positive. As Bowman Consulting’s mobile mapping workload has grown and expanded, I have always been able to have access to a system that is going to be the best possible to complete a project.   

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

Luckily with the software, the only new thing we added in was using Scanlook PC. We already were using things like Global Mapper and TopoDOT for data extraction.

Our primary focus with the LidarUSA systems has always leaned towards the UAS operations. Bowman already had a strong in-house drone program, when we purchased the system, and the addition of LiDAR just helped us with getting even more work. 

Vehicle – based mobile mapping was something new to us so we did have a learning curve on the field collection side of things. I always tell our field staff it is easy to run the system and collect data that is 90% of the way there. It is not as easy to get it that last 10%. 

Checklists and acquisition plans are so critical. If one employee creates a targeting and acquisition plan on a project, two others better be there to look it over. 

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

My favorite project to talk about took place in West Virginia. We were doing a design survey for a possible expansion of an apartment complex that is built on the side of a steep, wooded hill with a 350 foot ravine off the one side. The engineers hoped to cut out another piece of the hill and fill in part of the ravine to make another plateau to build on. In order to survey it conventionally, we would have had to walk up and down this ravine while holding onto a rope. Instead, I used the Snoopy HD and flew a few passes through the ravine. It was interesting because the drone was actually flying lower than me in order to capture the sides and bottom well, and I had to manually control it the whole time.  It probably saved at least two weeks of field time for a 3 – person field crew, not to mention the improved safety.

Another great one was a route survey for Florida’s Department of Transportation of a mile-long bridge spanning the intercoastal water way. I loved this one because of the great views and the safety aspect of mobile LiDAR. We got to use a Mapper Z on this. FDOT is very proactive with using mobile mapping on projects. It saves time and helps keep surveyors out of the busy roadways. It is a two – lane bridge with bike lanes and then sidewalks that are behind barrier walls. There is a lot of steady traffic and the only thing drivers are thinking of is getting across the bridge to the ocean. If we were to survey it conventionally, we would have to shut a lane down to get the work done. If we terrestrial scanned it, we would have had a lot of gaps in the data from traffic noise and would need a lot more control set along the bridge. 

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?

Bowman never stops looking into emerging technologies, especially if it opens new doors for business development, or helps us give our clients the best deliverables we can on a project. 

All manufacturers are working towards better accuracy and precision in smaller packages. The size and weight of a system is a big thing with UAS and handheld scanners. “Data fusion” seems to be the big buzz word in the industry for some time now. We believe that we are also witnessing a convergence of technologies with sensor capabilities branching out to accomplish multiple goals in a single pass or collection. For example, the merger of photogrammetry and LiDAR data collection, LiDAR and Infrared/RGB photography and laser scanning and total station capabilities in a single, integrated system.

We also believe that computer hardware and software have been making huge strides in recent years to help compliment the growth and capabilities of remote sensing systems and will help further push the development of the remote sensing field. Processing speeds, storage capacity, advanced graphic rendering techniques, artificial intelligence and all helping crack the code of just how much can we make use of this geospatial data. 

The rapid pace of technological advancements will be keeping the remote sensing field an exciting pursuit for many years to come. 


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