Sorting it All Out

Laser Scanning … Or Is It?

This issue's focus topic is … what's the term? Laser scanning? 3D scanning? High density surveying? High definition scanning? You get my point. Pretty much every working surveyor knows what we're talking about, but naming it accurately is another story. There are lots of analogies to the issue of names, initials, and acronyms: GPS—Global Positioning System? Global Positioning Surveying? NAVSTAR GPS—NAVigation Satellite something something? GNSS—GLONASS? Our proclivities toward abbreviating and acronyming the names of things makes our naming conventions far from precise.

I first heard the term "laser scanning"—in the context of surveying—several years ago when one of my publishing colleagues said, "We need to run a piece on scanning." I replied, "Scanning? That's a pretty broad term. Can you narrow it down a bit?" The reply, "Laser scanning." To which I said, "Still too broad. The grocery checkout uses a laser scanner, and I don't think that's what you mean." I knew what the colleague did mean, of course, but I was trying to make the point that the nomenclature they were using was not a very good identifier.

There are a couple of things to identify when we name "our kind" of laser scanning: it's very fast and very accurate, and the resulting product rises to the quality level of a "survey." I would say those are the key characteristics the method's name should convey. I—and the magazine I edit—have taken a while to come to that realization. We have, therefore, been somewhat inconsistent with the terms we've used for the process, and we aim to remedy that. It may be more than we can sort out in this one little column, or it may not … stay tuned. We're working on it.

Just a peripheral point or two: different manufacturers have adopted different terminology—or they haven't. One manufacturer even took a three-word term, abbreviated it, and have made some small attempts to make that "official," a la registering a trademark. I don't know if that effort was ever completed, or if they decided it was more trouble than it was worth, or exactly where it stands now. The bottom line of this whole question is that this is a fairly immature market, and lots of methods and terms are sorting themselves out. We'll get there.

Aerial Mapping Supplement

You will notice this hefty issue includes not only laser scanning emphasis, but also an entire supplement on aerial mapping. When we began contacting members of that industry about the supplement, we didn't realize how big the response would be. Both sides of our publication—editorial and advertising—filled out nicely. This effort is part of our attempt to keep abreast of the dizzying changes our profession is experiencing—especially in the disciplines that team up with surveying, such as aerial mapping, remote sensing, restoration as-builts, GIS, and site planning. Check it out, and while you're at it … have a nice day.


The February 2006 issue contained a review of the new TDS Ranger with Survey Pro. While the Ranger does offer a large variety of model options, it does not offer an internal radio modem as stated in the article. And, the Ranger uses an XScale processor, not an ARM processor as stated in the article.

About the Author

  • Gerald L. McGray, RPLS
    Gerald was editor of the magazine from May 2004 to July 2006.

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