ASPRS Annual Conference Returns to Baltimore for Its 75th Birthday

Last year at the ASPRS conference in Portland, Oregon, organizers stenciled a pattern outside the conference center on an asphalt parking lot, with huge letters spelling out "ASPRS 75." Then at an appointed time, they recruited as many convention-goers as possible, herded them outside, and had them stand inside the numbers and letters to form a human graphic as a plane flew overhead for an aerial photograph of the event. Getting caught up in the excitement, I fell in with the crowd and took my place at the bottom of the second "S." "Don't wave at the plane," they repeatedly instructed us.

You may have noticed ASPRS using this image to celebrate its 75th anniversary this year and promote its annual conference at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel on the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, Maryland. The flyover - obviously appropriate since ASPRS (the American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing) is about aerial mapping - and the 75th year milestone added a level of excitement to this year's event. Since last year, I've kept my eye out for a high-res version of that photo of us to see if I could find myself in it.

Some 1,400 people attended this year's conference, which had the theme Reflection of the Past, Vision for the Future. The ASPRS Potomac Region hosted it, like they do every fourth year. Indeed, some attendees recalled coming to this same hotel in 2005.


With about 100 vendors populating the Exhibit Hall, trends in the aerial mapping world became apparent. Small and medium-format digital cameras are becoming more popular. Wehrli & Associates showed its MAC-1 Matrix Aerial Camera, touting its lower operating costs. More sophisticated inertial measurement units (IMU) and inertial navigation systems (INS) are increasing flight efficiency and data accuracy and reducing the need for ground control points. Multiple sensors, including digital cameras, lidar, infrared, and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) are becoming the norm.

In arguably the most notable trend, aerial lidar is seeing increased use, replacing photogrammetry. Airborne 1 announced that has recently reached the milestone of incorporating over one million square kilometers of high-resolution lidar data. Lidarxchange, a consortium of mapping stakeholders, created this to serve as a repository of off-the-shelf 3D data for firms that purchase capacity and projects from the exchange.

A stroll down the aisles revealed that satellite imagery is becoming more usable for surveyors with its increased accuracy. GeoEye displayed images from the new GeoEye-1 satellite launched late last year, including a striking poster of the presidential inauguration in January showing two million people covering the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Doug Spencer at the USGS booth commented that the Landsat 5 is celebrating 25 years of earth-observing service in orbit this year. With an expected lifespan of three years, the fifth satellite in the Landsat program has far exceeded expectations.

Companies that you normally think of as operating in one domain cover others as well. For example, Applanix and IXSEA both produce georeferencing and orientation systems for mobile mapping, but Applanix is often associated with aerial mapping and IXSEA hydrographic surveying. In truth, the inertial systems both companies develop work in the air, on land, or on a boat. IXSEA was promoting its LANDINS system, which provides IMU and RTK GNSS on a vehicle for mobile mapping on land while it also sported the AIRINS system for aerial mapping.

Optech announced the ALTM Orion C200, a lidar system for low-altitude mapping of corridors. This was in addition to SHOALS, an airborne laser bathymetry instrument for mapping shallow water and coastal regions, which works with REA, Rapid Environmental Assessment, image processing software that provides coastal environmental information by fusing airborne lidar and hyperspectral data.

ASD features spectrometers and spectroradiometers carried in a backpack to sense near infrared wavelength in mapping features on the ground. Among other applications, it is used for ground truthing and verifying what is mapped from the air.

Track-Air continues to promote the MIDAS, Multi-cameras Integrated Digital Acquisition System, after it introduced the system at the ASPRS conference in Reno, Nevada in 2006. Built for oblique aerial, or airborne tilted, photography, MIDAS features four tilted and one vertical camera connected to a dedicated data acquisition computer in a turnkey system.

ISTS Americas promoted its Air Carto system consisting of a gyrostabilized camera mount, GPS receiver, a digital camera, and its Radmetry software. The software uses a "soft gyro" process, which simulates gyroscopes electronically, thereby eliminating the need for IMU data. As a medium-format system, the package comes in a compact 40-pound package.

Venturing off the trade show floor, I attended one of the popular Hot Topics - Interactive Networking one-hour discussion groups. Entitled Geospatial Professional Procurement Guidelines, this one covered qualifications-based selection (QBS) and the ASPRS Procurement Guidelines document developed by an ad hoc committee, which also included MAPPS and ACSM. The usual lively debate ensued about procurement and licensing of geospatial professionals. The committee considers QBS the best approach, but moderator Doug Smith pointed out that variations of it include cost-based options, and not everyone prefers QBS. "QBS is not the way. It's a way," said one participant. The committee went to great lengths to differentiate between jobs that are surveying and ones that aren't. Smith stated, "Photogrammetry is defined as surveying" in the model law. Someone interjected that whether something should be licensed depends more on what you do with a tool than the tool itself. Using an IMU and GPS in aerial mapping was cited as examples. A licensed surveyor should be in charge of their operation, but the technicians carrying out the work shouldn't have to be licensed.

The following morning, Bradley Doorn with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agriculture Service spoke on ASPRS: Mapping, Monitoring, and Preparing for Change. He cited Burma as a place where we needed to focus on land measurement. "ASPRS can't solve world problems, but they can't solve them without our expertise," he said. Information is fed to us around the clock; we must supply geospatial information in that framework, as sources don't wait for us. "Multiple sensor analysis is not an option but a reality."

Another keynote speaker, Anne Miglarese, a principal with Booz Allen Hamilton, spoke on ASPRS's newly formed National Geospatial Advisory Committee. "It's a very broad and diverse group," she told the crowd. "We are now a big business, one that has a lot to offer society." The committee made recommendations to the Obama administration on the economic stimulus. She said we need to quit focusing on educating decision makers on the technology and focus on the benefits.

ASPRS also offers a host of technical sessions. I attended one on the Development of a National Lidar Dataset. USGS is taking the lead on this project, determining viability, developing requirements and specifications, establishing the most important types of information contained in a lidar signal, and identifying stakeholders and their roles. Greg Snyder of USGS stated that it will create jobs and stimulate the economy. "It's going to be challenging." Lidar has achieved enormous success as a source of data for terrain models, but there has been little central coordination with it, as vendors use their own proprietary products. Lidar will see increasing use in non-terrain applications. Dave Harding of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center told how NASA first integrated lidar for mapping in the 1980s. They used it to map Mars, are in the process of using it to map Mercury, and will use it to map the Moon. They also plan to map polar ice sheets with lidar.

In a Commercial Instrument and Software Session entitled High Resolution Sensors and Applications, Qassim Abdullah of Fugro EarthData addressed the issue of whether a pushbroom sensor can produce high-resolution imagery, as the perception exists that it can't. He told how they conducted test flights with the Leica ADS40 sensor head SH52 and achieved horizontal accuracy for map scale of up to 1"=33' and 1-foot contours, exceeding map accuracy standard requirements.

Echoing trends in satellite imagery, Philip Cheng of PCI Geomatics said that the Worldview-1 satellite gets .5-meter resolution panchromatic, while the new GeoEye-1 has .41m panchromatic resolution and 1.65m resolution multispectral (four bands). "It's getting higher and higher," he marveled. You can generate a digital elevation model from Worldview-1 stereo data, he said, but collection of ground controls is impossible or expensive, and ways are sought to eliminate the need for them.

Other technical sessions and panel discussions covered everything from vegetation mapping to SAR, digital camera technologies and applications, and mobile lidar mapping.

In the hallway outside the Exhibit Hall, a series of posters told the history of aerial mapping, creating a museum-like atmosphere. Then, there it was. A poster of a bunch of people in Portland, Oregon spelling out "ASPRS 75" in a parking lot. I found myself in it (at least I think it's me) and mused about it to my colleagues. But I soon gathered my perspective and realized that a 75th birthday for such an organization is a much bigger deal.

(ASPRS award winners are listed in the PPP section near the back of this magazine.)

SPAR Survives, Thrives Despite Denver "Snowpocalypse"

The staff at SPAR must have been more than a little nervous when they saw the Denver, Colorado forecoast for the Thursday and Friday preceding their conference.  The National Weather Service issued a "blizzard warning" with significant snow, high winds, and white-out conditions.  At least one of our local news outlets, in their typical exaggerated style, labeled the storm a "Snowpocalypse."  Happily, while there was a significant storm, the city of Denver had the streets plowed, and by the time of the conference little evidence remained of the storm.

The theme of SPAR's sixth annual conference, SPAR 2009, was  "Success is Measured."  Measuing the success of this conference, held in Denver, Colorado March 30 through April 1, we find more than 600 individuals from 27 nations were in attendance.  More than 40 suppliers and six industry association partners were on hand to demonstrate a wide range of 3D scanning products and services.  Issues such as 3D laser scanning, mobile survey and mapping, lidar, dimensional control, asset management, BIM/CAD/GIS integration, security planning and forensics, and digital heritage preservation were covered in over 80 workshops, presentations, demonstrations, and roundtable discussions. To say this was a definitive conference on scanning and imaging is a bit of an understatement.

While the conference covered subjects such as scanning for forensic applications and heritage preservation, there was plenty of interest for those of us in the land surveying business. One of the first questions in my mind was: What benefit would a small- to medium-sized survey shop accrue by making the jump into 3D scanning? The answer I found is three-fold:

  1. to open up new markets for your shop by including scanning in your technological capabilities;
  2. to add value to your current customers and capture more revenue; and
  3. to maintain competitiveness with other shops who have already added laser scanning to their surveying toolkits.

Walking the conference and visiting the exhibitors' booths provided a quick lesson in emerging trends in scanning technology.  After registration, one of the first booths I came across was Leica Geosystems, who were featuring their newly introduced ScanStation 2, featuring increased speed and versatility. Leica informed me that in addition to high resolution scanning, up to 50,000 points per second, the unit offers survey grade accuracy for increased versatility and reduced field labor.

Also exhibited at SPAR was their Cyclone II 1.1 TOPO a comprehensive standalone software program for faster (200 percent increase) and easier mapping of laser scans.

Next I visited Optech, who were introducing their new Lynx Mobile Mapper V200 offering increased lidar measurement rates, longer ranging capabilities, and enhanced versatility. Also shown was their portable terrestrial ILRIS laser scanner boasting 10KHz repetition rate, with digital image capture and sophisticated software tools.

Then I visited Topcon's booth where they were featuring three scanning products. Their new IS Imaging Station is a combination robotic total station and long range scanner (20 points per second) with built-in digital imaging. The GLS-1000 laser scanner offers compact design, precise scan technology (3,000 points per second), built-in digital imaging and wireless connectivity. The IP-S2 is Topcon's integrated high accuracy mobile mapping system. The system includes three high-resolution lidar scanners and achieves high accuracy through the use of redundant technologies: dual frequency GNSS receiver, an inertial measurement unit, and connectivity to odometer information internally or externally.

Over at Trimble's booth they were exhibiting their VX Spatial Station, a robotic total station that combines 3D laser scanning (up to 15 points per second), optical surveying, GNSS, and image capture in one unit. Teaming up with the VX Spatial Station is their SI rover and their RealWorks Survey Office Software for 3D Scanning in Surveying and Spatial Imaging.

SPAR 2009 illustrated the trend of integrating optical surveying and 3D laser scanning, exhibited by high-end scanners adding survey grade accuracy to their products as well as total stations adding 3D scanning, albeit at a lower resolution. Survey shops will benefit by this technological integration of 3D scanning and optical surveying by increasing their flexibility and adding services to reach new markets.

SPAR 2009 was brimming with exciting new 3D scanning and imaging technology and experts. I'm already looking forward to what SPAR 2010 brings!


About the Authors

  • Tom Gibson, PE
    Tom Gibson, PE
    Tom was editor of the magazine from June 2006 to May 2010. He is also the editor of Progressive Engineer:
  • Jeff Salmon, Editor
    Jeff Salmon, Editor
    Jeff Salmon is the new editor for Professional Surveyor Magazine. For nearly 15 years he has been involved with the geospatial and surveying industries. He has worked as an instrument operator, a manager for a surveying firm, a land-use project manager and end-user of land surveying services, and a writer and editor on geospatial subjects. He started in 2005 as the Business Angle columnist, then served as the web editor and then editor for our popular Pangaea newsletter, which he still produces.

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