SPAR International

The eighth-annual SPAR International Conference was held in Houston, Texas, on March 21 to 24. The event drew more than 800 attendees and 80 presenters. Officially supported by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the Management Association of Private Photogrammetric Surveyors (MAPPS), and the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM), as well as six other professional organizations, it featured 45 sponsors/exhibitors, predominantly representing major vendors of hardware and software, plus a handful of professional service providers and educational affiliates. A dozen media sponsors were also in evidence. SPAR International 2011 was subtitled, “Success is Measured,” and by any measure it was a significant and successful event.

Opening Keynotes

Tom Greaves, managing director of SPAR Point Group, Diversified Communications, officially opened the event by welcoming attendees. He specifically extended welcome to those who attended from Japan so soon after the recent earthquake and tsumani and during the ongoing nuclear power plant crisis, saying, “Our hearts go out to you. Thank you for coming!”

He reflected on SPAR’s conferences in Japan, which began in 2005, and the organization’s acquisition by Diversified Communications in 2009. Greaves proceeded to list a series of major world events where 3D scanning was used for good and extrapolated that “the better we do 3D, the better the world.” He emphasized that we are a diverse group, assembled here to “share ideas, exchange best practices, and create wealth by making things better, faster, and cheaper.”

Greaves introduced Brian Matthews, vice president at Autodesk Labs, a riveting and energetic speaker who described four trends:
  • Technology (advances in reality capture)
  • Scale
  • Convergence of disciplines
  • Democratization (i.e. more types of people using 3D scanning)
He provided examples of surveying and engineering being used by the entertainment industry and made some startling predictions about “infinite computing” based on Moore’s Law, which in this context he said “ultimately means that computing will be free.” Introducing a recurrent and elemental theme for the conference at the end of his talk, Matthews asked rhetorically, “What can an organization like this do for this industry?” Answer: “Create an open, scalable standard.”

The next speaker was David Lafferty, chief technology officer of Information Technology & Services at BP, who provided thought-provoking perspective on R&D activities at a giant energy company. He described how BP used 3D scanning in creating virtual-reality training for employees in tasks as mundane as preparing hot dogs at BP retail outlets. Lafferty said, “There’s very little profit in gasoline. But our Coney dogs are a hot item.”

Following Lafferty were Robert Green, PLS, geodetic consultant at Vectors, Inc., and Shawn Binion, PLS, at Bookcliff Survey Services, who described the challenges they faced in their geodetic and 3D scanning survey of a drug-smuggling tunnel. The final keynote was a presentation by Ruth Parsons, chief executive of Historic Scotland who related how Scottish innovation has been showcased on a world stage through the use of cutting-edge technology to create accurate digital models of Scotland’s five UNESCO World Heritage Sites plus five international ones.

Exhibits opened simultaneously with the sessions and included the offerings of manufacturers of laser scanners, cameras, GPS receivers, and INS systems; software vendors; and service providers. The driveway outside the exhibits held a phalanx of a dozen mobile-mapping vehicles with operators providing live demonstrations throughout the conference.

Technical Sessions, Panel Discussions, Round Tables

Session tracks could be categorized generally as follows:
  • new ideas, applications, and technology = 13 sessions
  • mobile surveying and civil infrastructure = 7 sessions
  • architectural and historic site documentation = 10 sessions
  • security planning and law enforcement = 10 sessions
  • panel discussions and round tables = 3 sessions
Advances, innovations, opportunities, and lessons learned were too numerous to tabulate. Event proceedings will be provided to registered attendees.

Special-Interest Groups

No fewer than three new organizations were proposed by participants to represent those involved in 3D data collection, processing, and services. Ken Swerz of Precision 3D Scanning announced that 3D Professional Association was in the formative stages. John Russo of AIA asked, “Who is best qualified to perform a building survey?” and opened the door for discussion of the formation of a Building Surveyors Group.

Finally, Ray Mandli of Mandli Communications announced his formation of the Geospatial Transportation Mapping Association to represent the interests of the national 3D industry “on the Hill,” which drew quick responses from several attendees, including Nick Palatiello of MAPPS. Palatiello pointed out that MAPPS has the experience, the expertise, and the momentum to effectively communicate the interests of geospatial professionals to elected officials. Mandli acknowledged the strong performance of both MAPPS and the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) and suggested that, “a year from now we may think about throwing in with one of those organizations.”

Allied Meetings and Workshops

On the Sunday prior to the SPAR sessions, ASCE Geomatics Division conducted committee meetings followed by all-day workshops on Monday. User groups for ESRI and kubit held simultaneous meetings on Monday; Z+F and FARO users gathered on Thursday afternoon; LFM users met Friday. The indefatigable ASTM E-57 committee conducted meetings Thursday afternoon, all day Friday, and half of Saturday.

The enduring importance of standards was a recurrent theme through the conference, with one session devoted to creating national standards for infrastructure surveying and another devoted to standardizing data formats. The dedicated teams of ASCE and ASTM international committees continued to hammer out details for their respective organizations. Simultaneously, the competition for which professional organizations are best suited to represent the interests of the practitioners continued as well.

The final session of the SPAR International Conference was titled, “Engaging Youth.” The task of engagement and recruitment should become much easier as we emerge from the shadows of declining enrollment in geomatics education programs into the light cast by recent advances in 3D imaging and measurement. The SPAR conferences continue to illuminate this element of surveying as an exciting and innovative field of great opportunity and to deliver on their promise to provide the venue where 3D innovators connect.

About the Author

  • Jim Crabtree, PLS, CP
    Jim Crabtree, PLS, CP
    Jim is a Seattle-based contributing writer. He is retired, having worked most recently as Vice President of AeroMetric. Jim's career included 48 years in the surveying and mapping industry, obtaining ASPRS Certified Photogrammetrist and Professional Land Surveyor certifications.

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