Focus on Blurred Lines

Surveyors and Various Geo-Groups are part of Something Bigger - Time to Look Around…

Guest Post By: Gavin Schrock, PLS – Associate Editor Professional Surveyor Magazine

Blurred Lines

The notion that the lines are blurred between the many fields and disciplines driving the geospatial world was particularly evident at the March 2014 CONEXPO, drawing over 125,000 visitors to Las Vegas. Held every third year in rotation with the INTERMAT and Bauma construction trade fairs held overseas (both dwarf CONEXPO), these are expositions that are both mind-blowing and humbling. It isn’t just sheer scale (bigger than every domestic survey conference combined) that amazes, but the boundless opportunity these events seem to scream out loud.

HILTI Robotic Total Station

HILTI Robotic Total Station

At CONEXPO you find every type of equipment, software solutions, and technological innovation that you might find at a survey exposition or conference, and more. But you’ll also find technology, like certain kinds of robotics, that you might find only at a defense or aerospace event. The penetration of advanced technology into construction, and especially heavy construction, is very deep and very broad.

But do not say the words “button pushers” to this crowd; there is a lot of skill required. Construction professionals buy tools, even robotic total stations and GNSS, but view them as tools; they work them hard, work them a lot, and then move on. They don’t question whether technology is ruining their legacy, they simply focus on getting things done—really big things. If a tool is needed, someone will build it or adapt it. Did you know that the fastener company HILTI sells their own robotic total stations? They have several models customized, hardened, and packaged, but have also added their own software that runs as an app and is streamlined for high production layout.

There are many types of GNSS gear you may have never heard of incorporating third-party boards (OEM: Original Equipment Manufacturer) and destined for specific functions. They do not care about the latest gimmicks or how many yet-to-be-launched satellites and signals it can claim; they want high productivity. Conservative estimates of OEM board orders for 2013 were over 85,000—most destined for construction, defense, aviation, and precision Ag. The story is the same for software for all types of geospatial-related functions.

Historically, nearly every activity related to positioning, location, and measurement for engineering, mapping, and earth sciences was considered as some kind of surveying. Now with position location and measurement so readily integrated to so many varied disciplines, even in real time, the lines seem blurred. Except where required by law to be the performed by specific specialists and for specific legal or safety reasons, positioning, location, and measurement is a fairly ubiquitous commodity across all disciplines.

Think about the many disciplines within the medical profession, all with common roots. I am sure that a neurology surgeon and a cardiac surgeon could sit in a bar and argue which discipline is the most demanding or valuable, but am also sure they would never say that they have nothing in common and could never learn from each other.

Surveying is served handily in the U.S. by several fine publications, but many have recognized and told Flatdog and various media outlets that something is missing. Surveying, geodesy, engineering, construction, hydrography, aerial mapping, geomatics, GIS (yikes), robotics, large scale metrology, BIM, resource management, and many more—they share common roots in positioning, location, and measurement. They all could benefit from peeking over their well-trimmed hedges and seeing what is happening on the other side.

What is on the other side of the hedge? There is a worldwide boom in geospatial development, driven by multiple channels: information technology, geospatial measurement science, and infrastructure. It might not be visible from our front porches, but what used to be called the developing world is shrinking—middle-range prosperity is expanding worldwide. The sheer scale of development in Asia, Africa, South America, and the Indian sub-continent has skyrocketed in the past decade, and this worldwide boom drives much of the new solutions’ development.

This was quite evident at CONEXPO, and it behoves us to learn from it. We certainly have become used to our solutions being global by nature. We might have a piece of gear that was engineered in Germany or Moscow, designed in Sweden (with software developed in New Zealand), built in Switzerland, Japan, or China, with maybe just the final assembly in the U.S. With the domestic economy beginning to pick up again, it might be time to shuck some legacy ideas and solutions, take the new ball, and run with it.

The team at Flatdog Media, whose flagship publication Professional Surveyor magazine has been having some of its best years in its three-decade history, is launching a new publication, titled xyHt. It will focus on the common elements of positioning, location, and measurement, and especially the authoritative and professional aspects thereof. Rooted firmly in surveying and geodesy but aimed at a wide set of related disciplines, the new print publication is to be the anchor of a family of media channels online.

There are few resources that bridge this often-neglected constituency—the chasm between what positioning folks know about the new “geo” wave and what this new “geo” wave knows about positioning.

The built and natural worlds are huge, and our understanding of them and need to manage and develop them in a much smarter way is an enormous undertaking. Therefore, there are many people in so many disciplines, doing so many amazing things in measuring, cataloguing, and utilizing geodata that’s so rapidly gathered. You’ll hear specifics about the new publication in the next month. So far everyone we’ve talked to is quite pleased. The most common reaction is, “It is about time!” We would be doing a great disservice to ourselves and our profession if we did not encourage and enable folks to take a look around.

— Gavin


Eric D. Colburn, PLS, "The Geo-Business Innovator", helps geo-professionals improve through innovative solutions, mastery of marketing and business growth strategies, and coaching/training. Eric is a successful, serial entrepreneur, podcaster, industry writer, product development consultant, and RI licensed professional land surveyor.

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