We attended the ESRI User Conference in San Diego again this year. This is always a great trade show for us, as we get to connect directly with our LP360 users in the GIS community. LIDAR data, in fact point cloud data in general, is increasingly a core component of many GIS projects, so it is an excellent opportunity for us to learn first-hand the tools and techniques this group of users is looking to add or improve in LP360. Often discussions in the booth at ESRI lead directly to new features in next year’s LP360 release. We also get to demonstrate the new features in this year’s LP360 release in the booth. These include previous feature requests from users such as corrupt LAS file repair via LAS File Analyst, filtering by GPS time, filtering by color (RGB) and improved support for user data fields (very useful when working with multi-channel LIDAR data such as from an automotive LIDAR). We have also significantly improved LP360 performance by adding an option to use an “Octree” structure rather than a simple tiled data structure. Our implementation of an octree is Nested (meaning no duplicate data in the “reduced resolution data sets”) and Indexed (meaning each “leaf” of the tree has a point mapping index for rapid access). Hence we call our implementation a Nested, Indexed Point Octree or “NIPO.” It is based on the “potree” implementation from Markus Schuetz (GeoCue is a Diamond sponsor of potree).
However, this year was different than previous years because we also featured our new True ViewTM line of UAV sensors in the booth. True ViewTM offers an innovative LIDAR + dual oblique mapping camera configuration integrated in a lightweight payload for use on commercial drone platforms. It allows for fast, easy automated generation of true 3D colorized point clouds, oblique imagery and orthophotos from a single drone flight. The recent changes in the regulations about commercial drone operations have opened-up the airspace for many applications where previously manned surveys were too expensive or not practical for traditional aerial survey firms to undertake. The drone revolution is making aerial surveying – the ability to capture the view from above – available to far more people and organizations for use on far more applications than ever before. Initially photogrammetric techniques using cameras and imagery were the only option for drone surveys, but the need to add LIDAR to the payload is increasingly common. We expect to see GIS departments and surveyors increasingly make use of drone technology, either internalizing it or contracting out to the growing number of local service providers, over the next year. To address this growing demand, our first product in the True ViewTM line, the True View 410, offers the industry’s first integrated LIDAR/camera payload designed from the ground up to generate high-accuracy 3D colorized point clouds. Featuring dual custom GeoCue Mapping Cameras, a Quanergy M8 Ultra laser scanner and the Applanix APX-15 Position and Orientation System (POS), the result is a true 3D imaging sensor. With its wide 120° fused field of view, the True View 410 provides high efficiency 3D color mapping with vegetation penetration in a payload package with a mass of about 2 kg. All data processing is accomplished in the bundled True View Evo software, built in to our familiar LP360 platform.
But innovation is not always about technology. With the price of UAV lidar systems currently starting around $50,000 and easily moving up to the $150,000 – $250,000 (or more!) level, drone LIDAR is often not an option for many organizations that nevertheless could make very effective use of the LIDAR data if they had access to it. To address this, our True View program includes a new business model option tailored to meet the needs of surveyors and GIS departments that do not have the demand to justify full-time LIDAR capabilities for their drone mapping program or, as is more likely the case, the budget to purchase a system . Customers can still purchase the complete True View 410 system (hardware and full workflow software) as a standard purchase if they have the demand, but alternatively they can enroll in a subscription service. For as little as $3,000 per month, a user can obtain an Evergreen True View 410 with complete processing software. The minimum time commitment for an Evergreen subscription is 3 months. The base subscription includes enough processing minutes to complete about 20 projects of 50 acres each. Additional processing is then purchased by the minute. Judging by the extremely positive feedback in the booth at the show, this “Hardware-as-a-Service” model is going to be very popular.
We had a great week in San Diego connecting with existing LP360 customers and the buzz around True View on the floor was extremely satisfying to see. We think True View is going to be a very effective solution for many people looking to add drone LIDAR mapping to their organization. And we ended the week with a visit from Jack, so all in all a great time!