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Streets ahead: Pioneering new mobile surveying and mapping equipment

Vehicle-mounted scanning equipment could soon replace traditional surveyors. NCE looks at two of the latest models to hit our shores.

Mobile laser scanning systems promise to take the hard work out of surveying and mapping, producing incredibly detailed data at the touch of a button. With the need to work as time-efficiently as possible, and the battle against nationwide potholes looming, these systems could be the future of surveying.

Topcon’s IP-S2 mobile mapping system offers real advantages of speed and flexibility over traditional methods. Not only is the system simple to install, it requires very little training and preparation, data collection is fast, and processing time is quick too.

The flexible vehicle-mounted system can be made up of a range of different modules, including high-resolution LiDAR (light detection and ranging) laser scanners, a digital camera, an inertial measurement unit (IMU) to monitor the vehicle’s orientation, and a GPS antenna.

“I could get you data collecting within 10 minutes of discussion of what to look out for.”

Andy Evans

The result is an extremely accurate, high definition set of data in 3D, with the LiDAR scanners sweeping the adjacent areas to a distance of 30m and the camera providing 3600 images at a rate of 15 frames per second.

“You can have up to six scanners, and we can interface with other scanners available on the market,” says Topcon Europe product specialist Andy Evans. The system operates on a plug and play basis and can be used with any vehicle − “anything with a wheel”, says Evans.

For a system that comes straight off the shelf, IP-S2 offers remarkably detailed results and a post-production suite to boot.

Once installed on the roof of a car, the system only needs to be switched on before the user can simply drive and let the IP-S2 do its work.

Further timesavings come from the fact that no preparatory arrangements are needed − the system can be used at any time on any street. “You can run down a live road, there’s no closure required,” says Evans.

The system is so accurate it can pick up dents in road signs

The system is so accurate it can pick up dents in road signs

Training is minimal, and Evans says users rarely come back to him with further questions. “I could get you data collecting within 10 minutes of discussion of what to look out for. It’s common not to hear from clients again,” he says. “The hardest part is trying to drive.”

Surveying a whole city would only require one morning of instruction, and only three days of data collection. In fact, any area can be surveyed in as long as it takes to drive through it. “You have a very rapid survey tool,” says Evans.“The key element is the speed of data collection − and useful data at that.”

The data is not just useful but plentiful. The fundamental difference in this approach to mapping and surveying is that, instead of taking a number of discrete points of data, millions of points can be recorded at once.

This leaves the user with a huge resource of data from which to distil what is needed, as well as the chance to review and analyse the data later.

“The Trimble package can analyse the full inventory needs for any road asset survey”

Eric McCuaig

Processing can be done on Topcon’s server or on a local installation. At this point, the data from each of the system’s sensors is combined, and appears as a colourful 3D model of the area mapped.

The length of processing time compared to collection time is one-to-one, says Evans. The post-production suite allows data from the scanners to be integrated with 3600 “bubble view” photographic images from the camera.

This means that accurate measurements − with no danger of human error − can be taken on-screen just by selecting points of measurement within the photographs. Those measurements can then be exported into industry standard formats.

This function offers even more timesavings, because repeat surveying trips to gather more data are unnecessary. If an area has been mapped once, simple measurements of the area surveyed can be taken from the comfort of the office.

In fact, says Evans, the system is so reliable that at one point during IP-S2’s testing, measurements taken from its data were compared to the same measurements from a cadastral map: Topcon’s measurement was found to be more accurate.

Trimble geospatial

Pothole repair costs could be considerably reduced thanks to a new package of Canadian-manufactured high-tech road mapping equipment just introduced into the UK.

Bristling with state of the art gadgets mounted on its roof and bumpers, the blue and white van, imported by geospatial mapping expert Trimble, fires up to 10,000 laser dots in front of it every second.

In the back of the van a bank of computers instantly converts the laser cloud into a 180º three-dimensional model of the road ahead, highlighting everything the highway maintenance engineer could possibly want to see.

Dents on road signs, the position and even colours of white lines and − topically − the exact shape and depth of potholes, are all captured and positioned to an accuracy of 10mm.

The van’s array of laser scanners, high-resolution cameras, rotating mirrors and global navigation satellite systems, offer highway engineers the latest cutting-edge technology in “geospatial mobile mapping data capture”.

Software allows the final picture to be created in-house

Software allows the final picture to be created in-house

The road pavement’s integrated roughness index can be automatically calculated, and its best value performance indicator quickly established.

But, right now, that council maintenance engineer − with an in-tray overflowing with pothole complaints from the public − will be less concerned with the jargon and more excited to know that the resultant computer disc on his desk can give him an accurate, instant and replayable 3D “picture” of all the surveyed road’s potholes, cracks, inundations and even minor subsidence.

This new suite of software centres on a cloud-forming LiDAR laser scanner. It is this sophisticated box of tricks that blitzes the roadscape with thousands of minute laser dots.

“Our software allows the final picture to be created in-house without resorting to expensive third party specialists to interpret it all,” says Trimble’s regional sales manager Eric McCuaig. “This package can measure and analyse the full inventory needs for any road asset survey.”

“It’s an excellent new tool offering much more than any other mapping package.”

Kieran Feighan

But, the most severe UK winter for 30 years has left councils an unprecedented legacy of over 2M potholes to be both complained about and repaired.

McCuaig claims the new mapping packages have the ability to create a millimetre accurate inventory of every pothole.

Quick follow-up surveys of a troubled road can identify the fastest degrading holes, allowing repairs to be prioritised.

“It’s an excellent new tool offering much more than any other mapping package by taking a complete picture of the road and its furniture,” says Kieran Feighan, currently evaluating the system as managing director for Dublin-based road analysis consultant Pavement Management Services.

The LiDAR scanner is the outcome of 15 years’ research, and Trimble has already sold or rented several dozen packages in Canada, the US, India and central Europe. Its introduction into the UK is being marketed through Trimble’s longterm distributor, surveying specialist Korec, which will offer either sales or hire.

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