Data collection key to software developments
First publishedin World Highways
Changes to the regulations on utility works in the UK mean that longer notice periods have to be given, with new software and hardware tools making planning easier for contractors and clients
The collection and handling of data are key technology drivers in the software sector
New methods of data collection and manipulation are driving significant developments in software at present. The latest technology allows designers and engineers to collect, store and manipulate ever larger amounts of data. Growing use of mobile field equipment for both data collection and field management is driving interactive systems.
And in an interview this month Autodesk
senior vice-president for the construction and architecture sector, Jay Bhatt told World Highways that over the last year the technology and use of laser scan data collection had taken an exponential leap forwards.
Along with the equally powerful tool of photogrammetry, measuring objects and distances by stereoscopic photography, Bhatt believes this technology will eventually largely displace conventional surveying technology for much day to day construction.
AutoDesk software development is focussing on improving data input to feed directly into engineering design and modelling tools. The 2011 versions of its software suites, including the underlying design platform of AutoCAD and programs like Civil 3D for road modelling on top, have all introduced new capacities to display and analyse point cloud data.
"Looking around it is clear that laser scanning is now being used for a huge variety of applications ranging from street level mapping from a moving vehicle to high accuracy 3D height models from a plane," commented Tony Rogers, co-founder and director of British firm Pointools
, one of the leading specialists in the field.
For laser scanning a key question is handling the vast amount data in the tens or even hundreds of millions of points which make up a "cloud" from a scan, and even more so as brightness and other attributes are added to the position data held by each point.
Pointools has just updated both its range of software to 64bit capacity therefore. Autodesk has done the same. Computers using the latest 64bit operating systems can use virtually unlimited RAM, compared to just over a 3Gigabyte limit in 32bit systems, and therefore data intensive operations can go much faster.
The central program from Pointools is a high performance visualisation software, View Pro, and it also has tools for point cloud editing in layers, data segmentation together with simple RGB re-colouring and easy noise and obstruction cleaning. It also offers Pointools 4 Rhino, and Pointools Model.
The programs allows a variety of effects, including: lighting effects, data colouring and recolouring options, data mark-up and tagging, effective data cleaning tools and fly-through creation.
The layer technology in the Pointools Edit features helps speed up editing point cloud data. Layers can be used to segment, clean and re-colour the huge data files created by laser scanning instruments. Colour errors can also be corrected using the 3D brush tool and layers can be locked for precise masking control. There is also a flexible tool kit for cleaning of road noise or obstructions.
Because of the speed and capacity of its cloud handling and visualisation software the company's Vortex "engine" was recently embedded in Bentley
Systems' wide range of CAD and design software.
Data from aerial surveys can now be logged in greater detail and more efficiently using the latest software technology on the market
Pointools has also recently been taken on by Topcon, one of the big three machine control equipment makers, which from March has been offering the products throughout Europe. It will "complement and showcase the outstanding data quality produced by our GLS laser scanners," said Andrew Evans, Topcon Europe product specialist.
Survey firms meantime offer ever more sophistication in data collection on ground and airborne survey.
Typical is the recent release, from Topcon's European rival Leica Geosystems for airborne LIDAR surveys, of a new version of its IPAS Freebird. The software will reduce costs by up to 25% says Leica because it eliminates the need for a continuous lock on the global navigation positioning satellites (GNSS) that provide the reference data for laser scans, and this allows tighter turns between flight lines.
"Previously, GNSS-IMU processing required separate steps for GNSS trajectory and IMU processing," said the firm but those steps are combined into one by using GNSS raw measurements and tightly coupled GNSS-IMU processing." Ground based technology for data capture is also jumping forwards. One system now with worldwide application is the Anglo-German vehicle-mounted mobile laser mapper, StreetMapper 360 specifically designed for the rapid 3D mapping of highways, infrastructure and buildings using vehicle mounted lasers.
The vehicles supplied by UK-based 3D Laser Mapping, travel at normal road speeds, carrying out a full 360 degree scan at high precision to a range of 300m. The scan captures details along the corridor including barriers, gulleys and overhead wires, from which surveyors can create highly accurate 3D computer models for new scheme planning, maintenance, wide load route assessment and post-incident investigations.
In Canada, Calgary-based Airborne Imaging, a multidisciplinary geospatial data provider has been testing the system for mobile mapping on Canada's long network of highways, with field trials for Alberta province's Infrastructure and Transportation (INFTRA) service.
Efficient data capture gives a key to efficient project handling
"Using StreetMapper 360 we were able to survey a stretch of Highway 53 to the east of Ponoka in just 15 minutes," commented Marhlen Caverhill, Manager Business Development, of Airborne Imaging. "The resulting data was independently cross checked against various points along the vehicles trajectory and processed to produce more than 5 million georeferenced points. From this point cloud data we can create a number of different products and databases included digital terrain models (DTMs), highways surveys, road geometry and asset management In China the company Tecdawn HT and partners Eastdawn used the system for public safety and security surveys ahead of the recent 11th National Games of the Peoples Republic of China. Company president Dr Liang Tang said that it will, "...revolutionise the surveying element of projects across China." Alongside laser data is the growing capacity of field data collection and interchange as mobile networks grow in capability and handheld devices become more powerful and rugged. Inspecting and logging data, and then organising it in the back office has been growing more and more sophisticated.
Specialists like Exor in the UK and its local authority systems rivals, Confirm, now a Pitney Bowes product, and Mayrise, have long offered integrated modular packages as complete systems for country councils, transport departments and other client bodies to tailor to their purposes, built around a central database system for logging and recording roads, bridges and structures, other assets and properties, and then using that information for tracking road condition and inspection, property rights, pavement management, repair schedules, lighting, accident data collection and collation with road features and many other functions.
Confirm for example has the capacity to manage some 45 different services and its most recent release, 9.5 offers over 150 different options, of which 30-60 might be used by any particular client.
All three have developed mobile data collection and reporting systems, allowing field location fixing with GPS and mobile communication too and this area is one driver for a potential expansion from the UK market as well as countries like Australia and Canada (with similar standards) where they have been taken up, into the US market.
Meanwhile Finnish software house DynaRoad has improved usability features and reworked the user interface for the latest 5.1 version of its haul-and-fill calculation and scheduling software for road and rail. It is still, claims the firm, the only one on the market to combine traditional scheduling, developing map views and mass haul. The firm is an independent specialist not, as mistakenly described in last autumn's supplement, a part of Bentley Systems.
Bentley System's purchase of Exor is already contributing to a major drive to develop system for state departments of transportation, which favour Bentley for a wide range of design tools.
But others have their eye on the market too. The largest of the GIS system providers, ESRI recently announced it is working on a, "...comprehensive highway data maintenance and linear referencing solution."
To be released late this year it is aimed at highway departments, state departments of transportation, and national roadway administrations it said, "It will provide integrated tools and functionality to allow agencies to maintain highway geometry, associated linear referencing systems, and complex roadway features. The highway data maintenance and linear referencing solution will use the newly updated ESRI transportation data model. Designed to support the full agency workflow, with desktop, server, and mobile versions, it will cope with the various methods highway agencies collect, edit, and maintain roadway information. For US-based state departments of transportation, a highway performance monitoring system (HPMS) reporting module will be included."
Hand-held devices provide vital tools for on-site staff
New forms of software in the same maintenance sector are appearing too. Lightsout Computer Services in the UK has developed a management and tracking coordination tools for clients or contractors concerned with utilities replacement and road repair. Using GPS enabled handheld tools work gangs are controlled and monitored against a central jobs database. The tools allow them to "clock in" directly at the job site rather than wasting time assembling at a depot and for task progress to be monitored in real time with locations, text reports and photographs at start and finish.
"This kind of work is a sequence of different tasks, excavation, pipelaying, backfilling, reinstatement, and many others that previously would be programmed with no knowledge of the actual time they took on site without a major inspection effort" said Tim Finch, a civil engineer and one of the original system developers. Now if work finishes early or late, different crews are assigned as appropriate and as available, as work is completed, rather than time being wasted or overlapped.
"The system also manages the contract details and calculates the cost and time of work" said Finch. He says it is being used by a major contractor in London to coordinate works for a long term electricity cable replacement contract for Electricity de France in London and Birmingham City Council is also using it.
The client EDF Energy Networks meanwhile has invested a Mayrise asset tracking system to help it comply with the latest British legislation which requires stringent control of work within London,
The new London Permit Scheme for Road Works and Street Works (known as LoPS). Mayrise's system for street works helps identify streets requiring permits and automates the application for utilities, which must now provide advanced notice of intended works, up to three months in the case of major works, and comply with specific conditions set by the transport authority. It also has reporting and financial monitoring functionality.