Print Friendly, PDF & Email

7.1      Intent

This section is intended to provide the reader with an overview of the critical factors that need to be considered when introducing mobile LIDAR technology into a transportation agency.  In order to realize the full potential of this transformational shift from 2D data collection to 3D there are a number of organizational issues which will need to be addressed. This Plan will act as a guide to implementing mobile LIDAR across the entire enterprise.

Recommendation: To streamline the adoption of MLS a technology implementation should be developed.

7.2      Background

7.2.1   The 3D technology revolution

Transportation agencies in the U.S. are experiencing significant reductions in funding while at the same time being asked to improve the level of service that they are providing the travelling public. As a result, the transportation agencies need to find new ways to increase the productivity of their staff and reduce the cost of operations. This is a significant challenge for senior management as it would be in any for-profit business entity.

While the transportation agencies have been struggling to adjust to their new economic reality, the technology that supports the planning, design, construction and maintenance of highways has been undergoing transformative change. The major shift that has been taking place over the past 10 years is from a 2D, paper-based world to 3D digital technology. This is a double-edged sword that holds the promise of significant gains in efficiency and cost reductions, but at the same time will require major changes in the organization and standard operating procedures that the transportation agencies rely on as their status quo.

The three major technology drivers that are responsible for this paradigm shift are model-based highway design, automated machine guidance (AMG) and 3D laser scanning or LIDAR. All of these are related and interdependent, but the fuel for the 3D engine is 3D laser scanning. This is where the data needed to prepare the design and the required digital construction models is initially captured.

7.2.2   Mobile LIDAR

Airborne laser scanning or LIDAR has been in commercial use since the mid – 1990’s and static, tripod mounted laser scanning became commercially available shortly after the turn of the century. The first commercial mobile LIDAR system was developed in 2003, but most transportation agencies are still early in the process of adopting this powerful 3D survey technology.

Current mobile LIDAR data acquisition systems are capable of collecting up to 1 million points per second plus digital imagery (as well as other geospatial data) while driving at highway speeds. This results in highly detailed survey data being acquired without the risk of a survey crew being exposed to traffic or the need for costly lane closures.

The use of mobile LIDAR technology is a “game changer” in that it places the decision making for what to measure on the person in the office. With traditional survey methods this used to be the responsibility of the survey party chief, who often had many years of experience that he/she could rely on.

With mobile LIDAR, the point clouds are used by someone in the office to extract the required survey data and develop the 3D models of the as-found conditions. Since most mobile LIDAR scanners also collect color imagery that can be georeferenced with the point clouds, the person in the office has a highly detailed visual, 3D record of the as-found conditions. This data, if properly managed can be used for many applications over a number of years.

7.2.3   Organizational change

In order to take full advantage of mobile LIDAR technology most transportation agencies will have to modify their standard operating procedures for survey, design and procurement, at a minimum. Most organizations are designed to foster and enforce standard methods and procedures. Therefore most organizations, in general, are resistant to change.  The larger the organization, the more difficult (and potentially costly) this can be.  However, the “no change” alternative may be the most costly option in the long run.

This TRB research project (NCHRP 15-44) was intended to encourage the adoption and maximize the return on investment in mobile LIDAR technology across the U.S. By establishing a national set of Guidelines all of the transportation agencies will have access to the same knowledge base regardless of their size. This will hopefully lead to a flattening of the learning curve and more confidence in making the organizational changes needed to integrate the use of mobile LIDAR into daily workflows.

The implementation of new technology requires the support of senior management in order to encourage the staff to take the required, reasonable risks associated with modifying the standard operating procedures. Introducing a new technology requires both technical and organizational leadership – a “team of two” as some have described it.

To get the most out of a new technology often the business process has to be re-engineered. The staff involved in this process must be encouraged to take risks and be allowed to fail. It is a natural part of the transformational process. The key is to manage everyone’s expectations and to communicate.

Recommendation:  Consider re-engineering business processes and workflows to maximize the potential benefits of adopting MLS.

Managing business process reengineering is not for everyone. There is no one “size that fits all.” To increase the likelihood of success each organization must identify those individuals who tend to thrive in this kind of environment and nurture them to demonstrate the benefits of the new methodology. It will require a team effort along with the support of senior management to implement the new technology.

7.3      Strategic plan

Before discussing specific recommendations for implementing these mobile LIDAR Guidelines, the project team would like to briefly discuss the issue of developing a strategic plan for making the transition from 2D to 3D model-based workflows. The power of strategic planning comes in building consensus for how an organization will look in the future and then working back to the present.

For example, the Oregon DOT (Singh, 2008) has developed a 25 year strategic plan for engineering automation. This obviously goes well beyond the scope of this project, but we believe the use of mobile LIDAR should be a key component of an overall, long-range engineering automation plan for a transportation agency.

Another critical component that has been discussed previously is data management. In many respects a strategic plan for engineering automation in a transportation agency is all about data and its integration with many of the key workflows that support efficient operations. Transportation agencies can reap significant benefits as they become data driven, in fact, 3D data driven.

As mentioned in the previous section, business process re-engineering of survey, design and procurement workflows will be required to maximize the return on investment in mobile LIDAR, but in order to get the full ROI it needs to eventually be part of the department-wide 3D data automation strategy.

7.4      Innovation group

One strategy that is being used with success at some transportation agencies is the concept of an “innovation group”. This group’s focus and responsibility is to manage new technologies and the change associated with their introduction into an organization. Generally, this group is made up of progressive individuals from a number of departments within the transportation agency.

By placing the responsibility for evaluating and introducing new technology with an innovation group, senior management and data providers can better manage the process. For this group technology evaluation and adoption is their primary focus and responsibility. They can develop a set of standard procedures for evaluating new technologies and decide how best to introduce them into their organization considering their unique needs.

As mentioned earlier this group must have permission to fail. All experiments are not a success. This is where the support of management and the ability of the group to demonstrate the return on investment in new technologies are critical.

Recommendation: Consider forming an innovation group to manage the evaluation and introduction of new technology.

7.5      Implementing the guidelines

The successful introduction of mobile LIDAR technology into a transportation agency depends on a number of technical and organizational factors. It is not as simple as replacing field survey crews with a mobile LIDAR data collection vehicle – a well thought out plan for data acquisition, modeling and data management that is tailored to the specific needs of each transportation agency is strongly recommended as a minimum.

If an innovation or long-range planning group is available they would be the likely candidate for developing and managing this implementation plan.

Once a strategic plan has been developed one of the best methods of introducing a new technology is to use a pilot or series of relatively small demonstration projects to better understand what is involved. It might be wise to hire a quality management consultant/firm as an independent third party to advise and guide the agency on the first few projects.

Recommendation: Consider the use of pilot projects and the hiring of an independent consultant on the first few projects to advise and guide the process.

Once again it is worth mentioning the concept of the “Team of Two.” The most successful technology implementations typically involve someone who is responsible for managing the technical issues and someone who is managing the organizational side.

Once the agency begins to get comfortable with mobile LIDAR, which could take anywhere from 6 to 12 months (depending on overall the geospatial experience and integration of the agency), it may be worth investigating the idea of pre-qualifying firms who have experience in mobile LIDAR and perhaps establishing IDIQ – indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity blanket contracts to ensure that the most qualified firms are being engaged to do the work. This can lead to long term mutually beneficial relationships and standardize procurement, as well as many other project management procedures.

Recommendation: Consider the use of IDIQ contracts to pre-qualify service providers.

In order to maximize the benefits from mobile vehicle data collection programs some of the early adopter agencies are realizing that the marginal cost to collect additional information, such as pavement surface condition is very low. This points out the value of involving all of the departments within an agency that can benefit from a mobile data acquisition in the scoping and planning of a project.

Similarly, in addition to the use of multiple sensors it is important to note that it may also be cost effective to consider the use of multiple platforms for the use of laser scanning. Airborne and static laser scanning can and should be considered when the mobile LIDAR platform is not capable of providing the required data. The use of handheld scanners may apply in certain situations.

Recommendation: Consider the use of multiple sensors and platforms to maximize the return on data collection efforts.

Finally, a coordinated staff training program is essential to the success of the implementation of these Guidelines. This should involve training in data collection procedures, data post processing, 3D modeling and use of the data in various applications such as CAD and GIS. Online training which allows staff to learn at their own pace and when they have the time should be investigated. This can often be the most cost effective approach to insuring that the staff has the training they need to be successful.

Recommendation: Establish a staff training program as part of the technology adoption process.

7.6      Documenting  results

It is always a challenge to take the time to document the results of the introduction of a new technology or workflow, but this can prevent others from making the same mistakes and create an important set of “lessons learned”. A related NCHRP synthesis project (20-05 Topic 43-09:  Use of advanced geospatial tools, data, and information for DOT projects) found these valuable documents are in short supply for transportation agencies, but would be of great benefit.

Once again this brings up the issue of being allowed to fail. In fact it can be said that setbacks should be expected, even planned for.  In many cases those involved learn more from failures than when the projects “seem” to be going along smoothly.

Recommendation: When introducing new technology the early adopters must be allowed to fail.

Assuming the initial demonstration projects are documented, it is equally important to publish the results to a larger audience. This can be a challenge when the project has problems, but as discussed, others can learn from your mistakes. At the very least the project should be available within the transportation agency, if not to the general public.

Recommendation: Document and publish the results of pilot projects so that others may learn from the process.

The level of documentation will vary with the complexity of the project, but in general the more details of the process the better. The goal should be for an independent third party to be able to duplicate the procedures; similar to the level of what you would want from a data provider doing the work for you.

7.7      Workflow integration

The final step in the implementation plan will be to integrate the new mobile LIDAR technology into the daily workflow such that it becomes the new standard operating procedure for the agency. As noted previously, it may take 6 to 12 months before this new technology has been properly researched, the pilots conducted and all of the potential integration issues identified.

In the case of mobile LIDAR the survey paradigm has been changed from one where the measurement decision making was made in the field to where it is now being done in the office. Scanners are “dumb.” They collect everything they see, but do not know what they saw.  In addition instead of a single point with information the data is now in the form of a point cloud, which requires experience to manipulate.

The most important issue from a workflow integration point of view is the 3D nature of mobile LIDAR data.  Most existing workflows in a transportation agency are 2D. In order to take full advantage of mobile LIDAR data the workflows that consume that data are going to have to be re-engineered from 2D to 3D. That is not a small task, but over time this is where the return on investment will be significantly increased.

Recommendation: Be prepared to re-engineer traditional 2D workflows in order to take full advantage of the new 3D paradigm.

To date, the deliverables from many mobile LIDAR projects have been specified as being 2D. This is understandable during the transition period, but, in general, it is a waste of the potential value of 3D data and workflows that it can improve. The goal should be to move the agency workflows to intelligent 3D information-based modeling wherever possible.

7.8      Future opportunities

We are in the decade where transportation agencies will transition from 2D to 3D workflows. This will require major change in the standard operating procedures of many of the departments, but at the same time it is an opportunity to increase productivity as well as the overall quality of services that these agencies provide.

Mobile LIDAR and other related 3D data collection technologies are important components of an overall technology innovation strategy, but there are many other systems, such CAD and GIS that need to also be considered. Mobile LIDAR is a tool, much like GPS.

The recently passed Map-21 legislation provides financial incentives for the use of 3D technology. Section 1304 of the legislation authorizes up to 100 percent federal financing for projects that contain innovative technologies such as “digital 3-dimensional modeling”.

In addition, the FHWA is also promoting the use of 3D through their Every Day Counts –EDC initiative. The program is “…designed to identify and deploy innovation aimed at shortening project delivery, enhancing the safety of our roadways, and protecting the environment.” In the recently announced second round of initiatives, 3D modeling is highlighted. From the website, “As the benefits are more widely recognized, many in the U.S. highway industry will transition to 3D modeling over the traditional two-dimensional (2D) design process.”

In addition to using mobile LIDAR to collect and document the as-found conditions prior to construction it also holds promise for supporting the construction process itself. Significant reductions in the cost of maintenance and protection of traffic can be achieved through the use of mobile LIDAR versus traditional survey methods as well as in measuring quantities.

As agencies transition to 3D there is also the opportunity to move to an all digital construction environment. The availability of mobile devices such as tablet computers and smart phones will help to support this transition.

Finally the transportation agencies are in an excellent position to drive improvements in mobile LIDAR and other 3D technologies. They represent an important market segment for hardware and software vendors. Most of these technologies are in their first generation. There is significant opportunity to improve the ease of use, the level of systems integration and data interoperability.

Next Section >> Chapter 8: Currently Available Guidelines