Intergeo 2017: A surveyor’s perspective

November 1, 2017  - By
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Over the past two years, I’ve been sharing my view on land surveying over a variety of topics. One of the constant themes I try to maintain is technological improvements and how surveyors need to continue to embrace new applications and equipment.

While I will also argue that we cannot forget our surveying roots (see GPS World, March 2017), we still need to keep an eye on future technologies, means and methods to increase our productivity and profitability as well.

With this idea of peeking at the road ahead, I traveled to Berlin, Germany, to cover Intergeo 2017, an international trade show for everything geospatial.

Held every year at different venues around Germany, Intergeo is the world’s largest conference and exhibition for geodesy, geoinformation and land management. The theme of the conference this year was “We are bringing worlds together,” and based upon the number of vendors, new equipment and applications, and record breaking attendance, it was quite evident they hit their mark.

The numbers were astounding: 580 vendors from 37 countries, 18,000+ visitors from 100+ countries, all packed in six interlinking halls covering more than 325,000 square feet (7.5+ acres). When I spoke with several contemporaries who previously attended Intergeo, all warned me to be ready for the size and scale of the facility, the number of vendors, and the large spaces occupied by the big survey players. Truly thinking this rhetoric was hyperbole, I went with guarded expectations. Boy, was I in for big surprise.

Walking up to the entrance, one could sense immediately the size and enormous presence of this conference. The registration lines were easy and efficient, with plenty of entry gates and attendants to help with any information. When I entered the first hall for my initial visit, the prior warnings about the size and scale were quite true. This conference was three days long, and I knew I was going to need every minute to cover all the bases.

My account here is broken into four sections — one hall per day. Leica, NovAtel, Laser Technology and Septentrio were among the first booths I encountered on day one. Javad, ComNav, Hemisphere and Emlid were in the next hall over, and can be found below “Behind Door Number Two.” Day three found me hobnobbing with CHC Navigation, EOS and Swift Navigation; look for them under “I’ll Take Hall Three for $200, Alex.” I topped off my Intergeo experience interviewing NavCom, Tersus and Trimble in “The Big Finish (Or Is It?)”

ENTERING ANOTHER DIMENSION…

Coming into Hall 1.1, the first thing that catches one’s eye besides the vastness of the entire space is the size and depth of the Hexagon exhibit. Hexagon is the parent company of Leica, NovAtel, and several others, and all were there displaying new products and software for a multitude of geospatial needs.

I was introduced to the new Leica GS18T GNSS RTK rover (Leica Geosystems debuts GNSS RTK rover at Intergeo 2017) with many new upgrades, including being able to measure a point while the unit is not being held plumb. Yes, you read that right; the unit has an inertial measurement unit (IMU) built in that compensates for any rod tilt and corrects the location back to the bottom of the rod. Now it is possible to collect a GNSS location to places and objects no longer thought possible.

https://youtu.be/wOD7NOXv7pg

This feature has been available with the “J-Tip” from Javad for the past year: now Leica has added the capability to the GS18T.

While the demonstration took care of my skepticism of the unit, it raised different concerns with the field personnel using it. This method of “no bubble” is fine for this unit, but I can envision crews getting sloppy with conventional GNSS and total station prism rods when mixed with this new technology. This will increase the need for proper training and trust that the all rod-based equipment is used in its intended manner and procedure.

NovAtel was on hand with presentation of a full line of GPS receivers, boards and peripherals, including its GAJT line of anti-jamming receivers as well as an “interference” toolkit of analyzing software modules. With the solid product line and software, the company motto of “assured positioning” bodes well for its users.

https://youtu.be/KiJeNFStVNw

Laser Technology Inc. has provided many measurement breakthroughs over the past few decades, and its introduction of the TruPoint 200h is no exception (see Laser Technology highlights TruPoint 200h at Intergeo 2017). The company has taken the TruPoint 200 line of measuring devices and expanded its capability with phase shift and pulse diode measurements, which means the unit will determine the most accurate method based upon reflectivity. This is also paired with a data collection and reporting application on your Android smartphone to greatly expand your ability to share your data.

https://youtu.be/-_5BJ699E-M

Also at Intergeo introducing a new GNSS receiver was Septentrio, a navigation systems developer from Belgium. Septentrio was showing the Altus NR3, a lightweight multi-constellation receiver aimed at the surveying and mapping community. This new unit boasts an AIM+ system designed to monitor and protect the user’s data from jamming and spoofing so the collected data is confidently accurate.

https://youtu.be/T3Mc2C2dP90

Carlson displayed its new BRx6 multi-GNSS receiver along with the RT3 tablet data collector. The BRx6 receiver expands the Carlson family of GNSS products to include connection to most RTN systems worldwide as well as the Atlas L-band correction service that is beginning to gain many followers. Paired with the new RT3 tablet, these products continue the look, feel and service that Carlson users have enjoyed for many years.

Sokkia was there with a full complement of surveying and monitoring equipment, with the GCX3 GNSS receiver being the main focus of their new products. This unit sets the bar even higher for light and efficient GNSS receivers as it weighs only 440 grams with the batteries, yet is more capable than many similar systems on the market.

Another new GNSS receiver introduction was from Hi-Target, the iRTK-5. This new model is the one of the first units to have an OLED touchscreen on the receiver. It supports reception from all major GNSS constellations as well as the L-band correction service. Hi-Target prides itself on a new proprietary differential correction technology that analyzes the integrity of data from all sources before providing a position. This model also has a 4G LTE chipset that will communicate with almost all cellular systems worldwide.

One thing that stood out to me that differs greatly from surveying in the U.S. is the proliferation of monuments and monitoring points/devices used by surveyors throughout the world. So, the multitude of vendors offering varying kinds of targets, prisms, and survey point markets should not have shocked me, but it still did. It was quite impressive with the walls of targets and prism assemblies for many different applications along with the tables of nails, tablets, monuments and vault systems used by surveyors worldwide. Among the notables were Rothburcher Systeme and Bohnenstingl, who both offer a complete line of products beyond most surveyor’s imaginations.

The Juniper Systems booth showcased the Mesa2 rugged tablet and the Geode sub-meter GNSS receiver, both designed with efficient mapping collection in mind at an affordable price point, yet rugged enough to take on most environments. They were also highlighting their CT5 rugged smartphone and CT7G rugged tablet as solid products for any surveying and mapping data collection need.

BEHIND DOOR NUMBER TWO

After navigating the first of four conference areas, I wondered if all the remaining halls would be just as impressive. Hall 2 did not disappoint, as the exhibit spaces were just as big and remarkable as the first one.

Already a major entity within the GNSS community, Javad came to Intergeo 2017 to introduce its entry into the UAV market, the Triumph F-1. Unlike other UAVs, this unit was designed starting with the GNSS engines Javad is known for; engineers then built the flying craft around the brains of the system. It utilizes the same DNA of the Triumph-LS receiver along with ease of Javad software, all on a multi-rotor platform with hot-swappable batteries.

https://youtu.be/ROVflwH3w-k

 

Aimed for more agricultural users, ComNav introduced a lightweight GNSS receiver, the T30, and a new software guidance system compatible with most tractor configurations. This system is designed to be more efficient and precise than OEM tractor guidance as well as more customizable for the user.

https://youtu.be/L74xPOFj_zg

 

The company behind the new Atlas L-band correction service, Hemisphere GNSS, also provided introductions to several new products at Intergeo. In addition to several navigation chipsets for OEM use, they also introduced the 321+ GNSS Smart Antenna. This new receiver is multi-frequency and multi-GNSS with an Athena RTK engine and Atlas L-band global corrections to cover most positional needs. With hot-swappable batteries, this unit will run over 12 hours on two sets that are provided.

https://youtu.be/U01sY1jCyHI

EMLID may be a newcomer to the GNSS environment but they are making noise by offering new products and technology at price points for more consumers. At Intergeo, they were demonstrating the Reach RS GNSS receiver with RTK capability, the Reach GNSS module for UAV systems and the Edge module, an advanced drone controller with HDMI video input and 5.8 GHz data link. These guys are my sleeper pick for becoming a bigger player in the very near future.

Topcon’s space, which included industry partner Intel included an interactive dome using their “Immersive Point Cloud Workspace” software and 3D point cloud data to give attendees a virtual reality tour of sites previously mapped with Topcon equipment and software. This four-meter dome was a popular stop with visitors, as was the product introductions of their SmoothRide software and the MAGNET Collage desktop mass data processing software. In addition, another product showcased in conjunction with Intel was their UAV systems, led by the Sirius Pro fixed wing vehicle and the Falcon 8 multi-rotor vehicle.

The main presentation from Bentley to the surveying/GNSS community was the increased capability of their ContextCapture software module. With 3D point clouds and virtual reality systems become the norm, Bentley has upped their game with visualization tools and features within this module not found in many point cloud software packages. The biggest improvement is the ability for survey-grade data acquired through laser scanning, LiDAR and photogrammetry to be easily input and manipulated for many different uses. From BIM to roadway corridor modeling and asset management, these improvements are making the utilization of 3D data more seamless.

Something that caught my eye initially as a novelty was TinyMobileRobots, a Danish company producing a small unmanned cart for marking surfaces. They currently have three products: the TinySurveyor, the TinyLineMarker, and the TinyPreMarker. All have GNSS receivers that operate autonomously on a predetermined route and carry a paint can for marking specific points. From marking athletic fields to paint striping, they might be on to something quite unique but very cool.

I’LL TAKE HALL THREE FOR $200, ALEX

Hall 3 brought us to CHC Navigation and their full range of surveying and mapping products. Highlighted during our discussions with them was the M6, i70 and i80 GNSS receivers and the Apache 5 USV boat for hydrographic applications. It was quite evident how large of a company CHC is and how vast their global presence is so don’t be surprised to see them in North America soon.

https://youtu.be/8w9toGI1Vc0

EOS Positioning Systems is another smaller GNSS receiver producer that is targeting the mapping community with the lower entry pricing and smartphone application interfacing. From the basic L1 receiver for mapping to the multi-constellation, triple-frequency model including Atlas L-band corrections, EOS is providing an easy to use package at an affordable price point.

Another entry in the OEM board/system provider of centimeter-level accuracy systems is Swift Navigation and their Piksi line of products. From agricultural applications to autonomous vehicle positioning, they are providing navigational systems that will guide our future. As the surveying community expands its use of unmanned vehicles, I would not be surprised to see Swift at the forefront of this effort.

https://youtu.be/mVQDoUcl3jI

Another member of the Hexagon family, the Geomax display was loaded with everything imaginable for measuring and remote sensing. The main introduction for Intergeo 2017 was X-PAD Office Fusion, an all-in-one software package that allows the data from various sources to come together in one place for creating and manipulating 3D models. While I was not familiar with Geomax, it was quite evident that their customer base, while European-centric, was big and quite loyal to the brand.

https://youtu.be/ozP2zTZz2GE

A newcomer to the surveying world is Pix4D and their photo processing software. Used by many UAV enthusiasts and now surveyors, Pix4D has quickly become one of the largest providers of software for creating orthometric photos that are georeferenced to known coordinate systems and GIS databases. Most of their success has been because of ease of use and affordability versus the leading surveying software packages. They are also industry partners with Esri and DJI, so having big friends in popular places has helped their cause. Look for more great stuff from them for surveying applications in the near future.

THE BIG FINISH

As I entered Hall 4, I began to wonder if I was done with the major attractions and getting into the bit players. I was wrong.

The first stop was Geozone, who was introducing a new receiver, Falcon SF, through a collaboration with NavCom. This new unit features multi-constellation and multi-frequency collection, but also includes Starfire, a global system designed and maintained by NavCom that is a satellite-based correction signal and provides accuracy of 5 CM anywhere in the world. This correction system comes standard with a subscription when you purchase the receiver, which is unheard of in most surveying environments. This is another product I predict that will be making more of a global presence in short time.

https://youtu.be/lcBe6McR7cc

Tersus GNSS was at Intergeo to introduce many OEM navigation boards and an RTK system for surveyors and autonomous control systems. The Tersus David RTK system is designed to turn your smartphone into a high accuracy GNSS data collector. This system is highly durable and compact so it will accommodate many different mapping needs.

Another company that has global reach but not much exposure to U.S. business, South Surveying & Mapping Instruments, wouldn’t give an attendee the impression that they are a small player in the surveying world. Their exhibit space was impressive, ranging from simple theodolites to high accuracy robotic total stations, RTK GNSS receivers and fixed-wing/multi-rotor UAVs.

As lidar technology becomes more available and affordable, a stop at the Riegl booth was a must. They were introducing many new products at the Intergeo 2017 show, including the miniVUX-1DL UAV laser scanner for multi-rotor and fixed-wing aircraft. This little beauty weighs under 3 kg and fits on most scalable UAV platforms.

Another fun item on display was the VMX-2HA Dual Scanner Mobile Laser Scanner, which looks like a high-tech octopus on top of your vehicle. This unit collects 2 million measurements per second as well as 9 x 12MP camera images at various angles. As the miniaturization of technology continues, I see RIEGL continuing to lead the lidar segment well into the future.

https://youtu.be/Dewalx5iZsY

Just when I thought I was almost done, I realized that there was one major player left that I had not seen: Trimble. They were in the back of Hall 4 across almost the entire width of the conference space. Everything geomatics, remote sensing, and navigation; it was here in one of the biggest exhibition spaces at Intergeo 2017.

All the latest surveying instruments were here, including the R10 GNSS receiver and SX10 scanning total station. The new items for surveying at this show were numerous; the C3 and C5 mechanical total stations with autofocus, Catalyst software with GNSS receiver for smartphones, the T10 rugged tablet for survey and GIS applications, and OEM receiver boards (BD940-INS, BD992-INS and BD990).

Also included within the Trimble space were Nikon and Spectra Precision branded instruments as well as the latest acquisition, Applanix GNSS-aided inertial movement systems. While Trimble has grown considerably in the past decade, it seems as nothing will slow them down. If they continue to introduce great products and technology, I wouldn’t bet against them.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE…

There were three more halls, with two of them being organizations and information booths. Hall 6, however, has grown into a standalone space as “Interaerial Solutions,” Europe’s biggest UAV show. All the main players were in here (including DJI, DroneDeploy and over 150 more) so almost everything imaginable with UAVs can be found here.

During the conference, the adjacent courtyard was utilized for UAV demonstrations and product introductions. It will be interesting to see in the coming years if this segment of measurement and remote sensing will continue to expand with number of vendors/suppliers or if it will get absorbed by many of the bigger players within the geomatics community.

INTERGEO 2017, IN RETROSPECT

The common theme/message through this gathering was digitalization, “smart cities” and the evolution of the occupations that work within these environments. Intergeo is an impressive gathering of likeminded people discussing how to manage the increasing waves of data through technology, analyzation and thought processing.

While I can’t say that these types of gathering do not happen in the U.S., it is not as obvious as the annual assembly of Intergeo in Germany. The surveying community in the United States needs to hold a similar “summit” to help guide the profession toward its future goals. The one thing I have always appreciated about surveying is how it does embrace technology and forward thinking yet must rely on the past to tell us where we have been.

Digitalization is here and cities will get smarter with or without us, so it’s up to us as surveyors to keep looking forward with the times. Global measurement and navigation will be a big part of that, so let’s put our thinking caps on to see what we learn next.

Until next time, guten tag und gute gesundheit.

A big thank you also goes out to my fellow Intergeo members Ryan Gerard, Mike Joyce, and Allison Barwacz for making this a wonderful experience.

About the Author:


Tim Burch, GPS World’s co-contributing editor for survey, is director of Surveying at SPACECO Inc. in Rosemont, Illinois. He has been working as a professional land surveyor since 1985, and is the secretary, Board of Directors, National Society of Professional Surveyors.

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