Leica Airborne CityMapper - interesting solution for city mapping

It is very likely that we will never see a true SmartCity, with its idealized vision. It is likely that there are more basic needs in our contexts than thinking about the Internet of Things. Including, that what the solutions manufacturers are doing no one has asked them. The truth is that the race to position itself in a next revolution of how the industry will work in the future is there, and there is no other choice than to try to understand where things are going.

Although at the end of this article we will focus on the Leica solution - a topic on which we have had time to talk accompanied by a Paisa tray with Laura from Switzerland and Pedro from Brazil, in the framework of the Congress of the Inter-American Network of Land Registry in Bogotá- it is interesting to see that only in the case of capturing reality, large allied competitors take their own efforts. On the one hand, ESRI / AutoDesk with the search for integration of BIM / GIS environments with the solution CityEngine, Bentley / Siemens with Twin CityPlanner. In the case of Hexagon with the tool Leica CityMapper. Each one has different peculiarities, but all of them are in the battle to integrate in a true end point the flows that go from data capture, modeling, design, construction, operation and life cycle under a scheme BIM Hub level 3.

These flows have been separated for many years, but it is increasingly difficult to differentiate their separation, because that is exactly what the SmartCity approach seeks, a concept that is still under construction but of which geomatics and engineers should not look away; because its materialization in data, procedures and technology will happen in the next decade.

From the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), SmartCities and the Internet of Things

The basis of this smoke is common sense. How innovation contributes to facilitating the way in which human activities are carried out. The steam engine was an important attempt to accelerate the processes, then evolution continued until the discovery of electricity, and later the creation of computers as indispensable tools when working; These three inventions are associated with the three industrial revolutions through which recent history has passed.

Currently, the world is facing a fourth revolution based on the digital age, on the premise that technology is accessible to all and this is used to benefit the community; thus being able to use platforms of decentralization of information (Cloud / BigData), artificial intelligence (AI), biotechnology and sensors to obtain faster information on phenomena, monitoring and location of resources.

We are at a time when all professionals, from whatever their field of specialty, can use technologies as allies to promote the development of their environments. The advances and technological scope have generated important transformations of the spaces -as is the case of the infrastructures- and it is no longer a whim of many, but a demand of the inhabited context. All these advances aspire to give way to the so-called SmartCities; which are contexts that require a harmony of connections between human resources, technologies, information management, and adaptation to the environment.

-I understand, smoked closer to the science fiction of post-apocalyptic movies. But come on, it is an issue that is in the forefront where geolocation plays a very important role.

This integration of resources and tools, would allow nations and governments to make better decisions, being able to optimize their economy and way of life, each of the existing things in space will be used to form part of an infinite information cycle, to what is called the IoT (Internet of Things).

Interesting examples that I have personally seen of a SmartCity is Singapore, which has earned the qualification as one of the smartest cities in the world, characterized by having intuitive spaces, with an effort to implement and maintain constancy in surveillance and monitoring through multiple sensors, in addition to an exercise for a platform that continuously hosts the data obtained, with which you can make decisions regarding what exists, maintaining a focus on environmental and structural sustainability.

The vision of IoT not only deals with the implementation of sensors in things, or maintaining an active and isolated data collection of each tool, but also that the resources and actions focused on the establishment of SmartCities are interconnected with the processes of documentation, design, architecture - engineering - construction AEC (for its acronym in English), building information modeling (BIM) and information management mechanisms such as GIS, these relationships are what constitute the real challenge in the establishment of smart cities.

After having clear the need for interconnection of processes such as AEC + BIM + GIS, as the axis of INFORMATION MANAGEMENT, we aspire to an integration with the 3D modeling of the city. Hence the madness to simplify and make efficient modeling close to the capture of information, such as the identity of the human being, with records in the form of digital twins towards the axis of MANAGEMENT OF OPERATION, in processes such as the life cycle of products (PLM).

The example of Leica Airborne CityMapper

The use of 3D technologies, help reduce time and costs of data collection in the field, and although currently, surveying teams are those that are having adaptations and modifications to capture modeling data, it is interesting as Hexagon through Leica Geosystems have been shown as an alternative, creating a sensor that captures various types of data in an automated and integral way, with the so-called Leica Airborne CityMapper.

Data Capture

The market offers sensors adaptable to drones for image capture, infrared, accelerometers, humidity meters, sensors in the streets for the control of vehicular flow, readers of particles in the environment and others that take the information within the terrestrial space. However, it seems to us that Leica Geosystems' commitment, in its evolution as a historic developer of specialized technologies in the area of ​​remote data acquisition and processing, takes a significant step by launching the Airborne Leica CityMapper, that curiously works as an airborne hybrid sensor with features such as:

  • A bidirectional mechanical camera with a spatial resolution of 80 MP and Nadir view.
  • Four mechanical cameras with flight direction, mini RGB resolution 80 MP and a rotation angle of 45º view for taking oblique images.
  • Lidar system, repetition frequency of 700 Hzs, oblique scanner of different patterns, 40 degrees of field of vision, wave analysis and attributes in real time.

It was created for the function of mapping cities and their urban modeling, that is, it goes beyond just geolocation of elements, it can create orthophotos, point clouds, DEM and 3D models; So Hexagon with this sensor seeks to provide for its line an important tool for the development of SmartCities; helping to understand the complicated functioning of the environment and the dynamics of cities. Its complex structure encompasses the capture of a large amount of data in a single flight, an issue that does not happen with conventional remote sensors, such as earth observation satellites, GNSS, or radars.

Although, the existence of space platforms that will provide other complementary data will not be ignored; With this new sensor, it is not necessary to have to choose between products, such as an image or a point cloud, because all the information would already be on a single flight.

This airborne sensor can capture quickly and efficiently from the smallest cities, to the cities with the highest urban density, helping to avoid spending financial resources on multiple flight plans or mission plans

Treatment of the data

To process the amount of information generated by this sensor, Leica provides a system, called by them as a unified workflow platform, which encompasses the activities from the capture, data processing and visualization of the data, through a specialized software called HxGN.

They have sought that this software be simple and intuitive, through very specific steps it guides the user to generate the product they require. It involves workflows so that the products derived from the capture are generated in the fastest possible way; each product has a specific action button. Although the software offers a simple interface, technicians or analysts with experience in handling this type of data are also required.

It is possible, according to the needs, to add multiple licenses that fit the captured data. HxGN, is designed to post process the multiple data generated by the CityMapper, through its three main modules: RealWorld, RealCity and RealTerrain.

  • RealWorld: is specifically designed for projects that involve large-scale images, includes ortho generator module - ortho mosaics, point cloud information.
  • RealTerrain: is the Lidar data post-processing solution for large areas and high structural densification. Includes ortho generator module - orthomosaics, point cloud information and logging, auto calibration, and data metrics.
  • RealCity: it is the support module for the SmartCities, allowing to generate the 3D modeling of the captured structures. It includes ortho generator module - ortomosaics, point cloud information, the city modeler, the texture mapper and the 3D editor.

It is definitely a strong challenge for what Bentley Systems is looking for, with something quite similar to what we will talk about in another moment, with ContextCapture, CityMapper and the Topcon teams. It will be necessary to see how the Esri / AutoDesk duo addresses this, which will take time to integrate tools that have had their own routes such as Drone2Map, Recap, Infraworks, leaving the challenge of integrating a manufacturer of equipment with an aligned vision. Trimble also carries its alternative.

Tests and Applications

One of the sensor launch tests was carried out by the company bluesky from the United Kingdom, with an interesting aerial reconnaissance tour, who in this case used data capture through nadir and oblique images with 3D laser scanning, in several areas including London. The image simultaneously shows the before and after capture, as well as the point cloud associated with the structures present in the area. The precision of the data with respect to the original structures suggests the importance of this tool for the future of cities.

Leica has expressed that he has not finished his work with the CityMapper, since they need to develop soon the function to produce and postprocess large mosaics of orthophotos of large urbanized areas. The use of this sensor has several types of applications, within which it can be named:

  • Cadastre and Planning,
  • Quick response to emergencies,
  • Monitoring of the city's vegetation,
  • Security,
  • Modeling of vehicular traffic,
  • Virtual trips,
  • Architecture,
  • Advertising,
  • Videogames.

The implementation of technologies such as the Leica CityMaper, are indispensable for SmartCities, since it not only indicates the location of all the elements of the space, but models its structure, integrating this information with that generated from other sensors such as temperature and humidity of the environment, being able to indicate areas where the urban density has increased the temperatures or modified the climate.

Perspectives from our perspective

If there is one thing we cannot avoid, it is that technologies of this scope will change (again) and simplify the way we do things today in the photogrammetry, mapping, infrastructure design and asset management industry. Hence, the fourth revolution is not so far away, although there are not all the conditions to become widespread in all industries, but they would set the tone for issues already operating in this sensor such as robotics, transmission, storage and other uses of natural resources, such as energy. -knowing that the capture of images occurs through solar energy, and pulses emitted by the sensor in the Lidar case-. Then in the applications we see its potential in aspects viewed in SmartCities such as virtual reality, simulations as useful as the prevention of vulnerabilities and even for uses as useless but economically profitable as video games.

Despite my pragmatism of the urgency of innovations of emerging technologies, the horizon looks promising, although its acceptance by companies and professionals of Geo-engineering will grow as the solutions are comprehensive, both for the capture and modeling of Information such as controlled updating and opening for integration to end-user solutions.

See more from Leica CityMapper

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