LiDAR Survey should be seen as an extension to the capabilities of traditional survey – Gurudatta Kannambadi

Gurudatta Kannambadi
Geovisualization Enthusiast, LiDAR, Remote Sensing, GIS Expert
Bengaluru, India

Q1. Please tell something about your educational and professional journey?

Hello, I am Gurudatta from Bengaluru, I am a Geovisualization enthusiast, with over 15 years of experience in the Geospatial industry. I did my graduation in Civil Engineering from BMS College of Engineering (1st batch of Visveswaraya Technological University) in the year 2002. Thereafter, I got into a marketing executive job and spent a year in marketing and sales of CAD softwares to the GIS/AEC industry. In 2003, I enrolled for a Post Graduate Diploma in Geographic Information Systems at Mysore University and thereafter I switched my profession from marketing to projects. I worked with Egis-Geoplan (formerly Groupe SCE India), a French MNC based in Bangalore for a decade and gained experience in the areas of GIS and LiDAR technology. My career hierarchy grew from the role of a GIS technician to Project Manager for LiDAR operations. I played a key role in building the LiDAR team at Egis Geoplan and managed it for almost a decade. Much of my work was focused on catering to projects in the Global market and during my stint at Egis-Geoplan, I pursued a Master of Science in Geoinformatics from Sikkim Manipal University. In 2013, I attended a Post Graduate Executive Management program at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and thereafter, I took up the role of Project Manager with Geokno India Pvt. Ltd. (a GMR group company). Here, I gained firsthand knowledge on LiDAR data collection and delivery of solutions for Indian market. In 2015, I enrolled for my 2nd Master’s degree in Geographic Information Science and Systems from the University of Salzburg. Thereafter I joined Aaron Geospatial Designs LLP, a Geospatial startup in Bangalore, as its Technical Director.

I am a member of American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS). I am also associated with IEEE’s Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society (GRSS) and IEEE’s Computer Society. In February 2020, my membership in IEEE was elevated to the senior member grade.

Q2. Why did you choose GIS and RS domain main after Civil Engineering?

I made the choice of pursuing the GIS and RS domain pretty early in my Engineering days. Those days, Y2K and the Dotcom were the trending topics and everyone was eager to capitalize on the IT boom. When I enrolled for Civil Engineering, we had around 60 students in the 1st year (by the time of graduation year, our batch was having only 15 students). As we moved to the 2nd year, many of our classmates opted for a ‘change-in-branch’ and moved towards domains that were closely linked to the IT. One can only imagine the plight of those students who were left as spectators to this migration. At this critical juncture, one of my Engineering lecturers Dr. H.B. Nagaraj, who taught us Engineering Survey, mentioned about the new electives that were being introduced in the higher semesters and gave us a glimpse about ‘GIS’ and how a Civil Engineer would be a suitable candidate to pursue this niche domain. On that day, I had made up my mind that my career will be defined by GIS & RS domain!

In our final year of Engineering, our department supported us to pursue GIS as an elective subject and BMS College of Engineering was one of the first colleges under Visveswaraya Technological University, to offer GIS as an elective subject. We were trained by experts from ISRO, NRSA, ESRI and many Governmental establishments pursuing GIS & RS based projects. Subsequently, I took up my final year Engineering project in GIS & RS and thus started my journey in this amazing domain.

Q3. Where we can do Lidar Survey and why it is more useful than regular survey?

LiDAR is an acronym for Light Detection and Ranging. It is an active remote-sensing technique which uses light in the form of a laser to measure distances (range) of objects.  

A laser emitting device illuminates the target object and its reflection is measured by a sensor. The difference in the laser return time and wavelengths are computed to deduce the distance of the target. This cycle of active remote sensing repeats itself millions of time, to generate a dense cloud of points. Each point representing the distance of its target object. This cloud of points when calibrated with devices like a Global Positioning System (GPS) and an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), generates a 3-Dimensional preview of the target site.

LiDAR surveys are broadly classified based on the platform they use for the survey. When the survey is carried out by an aircraft it is called Aerial LiDAR Survey (ALS), when it is carried out by a moving vehicle on ground, it is called Mobile LiDAR Survey (MLS) and when it is carried out by mounting on a static tripod, it is called Terrestrial LiDAR Survey (TLS). There is another approach to survey the coastline and shallow water areas, known as ‘bathymetric LiDAR’ and it makes use of a different laser wavelength.

Aerial LiDAR surveys are carried out when the study area is huge (hundreds of square kilometer). The dense point clouds are mostly used for generation of digital terrain models, contours, and surface models etc. which support projects involving – Irrigation, Hydrology, Forestry, and Urban Planning etc.

Mobile LiDAR surveys cater to the survey of transport corridors such as roads and railways. They enable in providing accurate 3D representation of the corridor and thus facilitate in Engineering tasks such as – asset mapping, cross-sectioning, profile-sectioning and 3D modeling of transport corridors.

Terrestrial LiDAR is mostly used to survey complex machinery and thereby generate their detailed 3D model. TLS are also used for architectural detailing and modeling of buildings & heritage structures.

LiDAR being an active Remote Sensing method, can be performed any time of the day or night. A LiDAR point cloud, is a collection of millions of points representing the study area, this considerably improves the accuracy of the survey and also the speed of data collection. As a LiDAR setup can be mounted on multiple platforms, it drastically improves the safety of its operators especially when surveying dangerous areas that human surveyors may not normally be able to access. All these factors make LiDAR one of the most versatile surveying methods available.

In order to appreciate the capabilities and even identify the limitations of a LiDAR survey, one has to be quite knowledgeable in the traditional / regular survey method. Thus, the whole cycle of doing LiDAR Survey should be seen as an extension to the capabilities of traditional survey.

Q4. You have a vast experience in Lidar. Please share something about Mobile Lidar?

As mentioned earlier, a Mobile LiDAR survey caters to the survey of transport corridors which includes roads, railways and in some cases canals. In my career, I have been quite lucky to have been part of Mobile LiDAR projects that catered to survey of transport corridors within India and across the globe. Most of the projects were focused on generation of ‘as-built’ maps of transport corridors. An as-built map as the name suggests is a detailed representation of every feature located ‘as-built’ along a transport corridor. This information is critical for projects involving: inventory assessment, highway engineering and corridor expansion projects.

Mobile LiDAR surveys are performed by mounting the LiDAR system on a vehicle which is driven along the transport corridor. The MLS technology can survey the corridor even when the vehicle is driven at regular speed limits. This makes the whole cycle of survey faster without losing out on the accuracy.

The driverless car technology in many ways uses a similar concept to that of a mobile LiDAR Survey.  Both make use of a LiDAR system to sense the area around. The exception being, MLS survey has a human interface to access the LiDAR data from the time of collection to post process. Whereas a Driverless car technology uses advanced computers to interpret the LiDAR surveyed data and providing critical driving instructions to the car.

Q5. Which one skill do you like most about yourself?

‘Writing’ has been one of my foremost skills. Especially writing linked to project proposals and process documentation. Throughout my career I have found myself being part of teams involved in preparing project proposals and drafting technical methodologies.

My wife who is specialized in Instructional Designing keeps recommending me to pick up technical writing as a backup career!

Q6. What are your hobbies? Do you read to update yourself?

Reading is my core hobby. ‘Read – Reflect – Experiment’ has been my mantra over the years.

I am a ‘bibliophile’ and boast a collection of over 2,500 books in my library. Throughout my career, my reading habit has always rubbed on to my interactions with teams. Ideas grasped while reading a book have been brainstormed with team members and implemented where feasible. I have also gifted books to team members and on occasions to clients in India and abroad. It’s always helpful to have the company of a writer spouse, while introspecting the learnings from reading various books.

Besides reading, off-late I have been a great fan of taking MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses).  The lockdown situation has allowed me to make sufficient time to pursue MOOCs. This has helped me to focus on specific topics and to deepen my understanding of the same.

Q7. How do you motivate yourself at every morning?

Each morning, I run through my ‘to-do’ list for the day and pace my work accordingly. The to-do list is a sliced down version of my yearly targets. It includes activities ranging from reading books to pursuing add-on skills. Such a list helps me to evaluate my progression towards accomplishment of my yearly targets.

Q8. What is the importance of Geospatial knowledge for GIS student?

We are living in the times, wherein everyone with a smart-phone is a user of Geospatial technology. Smartphones with maps, provide variety of inputs based on Geospatial technology. The mobile apps like – Swiggy, Uber and Ola are all an implementation of Geospatial enabled technology.

The 76th paragraph of the resolution adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations as part of the 2030 agenda of Sustainable development, has laid emphasis on the accumulation of Geospatial Information for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In 2018, Wikibrands Digital Periscope study and surveys has ranked Geospatial Technology amongst the 30 emerging technologies that will impact culture, market place and society the most over the next decade.

In the present-day scenario of the covid-19 pandemic, newspapers across the globe are reporting about the usage of Geospatial technology to monitor the virus spread. Institutions like Johns Hopkins University are maintaining a Geospatial enabled ‘Dashboard’ that provides a near to live track of the covid-19 cases across the globe.

In such a scenario, it is of utmost importance for a GIS student to develop Geospatial awareness and always be learning more about the binding technologies that extend its capabilities.

Q9. Where do you want to see yourself after 10 years?

A key focus in my recent career phase has been on promoting Geospatial knowledge to the budding professional fraternity and student community. I foresee in further elaborating this outreach, coupled with a professional emphasis on the usage of Geospatial technology towards the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) prescribed by the United Nations.

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