‘Asian industry is recognising the value of suitable geospatial data’

‘Asian industry is recognising the value of suitable geospatial data’

David Jonas
David Jonas
Spatial Solutions Consultant, AAM Group

Spatial data is increasingly becoming more voluminous and complicated. AAM has developed a number of applications to analyse and present complex spatial datasets in a simple yet reliable manner. David Jonas tells us more about AAM Group’s wide offerings for the Asia Pacific region and the company’s investment plans in the region

Kindly brief us about AAM’s key products and services, especially in Asia region?
AAM is a broad spectrum spatial company, which offers a wide range of geospatial products and services throughout Asia. Project Design allows AAM to review each project’s requirements and apply the most appropriate technology to meet those requirements. Being able to offer the full breadth of survey technology and suppliers allows an independent review of each project requirements. Data acquisition includes field survey, ranging from measuring sub-millimetre accuracy in a confined industrial plant, to geodetic monitoring looking for subsidence over hundreds of kilometres. Our aerial sensors include standard frame digital imaging cameras, scanning cameras, oblique cameras and broad acre laser scanning sensors. We are particularly proud to have introduced LiDAR technology to Asia back in 1998 and still lead the way with innovative acquisition and processing techniques maximising the results from our seven LiDAR sensors. Our bathymetric LiDAR capability provides simultaneous definition of terrain and seabed in a single pass of the aircraft. This is certainly a growing area given the concern for impact of climate change on coastal communities and environments throughout Asia. The products AAM creates are acquired from a diverse range of platforms: tripods, handheld, vehicles, fixed wing aircraft, helicopters, satellites, and now UAV platforms. Again, AAM deploys sensor/platform combinations most appropriate to each project. Data processing takes this wealth of acquired data to create spatial solutions as diverse as contours, terrain surfaces, fully rendered 3D city building models, volume reports, project set-out, baseline site information, and change detection. Data Presentation recognises that spatial data is becoming more complex, more capable and more available, so AAM’s range of GIS services provide our clients with a toolbox approach to WebGIS creation, leading edge visualisation / analysis tools, data served from the cloud and Web-based 3D data visualisation.

Quality spatial data and 3D models are key elements in design and construction risk minimisation. What are the latest GIS-based tech innovations by AAM to address risk issue?
Risk increases if design and construction are undertaken on the basis of inaccurate spatial data. Design aims to find the most efficient means of imposing the new infrastructure on the current landscape. If the actual terrain shape or landuse is not as presented to the design team, then their design will necessarily be less than optimised as infrastructure will not be placed in the best locations. Earthwork contracts usually have hefty variation clauses if the contractor needs to more move or less material than tendered on. Design in mountainous regions aims to balance the cut and fill requirements so material is not left over or short. Skimping on an investment of several hundred thousand dollars in defining the current landform, often leads to multi-million dollar project overruns due to inefficient designs, moving more material or having to modify the components on-site after delivery.

Risk can also be mitigated by including informed people in the decision making process. The “trouble” with spatial data nowadays is that is becoming more complicated, more voluminous, more detailed and more relevant to a wider range of professionals. Survey technology can gather all of the necessary datasets to confirm that a new building will meet all of the various planning requirements, but all this information needs to be presented in a spatially rigorous and clear manner; it needs to be integrated with other information sources so that the correct decision can be made. AAM has developed such rigorous innovations to allow complex spatial datasets to be analysed and presented in a simple yet reliable manner. Applying extensive experience and modern resources to our understanding of the client’s objectives and applications will significantly reduce these risk issues.

Utilities, including water, telecommunications, pipelines and energy enterprisesare one of the major geospatial markets. What are the plans of AAM to tap into this market? Does AAM feel the need to educate Asian utility sector about benefits of geospatial technology?
The utility sectors mentioned are very diverse in nature and data requirements. No one single survey technology can hope to serve all these needs. AAM’s plans are to continue to invest in a broad range of survey expertise and technologies so that we can continue to meet these diverse requirements. AAM’s investment plan avoids having to make one survey technology fit every requirement.

Recently, we have seen several disasters like flood in Queensland, landslide in China and megaquake in Japan. How did AAM contribute to the recovery process?
AAM supported Queensland’s emergency service flood response by rapidly mobilising aerial survey aircraft and experienced teams to site immediately after the storms passed, in conditions which would generally not be suitable for aerial imagery capture. Rapid processing procedures were implemented and imagery posted to the Cloudfor immediate access by the authorities across the state. A range of decimated products was created to serve various user requirements. This instant delivery avoided the traditional DVD-based despatch, which was problematic when transport options were limited. We were included in planning for a bathymetric LiDAR survey following Japan’s megaquake, but the lack of available aircraft made the necessary rapid deployment impossible.

What are major challenges and opportunities for AAM in Asian market?
The opportunities for AAM are many, with a strong local demand for infrastructure and the drive for more efficient engineering solutions. Asian industry is now recognising how suitable spatial data can significantly reduce a project’s overall cost and risk profile. AAM continues to invest in the Asian market, having recently opened our international LiDAR processing centre in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. This facility reflects AAM’s commitment to the Malaysian (and wider Asian) industry. Having first conducted a LiDAR survey in Malaysia in year 2000, it is particularly pleasing for me to see AAM now employ over 100 young Malaysian graduates exporting LiDAR processing services to the wider region.

The challenge is to educate the industry to recognise “suitable” and “fit for purpose” data. There is nothing wrong with terrain data only accurate to a metre, however it should not be used for studies requiring decimetre accuracies. Highly realistic building models look fantastic and are very affordable, but they are not suitable for planning decisions where spatial accuracy and reliability is critical when reaching a planning decision which will stand up in court. Too often, the Asian market looks to use data which is cheap or handy, without having a view on the total project costs and the risks involved.

How good is the business opportunity for geospatial solution providers in marine and mining sectors? Please brief us about some of your latest projects in marine and mining sectors in Asia.
The marine sector is rapidly opening for AAM in Asia. Vessel-based marine surveys have been available for many years, and still offer a versatile and reliable solution. However, aircraft-based marine surveys are now available, by utilising a green laser in a LiDAR sensor. Bathymetric LiDAR solutions are appropriate when there are large areas of nearshore coast to define, as the aircraft can collect data many times faster and cheaper than those offered by vessel-based surveys.

The mining sector has traditionally been a huge consumer of spatial data in Europe, Northern America, Southern Africa and Australia, but has been slow to adopt such practices in Asia. The reasons for this are many and include the limited availability of geospatial data (other than field survey), the limitations imposed by climatic conditions and the availability of lower-cost manual methods. In these tight financial times, the economics of each project become more critical and the mining sector is increasingly turning to modern surveying solutions and technologies to underpin the engineering and operational aspects of the mine.

AAM offers various Web-based services like Pictometry Online, Geocortex and “data off the shelf” service. Nowadays, most of the Web-based services depend on cloud. What are AAM’s plans to tap the cloud market, especially in Asia region?
A highlight of our new offering is AAM’s leading web based service: K2Vi. This is our software package which enables users to analyse and visualise complex spatial datasets in 3D – online or desktop. K2Vi (Key to Visual insight) will consume data from a server or from the cloud and provide diverse functionality to visualise and analyse the data. Direct links to an underlying database add further attributes to the spatial data.

AAM recently hosted the First Asian Geocortex® Seminar in Kuala Lumpur, which launched a product to allow people to create their own WebGIS in a matter of hours, without the need for a room of IT personnel. Such WebGIS systems can display data served from anywhere in the world: on the client’s server or from the cloud. These enabling technologies offer users workflows and sophisticated functionality, and present project-specific websites on workstations, ipads and smartphones.

AAM is one of the leading suppliers of spatial data and GIS support services to leading governmental organisations. What are AAM’s key projects with Asian government agencies? Does AAM face any policy related hurdle, while it deals with Asian government agencies?
Some hurdles are encountered when governments prefer transactions to be made through local entities, but that is a common government policy which is not restricted to Asia. This requirement is manageable, as long as the local entity does not impose an onerous financial uplift when offering itself as the procurement entity. There may be other approaches to support local businesses, such as requiring certain percentages of local content or expenditure instead of inserting a local entity in the procurement chain.

Government policies relating to payment milestones are also restricting the uptake of high-tech spatial services in Asia. Many modern survey techniques incur substantial upfront expenses in aviation, mobilisation and setup costs and so government payment policies need to be flexible enough to meet these realistic expenses. Private enterprise is willing to offer modern, cost-effective solutions to Asian governments, but payment milestones need to better reflect the project’s cashflow.