Jan 16, 2011

Airborne Remote Sensing Companies Join Forces for Economies of Scale

Estimated Article Reading Time: 4 min.

Summary: Recently, GeoDigital International Corporation acquired Airborne 1. Both companies are engaged in airborne and LiDAR remotely sensed data acquisition. With the advances made in satellite platforms now offering higher resolution data, companies offering airborne-acquired data must make their case for relevance, cost and applications. In addition, with the demand for infrastructure developing globally in emerging markets, smaller firms may miss the opportunity unless they are able to scale their operations.Editor in Chief Joe Francica contacted GeoDigital for some insight into the acquisition.His questions were answered by Alastair N. Jenkins, president and chief executive officer of GeoDigital, and Todd A. Stennett, president of Airborne 1.

Directions Magazine (DM): Was the impetus for the merger one of scale? That is, to survive, airborne imaging companies need to grow or be forced to compete with the satellite image companies?

Alastair Jenkins (AJ)/Todd Stennett (TS): The impetus for the merger was, in part, scale – GeoDigital wanted to allow access to its advanced acquisition technology by a wider range of engineering photogrammetry, mapping and data collection clients. Airborne 1 – as a major provider of such services – has, to date, been limited primarily to aircraft acquisition. GeoDigital provides higher accuracy helicopter and ground mobile mapping at resolution and scales not achievable by satellite imaging or fixed-wing airborne operations. Satellite imaging is complementary to the engineering grade imagery and mapping data provided by high resolution LiDAR and imaging sensors.

DM: Would you see a partnership developing with the satellite data providers?

AJ/TS: GeoDigital already integrates its high resolution (centimeter level resolution and positional accuracy) data with commercial satellite imagery (decimeter to meter resolution and positional accuracy) to provide wide area context – the data sources are fully compatible and seamless.

DM: What market are you now seeking for your services? Are there still opportunities to serve the local government market or are you looking to the private sector, and for which applications and services?

AJ/TS: Commercially we directly serve engineering and infrastructure markets and support a wide range of small and large photogrammetry, mapping and data collection companies that serve these and federal, state and local governments. The agencies remain the largest mapping segment, but our work with them is generally “with and through” their existing providers who already have the relationships established, and know exactly what the customers’ unique needs are.

DM: LiDAR is obviously taking off because of affordability. What are the major target markets for LiDAR today and where do you think it will grow in the future?

AJ/TS: There is a continuum of client mapping and engineering needs that are served by satellite, airborne photogrammetry and airborne LiDAR. Today, with growing accessibility, affordability and accuracy, we are seeing the use of LiDAR evolve from planning and lower-resolution design scales to the delivery of precision engineering grade 3D models for infrastructure and related engineering projects. Primary growth will come from the need to integrate and model the world around us accurately in three dimensions and in time.

DM: What are the opportunities for your firm in international markets? What barriers to entry do you see and what services do you think you can offer?

AJ/TS: The market demand for LiDAR and digital imagery is worldwide and in the past decade Airborne 1 has provided services in over 25 countries and on all continents except Antarctica. Adoption has, to date, been greater in the USA and Europe but the trend is changing with growing adoption in Asia, South America and elsewhere. The barriers to entry are the same as existed initially in North America: awareness of capabilities, conventional wisdom and reluctance to change within what are traditionally highly regulated industries. Specifically many emerging nations highly restrict mapping and surveying in their airspace for commercial purposes – that is one area in which satellite imagery does have an advantage, essentially unrestricted air space.

Within GeoDigital we have always seen client needs as requiring a continuum of offerings from space borne acquisition to airborne and ground mobile. Furthermore we believe that in the future the key differentiators will evolve from core acquisition services to integrated client solutions, such as our Web based solution, to utility corridor management, which integrates satellite imagery with airborne LiDAR and imagery to provide a turnkey solution for regulatory compliance and asset monitoring.

As markets mature, they provide buyers with simpler processes to order, take possession of, and use the products and services of a given industry. Look at transportation, as just one example. Whether by aircraft, vessel, rail, truck or bicycle courier, the process of moving a good is generally organized, efficient and easy to order and use. Inefficient markets evolve to increase utilization of assets, bring in scale economies to reduce costs, and better serve the markets by making the process as simple and user-friendly as imaginable.

As a primary commercial partner with the U.S. federal government, we’ve aggregated the largest LiDAR data warehouse on earth. We’ve also deployed a tool that enables firms to rent, buy or sell capacity, whether LiDAR sensors, aircraft time or highly specialized skills in data processing or field operations. These types of initiatives bring efficiency to markets. This tends to expand the marketplace, as reduced operating costs and pricing add value for every dollar being spent.

We see adoption of these more efficient systems as just the next step in the evolving marketplace. The same shifts occurred with the adoption of GPS, and then with LiDAR and right now with obliques and these online initiatives. We also have within the GeoDigital group of companies some interesting and powerful applications for advanced surveillance and security, and we see growing opportunities for LiDAR and oblique imagery in those markets.