Geo Week News

December 3, 2012

Getting laser scanning beyond the surveying niche

On my way to the Trimble Dimensions conference, I got waylaid in Houston. Don’t ask how. But it ended up being something of a happy coincidence, as it meant I wound up on a flight with MDL CEO Steve Ball, and we got a chance to ride to Treasure Island together in a cab. Along the way he told me a bunch of stuff he probably shouldn’t have, and when I asked him whether we were on the record he said, “sure, but if you tell anybody, I’ll just say you must have been mistaken.”

What he made clear, though, is that he has a vision for laser scanning that goes well beyond its roots in the survey community and industry (despite the fact that he’s a surveyor himself). He’s doing everything he can do drive down prices, democratize the scanning technology and the point cloud processing, and turn 3D data capture into something for which you don’t need to hire a professional.

Or, maybe more accurately, something in which you can become a professional much more quickly. Just as Home Depot has made it much more likely I’ll buy some Azek trim board and fix my own moldy and rotten house trim (I did this last weekend – it would have been smarter to have done it in the summer), Ball has created a virtual place where you can upload data and get it processed and registered and turned into the desired deliverable without having to buy a bunch of seat licenses, etc., thereby making it much more likely someone will either collect their own data or have someone inexpensively gather it for them.

Does it make the industry more accessible? It would seem like it. Will it possibly create more laser scanning knuckleheads (the kind whom Ken Smerz both laments and says are a good thing for the industry)? Probably. Is it going to eliminate laser scanning as a business for the surveying world? Hardly. Just because Home Depot exists doesn’t mean every contractor in North America has gone out of business.

But this trend will definitely likely mean that surveyors will have to do a better job of showing their value if they want to keep winning jobs.

To learn more about how MDL is marketing its products and services, I caught up at SPAR Europe with Hannah Cotterell, from the marketing department, and we talked about the company’s vision for the future of the industry – and remote-controlled vehicles:


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