Geo Week News

April 22, 2014

SPAR 2014 Wrap-Up

Now that SPAR 2014 is in the books, I thought we’d take a look at what I found to be the most interesting things from a very full week. In fact, it’s getting so I need a couple of days off to recover after these conventions (not that I actually did, BTW!). Between breakfast meetings, 11 hours of exhibition booth management, as many presentations as I can sneak in, dinner meetings, and the occasional night cap, I think I averaged 18-20 hours per day “on the clock”. Good thing I like what I do…

So, here are (in no particular order) my top five from SPAR 2014:

Reality Computing – This is a new term that Autodesk is coining to go along with their Reality Capture division that was launched with their purchase of Alice Labs some 3 years ago. The idea is that computing that uses captured reality as its data (be that laser scanned, photographed, or whatever) is Reality Computing. I got the idea that Autodesk hopes to use the term to redirect fields outside of those that traditionally use mapping, to think of data as spatial and to organize around this theme. I really like this concept and hope that it takes off. Nothing would make me happier than to see spatial datasets become the backbone of all other data structures. It opens a world of opportunities for simplifying the transfer of knowledge; think Lego instructions versus an Army manual and you get the idea!  

Back to Houston – This year was the last scheduled for the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. What was interesting about this fact to me was the divide in the responses when it was mentioned and where the dividing line landed. In general the exhibitors and especially the manufacturers were looking forward to getting back to Houston. The attendees did not seem as excited about the move. To be fair, the attendees that least liked the Colorado location and most enjoy Houston may not have been at the Broadmoor in order to register their opinion but I took the split as more of a sign that the SPAR Conference is starting to have a greater range when it comes to what it is that we want to get out of the conference. Manufacturers want sales, and in the early days of SPAR most of the attendees were there looking for info about the products and determine what to buy (who for service or what type/brand of hardware). As more of the attendees show up owning hardware there is a larger crowd looking for methodology upgrades and solutions to particular workflow problems (and to commiserate with others in similar positions). To be sure, these are represented among many manufacturers and many other exhibitors, but it selling a <$5000 piece of software isn’t quite the same as a $100k piece of hardware. Another point that was brought to my attention was how many representatives came from each company. The general feeling was that the same companies that sent 1 to 2 attendees to Colorado typically sent 4 to 5 to shows in Houston as the travel costs were lower. Given how packed the schedule is I think you have to send more than one person if you want to be able to attend the best of the best much less the top presenters in each track. I’ll be interested to see what the attendee demographics and numbers look like next year. As for my opinion on the move, I think returning to Houston is a good homecoming of sorts for the conference. However, staying in the most saturated market every year will also stunt growth. I’d really like to see a rotating schedule with Houston every other year and the intervening years moving between a Western US city and an Eastern US city, like Nashville for an off the cuff example! 

17 New Exhibitors – Whatever the attendees may think about each location, the exhibitor list is definitely on the rise. We had 17 new exhibitors this year. A couple were traditional exhibitors from ILMF/ELMF that made the leap to SPAR but there were some new to the industry and some brand new, period! New Spin probably made one of the biggest first impressions with a large booth and a lot of staff to show off their new point cloud viewing engine/service. I was particularly interested to see Point Grey Research exhibiting as many of us have used their cameras due to their plug and play compatibility and the plethora of sizes and capabilities available. The last of the new I’d like to mention is the media. There seems to be a great reordering and rebranding of the media titles that have traditionally covered the technologies that are represented at SPAR. These new titles seem much less interested in explaining the tech details to the service providers than in demonstrating business use cases to executives and decision makers in particular industries (Construction, Facility Management, Compliance, etc.). I think this bodes well for the industry at large.    

UAVs – They are still illegal for commercial use in most of the US. There were not many presentations that focused upon their use either. However, they are being used around the world and most any exhibitor that had one displayed it in their booth. The pitch I received was that it was only a matter of time and that “they” intended to be ready as soon as there was a legal way to use them in business. It’s hard to invest in a system in which you cannot legally achieve an ROI, but you can’t cede an entire industry to companies with non-USA offices either. This is still an interesting subset of the market to watch.  

“Lower” Solutions – I mentioned this in my last post and (full disclosure) I knew that my colleague (Domenick Alario) was presenting on this topic so I was certain it would come up but even I was surprised by its ubiquity. The theory goes something like this, “The market has been driven by the best and brightest from the beginning (fastest, most accurate, longest range, etc.) but we are now filling in the gaps left by this concentration on performance over cost”. I continually heard conversations focused on cost based performance, essentially applications in which lower performance was acceptable and lower cost was mandatory. To this end we also saw moves by some manufacturers. Leica announced the P15, a lower priced/lower performance version of the P20 laser scanner. Surphaser not only announced a similar move with its 50HSX laser scanner but that they are opening a new manufacturing facility in the US in order to launch more products that are aimed at this “Lower” solutions market.  


Bonus! – Do not say yes to live video interviews during happy hour without at least thinking about what you are going to say before they hit record! 


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