Geo Week News

March 28, 2012

The intersection between mobile scanning and autonomous vehicles

GTMA, Mandli Communications, Ford, MIT and others come together

WASHINGTON – As the Geospatial Transportation Mapping Association launches (membership enrollment begins May 15), it has any number of initiatives on its plate. Like many industry associations, there will be efforts toward standardization, education of and advocacy with government officials, promulgation of the association’s members’ capabilities to the public at large.

You can learn all about those efforts at the organization’s first meeting at SPAR International, April 15, in Houston, Texas.

As just one illustration of the kinds of connections the GTMA is looking to make, though, consider the coalescence of mobile laser scanning of the type that Ray Mandli, of Mandli Communications and chair of the GTMA, has been commissioned to perform for the State of Utah and the autonomous vehicle industry. How does the collection of roadway assets benefit or impact autonomous vehicle operation?

Well, no one is quite sure yet.

“I literally came upon this by accident,” said Rob Dingess, president and CEO of the GTMA, with a background in highway safety as Director of Government Relations for the American Traffic Safety Services Association. He was watching a Discovery Channel program on autonomous vehicles and there was John Leonard, a professor at MIT and co-director of the Ford-MIT Alliance. Leonard was talking about data collection and the creation of base maps that would aid autonomous vehicle operation.

You can see a trailer for that show, Earth 2050: Driven by Design, here:


“I thought, huh, that’s very interesting,” Dingess said. He reached out, started a dialogue, and then when Mandli landed his job with the state of Utah, everything clicked.

“The researchers on the autonomous programs are using similar technologies,” Dingess said, “but they’re capturing data on test tracks, and so when the Utah project came up, I came back to John and said, ‘Would you be interested in what Ray’s collecting in Utah? Would that give you different data sets that might be valuable to you?’”

What sort of data, and in what form, would be useful? Is there something that Mandli might not be collecting, but that he could collect easily, that would make the data much more valuable?

That conversation turned into a collaboration you can learn more about in a May 24 webinar, “Collecting the Road of Tomorrow – Utah DOT’s Imaging/Inventory Project and the Path to Autonomous Vehicles,” hosted by GTMA, featuring Mandli, Leonard, and James McBride, technical expert in Ford Motor Company’s Research and Advanced Engineering Department.

“We’ve already started a similar set of conversations with the video-gaming industry,” Dingess said. Again, what data would they be interested in? If companies are out there doing the collection already, how can they make sure it has the most value as possible for repurposing to other industries?

“The federal government will be collecting this kind of data through the state DOTs,” Dingess noted, “for asset collection, asset inventory. They need a heavy data set and they’ll do it no matter what other people are collecting.” Can that be turned into a broad platform of data that the public can access and repurpose?

And what about the likes of Apple, Google, Navteq, and Tom Tom, who are also doing a tremendous amount of data collection? “They only see what they see for their current need,” Dingess said, “but do they fully understand the broader side of this? The broader value of the data?”

These are the kinds of questions Dingess hopes to ask and have answered as the GTMA gets rolling as an industry association.

“If we can build the mobile data collection format in such a way that it has value across a number of platforms, it will enhance the value of the data that’s being collected,” he said, “and perhaps standardize the way the data is collected.”

See Ray Mandli, Rob Dingess, and Utah DOT asset management director Stan Burns speak at SPAR International, April 15-18, in Houston, Texas. 

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