The Re/Cap – Issue #14: Mapping Beetlemania + Red Rocks Emergency Response + Survey Roundtable

Re/Cappers, we fly high on this glorious Re/Cap day, leaning hard on aerial mapping. But how did we arrive here, in this dream state of such rapid, accurate, graceful, airborne capture?

Gaspard-Fexix Tournachon’s 1858 hot air balloon, that’s how (sort of). 

Monsieur Tournachon captured Paris from the skies, and in probably inspiring a future special forces training drill, carried the darkroom in his balloon thanks to dry-plate photography not yet existing.

Sadly, the photos disappeared like a croque madame after a 3-day fast, leaving James Wallace Black’s 1860 photo of Boston, Massachusetts the oldest surviving aerial capture.
Evolution in photography, mapping, and aerodynamics was slower than steadier thereafter. Of course, said evolution rocketed like NVIDIA stock after the 1903 watershed moment known as the airplane transformed the world, and how we captured it.

The Evolution of Aerial Mapping: From Balloons to Drones

What’s Cappenin’ This Week: Red Rocks Amphitheater drones on more than a ten-minute mumble rap song, beetle infestations get predicted, four companies chit chat on the survey and the map, a nature nonprofit releases an geospatial report, and a soaking wet AEC Error of the Week.

Last week on digital twinning GCs getting a suggestion, a first-century village getting preserved, algorithms reducing our jobsite rubbish, Hexagon continuing to raise the bar, and an AEC Error of the Week that’s a total pane in the butt.

Beetles Plague Alaskan Spruce Trees. A New Machine-Learning Mapping System Might Plague the Plague.

There’s a trope in many a crime movie. The cop/detective/federale/upset parent doesn’t just want to know where the villain/boss is, but where he or she is going to be.

Well, in Alaska, call the spruce beetle “El Chapo.”
Spruce beetles killed these trees in Broad Pass along the Parks Highway in Alaska.
Some of these things are not like the others. ‘Cause they’re dead. Thanks spruce beetles. Image credit Alaska Magazine.
The Alaska Division of Forestry and Fire Protection calls this bugga the “most damaging insect in Alaska’s forest.” But Simon Zweibeck of the University of Alaska Fairbanks might have a remedy – predicting where infestations may occur before they even start, by way of his machine-learning mapping system. Bug out on his algorithmic process and the wildfire ripple effect of his system below. Or, get granular in the original scientific paper, published in the ISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing.

Front Row Drone Show: Denver’s Red Rocks Amphitheater Redefining Venue Safety

If you thought ticket prices were high, check out where Esri and the City of Denver are residing to enhance public safety!
The Site Scan for ArcGIS flight planning app enabled the team to capture high-quality, consistent imagery of the site to produce accurate 3D meshes.
The Site Scan for ArcGIS flight planning app. Word also has it that you can also still count Post Malone’s tattoos from here. Image credit Esri.
Firefighters and geospatial gurus united for one colossal goal – comprehensive coverage of Red Rocks’ 700 acres, in order to forge a digital twin detailing everything from surrounding terrain to $7 water bottles. The result? A new model of public safety and first responder empowerment, regardless of emergency type. Check the setlist below courtesy of Esri itself, spanning the gear, software, process, vision, and more.

Roundtable: The Modern Line-Blurring of Survey & Mapping

It used to be that in the pure accuracy realm, mapping for GIS couldn’t hold a candle to surveying, what with the latter’s cm-to-mm demands.

Technology is closing that gap and, well, holding candles.
The data were collected in and around a car park to prove how Lidar Inertial Odometry (LIO) can be used to retain accuracy for longer periods without GNSS updates.
OxTS’ car park project, which detailed how accuracy can be retained for longer sans GNSS updates, via Lidar Inertial Odometry (LIO). Image credit OxTS/GPS World.
The exponential increase in receiver ability and accuracy has almost harmonized the two disciplines, to the point that GPS World featured a cover story “roundtable.” Enjoy a plethora of perspectives in their conversation with reps of four companies – Trimble, Hexagon, CHC Navigation, and OxTS – on remaining differences between survey and mapping, company niches, and extensive product analyses.

The Nature Conservancy Releases Fifth Annual Geospatial Report

E-I-E-I-O might be about Old Macdonald having a farm.

But without G-I-S-E-O, Ol’ Mac might lose that farm in the coming years, due to myriad causes.
Asia Pacific's 2022 impact metrics toward TNC's global 2030 goals.
TNC knows that with great ambitions, comes a need for great tech. Image credit The Nature Conservancy.
That’s because GIS and EO (Earth observation) have long been the hallmark of The Nature Conservancy. And as revealed in its 2023 annual report, the global nonprofit is now emphasizing machine learning and generative AI as complementary sidekicks. The compendium’s highlights include global EO tech-driven projects, a feature story on drones & marine ecosystems, TNC’s “Regenerative Foodscapes” strategy, and a cartography Map Spotlight on tracking mountain lions in California.


Orville Dam's crippled spillway is inspected via helicopter after it was shut off in February 2017
The spillway of California’s Oroville Dam. Why ruin a perfectly good waterslide? Image credit Paul Kitagaki Jr., AP/USA Today.
Northern California’s Oroville Dam is America’s tallest at 770 feet. And after its February 2017 spillway saga, it had almost as many pages of investigative paper thanks to enough environmental, physical, and human problems to fill a lake bed.

So, the Bernoulli principle-rich story goes: As torrential downpours blanketed the region, the main spillway’s concrete slabs began failing. Upon closer investigation, whaddya know, crater-sized erosion had occurred under the chute.

With water continuing to cascade over the damaged spillway, threatening further erosion and failure of the entire structure, the decision was made to utilize the emergency spillway for the first time in the dam’s history. So what if it hadn’t ever been tested!

Welp, its call to action resembled that of asking the elderly gentleman seated ringside to come fight peak Mike Tyson. An entire hillside eroded, and with the specter of an uncontrolled release of water looming, 188,000 residents downstream were evacuated.

No one was hurt, but many were angry, and the subsequent investigation unveiled vulnerabilities galore. Most notably, the root cause of the emergency spillway’s failure was “a mischaracterization of the foundation material during and after design.”

Ultimately, given how close this was to generational catastrophe, it instantiates technology’s role in engineering, construction, maintenance, and even response.

Reality capture harnessing modern metrology tools could have surely aided that faulty foundation. Regular LiDAR scans and photogrammetric surveys tracking every nook and cranny of the spillways would’ve caught early signs of deterioration before erosion reached Mariana Trench depths. Integrated with BIM models, virtual stress testing is a duck in water. Drone mapping and inspection = a panoramic safety net against aquatic attacks, height be dammed. And given the soggy state of affairs, a digital twin would have been an ever-dry win.

It’s a motif here, but reality capture doesn’t just yield good decisions. It makes bad ones harder to make, and past mistakes easier to observe. So if hindsight is 20/20, well, reality capture is too.

Practical Engineering’s video breakdown of the Oroville Dam

Mini Re/Caps, Podcasts, and Media

Happy capturing, and we’ll see you in next week’s Re/Cap! If you liked what you just read, a share will do the industry a built-world of good! 

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