Leveraging technology and maintaining strong and healthy partnerships are two important pillars at Millennium Geospatial. They serve a practical purpose, but it also speaks to what’s important to our team and why we started this company in the first place.
We recently had a chance to interview Zach Nienow from Ayres Associates about the industry and the important space the services they provide occupy within the industry. This interview originally appeared in our email newsletter. If you’re not currently receiving our quarterly newsletter, click here to join the list!
Kevin Maes: You’ve been in this industry for over 15 years. What’s different about the industry now than when you started?
Zach Nienow: When I started in the geospatial industry, GPS technology was coming of age. I remember sitting in the field for 30 minutes waiting to get a fix on three different satellites. Now with GNSS technology, we can pick up 20+ satellites within just a couple minutes. This means higher accuracy positions more quickly and more reliably. This has fundamentally improved the geospatial field across all disciplines. From a remote sensing standpoint, it was a short 10 years ago that digital mapping cameras were coming into use commercially. Film cameras were the primary technology well into the 1990s and early 2000s. Film cameras typically captured approximately a square mile per exposure at 12-inch-pixel resolution. Today, digital cameras can capture 12-inch imagery across a 4 mile swath in a single flight line. This increased efficiency plus improved image quality has led to the wide adoption of high-resolution orthoimagery in Wisconsin and across the country. This imagery is now used in all fields, including utilities, real estate, emergency response, business analytics, and all levels of government.
KM: Can you talk more about geospatial mapping solutions using digital aerial imagery and lidar data? In your experience, who/what types of companies/projects benefit from this particular GIS investment?
ZN: Speaking of aerial imagery, it’s amazing to see what can be acquired cost-effectively these days. In Wisconsin, we are now acquiring 3-inch-pixel leaf-off aerial imagery across large regions of the state. Five years ago, this would have been considered impractical due to the size of the data and cost of collection and processing. And then you have UAS technology with an array of image-based systems that work quite well for smaller project areas. In fact, UAS can now be outfitted with metric cameras, which opens up the possibility of doing highly accurate image collection and then mapping from the data. UAS imagery systems are capable of capturing down to 1-centimeter pixel resolution, which means you can see and measure all pole attachments and strands for example.
Lidar technology has probably seen even greater advancement in the last 15 years. The fixed wing systems of today are capable of collecting 30 points per square meter on a countywide basis. UAS lidar systems, such as the one we have at Ayres, are capable of 100 PPSM over smaller areas. The accuracy and level of detail in these point clouds is incredible. More importantly it allows for the extraction of utility features that can be distilled down into base maps that include impervious surfaces, pole locations, pole attachments, 3D building models that can be used all the way from the planning process through engineering and construction phases, and for as-built asset management.
KM: Do you think geospatial technologies will help companies get fiber deeper into their networks to support 5G?
ZN: I see geospatial technologies supporting adoption of 5G already. Think of the aging electric distribution networks across the country. To be able to efficiently and effectively capture and extract an accurate geodatabase of your existing facilities becomes very important when adapting to new technology. There is the challenge of maintaining existing networks. And then there’s also the challenge of permitting for 5G facilities, the engineering aspects, and construction tracking. For engineering, you have to quickly assess the network, determine best locations for 5G facilities, and then do the engineering and construction. Geospatial data and resulting base mapping can help by modeling line of sight distances, terrain and building obstructions, and ultimately best-case positioning for 5G facilities.
KM: What’s been the biggest surprise to you related to the industry?
ZN: The adoption rate of geospatial technology in the telecom industry. It’s been amazing to see how the telecom industry has embraced geospatial as a means of being able to meet the high demand for increased service speeds and new tech like 5G. I can’t imagine building thousands of miles of fiber these days without tapping into the power of geospatial data and analytics at some level. I think we will also see the adoption continue to increase as the regulatory requirements and demand for services in urban areas increase, but also across the vast rural areas of our country that are currently underserved.
KM: What do you think the industry will look like in 5 years?
ZN: Good question. I would like to see electric utilities and telecom service providers move toward having really solid, up-to-date geospatial databases of their facilities – then drill down to capture pole information, points of attachment, and strands – and then do pole analysis and analytics using geospatial tech and advanced software. This level of data would be well served for maintenance of existing infrastructure, upgrades to the networks, and joint use permitting that is accurate and systematic. The technologies exist today to achieve these goals. Yet there is a lot of work ahead to collect all the data, create the network, and keep it current. I look forward to these challenges and the resulting successes over the next five years.
Zach joined Ayres in 2011 and currently serves as a senior project manager in the Geospatial Division. His team has expertise in highly accurate geospatial mapping solutions using digital aerial imagery and lidar-derived data. Common applications include energy corridor mapping, distribution network mapping, county and statewide orthoimagery and lidar, and planimetric mapping for engineering, highway design, and environmental monitoring.