Beware the Technology Vortex

by Bryan Merritt

3 years and 4 months ago

Tagslaser scanning, surveying, technology, uas

The most recent edition of Florida Surveyor magazine featured two articles that caught my attention. One article, by J.R. Smith, was titled “The Tellurometer” and focused on a technology introduced in 1954. Able to measure thousands of miles, the tellurometer changed the surveying profession from triangulation to trilateration. The second article, by Joseph V.R. Paiva, was titled “New Surveyor’s Tool Puts Everything Up in the Air.” It focused on a modern technological innovation, the small unmanned airborne system (sUAS), a remote-controlled system that can fly in most weather conditions and obtain mapping-grade data.

It seems like yesterday that the surveying profession brought in GPS and then laser scanners; now, it’s unmanned systems. Where does it stop? Where do we stop?

All of this technology allows us to provide better data safer and more quickly, but it comes with a price. The cost of hardware, software and time is not inconsequential. Firms have to invest in training their staff and be able to withstand reduced productivity while individuals learn the new technology.

We assume that younger professionals are very good at adapting to and adopting new technology because they’re used to it. But as I find myself spinning in the technology vortex, I can’t help but wonder whether they might be caught in a vortex as well. Is the younger generation using high-end technology, like laser scanners, to create solutions for clients when a 6-foot ruler is all that is needed?

I find myself constantly reminding my staff that sometimes it is better to use a tape measure than a scanner, a total station rather than a GPS unit and a field book rather than a data collector. Maybe this comes from experience, or maybe I’m just old school. Whatever the case, we have to remember technology is just a tool.

Technology has its place, but we must try not to get caught in the technology vortex. Making sure we provide the right solution for clients is the bottom line.

Bryan Merritt

Bryan Merritt is a professional land surveyor licensed in New York and Florida with more than 25 years of experience in the geospatial industry. He is the corporate manager for Erdman Anthony’s Geospatial Services Group and also serves as vice president of the U.S. Institute of Building Documentation (USIBD), a nonprofit organization that brings together an extensive cross-section of stakeholders who share a passion to further excellence in the building documentation industry with regard to standards and other matters.


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On February 08, 2013 Joseph Evans wrote:

I can understand your perspective—and perhaps reluctance—to the “technology vortex”, Bryan, as I am one of those younger professionals you described who adapt and adopt new technologies as a major function of my job and I find myself in this exact predicament on almost a daily basis with my own supervisors.

Taking a queue from the relationship between my supervisors and I, I would suggest that other bosses don’t necessarily need to know exactly how to use every single new technological advancement that gets put on the market—that’s my job. Instead I believe it’s better to maintain a healthy awareness what is available or soon-to-be-available, and an understanding of its capabilities and limitations—also another aspect to a “young tech professional’s duties—weighed against what you correctly identified as the most important consideration—providing the right solution for clients.

As per your question of whether “the younger generation is using high-end technology, like laser scanners, to create solutions for clients when a 6-foot ruler is all that is needed?”, the answer is “yes.”  I’ll finish up with a solid example as to why and it’s not just because I like to ride that “technology vortex” like some sort of modern-day Pecos Bill, it’s because I understand that “robust data” can saturate a project and create brand new avenues of communication, engagement, collaboration, and revenue that just weren’t considered (or even possible) at the onset. I agree that while sometimes it may be “overkill” to laser-scan a room instead of just using a tape measure if all your client wants to do is measure the doors, by utilizing something like (FARO WebShare if anyone’s interested), I can take that robust dataset, still make the accurate measurements that the client wants, create the ability for them to go back whenever they want to make as many more measurements as they want, all the while taking slightly more time to gather that data, depending. So that door-measuring project just morphed into a phase one in which the client wants to replace the whole joice, and wouldn’t it be nice if they had a way of seeing new designs quickly, accurately, and efficiently? Or to track those changes over time? You bet! 

My example, while somewhat fanciful, actually happens more often than not to us, but it’s only possible because I ride that technology vortex, channel all my research to my supervisors, and maintain a great trust-relationship between everyone.

On February 12, 2013 Bryan Merritt, LS/PSM LEED Green Assoc. wrote:

Thank you Mr. Evans for your comments. I am far from reluctant to the technology vortex (I had my firm buy one of the original Cyrax scanners, SN#24). I think we need to adapt more of it. You have shown by using the technology, you have been able to expand your projects. Your clients have been well educated, probably by you or your firm, which is most challenging. We need to keep pushing, and I hope you keep pushing to make sure our professions keep moving!