Big data and digital twins are old news for surveyors

Geospatial has always been considered as big data and surveyors have been making forms of digital twins since computers have existed
(in fact, a map is a digital representation of reality). But the advent of technology has dramatically changed the surveying profession’s ability to create digital twins and collect data.
By Kirsten Kelly

My father was a surveyor, and it took an enormous amount of expertise to measure the position of an object on the earth and present it on a plan in relation to other objects. Conversely, it was inordinately difficult to make a mark on the surface of the earth that represented a position on a plan,”
says Chris Kirchhoff, principal at 5DGeo.

Big data
“Nowadays, it is easy to collect the geospatial position of an object – it requires very little skill. A drone (if the web is to be believed) can create a 2 GB, 1 cm resolution file called a map. Collecting big data is simple; however, extracting the required, appropriate information and organising it into manageable pieces that enable the end-users to make informed decisions requires enormous skill from surveyors.

“Surveyors constantly shift between creating an overview of data to a more detailed, granular view of the same data set. The ability to understand geospatial data – allowing for one to analyse and interpret data and make it meaningful – is Credit: Joshua Fuller a valuable skill,” he adds.

Like the centre of the wheel, a surveyor connects (spokes) with the architect, town planner, engineer and owner

Digital twin
Surveyors and geospatial professionals are a crucial connection between what is real and what is digital. All infrastructure projects start and end with a land surveyor. A digital twin is the merging of geographic information system (GIS) mapping, building information modelling (BIM) and sensors connected through the internet of things. GIS is foundational for any digital twin and BIM is more facility and infrastructure focused. Kirchhoff explains that location is central to GIS, BIM and sensors. “Without location, there is no digital twin. Surveyors convert geospatial data into geospatial information that can be trusted. If there is no trustworthy foundation to a digital twin, it will be useless. “With construction, five-dimensional modelling (adding time and cost elements to a 3D model) has the ability to create a much more intelligent twin. So instead of having a paper Gantt chart, one can look at a 3D model and visualise the cash flow as the digital twin grows over time. It also becomes immediately apparent if

there are issues with time planning. For instance, installing large sheets of glass and handling concrete via crane on the same day may cause issues,” he says.

The surveyor is the linkage between the architect, town planner and engineer, and provides spatial information needed for the design. The surveyor also works with the engineer and construction company to ensure that the structure that was designed is built in the right place and right position. Once construction is completed, the surveyor often assists the owner of the building with facility management spatial information.

“With a digital twin, there is one source of truth, and should a change be made to the building plans, all parties will be notified, so there will never be an issue of an architect working on revision three and an engineer working on revision four of a plan,” adds Kirchhoff. point of a digital twin is the ability to predict the future. “But without good foundational geospatial location data, the future might turn out to be fake news.

3D scanners, light detection and radar
(LiDAR), and drones have dramatically
changed the surveying profession’s
ability to create digital twins and
collect data

Going forward, geospatial data will increasingly be used by people outside the profession to model and predict business scenarios. I think information around where we are, our activities prior to us reaching a location, our mode of transport to that location, and our activities on reaching that location will be monetised,” he concludes.

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