Embracing technology to build a better world

Surveying dates back centuries and one of its original uses was to demarcate proper ty boundaries and land rights, particularly for providing the security of tenure, which allowed banks to be assured in providing bank loans against the proper ty. Today, surveying plays a much greater role, particularly in all aspects of infrastructure development and facilities maintenance. “The value of surveying in this space is enormous. It is the thread that runs through an entire project – from initial measurements to ensuring correct positioning during construction, and monitoring the asset for maintenance after completion,” says Chris Kirchhoff, partner, 5DSurvey. “Measurements form the skeleton for infrastructure development programmes. If you can’t quantify what you have, you can’t use your resources effectively and sustainably.”

Land and property rights

With this in mind, the surveying profession should have an important role to play in South Africa’s land appropriation conversation. Kirchhoff believes both the measurement of land and the understanding of property rights should be at the forefront of determining what land is available and where, who it is owned by, and whether that land is being used effectively and profitably. “The conversation would be simpler if we can reduce the risk of not knowing the value of land. If we quantify the land and its associated rights, we can identify areas that offer good potential for usage in order to better redress the wrongs of the past.” Although this does not remove the possibility of contestation, it removes some of the unknowns in the contestation process.

The power of data

While it has become easier to collect data for surveying, the quality of that data is of utmost importance. “A picture tells a thousand words, but only if it’s a good picture – it’s the difference between a professional photographer and taking a selfie on your phone,” says Kirchhoff. “You still need someone who can capture reality in a meaningful way to inform your project.” While big data may be one of the latest buzzwords, there is a growing awareness that big data is not as important as good data. “A hundred good data points are far better than 1 000 bad ones,” he stresses.


“And data is just data. It is the analysis and interpretation thereof that is so important.”

Drivers of change
The methods of capturing this data are evolving at a rapid rate as technology develops. Before Sun City was built, surveyors went to site and used tape to mark out where the buildings would stand, and a scaffolding structure was erected where the hotel would be. The idea was to allow investors to get a feel of what the view would be like from the hotel. Today, this can all be done with virtual reality goggles. An investor can walk around the building, see the view and get a feel for the space in an entirely virtual world.

“The tools have changed significantly, but the skills are the same. The crucial component is still for the surveyor to be able to position reality within the space,” says Kirchhoff.

According to Kirchhoff, there are two leading technologies currently changing the surveying space. The first is remote piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), or drones, which provide a significantly more cost-effective and efficient method of topography capturing compared to using small planes or measuring discreet points on the ground.
The second is terrestrial lidar, which is being driven by research into self-driving cars. A significant amount of research is being done into using sensors to measure the position of fixed and moving elements at ground level, in order to facilitate driverless technology. This is filtering down into the surveying space and will see mobile lidar,
which used to be a very expensive, becoming far more accessible.

“Self-driving cars are the next big driving force in the ability to capture reality and turn it into digital data that we can use effectively. That is the next big wave of

change in surveying – the ability to walk drive and capture the reality around us using multiple lasers, GPS positioning and inertia tools,” says Kirchhoff.

“One of the things that the geomatics profession must be better about is showing people how these new tools, which we’ve become so familiar with, work – so they can be used by others to make their developments more cost-effective and sustainable in order to reduce our impact on the environment for future generations,” he adds.

“By being brave enough to adopt these technologies and extend their use, we can help people design a better world.”

For more information, contact Chris Kirchhoff on +27 (0)82 773 4868

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