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Laser scanning advances Team Pete's capabilities
Jan 13th, 2016
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1/13/2016 - PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The Air Force is always on the edge of innovation and a pioneer in the technological realm, which is showcased by the 21st Civil Engineer Squadron execution support office at Peterson Air Force Base.

The execution support office works with geographic information systems to collect billions of data points at site surveys and provide leadership with information to make decisions about the maintenance and upgrades of base infrastructure.

To do this, the office uses a key piece of equipment called a Leica C10 High Definition Survey Instrument, which is a 3-D laser scanning device that allows users to collect data much more efficiently than old techniques. It is one of only two in the Air Force - the other is at Nellis AFB, Nevada.

"It's increasing our mission capabilities by 30 percent in time, manpower and data collected," said Staff Sgt. Edward Halper, 21st CES engineering journeyman. "We went from collecting 100 points in a few hours to over 14 or 15 billion points in the same amount of time."

While the laser scanner exponentially increased the amount of data able to be collected, it also simplified it. Halper said the device essentially sends out a laser to take measurements, which is represented as a point and then gets compiled into a point cloud.

"Once we get the point cloud, we use that to update our mapping systems, floor plans or anything the engineers need - with sub centimeter accuracy," he said.

Other equipment used by the execution support office includes GPS, total stations and auto levels, Halper said. The total station is an electronic distance meter used to read slope distances from the instrument to a specific point, while the auto level is an optical device that establishes a more accurate elevation by checking points on a horizontal plane.

All of the equipment used at Peterson to collect data acts as a sort of failsafe by catching information the human eye may have missed, he said. In the past, when a single point was collected at a time and site surveys took days or even weeks to complete, it was too simple to miss something covered by grass or hidden. The technology of the laser scanner catches everything and can be viewed later using the computer software - no returning to the survey site necessary.

"We get all that information and if I have to go back out to the site, I walk over to the computer and walk through it virtually," he said.

Halper said the Air Force started using laser scanning technology about eight years ago and has been paving the way in the industry ever since. The career field is quickly evolving and making leaps and bounds, which drives the cost of technology down and results in it being used more in the civilian world.

"We've had companies actually come to us to ask ... 'how do you guys do this? Because we designed it for this and you're using it the other way,'" Halper said. "We get to try new things and they'll send us prototypes of targets to try out. It has really broadened our (execution support) surveying."

Peterson is a pioneer in the terrestrial galaxy with one of only two C10 scanners in the Air Force. They keep both 21st CES and the 21st Space Wing on the cutting edge of next generation technology with their impact in the local area and influence in the development of the scanning industry as a whole.

"You think it's science fiction, but we have the capability to do these things and we are doing it," he said.

Source: U.S. Air Force

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