Event Report: Hexagon 2011

24 Jun, 2011 By: Curt Moreno

The inaugural gathering shapes diverse conferences and technologies into a single event that showcases the broad reach of metrology.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines metrology as "the science of weights and measures or of measurement." As I waited at the terminal gate, wondering what a conference focused on such a science would be like, I have to admit that I conjured a mental image of some very boring people, milling about in a hotel and measuring things with over-sized calipers. Little did I know what awaited me at the inaugural Hexagon Conference in Orlando, Florida.

I understood that the Hexagon AB company produces software and hardware solutions for a long list of industries, including my own industry of civil engineering. I had seen the Leica Geosystems brand of laser scanners and levels on many job sites; I had just never associated that kind of measurement with the term "metrology." Of course, all kinds of CAD and GIS (geographic information system) technologies depend on data about lengths and widths, distances and locations, material properties and part characteristics. Without metrology, the fancy software we use every day would be useless.

Something Old, Something New

Hexagon 2011 united conferences and technologies from Hexagon Group companies including Hexagon Geosystems; Hexagon Metrology; ERDAS; Leica Geosystems; Intergraph Process, Power, and Marine; and Intergraph Security, Government, and Infrastructure. Following Hexagon AB's acquisition of Intergraph, the measurement and visualization giant organized a large-scale conference addressing its many client industries.

Although previous years had seen smaller, separate conferences — such as the Leica HDS and ABS User Conferences and the Intergraph International Users' Conference — Hexagon 2011, held June 6–9, was one united event. Boasting more than 2,500 attendees from at least 65 countries, more than 400 sessions, 3 evenings of events, and more than 30,000 hours of information sharing, it offered the combined communities a wide selection of technical sessions and speakers from many fields of expertise.

I wondered how these metrology professionals felt about shifting from smaller, more intimate conferences to a single multidisciplinary event. While many attendees told me they had enjoyed the previous years' events, they were also excited to experience a large-scale conference offering a wider range of content. One attendee on the TechExpo show floor explained that he was beginning to see how Hexagon's related brands and offerings could play into his everyday work. At the time we spoke, he was exploring related software solutions offered by Hexagon Geosystems to supplement his current suite of applications. Prior to Hexagon 2011, attendees of smaller events would not have had such exposure or opportunity.

General Keynote

The General Keynote — the first event on the agenda for Tuesday morning — officially began the conference. While waiting in the audience of eager metrology professionals, I wondered what could be said about the science of measurement that would take an hour, let alone four days. "How many ways can you measure something? How many ways can you measure something better?" I thought to myself as I settled in and prepared for a long, technical keynote. Those thoughts were dismissed as soon as the introductory slideshow appeared on giant screens flanking the main stage.

What I witnessed was a series of silent animations that spoke volumes. The startling information about our world included projections such as, "By 2030, 1 in every 8 people will be 65 or older," and that the world population was expected to top 9.5 billion people by the year 2050. While none of the individual facts was earth-shattering on its own, they were very unsettling when presented together. It was then that I realized that "metrology" was not limited to the science of measurement — it was about our world, the people who inhabit it, and how we perceive it.

It became clear to me that Hexagon AB is a company approaching a multibillion-dollar industry from an anthropological point of view. Of course, it is selling products. But rather than presenting slides that read, "See the new Ruler 2011 model — it's 3.097% more accurate than Ruler 2010!" (which is what I was expecting), Hexagon approached its market and clients from a need-based position. The world is changing faster than ever, and Hexagon AB seeks to address global stresses involving population, power and food consumption, transportation, and housing with its technological solutions. These macro-trends are an inescapable reality, and the facts presented to the audience illustrated the pressing need for advanced technology — perhaps not only to improve life, but to maintain it. I was already beginning to have a broader view of metrology in general when Ola Rollen took the stage to begin the keynote proper.

Ola Rollen's Hexagon

The Hexagon president and CEO has been described by some as "the most disruptive personality in the geospatial scenario," and it is easy to see why. This is a CEO cut from the same cloth as Apple's Steve Jobs or Amazon's Jeff Bezos, and his polished message to the metrology community was clear: The world requires "actionable information." While some software and hardware giants are looking to GIS (geospatial information systems) for that information, Rollen sees beyond that. Real-time, constantly updated information feeding informed action and innovation drives his vision of the future. He sees the need for accurate, dynamic information delivered by smart, integrated technological solutions to markets ranging from public safety to fuel exploration.

"What is action without information … Do we want information without action?" Rollen asked his audience. He explained that the former was the blind activity of our uninformed ancestors, while the latter created bureaucracy. Hexagon, explained Rollen, has a new mission statement: "to deliver actionable information."

At a press lunch I learned about the long and colorful history of Hexagon, from its origin as a tuna importer to its current position as a provider of measurement and visualization technologies. I asked Mr. Rollen what he would say to anyone who questioned Hexagon AB's acquisition of so many different companies, and their commitment to the industry. He explained that he did not see the aggregation of so many varied brands as a detriment. "As long as you can draw resources from the parts to make a greater whole, you are OK," Rollen replied.

While in Orlando, I was able to see how Hexagon AB's technology solutions apply to agriculture, transportation, urban development, medical, surveying, and many other industries. Meeting people in these disparate fields made me truly appreciate the importance and impact of metrology. I learned how advances in GPS guidance could help increase agriculture production to feed those 9.5 billion humans in the future. I also began to understand the impact that sub-millimeter precision could have on high-speed transportation to move that burgeoning population around growing urban areas. To me, this clearly illustrated Ola Rollen's vision of "building a smarter world" with actionable information.


TechExpo Takeaway

The many representatives on the TechExpo floor served as professors who furthered by metrology education. With approximately 50 vendors in attendance, there was a lot to see and to discuss with the friendly representatives. The variety of representation spoke to the diversity of Hexagon's client industries. From the expected (high-accuracy measurement and imaging tools) to the unexpected (the Al-Ain Municipality of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi), the booths offered interesting and in-depth information. Product demonstrations varied from GPS technology at the Novatel booth to aerial imagery and information systems at the Pictometry booth to stereographic display systems from Planar Systems.

Naturally, as with most conferences, there were a few standouts on the TechExpo show floor. At Hexagon 2011, the spotlight was stolen by two new products unveiled at the show.

World-famous for its machine control systems and construction lasers, Leica Geosystems has been equally innovative and successful with its surveying product line. The ScanStation C5 is the newest addition to Leica's family of High Definition Surveying (HDS) products, joining the likes of the well-known ScanStation C10 laser scanner. Leica developed this rugged laser scanner in response to customer requests for a mid-level HDS solution priced aggressively enough for smaller contractors and those moving into the laser scanning market. Following approximately 1.5 years of development, Leica Geosystems unveiled its C5 — capable of 25,000 scanned points per second, resistive touch screen, and 35-meter laser range — at approximately half the price of the ScanStation C10! Even more attractive is the full scalability of the C5 to add features like faster scanning speed, increased range, and still photography to its durable aluminum frame to make this worksite scanner even more versatile and client-specific.

Leica Geosystems unveiled the aggressively priced ScanStation C5 (left) and the renovation-ready 3D Disto (right) during Hexagon 2011.

As innovative and popular as the ScanStation C5 was, Leica Geosystems had a second hit on its hands at Hexagon 2011. The new 3D Disto is an attractive little red bundle of technology that is possibly even more exciting than its big brother, the C5. While the C5 is an all-purpose, ruggedized HDS apparatus, the 3D Disto is targeted at the renovation and reconstruction market. With camera-assisted targeting and wizard-driven task management, the 3D Disto is a capable laser scanner priced for the small contractor. Controlling the scanner is the Wi-Fi–enabled, Google Android–powered touch screen. Users are able to see and even zoom in to identify benchmark targets and begin the scan process with a single click. Files can be exported or imported as DXF, tables, photos, or text. With imported design files, the 3D Disto will even project drill holes and cut line locations! I can see a time in the near future when later generations of this impressive little scanner move to the consumer market, and I can finally have one at my house!

Surveying the Full Circle

Sitting at the terminal gate in the Orlando International Airport, I mulled over all that I had seen and learned at Hexagon 2011. It settled on me the profound impact this corporation intended to have, and how many fields its brands affected. I realized how far we have come through history, from measuring rope and cloth with something as variable as the human foot to creating technology that measures beyond our own perception. I found that I had a new respect for the foot. Well, at least for my own sore feet. This conference was big — and I didn't even have to measure it to be sure!

Hexagon 2012 will be held June 4–7 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

About the Author: Curt Moreno

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