Interview: Lee Gregory, 12d Solutions

By on 2 February, 2022

Dr Lee Gregory, CEO and Co-founder, 12d Solutions

In our new Leaders Forum, we ask experts to look ahead into 2022. Today we talk technology with Lee Gregory.

Dr Lee Gregory, Co-founder and CEO of 12d Solutions, has 40 years of experience in the civil software industry. The company develops products for surveying, road and rail design, land development, drainage, visualisation, data management and project collaboration.

Which technologies will revolutionise the surveying, space or spatial sectors in 2022?

I believe drones and scanners will keep improving. Photogrammetry and lasers each have their own advantages and disadvantages. The big trick is getting the useful data that is needed from either system, and much of the time you just get billions of points in a point cloud. Point clouds look pretty, but on their own are just lots of zero dimensional points. Consequently, one thing that will make big waves is the ability to finally get useable objects and strings from them.

And hopefully in the coming year, ‘open data’ will finally become ‘open’. I’m always amazed how many groups believe binary proprietary formats are open when the software industry has to pay millions of dollars each year to certain parties, only to have to sit there and try to figure out what the bits and bytes in files mean. Is it really that hard for all software vendors to provide a freely available, published text format for all their data?

How is Australasia placed in the global context? Are we racing ahead or falling behind?

This is something I’m very passionate about. Australian and New Zealand surveyors, designers and engineers in the civil industry are world leaders and are always racing ahead. When listening to overseas speakers I am amazed at how often they claim that the productivity gains in their civil industry are poor. In Australia it is exactly the opposite.

We’ve gone from five-person survey teams picking up a few hundred points per day, to one person armed with robotic and scanning instruments who picks up thousands of points a day. Mobile scanners are surveying thousands of kilometres of roads in days — something no one would have contemplated a few years ago.

Which challenges or opportunities should the industry be focused on?

We do need to train more local people. The pandemic really highlighted the fact that we have been so reliant on staff coming in from overseas. But for there to be more people to train, we first need more people entering the industry. It’s a bit of a Gordian knot. Having the wealth of knowledge that can be gained from overseas is important, but not at the expense of having people here on the ground who can keep the industry running when times change as suddenly as they did last year.

What are your organisation’s priorities for 2022?

Our primary foci for 2022 are getting both 12d Model 15 and 12d Synergy 5 out into industry, and training more people to use them. We’ve just teamed up with the Civil and Surveying Institute to develop a range of online training products.

Our natural environment has always got to be a priority. Shortages of many materials will be a future issue, so we also want to prioritise helping clients with reducing waste and working innovatively in ways that can lessen their environmental impact wherever possible

What’s on your wish list for 2022?

It is on my wish list for regulators to start adopting the 3D model as the source of truth for contracts, rather than plots. Without that, industry is in the unenviable position of having to not only produce accurate surveys and 3D models but also produce drawings.

Our industry needs to continue encouraging more of our bright young Australians — especially young women — to study STEM subjects rather than law, drama or marketing. We keep hearing this from governments, but nothing seems to change. I’m certain the fact that engineers and surveyors are so poorly paid in comparison to other professions doesn’t help.

From government, I’d like to see a level playing field. I don’t know how many times I’ve sat in seminars and heard how we must be innovative like ‘multinational company X’. Later, one discovers that that company pays no tax, or very little tax, on the money earned in Australia. If it is too hard to tax such companies, then maybe the government could pass a law that says we also don’t have to pay any tax when competing with such companies.

This article was first published in issue 116 of Position magazine.

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