Interview with Mark Hickey, GM and Director of GeoCue Australia

Emma Crameri
on July 19, 2021

We chatted with Mark Hickey from Geocue Australia about their latest tech business.

Tell us about Geocue Australia?

GeoCue Australia is now almost one year old. We have built on the benefit of the GeoCue brand having been in Australia for some years. In addition, our staff members have years of exposure to the surveying, mining and Drone-based areas in the country. We primarily deal with drones and Lidar plus photogrammetry tech.

What are some of the products you sell?

Our primary partnership is with GeoCue Inc., although also of significance is the McBathy and CHC Navigation systems. Across these brands, we deal in Lidar, photogrammetry, RC Bathymetry Boats, GNSS, and related software. In addition to sales, GeoCue Australia offers rental, training, support and service to our customers.

How does LIDAR mapping work?

As with laser distance meters, Lidar utilises laser measurements that leave the system with great regularity. Many of these laser pulses return to the system and are used to calculate the location and position of each item that received and returned a laser pulse. The laser pulses can be sent at over 1 million pulses per second. These measurements use speed of light, GNSS RTK/ PPK position combined with the various laver arm calculations and offsets, based on where the Lidar unit is mounted to the drone.

Lidar offers a direct position and readout achieved from one laser pulse.

Lidar data is fast to post-process, Lidar penetrates through vegetation very well, it can be performed at night (although any RGB images to be taken require light), and if of benefit most Lidar systems rotate 360 degrees so it can collect data from objects below, adjacent and above the system.

These days RGB images are taken at the same time as the Lidar and the various RGB values are used to colourise the relevant point in the point cloud which is captured. The RGB images also offer the opportunity in our software to show an RGB image on request when a point in the point cloud is selected. For example if a tower can be seen in the point cloud and it would be of benefit to look at the relevant RGB image, the relevant point is selected and then the relevant RGB image is shown – this could highlight rust or other issues.

What is Photogrammetry mapping?

Photogrammetry is an estimation of an XYZ position which is gained from the same position on the earth appearing in 5 or more RGB images. Considering that the drone would have been at a different position in the sky when each of these images was taken, geometry can be used to determine the best fit for this position. Ideally, each image is geotagged, which attributes each image with an XYZ coordinate of where in the sky the system was when the image was taken and also the GNSS time that each image was taken. Generally, the images are joined together in software to form an orthomosaic and potentially a point cloud.

Compared to Lidar, photogrammetry is slower to process and can occupy computing power for extended periods to process. Photogrammetry does not penetrate through vegetation well and requires light for the RGB images to be collected. The field of view is also quite narrow compared with Lidar. However, photogrammetry is much less expensive than Lidar. Data captured by video can also be processed through Photogrammetry software so this can be quite easily accessed and used at a minimal cost.

What’s the best way to learn how to drive a drone?

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) based laws in Australia offer the public the opportunity to fly micro drones at various recreational parks with no licensing. It is certainly wise to familiarise oneself with the requirements and laws around flying drones. This can be found on the CASA website.

What is the favourite part of your job? What is the most challenging?

The variety is great and of course, what better job exists than flying drones! Having my own company is very rewarding. But, of course, this also brings the responsibility to generate sales and create profit which is perhaps the most challenging or demanding at our relatively new stage. I get to work with knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff and customers which is the icing on the cake.

How do you balance your family/business life?

Hopefully, by working smarter and empowering my staff, this leads to a healthy and productive work/family business without having to commit crazy hours. Family/business can be a challenge to balance at times and most of us here have a family, so we like to keep it a bit flexible. For example, we have bring your child to work mornings during school holidays. We are lucky that our office space allows us to do this.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

Starting GeoCue Australia.

What sparked your passion for working in the tech industry?

My background in land surveying combined well with business based qualifications. Sales experience also led to many years supplying the industry. A recognition of the potential of the UAV area in the last 6 years assisted in focusing on drone tech. The product life cycle is very short although certainly creates lots of excitement.

Websites you read daily?

LinkedIn is an efficient way to both get my news as well as connect with my network. My curated news feed is a great way to keep in touch during a busy schedule.

How do you stay on top of the latest trends and technologies?

Through LinkedIn, research, attending conferences and networking.

Any advice on how to get more women into the industry?

Attend one of the various CASA approved training suppliers around the country and gain some drone-based qualifications and experience. Fly as much as possible and learn Photogrammetry. Having an idea of GNSS and basic land surveying principles is also a benefit. My 9-year-old daughter is very much into STEM and naturally, we encourage her and she is amazed at her discoveries. It is very empowering and we would love to see more younger generation as well as women, get into the industry.

What’s in store for the future at GeoCue?

Initially, we have primarily dealt in UAV based operations. This has expanded into RC boat-based operations and Mobile Laser Scanning (MLS) is an exciting area in which we will start working in over the short term. Broadly speaking we will look to bring additional worthy brands and talented staff to help scale up our operations and business.

Find out more information at the GeoCue Australia website: www.geocueaustralia.com

Connect with Mark Hickey on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mark-hickey-5853ab18

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