RIEGL Helps Sam O. Hirota Develop Competitive Advantage


The following is the full article published by LiDAR News,

Sam O. Hirota Inc. is a third generation family owned company and one of the oldest continuously operating consulting civil engineering, land surveying, and 3D imaging firms in Hawaii. The company has been an innovative technology leader in the AEC marketplace since its founding in 1963 by Sam O. Hirota who used the first desk top, automated land surveying computer system in Hawaii.

Dr. Dennis Hirota joined the U.S. Air Force after leaving the University of Michigan and, in 1968, was fortunate to join 150 other Civil Engineering Ph.D. officers at the Air Force Weapons Laboratory in New Mexico. He returned in 1971 to join his father’s company.

In Hawaii, he implemented production of AEC drawings by using automated large scale virtual computations and high speed color printing with pressurized ball point, electrostatic and inkjet printing. This experience has led to the creation of one of the largest consulting firm computing facilities in Hawaii, as well as the ability to in-house beta test software and hardware systems for many international companies in the AEC 3D marketplace.

3D laser scanning technology has been part of the company for the last 15 years, with company representation at many of the international technical conferences. Dr. Hirota has served as an Advisory Board member for the SPAR3D conference, one of the premier 3D imaging user conferences in the USA.

Today, Sam O. Hirota, Inc often uses their 3D tools in different applications than which they were originally conceived. For example, 3D land surveying using terrestrial scanning has evolved into very high quality HDR 3D historic documentation, movie production, color mobile street documentation and UAV photogrammetric imaging in Hawaii and the Pacific Rim.


Sam O. Hirota Inc. has owned and operated RIEGL laser scanning equipment for many years. Dr. Hirota recalled, “Our first scanner, the LMS-Z360 with Nikon imaging is still operational. In following years, the LMS-Z420, VZ-400 and currently the VZ-400i were purchased with excellent field and office results. We also have a RIEGL Mobile (MLS) VMZ system. In addition, the firm is using all of the RIEGL processing software for TLS and MLS including RiSCAN PRO, RiSOLVE, RiACQUIRE, RiANALYZE, RiPROCESS, RiWORLD, and RiPRECISION.

Our portfolio of software tools includes Autodesk Recap Pro, the Bentley products and a group of 3rd party software that we continue to test and use.”

Dr. Hirota explained, “When you purchase highly technical equipment that is sometimes in the early development phases, you evaluate as many of the current products as possible. A small company like ours cannot afford to make purchase mistakes. You need to have confidence in the quality of design, manufacture, software and maintenance.

All RIEGL hardware is designed and assembled to the highest possible quality and reliability standards.  The software is designed to be used specifically with the hardware.”  Dr. Hirota recalls, “On a visit to the RIEGL factory, I saw printed circuit boards being assembled, systems integrated and tested.  I knew that these were quality measurement products that would work in the field for a long time.”

The company evaluated many other systems in addition to the RIEGL scanners.  Dr. Hirota commented, “We chose RIEGL because of the quality of each of their systems, particularly in terms of range and waveform, time of flight LiDAR. The major problems with the other systems were poor, or non-existent, high-quality imaging integration. RIEGL uses the best digital cameras and has upgraded the technology as new camera technology emerged, such as the Nikon D810, with a 36-megapixel sensor.  The other scanners were bulky and required large battery systems, which were difficult to transport.”


Before we begin a project we evaluate whether the different sensors that we have will produce the product that the client will ultimately benefit from, including time to complete and cost. With the RIEGL VZ-400i, we can now evaluate projects very quickly because of the increased scan and imaging speed as well as the automated field registration, outdoors as well as indoors.

Dr. Hirota explained, “We recently completed a historic church site in less than an hour, finishing all internal and external registered scans. We were also able to evaluate the site of a future movie to be filmed in Hawaii about Captain Cook and King Kamehameha. The imaging and long range of the RIEGL VZ-400i, up to 800 meters, allowed us to scan across the entire valley.”

The company has been involved in many interesting 3D laser scanning projects for historic documentation. Dr. Hirota recalls, “Several years ago, we scanned two of the historic Kaneohe Marine Corps hangers – 101 and 102 that were attacked on Dec 7, 1941 by the Japanese. We scanned inside and outside including HDR imaging to document ammunition marks on the pavement and walls. We used the scans to detail all the structural trusses, glass panel walls, and storage rooms which did not have any electrical power.”

“Several years ago we helped provide civil engineering design for the renovation of a hospital on Oahu, Hawaii,” Dr. Hirota explained. “As part of the topographic mapping, we did a conventional topo with a total station as well as a terrestrial laser scan with a RIEGL VZ-400. We decided to use the conventional topo and the TLS as the control for a Skycatch UAV to map the entire site not covered by the TLS and topo. We used the RIEGL software RiSCAN PRO to merge the TLS point cloud with the UAV point cloud for registration.”

Punahou School located in Honolulu, Hawaii is the largest, private K-12 co-educational school in the United States on a single campus. Founded in 1841 by congregational missionaries to Hawaii, the campus houses many historic buildings. The school decided to historically document the Winne Elementary School before it was transformed into a newer facility.

“Spaces are only as meaningful as the people and the experiences that bring them to life,” said Punahou President James Scott. “Seeing all of us …, I am reminded that the magic of the Winne Units is really a combination of all the teaching, the friendships, the challenges faced together, the literal and figurative seeds of learning that have been planted here, and above all, the love and aloha that has flourished here for nearly 65 years. I know that the spirit of Winne will live on.”

Because of pending demolition, the company had only 4 weekends to complete 450 scans to completely document all internal facilities and external play areas comprising approximately 20 acres.

Return on Investment

The use of the RIEGL Mobile LiDAR Scanner (MLS) for the data collection of land survey information of 200 acres of urban environment, which was accomplished in several hours compared to months using conventional surveying tools, showcases an example of how the system is able to help accomplish project goals, as well as financial goals, easily and efficiently and highlights the benefits of using RIEGL LiDAR hardware and software on projects.

Dr. Hirota noted, “The most important benefit of working with RIEGL hardware and software is the compatibility of upgrades in their hardware and software. If we have a problem with a new Nikon camera such as a D-810 that was recently installed, we can revert back to an older Nikon D-800E with a variety of different Nikon lenses to produce other effects required. The software will continue to work with the older equipment on the individual LiDAR sensors.”

Looking Ahead

Dr. Hirota explained, “We are a small company with the ability to use 3D technology to produce better resultant outcomes for our clients at a differential advantage vis a vis our competitors. I believe that most of the firms our size do not own the portfolio of technology equipment that we own free and clear. This allows us to experiment with different sensors and applications that most companies do not have access to test.”

Dr. Hirota continued, “We will continue to test application software and product outcomes that will enable us to apply 3D technology on projects where there will be few niche competitors. We will not compete on a commodity basis with others.”



Registered UAV and RIEGL VZ-400 point clouds using RIEGL RiSCAN PRO software.





Point cloud showing Punahou Chapel and Punahou Lily Pond, central part of the Punahou campus