The family-owned consulting engineering firm is the world’s first company to use the Leica TRK500 Neo mobile mapping system—but a commitment to technology innovation is just part of the story.
As a young boy in the early 1980s, Sachdeep Arora remembers his father, Surinder Arora, bringing home a large, boxy machine with numerous wires and cables and setting it up in the family’s living room. “We had a PC in our house, and it was amazing,” he says. “As my mentor, my father always stressed to me that we have to keep up with the latest tech because technology is what drives the world. And from the time he founded the company in 1981, we have prided ourselves on staying ahead with technology in order to compete with the firms in the region.”
While Arora and Associates, P.C.,(Arora) may be regional, it is rapidly growing in reputation and capabilities. The engineering consulting firm employs about 110 people and has offices in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois, with projects along the Eastern Seaboard, in the Midwest and with the federal government. The company primarily focuses on transportation infrastructure design projects, although that, too, is changing as the firm expands. It is involved in major projects such as the NJDOT Pulaski Skyway Seismic Retrofit project, the PANYNJ Trans-Manhattan Expressway rehabilitation of six bridges at the approach of the George Washington Bridge, the NJ Turnpike Interchange 6 to 9 Widening Program (Section 7), and the Federal NCHRP Domestic Scan Program. The firm’s 41-year history has included many local, regional and national awards for engineering excellence.
In May 2022, Arora added another distinction to its capabilities, becoming the first company in the world to acquire the autonomous and intelligent Leica TRK500 Neo mobile mapping system.
“We have some of the best people in the industry. They come to Arora, and they stay with us. Our people, with their expertise and accessibility, along with our technology, really set us apart in the work we do.”
For Sachdeep, a professional engineer, and senior partner with his brother, Mandeep Singh Arora, PE, and father, Surinder Arora, PE, the new technology is an exciting leap forward. But it’s not the technology alone that drives the firm’s success.
“We have some of the best people in the industry,” he says. “They come to Arora, and they stay with us. Our people, with their expertise and accessibility, along with our technology, really set us apart in the work we do.”
A Mindset of Innovation
Philip Dember, PLS, started with the firm 18 years ago. It was his first job, and he knew nothing about surveying. “I started learning surveying here, going back to school at night,” he says. “That’s what we do here at the firm—we build on people’s strengths and on their career. It’s not just a job.”
Today, Philip is a licensed surveyor and manages the firm’s survey department. He also takes the lead in exploring new technology that can give the company an advantage. And Sachdeep values his suggestions and insights. “Phil and I communicate with each other constantly,” Sachdeep says. “I’m technically his supervisor, but it’s really more of a collaboration. We set goals together and jointly work toward achieving them. That level of communication and collaboration is something we strive for across the whole company.”
It’s an approach that builds solid relationships both internally and externally. Employees appreciate the family-friendly atmosphere with the benefits of a corporation. All contributions are valued, and clients admire the quality of work from a well-trained, fully engaged, always-accessible team where innovation is a mindset.
To stay nimble and efficient, Arora uses the latest state-of-the-art in surveying and laser scanning technology. But as contracts for transportation services began to increase, Philip saw an opportunity to do better. “We needed to be able to respond to our clients’ needs faster and deploy our staff more efficiently,” he says. “Mobile lidar was the answer.”
A ‘Revolutionary’ Approach to Mobile Lidar
In early 2022, Philip reached out to Arora’s technology partner, Leica Geosystems. The timing couldn’t have been more ideal: The newest mobile lidar innovation, the Leica Pegasus TRK Neo, was just getting ready to launch. Integrating autonomy, intelligence, and simplicity, the TRK takes mobile lidar capabilities to the next level.
During high-speed data collection, the solution autonomously handles calibration, accuracy estimation and in-field processing to ensure a complete, high-quality dataset. An intelligent combination of machine learning and hardware architecture empowers users to decode and extract information on the fly, with real-time blurring of identifiers such as people and vehicles to protect privacy. Guided workflows, live system feedback and in-field online support virtually eliminate the learning curve to adopt the technology.
“I was blown away by the technology in this new unit; it really seems revolutionary on several levels,” Philip says.
“The world we’re working toward is one in which design and engineering happen in the 3D digital realm. We’ve had those capabilities already, but not without the expense of time and resources. Now, with the TRK, we’re going to be able to provide that information to our clients and teaming partners much more accurately and efficiently.”
One example, he says, is the use of precision RTK positioning with HxGN SmartNet, which provides real-time centimeter-level location accuracy. “With the capability of the real-time network, we’ll no longer need to use a base station and have a person standing by it for security.”
The integration of an inertial measurement unit (IMU) and simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) technology will enable the firm to handle high-speed, high-quality data collection even in the urban canyons of New York City and other GNSS-denied areas. The ability to check the quality and completeness of the data in the field is a big advantage, Philip adds.
And then there’s the overall package of the technology. “The small size and light weight of the TRK is a huge benefit.” he says.
Next-Generation Asset Management and Engineering Design
Arora serves as both a prime contractor and subcontractor on major projects, estimating an 80/20 split. While Arora’s survey department handles prime contracts in its own right, the firm brings the best value through the integration of its survey and engineering services. Here, too, the Pegasus TRK mobile mapping system provides an advantage.
“There’s a huge push for asset management from all state agencies,” says Sachdeep. “Now we can capture every detail in a single deployment—signs, guardrails, ADA ramps, pavement analysis—and work with our GIS teams to create interactive maps for our clients that they can access through their mobile devices. We can offer more information, and better information, early on in projects where we can eliminate some of the unknowns that happen during preliminary and final design. The Leica mobile lidar technology enhances our engineering practice as a whole.”
The comprehensiveness of the data collection also gives the firm more agility to respond to requests for supplemental mapping. Instead of sending a crew back out to the field, Arora will often be able to mine an existing dataset captured with mobile mapping.
Importantly, clients will be able to see and understand the data. “With the visualization capability of the point clouds, you actually get to see your roadway,” Philip explains. “But it’s not just a picture you’re looking at—it’s all measurements. The 3D visual representations are so powerful.”
“The world we’re working toward is one in which design and engineering happen in the 3D digital realm,” adds Sachdeep. “We’ve had those capabilities already, but not without the expense of time and resources. Now with the TRK, we’re going to be able to provide that information to our clients and teaming partners much more accurately and efficiently.”
The Power of the Right People
Not surprisingly, Philip and Sachdeep aren’t the only people at Arora excited about the potential of mobile mapping. In the firm known for its talent, expertise and commitment to collaboration, the entire organization is eager to stretch their skills and expand their services.
“We have the right team in place, and everyone from our techs to our project managers to senior management are excited about the capabilities we’re bringing in with mobile lidar,” says Sachdeep Arora. “We’re going to do some incredible and innovative things for all of our clients.”