Sam PfeifleSam Pfeifle
Sam Pfeifle is a freelance writer and former online editor of He began his journalism career with the alternative newsweekly The Portland Phoenix, and still writes a weekly local music column for the paper. He can be reached at

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The NorEaster

Workboats go high tech

Sam Pfeifle

A couple weeks back, I had the opportunity to visit the Trimble user conference as part of my other online work for WorkBoat's parent company Diversified Communications, where I also cover the 3D data acquisition market. I was there to look at laser scanners (devices that shoot out millions of laser pulses to create accurate 3D digital representations of the real world), but found myself ogling a pretty cool survey vessel while I was at it.

Brought by Trimble partner company Measutronics, A Nickel More was as tricked out with as much survey equipment as I've ever seen, with laser scanning devices, multibeam and side-scan sonar, ROVs and plenty more. Measutronics sells these technologies as a reseller and then trains and helps with installation companies that buy the products. Generally, they focus on the marine construction marketplace (Trimble has a big marine construction division as well).  

With the rate at which survey and measurement technology is advancing — getting smaller, more accurate and more durable — workboats are becoming increasingly sophisticated floating research labs. Some of this technology, however, might even be suitable for more standard tugs and OSVs. Just as we're seeing more cameras (even thermal cameras) on vessels for safety applications, it may not be long before many vessels have 3D sonar on board for making sure there's nothing on the sea floor that might pose a hazard, or for providing quick looks at piers and offshore platforms for safety purposes or routine maintenance.  

It's possible that some independent operators might separate themselves by virtue of their onboard technology offerings. 

Who knows what the future might bring, but here's a quick look at some of what I'm talking about: 

A Nickel More, on the show floor at the Mirage for the Trimble Dimensions conference: 



And here's what an Optech laser scanner looks like when mounted:


And a closer look at the RoV: