3D building mapping goes mass

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Shrine map

Like most industries, facility management has become increasingly data driven. That’s about to increase exponentially. Driving it will be remarkable developments in mobile three-dimensional (3D) mapping that will make the technology accessible to not only professionals, but everyone else as well.

Once you have a 3D building map, overlaying data on it can make it a powerful facility information and management tool. This is the heart of BIM – Building Information Modelling. But until recently, creating the maps was a complex task.

The power of Zebedee

A mapping breakthrough was Zebedee, the CSIRO’s handheld 3D mapping tool announced in 2012. Zebedee can map a building in three dimensions in the time it takes to walk around it.

Zebedee consists of a lightweight laser scanner mounted on a simple spring mechanism. As the operator walks through an environment, the scanner loosely oscillates about the spring producing a rotation that converts 2D measurements into 3D fields of view. Its ability to self-localise makes Zebedee ideally suited for use indoors, underground and other covered environments where traditional solutions that utilise GPS (global position systems) don’t function well.

UK company 3D Laser Mapping signed an exclusive agreement to distribute the technology, and Zebedee has gone on to map interior environments in Australia and across the world – from Melbourne’s Shrine of Rememberance (see image above) to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. You can view a video of the Shrine being mapped here.

Enter Google

Now an even bigger player is about to enter the 3D mapping market. Google’s Project Tango is a bid to equip Android mobile devices with a suite of software and sensors that can capture complete 3D image maps of the world around them, in real-time.

Prototype phones and tablets equipped with the technology have already been seeded to testers and developers, and a slew of apps have already been coded – including by AutoCAD. Google’s eye is on both the consumer and professional market. The first devices equipped with technology are scheduled to appear in 2015.

Apple positions itself

Not surprisingly, Apple has its own plans. Last year it paid $350 million to buy the 3D sensor company PrimeSense, but true to form has been keeping quiet about its intentions. However, an indication of where things are headed is hinted by the independently developed Structure Sensor, a portable 3D scanner for (fourth generation) iPads that is already on the market. Funded by Kickstarter, it employs an infrared sensor made by PrimeSense.

More than just a device, Structure Sensor has been designed to be a software platform, enhanced by iPad software and apps. While very much a project in progress, currently you can use Structure Sensor to capture spatial data about a space or object, and export it to either a 3D modeling program or a 3D printer. Reviews have stated that its measurements of rooms are highly accurate, but the 3D modelling is still relatively low resolution, and not yet suitable for commercial applications. That said, the software is advancing by the day.

One thing does seem clear: it’s impossible to underestimate the impact the ubiquity of this technology will have on everyday life and industry – not least on facility management.

More information:

Zebedee at 3D Laser Mapping

Occipital Structure Sensor

Google Project Tango

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