SPAR 2011 Conference – Houston, Texas – Part 3

Revit 2012In part 1 of my review of SPAR 2011 I referred to the new and fascinating innovations in software over the past year.  I think probably the most important was the information from Autodesk that Revit 2012 will have a point cloud engine and many of the capabilities that other point cloud soft programs have and some new ones.  Revit has become the standard for BIM for the private sector and the Architectural world, so this was a very important release.  This will enable the Architectural community to be able to bring in and reference registered point clouds, and to benefit from the data-rich field that other software has been using. I have read many articles debating whether Architectural design firms wanted to be responsible for information contained within point clouds and there are good points on both sides of the room on this.  However this new release will allow them to compare their design to actual conditions within the point cloud (clash detection) and just this ability alone will lead to construction savings and fewer design revisions.  One of the new tools that was reviewed was their automatic feature extraction.  This is the beginning of a road that will lead to many great advances in the point cloud technology.  I saw this first in the mobile scanning programs.  In that example you could fence in a sign type like a merge sign on an interstate on ramp and tell the software to go find it and it would retrieve 80 to 95% of the similar signs in the cloud.  Inside the new Revit point cloud they are in the process ofSPAR International using similar technology to locate and capture elements that are already in the point cloud.  This will lead to very big productivity gains.  Just imagine if you could locate and detail all the windows in a building and have them sized and dimensioned automatically from just locating one and then having the software look for the remaining similar windows.

Revit BIM Modeling, does it increase efficiency in designing?  That has always been the big question.  I talked to several contractors who provided services creating BIM models and most said they could save as much as 30% of the cost from designing the old way with 2D paper drawings. The payback came by using the modeling through the complete project to save time on the construction details and other tedious time consuming task.  Again the more experienced designers got the biggest benefit.

Automated Pipe Modeling

ClearEdge 3DClearEdge3D has come through again.  In the automated modeling world they were one of the first to come out with a software that detected flat surfaces for Architectural and structural modeling.  They have again raised the bar with their new release of EdgeWise Plant.  They have designed a plant and pipe software that can analyze a point cloud and automatically detect and model about 50% of the pipes in a minimal amount of time.  Users were reporting that the time to model was approaching 1/3 the previous time on the same types of projects.  There is still work to be done for total automation but remember 3 years ago there was not a point cloud to model automatic software!  Now we are able to detect flat surfaces and pipe shapes.  All will be improved as time goes on but what a great leap.  I talk to some of my associates in the modeling business and they were looking at investing in the product.  This was the first year some of them had considered making the step up.


RealityLinx is another program that specializes in the pipe industry and includes a pipe parts library and more importantly can export files into PDMS design software.  This software is used in the oil and gas industry as a standard design tool.  This software anticipates what parts the pipe are captured in the point cloud and saves a lot of trial and error in picking the right size bend etc.  Another software that we found interesting is 3D Reshaper.  Our firm purchased this software prior to the show and we found that it proves to be an excellent tool to complement the other software packages.  It is very good at cleaning noise in point clouds when using 3D laser scanning and creating smooth tin triangles so that surfaces can be smoothed efficiently.

These are real breakthroughs and will change the industry in a hurry. Just two weeks ago in one of my educational presentation I made the statement that “we were still in the model T ford days of point cloud software”.   I now feel like we are into the early 60’s model automobiles and heading full steam into the future models.  There was even talk of auto coding points in point clouds so that ceilings points knew they were ceilings and doors knew they were doors.  These programs are not there yet but they are on the way.  An interesting observation is that many of the small companies are driving the software innovation in addition to the traditional players like Autodesk.

Coolest Vendor I saw

XYZ RGBAt the end of the second day, I and a few other associates I have seen over the years went to the booth for XYZ RGB.  This stuff was so advanced that we had trouble understanding what made it work.  The technology uses a set of two digital cameras and an additional random dot projector and software and can capture an image and turn it into a point cloud of very fine mesh. He could even photograph objects using Apple IPHONES.  It is used in the movie, gaming and animation industries. It is excellent in small areas and does almost live animation of people. It can turn a photograph of a person into a model almost instantly. Very creative!  I am sure it has uses that have not been tried yet.

Spar 2011 was very beneficial and well worth the trip time and money.  Being in the 3D laser scanning industry, if I could only go to one show it would be SPAR.  There were more than 20 separate tracts to attend and they did a very thorough job of covering the industry.


H Tate Jones PLS




SPAR 2011 Conference – Houston, Texas – Part 2

The two main focuses of the SPAR 2011 conference are education and involvement with hardware products and software products which go along with and enable/enhance 3D Laser Scanning.  Generally I think that this year both of these advanced as much as I have seen since the early years in the industry.

Hardware-Terrestrial Scanners

FARO Focus One Touch 3D Scanner

Where do you start with something so vast?  Probably the most talked about scanner was the new FARO Laser Scanner Focus 3D.  It is a phased base scanner.  Not only were they talked about but they received an award for the newest technological advancement.  FARO is a very good stable company and has been in the scanning and precision measurement business for many years but the model which list for between $40,000 and $45,000 will definitely find a place in the market.  At the same time Leica had its 7000 series and Z&F had their latest advancements in their technology displayed.  Presently I don’t think that you can compare the Faro scanner to the Z&F and Leica directly as they will likely fill different niches in the scanning world. The hardware advancements seem to be faster speeds and longer distances.  Many had better ways to overlay digital photography on top of the point cloud and auto target recognition.  Both of these problems are becoming more manageable with the latest technology.  The greatest difficulty of all the scanning products is still the large file sizes you get with an instrument that collects data at a rate of 2 million points a second.

Hardware-Mobile Scanners

Riegl Mobile Scanning SystemAll the major mobile scanner vehicles were on display in front of the conference center.  Topcon, Optech, Riegl, MDL, Trimble (indoor scanner) all had their version of the newest and most advanced Mobile scanners on some very good looking cars. I counted 9 different cars with scanner arrays.  Mounted on jeeps and Hummers and even the Mercedes Smart Car they were a very impressive presentation of mobile technology.  Through the advancements of better GPS, faster laser scanners, and methodology in the collection, most of the systems can achieve 1/10 of a foot accuracy on the pavement surface and hard surfaces and they scan at speeds approaching 50 miles per hour.  This enables them to collect data in areas that are dangerous for surveyors on foot or on surfaces that can only be mapped in constrained time frames like a 10,000 runway at and active major or military airport.  This technology has advanced so much it is becoming a very common way to collect data on existing roads and Interstates.  Most of the systems usually list in the range of $500,000 to $2,000,000 dollars.  It is definitely more cost effective to hire a good service provider on a project by project basis unless you are fully committed to providing the service.  These systems have the same common problems that all lidar systems have.  Foliage stills blocks the scanners from seeing the ground and GPS satellite blockage in Urban areas is a problem. Both can be solved but require field surveying to pick up additional data. I have several close associates that work with this technology and all say that they work better with survey target locations.  I have not ever heard any of them say that the systems could scan through dense foliage and find the true ground.  That is why I used the term “hard surfaces” in my description.  As more of these vehicles come on line, more and more road miles will be scanned.  I can see a time when mobile scanning could be done on a regular basis. One of the most common deliverables is to provide data for pavement analysis.

Underwater Scanners

This is the first year I have seen technical seminars on underwater scanners.  Companies like BlueView Technologies, IXSEA, 2G Robotics, and DimEye put together a very informative presentation of the technology of underwater scanning.  Instead of Laser technology these submersible robots and high-tech mini-subs use sonar technology to scan underwater objects.  Some operate at 1000’s of feet deep in the ocean, and others operate in shallow water several hundred feet deep to 5 or 10 feet deep.   The data they collect can be used exactly the same way as laser scanned data and some can be modeled in the same software.

BlueView Technology Underwater ScanDeep water scanners mostly support the oil and gas industry while the shallow water scanners would be used for harbor engineering or locating and mapping submersed vessels.  This is a very fascinating new area that before was left to surface boats to collect.  Hydro dam inspection, pier and wharf inspection and many of the areas where the land structures around ports come into constant contact with the water can now be inspected and scanned underwater with reliable results and consistent data.

This technology of 3D digital data is certainly quickly changing the way we engineer the world we live in. (See our next section on new software innovation at SPAR 2011)


H. Tate Jones PLS


SPAR 2011 Conference – Houston, Texas – Part 1

SPAR InternationalI always look forward to the SPAR conference and this year was no exception.  SPAR 2011 was held last week in Houston, Texas.  For Surveyors, Engineers, Architects and lidar users and providers, this is the biggest show in America that features 3D Data capture of all kinds.  As President of LandAir Surveying, it is probably the most important conference that I attend each year. I have been attending the conference since 2005.   All of the various professionals in related industries attend and get to interact with all the Hardware and Software service providers who are there to show the “Great” improvements that have occurred over the past year.  I will say this year was exceptional in two areas.  First, automated point cloud modeling is coming along at a faster pace than even I expected.  More on this later.  The other notable improvement is how much photography is being used to supplement and even create 3D point clouds.  Overall this years conference was very impressive and showed how the technology is being embraced by more and more professionals and industries.

Overall Impressions

Autodesk ResearchFirst, this was the largest crowd ever to attend, as there were over 800 attendees from all the continents across the globe.  There were special pins given out to memorialize the recent events in Japan and the challenges that country faces.  The opening speaker Brian Matthews, with Autodesk Research laboratories was way over the top and was working on things and inventions so far ahead of where we currently are it was breath taking.  He showed great examples of how his group and others like them are pushing the envelope: from flying digital aerial photography with $100,000 drone unmanned helicopters, to showing us the improvements in 3D printing and how many companies are starting to use that technology, to create working models of machinery without outsourcing the prototype creation.

Mt Rushmore Climbing TeamAnother notable Speaker was Ruth Parsons the Executive Director of Historic Scotland.  Her group has an ambitious project to document the “Scottish Ten”.  The ten is a reference of their endeavor to document in full 3D the top 5 World Heritage sites in Scotland and the top 5 equivalent international sites around the world.   They are part of a group of non-profits that have taken on this task.  The Scottish team in conjunction with Cyark (founded by Ben Kycera one of the inventors of the Laser Scanner) work together to document Mt Rushmore and did quite an impressive job.  Expert climbers were used to strap 3D Laser scanners to the side of the mountain carved statues.  Ironically 3 of the 4 men carved on the mountain were Land Surveyors.  Several presentations have been made on the project which is really astonishing.

Scottish 10 Heritage SiteGenerally the conference was very successful in displaying and teaching the long strides this industry has made in the last decade.  New to the conference technology was the addition of underwater scanning presentation.  Few know or understand that it was underwater scanning that allowed the oil well in the Gulf of Mexico to be capped in the Summer of 2010.  I would tell anyone who is interested in 3D Laser scanning to attend this conference as every year it gets better and more complex.


H. Tate Jones PLS