The only issue with point clouds

Point clouds are great. They look very attractive and quite impressive for the non-initiated. The only problem is that for those same non-initiated among us, using them is not as easy as it looks like. It is quite fair to say that a bit of experience is required to navigate with ease within 3D point clouds, to know what view to use and when (perspective for general viewing, orthographic for floor plans, etc.), to create sections, etc. Overall, obtaining the information one wants is doable but requires a little bit of self-training and practice.

3D navigation within point cloud

Images on the other side are great. Everyone can easily understand them, no specific learning related to 3D navigation is needed, and thanks to the widely available cartographic maps online (Google Maps, Google Street View, and so on…) it feels very natural already to scroll through images from a web browser to understand the semantic of a scene.

Spherical image immersive experience

Ok, so images are simple to manipulate and easy to understand but no accurate measurements can be made, while point clouds are harder to handle but are the source of the centimeter-accurate measurements we want to make. On top of that, while images are heavier files than point clouds, navigating between images is paradoxically less computing demanding than navigating within a point cloud where the viewing experience (and so your graphic card!) must constantly adapt. To smoothly read point clouds on any local desktop software, some specific hardware capabilities are advised: good GPU, good CPU, enough RAM, enough videoRAM, etc. This is for sure not the case of everybody’s computer and especially of decision-makers whose laptops are usually sleek and not so powerful.

We need a solution to fix our user-friendliness issue, ease of use issue, data stream issue while at the same time ensuring accurate 3D measurements for everybody. Good news, we have one. And we do not claim to re-invent the wheel. Web viewing solutions have been available for years but surveyors and industrials start now realizing its power in their day-to-day operations.

The power of the internet

The explosion of the internet bubble in the early 2000s has drastically changed the way we work and think about information. Nowadays, except if you have an eidetic memory, there is no faster way to access information than to look it up on the internet. On one hand, all businesses alike, small and large companies, use the internet on a daily basis. It allows them to exchange information almost instantaneously through various media such as emails, text messages, asynchronous chats, and so on. Very modern and efficient indeed! But on the other hand, we still find data that are exchanged pretty inefficiently, requiring long uploading and downloading times, and overall not using the power of the internet very smartly.

Online point clouds viewers are the key

Online point cloud viewers are software that are web compatible and therefore accessible by any user with an internet connection. In other words, to view online data, one needs only a URL, a username and a password. From there on, point clouds as well as spherical images can be seen. So there is no need anymore for a local software to handle your data. There is also no need to sent heavy datasets to your customers to access the data. Question now: is there still a need to create deliverables such as floor plans or complicated BIM models from a point cloud?

Surface measurements made from an online spherical images

Why do we even model in the first place?

A few reasons why deliverables (.pdf, .dwg, printed plans, .ifc BIM models, etc.) created in the first place:

  1. Accurate representation of an environment at a centimeter-level => a point cloud acquired with a high-quality mobile scanning system take care of that (see our versatile backpacks for instance).
  2. Simplification of its understanding using visual conventions (in CAD or GIS formats) => high-resolution spherical images take care of that. Indeed what simpler way than looking at a picture representing the full depth and level of details of a 3D space. Smart measuring tools allow you to pick with accuracy any pixel of an image and provide you with the measurement you need.
  3. Easy and fast sharing of the information => the internet takes care of that. You (probably… for sure… we hope…) have access to the internet. Therefore you can access an online viewer. Direct streaming will always be faster than uploading and receiving data.

What can we expect from the years ahead?

It is likely that in the near future, CAD and BIM modelling will be revolutionized. While certain types of modelling may remain (through the use of plugins from a web viewer application for instance), it is likely that other types of modeling (especially 2D modelling) will be entirely abandoned.

Point clouds data coupled to high resolution images will be accessed online through an immersive visual experience both by experts and non 3D experts. These lidars data and pictures will also probably start populating most GIS and internal digital twins databases.

The internet keeps growing, its speed keeps improving and the online tools for 3D data exploitation are popping up like crazy. Come check our end to end solutions and embrace the future of surveying!

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