Future Trends and Challenges in 3D Laser Scanning and Modeling

Type in “future trends of 3D laser scanning and modeling” in your search bar and you’ll get a bewildering array of applications for nearly every type of industry imaginable. Construction? Check. Biomedical imaging? Check. Urban planning? Check. Manufacturing? Check. Archaeology? Check. Mining? Historical preservation and restoration? Fashion? Solar energy? Check, check, check, and check.

3D mapping and modeling, which are accomplished using point clouds of data collected by laser scanners, have come very far very fast. Anyone around in the infancy of laser scanning can recall how large, heavy, and slow the equipment was, how expensive is was, and how fuzzy the data was. Once the technology became more efficient, affordable and widely available, however, there seemed to be no limit to its uses. Non-invasive and highly accurate, laser scanners can to used to:

  • create topographical maps
  • monitor stockpiles and calculate volume
  • detect dents in aircraft skin invisible to the naked eye
  • provide crime and accident scene data
  • survey both underground mines and soaring bridges
  • help visualize buildings in the design process
  • model historical objects
  • simulate rising water in a flood plain

Future of Laser Scanning and Modeling

Compiling a complete list of applications for laser scanning would be impossible because it’s constantly changing. New applications are always being invented as people in a variety of industries devise ways to harness the software to answer their questions, speed up their work, or add a never-before imagined level of precision to their output.

In addition to new applications, laser scanning equipment becomes more and more sophisticated and able to solve problems previously associated with map and model creation. For example, one stumbling block to efficiency used to be registration, which is the process of aligning scans to obtain a single comprehensive view.

Multiple scans of an area or object are required to capture data from every angle in order to get full coverage. Registration either requires targets to be placed in the field or time-consuming labor lining the views up manually on the computer. This may soon be a thing of the past, however, as newer laser scanners are becoming more adept at pre-registering scans in real time.

Visual Inertial System (VIS) technology can track the scanner’s position and automatically coordinate each new position. The more sophisticated this technology becomes, the faster the process of creating maps and models will be, reducing man hours. Point cloud to cloud registration in the field slashes time and effort, with fast transfer of data to office software via the cloud or a USB stick.

The capacity for data collection will also expand. From hundreds of thousands of points per second, scanners now exist that collect >2 million points per second. Equipment is also becoming more intuitive and compact. Tablets can control laser scanners. In time, it’s predicted that laser scanning and modeling tools will be as simple to use as a cell phone camera.

AI will be applied to laser scanning and modeling in more ways, instructing computers to weigh certain criteria in order to make decisions without humans. The day may not be far off when scanning, registration, and modeling will be seamlessly automated. What already seems like a fast process, compared to traditional mapping and model-making, will become exponentially faster. For example, the time needed to create a BIM will be reduced from days to hours.

Is There a Limit to What Laser Scanning Can Do?

Don’t count on it to wash your car or do your laundry, but for industries that make that car and the washer and dryer, the technology will only continue to help refine the manufacturing process and improve products. You may never see an as-built of the historical home you tour, but it will have played a role in saving the once-fragile structure from a wrecking ball.  Laser scanning may not improve your golf score, but it will help create more fabulous courses on which to play.

Precision, accuracy, efficiency, speed, and safety define the current field of 3D laser scanning. Where the technology goes in the future is anyone’s guess. After all, when did anyone first imagine holding a computer, which once took up a huge space and required hundreds of vacuum tubes, in the palm of a child’s hand?

Laser scanning is a tool that offers just such possibilities.

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