Lidar, a way of using laser light to measure the distance of objects, has come a long way since it was first used on airplanes 1960. Today you see it mounted on drones, robots, self-driving cars, and more. Since 2016, Leica Geosystems has been considering ways to apply the technology across a range of industries, from forensics to building design to film. (Leica Geosystems was acquired by Swiss industrial company Hexagon in the year 2005 and is separated by Leica Microsystems and Leica Camera).
To do this, Leica Geosystems has condensed the often clunky, 3D-scanning lidar technology into a container the size of a soft drink can. A line of products called BLK was specifically designed for the task of “reality capture,â€ and is used in a number of ongoing projects, including the mapping of old water systems tucked under Naples used to cool the city naturally, the explorations of Egyptian tombsand modeling the mysterious contours of Scotland Underground tunnelsas Wired UK recently reported
The star of these research activities is the BLACK 360, which rotates like a 360-degree camera on a tripod to record its surroundings. Instead of taking photos, everything is measured with lasers. The device can be positioned and moved to create multiple scans that can be compiled at the end to create a 3D model of an environment. “The same type of (lidar) sensor that is in the self-driving car is used in the BLK 360,” says Andy Fontana, reality capture specialist at Leica Geosystems. “But instead of a narrow field of view, it has a wide field of view. So it goes in all directions.â€
In addition to the 360, Leica Geosystems also offers a Flying sky scannera scanner for robotand a scanner that can to be carried and work on the go. The Rhode Island School of Design-led team studying Naples’ waterways uses both the 360 and To-Go devices to scan as much of the city as possible. Finding out the particular designs of ancient cities that were used to create conduits for water as a natural cooling infrastructure can provide insights into how modern cities around the world might mitigate the urban heat island effect
Once all scans come from the devices, they exist as 3D point clouds – clusters of data points in space. This format is commonly used in the engineering industry and can also be used to create visualizations such as: Scottish basement project. â€œYou can see itâ€™s pixelated. All those little pixels are measurements, individual measurements. So this is a kind of point cloud,” explains Fontana. â€œWhat you can do with it is transform it and actually turn it into a 3D surface. Here you can use this in many other applications.â€
Lidar has become an increasingly popular tool in Archaeology, as it’s able to get more accurate measurements of a room than images alone with scans that take less than a minute – and can be triggered remotely from a smartphone. But Leica Geosystems has found a number of useful applications for this type of 3D data.
One of the industries interested in this technology is film. Imagine this scenario: A large studio is building a complete movie set for an expensive action movie. Special structures and platforms are required for a specific scene. After the scene is shot, the set is demolished to make room for the construction of another set. If the editing process decides that the footage captured is actually not good enough, the crew would have to rebuild the entire structure and bring the people back – a costly process
However, another option now is for the film crew to scan each set they build. And if something is missing or something needs to be added at the last minute, the scene can be edited virtually on the computer with the 3D scan. “You can fix things in CGI a lot easier than having to recreate (the physical set) from scratch,” says Fontana. “And if it’s too big to do on the computer, they can really recreate it exactly because they have the 3D data.”
Besides film, forensics is an important part of Leica Geosystems’ business. Instead of just photographing a crime scene, they’re now scanning a crime scene, and for a variety of reasons. “Let’s say it’s a (car) accident scene. If they do a few scans, you can capture the entire scene in 3D in 2 minutes. And then you can pull the cars out of circulation,” says Fontana. â€œThis 3D data can be used in court. Skid marks can even be seen in the scan. They can see that this person braked and there were these skid marks and they can calculate the weight of the car versus the length of the skid mark to see how fast they were going.”
In more graphic situations, like a murder or a shootout, this 3D data can be used to “create cones that show a statistical confidence in where that bullet came from based on how it hit the wall,” he says
Hopefully, as lidar continues to expand in proven applications, the growing variety of use cases will inspire innovators to think of new approaches to this legacy technology