September 20, 2022
Reality capture is not just one technology but a whole group of technologies revolutionizing the construction tech industry. It’s all based around the premise that being able to scan a building or object, then transfer that scan into a modeling or visualization plan, can help better represent what is taking place on the job site.
There are a number of ways that reality capture software is making a significant impact on the industry, but even with that cursory explanation, it can appear obvious why it might be so important.
The idea that you can 3D scan something on a construction site, gather all the data points, and then be able to create 3D models that anyone all over the globe can access is astounding. It has allowed for real-time analysis, and the ability for all stakeholders to get together in a virtual room and go through the current state of the project–even if the architect is in New York City, the engineer in Shanghai, and the owner in San Francisco.
Because there are more than one reality capture softwares, tools, and techniques, there’s more than one answer to this question. But here are some thoughts:
Drone technology is becoming ubiquitous on the job site, especially on large sites spanning large areas, such as large commercial projects, industrial projects, and infrastructure projects. As drones become more and more affordable and easier to operate–and more intelligent and better at capturing reality–they can be an almost constant site buzzing over construction sites.
These drones create a map of the site, using a coordinate system, and can capture data in a point cloud. From the information that these drones generate, entire maps of job sites are manufactured and transferred through the reality capture tool into a BIM product. In BIM (Building Information Modeling) a wireframe is constructed digitally for the project.
And from that BIM modeling, all stakeholders in a project, whether they’re down the street or across the country, can see in real-time the exact status of the project. Some BIM modeling can be as detailed as to show the individual studs and even electrical work. This all helps to save time and expense as the project continues, because these stakeholders can identify problems early and address them while they’re small.
Far beyond the time that the drones land and are shut down, architects and engineers can access the BIM data to see the progress of the site, locate areas where there may be potential problems, look for oversights and mistakes, and prevent disasters before they happen.
LiDAR, also known as laser scanning, fires pulses of laser light and then measures the amount of time it takes for the light to come back. You may have heard of LiDAR technology being used in archaeology fields to locate ruins in the thick undergrowth of Mexico or the Amazon. But it’s also used on a construction site for the same effect, with its 3D laser scanning producing highly accurate data sets.
LiDAR can be used from the ground or the air, so it is seen in surveying equipment on the ground, in drones in the air, or even in low-flying aircraft–especially if using the LiDAR to survey a large span like a highway or bridge under construction.
A step ahead of its predecessor, photogrammetry software (a type of 3D scanning that uses photography and triangulation to create 3D models), LiDAR is really pushing the boundaries of what can be accomplished with the technology that we have right now. And the bright news is that this is only the beginning, as newer technologies based on LiDAR are being tested even now.
LIDAR is being used in construction in many ways. It’s penetrating lasers can help to map out a job site before the land clearing process has gone underway, to identify obstacles and even structures that exist below the foliage. It can even be used on clear-cut terrain to locate underlying structures such as culverts, water mains, and the foundations of buildings that have been covered in earth. All of this goes to make the process of preparing a job site for work so much easier.
We live in an age where robots move freely on job sites. While not as common sights as drones, robots, often tracked vehicles about the size of a large cooler, will roam the job site in a way similar to a Roomba. These roaming robots are recording more than just what can be viewed from aerial cameras and laser scanning, they are recording indoor things like positions of fixtures, columns, and even electrical outlets.
It’s safe to say that any large construction project in the near future is going to have these roaming robots traversing the site and making highly detailed maps of the interiors of buildings.
These robots, as they create detailed maps of structures, are building a real-time map from the ground level of the job site. This is different from the work which can be accomplished with drones, as the on-the-ground robots can work in buildings that already have roofs built. The mapping that these robots do can be uploaded and turned into a BIM graphical interface.
BIM is where the rubber meets the road in terms of laser scanners and high-technology drones. If it weren’t for BIM to create a digital twin of the construction site that is being examined, architecture and engineering fields wouldn’t be getting much use out of it in the real world.
With these four methods of reality capture, one can continue to leverage point clouds and work with reality capture technology now and in the future.