3D Laser scanning is starting to make inroads into AEC territory that not so long ago was operating mostly in 2D. So its not surprising that as the scanning hardware advances year on year the challenges of managing and working with large datasets within existing software infrastructure become greater. This has been the primary concern of point cloud software specialists Pointools who at the start of this year announced the availability of their plug-in Pointools Model for AutoCAD.
Pointools Model imports point clouds via POD files into the AutoCAD environment and displays the points in the viewport with various controls over shading and visibility. Applications include drawing or modelling from point clouds or viewing a proposal within a point cloud. The plug-in can also be used to work with aerial LIDAR or vehicle based scanning data for larger scale urban mapping and planning.
POD files are Pointools own format but can be easily created from almost any scan format using Pointools View Pro, a free viewer / data importer that can be downloaded from the Pointools website. There is also a command line batch convertor for processing multiple files.
Pointools Model uses the graphics hardware for performance allowing the user to work faster and with larger datasets bringing even multi-billion point datasets within reach of modest hardware. With some modern 3D scanners delivering tens of millions of points in a matter of minutes, many projects will benefit from this approach whilst smaller projects can expect a performance boost. Larger projects which may have required chopping up into small chunks can now be bought in whole and using the plug-ins select and hide tools areas of interest can be quickly isolated within AutoCAD.
As you work, data loads in the background so AutoCAD operation is not blocked and theres no waiting around for regens as you zoom in or pan around. Other than a simple frame rate slider ( balances density with speed during a pan or orbit), there are very few tuning options, the software seems to take care of this itself and adjusts as you work to keep things moving quickly.
Working in section is key to interpreting point cloud data and the plug-in makes it easy to do. Simply click the Add Section icon and a section is dropped into the viewport. The thickness can be adjusted and you get a real-time update as you reposition the section line. But perhaps the most important feature here is the ability to view a different section in each viewport. Examining scan data in two orthogonal sections really does make the difference when drawing detail that is not easy to see in elevation alone.
A section can also be set up to move along a polyline, useful for tunnels and rail like structures.
Point cloud data can be difficult to interpret and the plug-in offers a range of shading options to deliver clarity in almost any situation. These include point lighting and rescaling the point intensities to bring out detail. Each viewport can have its own shading which can really help on more complex projects. The shade by distance works well on aerial LIDAR or building facades where it can help pick up surface detail that intensity or colour might not capture.
Its good to share! Multiple users can work with the same point cloud data files simultaneously without locking each other out. Areas of the point cloud can be selected and hidden without affecting other users. Pointools has also promised network licensing for its products will be available in Feb this year.
For more information: www.pointools.com
Pointools Ltd are a specialist software company producing several products for handling point cloud data. Based in London, England, Pointools have, with their View Pro Software for quality animation and image production, developed a large number of dedicated users. Pointools software is designed to input data from most sources including several manufacturers native formats. Pointools Model for AutoCAD follows on from the successful plug in to Rhino software last year. With the recent addition of a number of resellers worldwide, 2009 is anticipated as being an important year for Pointools . Faraz Ravi, Director of Pointools, will be presenting at Spar 2009 in Denver at the end of March.