Where were you when you first saw a 3-D laser scanner?
It was 2004 and I was in the bowels of a freshly drained 40 foot deep concrete pit at Universal Studios Floridas Ripsaw Falls water ride at 11:30 PM when I first used a laser scanner on a real project. I still think back to the many projects, countries and people that I have met through my career in laser scanning and get a chill. Laser scanning has come into its own in this new decade. Id like to take a moment to reflect on where weve been… and where were going.
You might be a Scan Head if…
You brought a pillow and headphones to work.
You had at least 75 feet of Ethernet cable with you at all times.
You knew your scanners ip address better than your Moms phone number.
Your backseat had equipment worth more than your house.
You invented the next best cardboard screen shade ever in existence.
Everyone remembers the pains us early adopters faced in the field – long scan times, lugging batteries, squinting at computer screens, and of course squeezing every last bit of RAM out of that Pentium 4. That was when we measured scan jobs not in hours but in days. I remember when getting the next paying gig was like Christmas and then having to learn about every last bug in the software and their workarounds. It was truly a labor of love thinking back… no one complained; we were all in awe of what was upon us.
And now its happening again.
Scanners are collecting at kilohertz and even megahertz rates now. Batteries fit in the palm of your hand and last half a day on a single charge. Hard drives hold 10 times the data at 3 times the write speed. Out of Memory errors are a thing of the past. But what hasnt changed is the love for this blossoming technology. It has transformed my life and shaped my career. I, like many others, started as a CAD tech in a land surveying company providing scanning services. Never in my wildest dreams did I think Id be doing scanning work in Japan, Germany, Montreal, British Columbia and Brazil. Here in the U.S.A. I have worked in nuclear plants, on aircraft carriers, submarines, historical buildings, crime scenes, movie sets you name it. I have made long-lasting friendships with my scanning brothers and sisters around the globe at events like SPAR, the Leica HDS User Conference and now the FARO User Conference (http://3d-documentation-conference.com/information/).
The hardware has finally reached a place where production now meets demand and many new companies are investing in laser scanners for cost savings, improved safety, increased production or simply a competitive advantage. For the most part, we are past the days of a scanner sitting on the shelf as simply a marketing tool, although this recession did make things interesting.
Whats on the horizon now?
Software – the single most crucial part to moving laser scanning forward in acceptance and disrupting the status quo. Autodesk, Bentley, Intergraph, Aveva, and many other big software companies have either native point cloud capabilities, or have valid plug-ins making the point cloud a valuable deliverable. Progressive companies like Pointools (www.pointools.com) are putting the power of their Vortex engine into programs like Google SketchUp and Rhino. This opens up the use of point clouds to a massive user base at a fraction of the cost of other point cloud programs. Getting data into point cloud engines is also becoming easier as scanner vendors are improving file compatibility by supporting more formats. AutoCAD 2011s native point cloud engine can import LAS, PCG and now FAROs FLS binary files.
The future looks bright… I hope to share our stories of scanning in the trenches (pun intended) at this years SPAR conference in Houston (http://www.sparconference.com/11/public/enter.aspx) see you there.