The Appeal of 3D Mobile Mapping Data

What is the appeal? Why are the deliverables from these mobile mapping systems so much more desirable than what we are accustomed to expect using conventional data collection methodologies? Here are a few of the distinctive advantages:

1. More data – conventional data collection techniques, even with the fastest robotic total station, produce discrete points on targeted objects. Mobile LiDAR produces millions of points, not just of the targeted objects, but the entire environment surrounding them.

2. Complete data – nothing is missed or forgotten.

3. Richer data – dense colorized point clouds

4. Three-dimensional data – x,y,z values for each point creates a 3D model

5. Merged data types – 360 spherical images registered with colorized point clouds

6. Reusable data – while data may have been collected for a specific target feature or purpose, the dataset can be revisited at any time to gather information about other features and applied for different purposes.

Data produced by 3D mobile mapping systems provides a better replication of reality than two dimensional data sources. Essentially, there is less correlation work for the mind to do. Imagine trying to visualize the conditions on a site or plan a project using traditional discrete point data (on a paper drawing or computer screen) and a stack of individual photographs. We go back and forth between the two data sources, trying to match up what we see in the picture to what we interpret from the point data. We are viewing in 2D while our mind is trying to envision in 3D.

Now compare this to opening a 3D dataset on your computer screen. Rotate, pan, and zoom 360 degrees from the center of an image set. Pictures provide instant cognitive recognition of the setting and features – we immediately see and comprehend exactly what we are looking at. Navigate freely through the project as if we were on site. Measure and locate features to a high level of accuracy from a dense mat of LiDAR points. The interface is seamless and intuitive.

The daily worldwide use of dynamic geographic data and street-view imagery produced by major internet mapping providers has raised the expectations of the general public, government agencies, and professionals. When data consumers learn that they can have similar tools at their fingertips targeted to their specific applications and geographic areas, there is no question that they want it. We are no longer satisfied with 2D paper maps to help us determine where we are and how to get to our destination. Car navigation systems provide a perspective view so we can easily visualize a turn-by-turn route and be aware of what is immediately ahead.

Another impetus to the demand for 3D mobile mapping data is being driven by the major CAD software companies. The fact that these companies have built LiDAR handling functionality into their core programs, rather than seeking third-party solutions, signifies the importance of this dynamic data source. CAD programs are primarily used by designers. Visualization in 3D provides a realistic picture of the concept and the details. It also helps to avoid spatial conflicts between components and installations that are often discovered in 2D designs – unfortunately during construction. Mobile mapping systems can quickly deliver 3D base data on which designs can be formulated.

The best understanding of why mobile mapping data has such a strong appeal can be learned from end-users who have experienced the deliverables from Topcon’s IP-S2 system. Here is a vivid description that clearly conveys the message:

"It’s true cutting-edge, Star Trek-type technologies all coming together to create this virtual three-dimensional world that we’re living in. And you can reach out and touch it from your computer desktop as if you were standing out in the field, in person, spinning around in circles, looking at all of these features".

– Scott Dow, Director of Operations, Aerotec LLC

We live and operate in a 3D world. Shouldn’t we expect to do our planning, design, and management in the same environment?

Being directly connected to the mobile mapping world provides the unique advantage of experiencing the mesh of new technology with our existing workflows and processes. Day by day, there is an increasing demand for the 3D data that can be delivered by LiDAR / Camera mobile mapping systems.

About the Author

Richard Rybka

Richard Rybka consults with Topcon Positioning Systems as an Applications Journalist. He retired from full-time employment at Topcon in January 2012. During his years with the company, he worked as a product application specialist for mobile mapping systems and GPS devices. Richard also wrote numerous application stories that were published in trade journals and was a regular contributor to LiDAR News. He lives in rural Alabama.
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