Lowering the Barriers Through Innovation to Streamline Scan-to-model Point Cloud Workflows

If you are not solving a problem you dont have a business at least thats the general rule, although exceptions do apply. Perhaps its more fair to say, If someone doesnt value your offering enough to pay money for it you dont have a business. Thats why at Pointools we focus entirely on solving user problems to deliver real value.

We spend a substantial amount of time with our customers, working with them to fully understand their barriers to adoption so that we may lower or even eliminate them via our software solutions. But as we deliver a solution for our customers number one problem it seems a new number one priority bubbles up to the top. Simply put, its like playing Whack-a-Mole.

We started our business nearly 10-years ago on the back of one mans need to visualize his 3D laser scan data. His problem: hed spent 100K on a 3D laser scanner to quickly, accurately, and safely measure existing conditions. And yet he had no easy way to view and review the digital point cloud replica his scanner produced. His PC hardware couldnt handle the large point cloud models, and his existing CAD software didnt have the first clue what to do with the millions of captured points. He really wanted a lightweight app that would work on regular CAD PCs for viewing his survey data.

Fast forward to 2011, and Pointools has become the established market leader for point cloud visualization and animation, sporting a list of users which reads like a whos who and includes 3 of the 4 largest car manufacturers in the world, government and law enforcement agencies (some we can mention and some we cant!), world-class universities, non-profits and conservation charities, architects, engineers, surveyors, and constructors, as well as Hollywood film studios and ship builders. Pointools users are indeed a varied bunch.

Thanks to some hard work and winning innovation our high-performance software now works with the largest point cloud models inside the broadest range of applications to enable all users to realize the value of their 3D laser scan data inside their preferred software environment. As a result Pointools software can index scan data from more terrestrial, mobile, and airborne scanning systems than any other software. Using Pointools POD (the worlds most reusable) point cloud file format, the data can be natively reused without further time-wasting translation. Of course this means that we rarely now hear users complaining about the inaccessibility of their point cloud data. Another barrier or two eliminated.

But we do hear (and personally experience) repeated problems moving these massive files around the internet. By solving the visualization problem and by enabling users to view billions of points, we are encouraging the use of larger files and in the process are exacerbating the old distribution problem. Of course we are not the only ones at fault; the Pointools POD file is a chunk smaller (point for point) than other native point cloud file formats but thats no defence. It certainly doesnt eliminate the problem of slow distribution across networks.

To do that we are working with our partner Bentley Systems the global infrastructure (AEC & GIS) software vendor and a Pointools Vortex Platform licensee to bring to market a new client-server solution for dramatically accelerating remote access to enormous point cloud files. Like Pointools, Bentley is no stranger to what CIOs call The BIG File problem. Many Bentley users are globally distributed with project teams located in far-flung corners around the world. For years they have struggled to collaborate efficiently for work-sharing due to the size and number of files they need to review and edit. In response, Bentley brought its ProjectWise project team collaboration system to market to manage access to project files. This helped to eliminate many issues surrounding versioning and data reliability but it did nothing for access speed. To fix that problem caching was introduced; first on the desktop and after on local servers. This time-saving innovation proved very popular with project teams and eliminated the download-tax normally incurred for teams checking files out remotely.

Still however, a minor change to a large file required the whole file be uploaded to the server before being re-downloaded to the local cache. Again we see a software vendor solving one problem, only for a new one to surface. Whack another mole! Undeterred, Bentley continued to streamline the collaboration workflow and introduced DFT or delta file transfer capabilities to ProjectWise. The result; even on the very largest files, only the changes are moved across the network. Slashing wait times for file check-in/check-out and freeing up network bandwidth to improve the lives of all network users not just ProjectWise users.

Clearly caching can help project teams speed their local access to large point cloud models but someone still has to pay the download-tax and because DFT is optimized for moving changes its not well suited for accelerating access to large files that dont change. So to lower the barriers normally associated with multi-gigabyte point cloud files Pointools has developed a client-server architecture to enable ProjectWise to stream point cloud data across all networks.

With this innovation for accelerating point cloud file data access a user need only download the points he needs regardless of the point cloud file size and it all happens automatically for him. Recently showcased at Bentley Systems annual user conference named BE Together in Philadelphia, this forthcoming ProjectWise capability received much keynote time and was the talk of the LIVE Zone (exhibition hall) where Pointools exhibited all of its point cloud software offerings.

And no wonder. At a time when brown-field projects outnumber green-field projects, the ability to quickly, accurately, and safely capture existing conditions has never been in greater need. And with hundreds of mainstream engineering, CAD, and GIS applications from Bentley, Autodesk, and many others now supporting scan-to-model workflows thanks to Pointools innovations, point clouds are on everyones minds and many peoples lips. And by lowering yet another barrier through point cloud streaming innovations they will soon be on even more remote desktops too.