FARO User Conference

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The FARO user conference was excellent, in part because of the outstanding line-up of speakers. With nearly 300 attendees (more than expected), the first annual event was an unqualified success. In his Introduction to 3D Documentation, FARO’s Chief Technology Strategist Bernd Becker stressed that even though the work products can be beautiful, they’re not art, but rather reality. The reality theme echoed through the entire conference. Becker also discussed the FARO’s latest software products, including its new octree database. This database will allow the loading of four billion points in 10 seconds.

Of particular note in the presentations was one on 3D Printing by Abe Reichental from 3D systems. This technology has rapidly dropped in price, is being used in primary schools, and is attracting both boys and girls. Reichental believes 3D printing will give children a better future, and indeed, will no longer limit creativity to artists. By introducing children to CAD modeling, we will be producing the spatially-enabled workers of tomorrow. He added, this technology will encourage entrepreneurs and garage-startups. I was shocked to learn that these printers can now print metal through a process known as sintering. They can even print using chocolate!

Also of note was a keynote by Tom Kurke of Geomagic on intellectual property. It seems that, in some cases, scanners need to obtain permission before scanning. Takeaways were: 1) ask questions (who, if anybody, owns the copyright? Buildings built after 1990 are copyrightable), 2) if possible, transfer liability, and 3) double check before scanning scenes in which sculpture or art appears. It seems that, once again, technology has outpaced the law, but the operative word is: CYA.

Gonzalo Martinez from Autodesk discussed the democratization of data and gave a great example of what cloud computing will bring: today, 1 computer might take 10,000 seconds to derive an answer at a cost of 25 cents. Tomorrow, using the cloud, 10,000 computers will take one second, still at a cost of 25 cents.

Notwithstanding his recent appointment as CEO of CyArk, the organization heavily involved in heritage preservation, Tom Greaves spoke about new technologies such as low-powered handheld technology that uses radar and other sensors to see thru walls. He mentioned the coming explosion in indoor mapping with centimeter resolution, and said that this will be a ten times larger market than outdoor mapping.

He discussed the opportunities for true 3D video including for gesture recognition–think Kinect but high-resolution, improved automobile crash testing software and real 3D machine vision.

Speaking about CyArk, Greaves said one of the initiatives is an outreach to children, in an effort to get them engaged with their heritage. Computer gaming presentations may be the key to compete for their attention. In a follow-up conversation with Greaves, he said he sees a growth in the need for 3D professionals. This new career requires not only surveying and metrology knowledge, but also skills in modeling, photography and photogrammetry, IT skills for such things as database management, and project management. These, plus "domain expertise" in such fields as automotive, transporta- tion, civil works such as water treatment plants, or other disciplines will result in great demand for this new kind of well-rounded professional.

And as for the success of FARO’s Focus 3D scanner, I learned that there had been a six-month delay in delivery of units. I asked Becker (whom I wrote about in 2004: http://www.amerisurv.com/PDF/TheAmericanSurveyor_ChevesVisitToFARO_March2007.pdf) about the delay and he explained that orders were much greater than anticipated. Not a bad thing in my opinion, and evidence that the scanning market is very healthy.

To give you an example of the types of attendees, I sat in on a Forensic session. The presenter asked the audience how many of them were already involved in using scanning for forensics. Nobody raised their hand. Next he asked how many were involved in prosecution. Again, nobody raised their hand. This told me that the audience was composed of scanners who were looking to expand their offerings by branching out into accident and crime scene investigation. My point is that people are getting into scanning and are looking at ways to do more.

And as I’ve been saying for years, it’s not enough to just buy technology. You need the right people and a top-down commitment to finding ways to make money with technology. With land development in the toilet, it’s incumbent on surveyors to find other ways to make money, and scanning is certainly one of those ways. One of the most exciting presentations to me showed how companies are using scanning during construction. If something, say, a pillar, is built in the wrong place, and it can be caught at the right stage, it can eliminate all kinds of re-work costs.

Marc Cheves is editor of The American Surveyor.