Saving Lives with Virtual Indoor Environments

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Among many duties, Northwood Chief of Police Leo Dorsey is responsible for providing a fast and effective response to emergency situations whenever and wherever they arise in Worth County, Iowa. It’s an important responsibility and one that he takes very seriously. "Schools, hospitals, office buildings, government buildings–any building really–can be the scene of emergencies where people are in danger. Mistakes in these situations can cost lives!"

"Before responding to an emergency, we need to be able to `see’ what we are getting into, to plan our route and to prepare for all the possibilities," said Chief Dorsey. "That means setting up a command post and remotely accessing, at the time of need, things like floor plans and blueprints, spherical imagery, videos and models of the building’s interior from multiple perspectives."

"In addition, before any real emergency arises, this kind of information enables us to improve our overall emergency readiness. We can have plans in place well in advance of an actual incident."

To make this all a reality, Chief Dorsey sought out Mr. Joel Rohne, the IT/GIS Director of Worth County. Mr. Rohne is responsible for all technology and communications initiatives in Worth County government offices.

"The Police Chief here had been asking me for better spatial information, such as blueprints, for a long time," said Mr. Rohne. "In particular, he was concerned with the data available for Northwood Kensett High School. This school only had old, outdated and hard-to-read blueprints available–that’s not good enough. Emergency responders need much more. They need to be able to actually see the layout, the indoor contents, the locations and obstacles."

In addition to acquiring accurate indoor spatial data, an easy to use visualization and measurement package accessible by multiple users was required. This would give officials a central repository for the data and an information solution which could be accessed in the field via the internet.

Working with IT Consultant Mr. Dan Corbin, Mr. Rohne set out to find not only a technology that could provide all of the indoor spatial data, but one that would be cost effective and quick to implement. It needed to be easy to use, relatively inexpensive, and able to produce highly accurate digital spatial information for every room and hallway.

To create a complete "model" of the interior, a full 360 degree scan was needed. First responders would then be able to use this information to take a virtual walk-through of the entire space in advance of actually going in.

Old, Traditional Approach: Slow and Costly
Indoor mapping has traditionally been done using a "Total Stations" or static laser scanning approach–a time consuming and costly procedure. With Total Stations, a tripod, laser and camera are set up to capture measurements and images at various locations. The equipment is then moved and set up again–many times in fact–until all perspectives of the room are assessed.

This method has several significant problems: it is labor intensive, time consuming, and it produces many datasets which all need to be merged into one. The cost is high and the time-to-completion is long.

For Northwood-Kensett High School and its 90 rooms, the time to acquire the spatial data with static scanning was conservatively estimated at 1 week. The associated processing of the data was estimated at another two weeks. Static scanning was simply too costly and slow.

Indoor Mobile Mapping
Mobile mapping systems are well established as the most efficient solution for mapping outdoor environments: they are faster, easier to execute, and highly productive. They rely on georeferencing for precise positioning, which in turn relies on precise positioning information from global positioning satellites. For this reason they have always been restricted to outdoor environments where satellites are in view. The recent introduction of Trimble’s Indoor Mobile Mapping Solution (TIMMS)–an indoor mobile mapping solution with positioning technology from Applanix–eliminates that restriction. TIMMS is a fast and cost-effective tool for accurately mapping and modeling interior spaces even without access to GPS.

What is TIMMS and How Does it Work?
TIMMS is the optimal fusion of technologies for capturing spatial data of indoor and other GNSS denied areas of all sizes and locations. It provides both LiDAR and spherical video of a facility, enabling the creation of accurate, real-life representations (maps, models) of interior spaces and all of its contents; every object in the interior space, including desks, chairs, stairs, and doors appear in the plan.

A manually operated push-cart, TIMMS accurately models interior spaces without accessing GPS. it consists of 3 core elements:
LIDAR and camera systems designed to work indoors in mobile mode
computers and electronics for completing data acquisition
data processing workflow for producing 2D / 3D floor plans and models.

The maps created are geo-located, meaning that the real world positions of each area of the building and its contents are known. No external infrastructure for providing positioning information is required–TIMMS is totally self-contained. Utilizing inertial technology and powerful processing software, TIMMS can be initialized immediately and can perform wide area mapping of a facility for extended periods of time. For the user, this means less time setting up equipment and more productivity, while ensuring consistent accuracy.

Creating Indoor Models of Northwood Kensett High School
Operating TIMMS in the school proved to be very simple; a single walkthrough of the school at normal walking speed was all it took to deliver full 360 degree indoor coverage. TIMMS was easily maneuvered in and around desks and other obstacles, making even complex, busy spaces effortless to assess. Once the walk-through was finished, software was used to produce accurate interior maps, w maps, videos, and 2D or 3D models.

Thousands of square feet of space were captured in just minutes; the entire building in less than a single day. The real world positions of each area of the building and all its contents were fully established. The data was able to be rendered in a 360 panoramic viewer, allowing the user to zoom, pan and measure items of interest as desired.

TIMMS Results: 50% Cost savings, 92% reduction in time-to-Completion
The fast collection of data with TIMMS reduced time-to-completion and increased overall cost-effectiveness. All 75,000 sq. ft. of Northwood Kensett High School was scanned in just 5 hours–a reduction of approximately 80% compared to the static method. Processing the collected data and making the final information product visually available to the customer on the Trimble Connected Community (TCC) was then accomplished in just 5 hours. In total, the final product was delivered to the customer in 92% less time of traditional static scanning at 50% of the cost.

TIMMS saved Northwood-Kensett High School a lot of time and money while delivering the end product like no other method can–visually, and online! Northwood is the first school in the United States to be scanned using this new method, although many are expected to follow. Mr. Rohne said, "Absolutely, it’s the next step, for emergency response especially. The more time you can save the more lives you’re going to save."

Contractor Dan Corbin added, "We think it speaks highly of Worth County. We think it speaks highly of Iowa. The emphasis here was not just on saving money, it was on education and the safety of our students while they’re at school."

Louis Nastro is the Director for Land Products at Applanix Corporation, where he is responsible for new business development and overall product direction for the Land business.

What is the Trimble Connected Community (TCC)?

The TTC is an online information management system that uses web-based tools to make managing projects hassle-free. It is an easy-to-use, fully customizable system with an elegant and easy to use interface. Virtually anyone can visualize the data from TIMMS with TCC.

A 1.095Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE

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