TopoLIFT Replacing the Tripod for Laser Scanning

Proving that you can always improve anything, the newly patented TopoLIFT from Certainty 3D is probably the biggest change in tripod technology in a hundred years. TopoLIFT increases static laser scanner field productivity for land survey applications by about 400%. Thats not a misprintlaser scanning operations will typically completed in about 20% of the time required by traditional tripod operations. Moreover, TopoLIFT improves data quality and enhances operator safety. You will see many more TopoLIFT s in the field in the months and years to come; because it works. For the readers of LiDAR news, I am writing this article to take you through the rather interesting journey from TopoLIFT conception through implementation.

The Early Days

As the former president of Riegl USA, I was there at the beginning taking my early Riegl LMS-Z series scanners out in the field. Eight thousand points per second for the LMS-Z390i required a scan time of about 35 minutes. For a Leica Scan Station at two thousand points per second a scan time might be just short of an hour. I would set up a portable office next to the tripod, find enough shade to read my laptop screen and make myself comfortable. That process was repeated about six to ten times per day.

The Higher the Better!

While it might sound like a flashback to the 60s, the higher the better in the context of laser scanning can be taken quite literally. Users quickly discovered that the effective range along a road surface was primarily dependent on the incident angle between the laser beam and the road. So the higher the tripod, the further down the road one could scan. So now you only had to set up your office, find some shade or place your laptop and your head in a box (yes, it happened all the time) and carry around an 8 foot tripod to mount your 45 pound scanner on. We laser scanner operators were all living the dream!!

Moving the Laser Scanner into the Truck

By about 2005 I was closing in on 50 years old. I realized that carrying around all this equipment, setting up next to moving traffic and working outside on a laptop was not how I envisioned my career path. So I borrowed some ideas from customers and developed a moving stabilized scanning platform named Rosie. Rosie was a Ford F550 service truck on which we installed a recreational vehicle hydraulic stabilization system and platform to raise and lower the laser scannerall from the comfort of a full sized cab.

Rosie was a beast, but she proved that scanning could be done more efficiently in a self-contained stop and go style. Set up times only took as long as needed to drive Rosie to the next position, push the button to lower the hydraulics footers, and raise the scanner. Operations were under my control in the comfort of a heated/cooled cab where I could see my laptop screen. We immediately saw productivity increases of about 250%. Life was goodsort of.

I also found myself in hydraulic hell. The fun of dealing with pumps and hydraulic fluid aside, I soon realized that power was the main problem. Pumps lifting 6000 pounds of truck pulled a lot of current. That was not a problem if we kept the engine idling to recharge the batteries, but the engine motion vibrated through the chassis and the scanner platform. In addition, the slightest movement of the 200lb operator in the cab seemed to give Rosie a shake. So Rosie was not only messy, expensive and power hungry, she was rather unstable; not the first such relationship for me. After a couple of years, we broke it off.

TopoLIFT is Born

By the time Rosie and I ended our relationship in about 2010, the new really fast scanners were coming on the market. Riegl introduced the VZ400; a scanner 15x faster than the LMS-Z series. While the market was excited, I realized now the standard tripod operation would be the primary operational bottleneck in the workflow. So I got to thinking, why did I try to stabilize a 6000lb truck when I only wanted to stabilize a 20lb scanner? Hmmmm. . .

It occurred to me that I needed a stable tripod completely isolated from the truck. This new tripod had to be standard and simple to install. The operator should be able to run his scanner/tripod operations from inside the cab. The most important criterion was value; the increased productivity it brought to laser scanning operations had to provide a level of value many times its cost. About four prototypes and two years later we hit every criteria out of the park. Todays TopoLIFTwas born.

The linked videos found on the Certainty 3D website show theTopoLIFT in action. From setup to breakdown each scan location takes about 4 to 6 minutes. The bridge (scanning platform) is completely isolated from the truck. The lift mechanism runs on a simple 12VDC motor. TopoLIFT is compact and travels well to the project location. Setting up the TopoLIFT takes about 5 minutes. The operator is comfortable and safe in the cab as he/she operates the scanner. He/She locates reference targets (typically rods over markers) assuring correct fit to survey control, checks coverage and then moves to the next location.

TopoLIFTincreases field productivity from 15-20 scans per day on a standard tripod to 55-70 scans per day. So setups are increased by about 300%. Moreover, the additional TopoLIFT platform height increases the effective scanner range down the road by about 300% over traditional tripods. Thus the number of required setups is reduced by about 30%. The TopoLIFT pays for itself quickly by reducing field operational time (and cost) by about 80%.

Certainty 3D will promote the TopoLIFT much more heavily in 2014. As the first adopters have run their TopoLIFT for over two years now, the satisfaction level is extremely high and supportive of all productivity claims. The market is ready for the TopoLIFT. I would hope that my industry colleagues will reflect upon this article whenever they might see a TopoLIFT and perhaps be inspired to find solutions to whatever productivity challenges they might face in their daily operations.

About the Author

Ted Knaak

Ted Knaak started his professional career as a control systems analyst for General Electric Space Systems Division through the eighties. In 1990, he moved to Florida where he was exposed to lidar technology at Schwartz Electro-Optics serving as marketing/sales and program manager. Mr. Knaak founded Riegl USA in 1993 and has since been actively involved with lidar and laser scanning technology. In 2011 he founded Certainty 3D, a company focused on data processing software and technology solutions for the laser scanning industry. Certainty 3D’s primary product is TopoDOT™ a point cloud/calibrated image processing program for extracting CAD models from LiDAR data. Mr. Knaak holds MSEE and MSME degrees from Brown and Drexel universities.
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