The FARO X330 Goes Mobile

In 2009 if you were searching for a static laser scanner it would have been very likely that you would have searched and never found FARO. Although they have been providing systems for quite some time they were not a major player. The PHOTON system was not much different than any other system on the market. They were large, required two people to efficiently operate a field unit, and expensive.

FARO was well known in the mechanical field due to the FARO Arm, but was almost unknown to the surveying and BIM communities. In 2010 this changed. The FARO FOCUS 120 (3D) was released in October 2010 and the static scanning market took immediate notice. FARO could not keep up with demand. The FOCUS was an overnight success.

Just three years later, in October 2013, FARO introduced the FOCUS X330. While it maintains the exact same outward appearance as the 120, and a fair increase in price, the X330 appears to have been very well received. Supporting a low-end GPS unit for approximate positioning outdoors, a range of 330 meters, and reduced interference from sunlight, the 330 undoubtedly has to be considered by anybody purchasing a static scanner.

The ScanLook system was among the first commercial systems to support the FOCUS 120 for mobile scanning. When the X330 was announced we immediately wanted to get one to see how it would work in a mobile setting. In January 2014 we were given that opportunity on a cold, windy, overcast day. It was just over 20F with winds of 20 to 30 mph. Our FARO account manager, Derrick McBreairty, arrived in the morning and we went about attaching the helical kit in preparation for a few hours of scanning. After a short lunch we set up our base station, scanned our boresight field, and then scanned a neighborhood and some local roadways.

Back in the office the boresight was computed and the point clouds were being generated. This was the moment we had been waiting for and we were eager to see what advantage, if any, we would have in mobile mode using the X330. Could we scan objects hundreds of meters distant from the vehicle? Was the data cleaner? Was the interference from sunlight mitigated? After viewing just a few hundred feet of scan data we could clearly see that there was a definite improvement over the FOCUS 120. The point cloud for an entire neighborhood was generated and even more became clear.

What did we see? First, the intensity of the data seems to be improved. It is very good with the 120 but with the X330 it is excellent. It doesnt seem to fall off with distance or angle of incidence as much as it did with the 120. Second, there seems to be more data on the ground out to 50 meters. Weve always gotten data out to 65 meters but it would drop off rapidly around 30 to 35 meters. Now it is much more abundant out to a full 50 meters.

What about data hundreds of meters away? We cannot conclusively say much on this. As we were scanning typical neighborhoods along normal roadways, the angle of incidence remains unchanged for both systems. Once you get out to 50 meters with a scanner mounted no more than 2.5 to 3 meters high the laser is nearly parallel to the ground (~87 degrees). There is no need to re-iterate here how that affects the data on the ground.

What about taller objects such as buildings? Most of the time in mobile scanning we hit a ditch, fence, tree or brush line, or buildings. All of these things block scanning hundreds of meters off the vehicle path. Even though we werent in an area with any tall buildings we still expected to see something beyond 120 meters but there wasnt anything like that in our data. Even viewing the completely unfiltered point cloud had no data out to those ranges.

The jury is out on what can be scanned beyond 120 meters in mobile mode. It is possible there was a setting or something we didnt have time to properly adjust in this first attempt. It could also be a function of temperature. We were scanning in the low 20s (Fahrenheit) and this is at the very low-end of the scanners range (-5 to 40C). A little more testing is required to fully determine the potential for longer range mobile scanning with the X330. Also, this test was done just once with only one scanner. Thats a pretty small sample for any statistical analysis.

The accompanying image shows just a small sample of an X330 mobile scan.

To see a ScanLook X330 mobile video visit our website and click on the Products->X330 menu item. There is no question the FARO X330 is a nice addition to both static and mobile scanning.

About the Author

Jeff Fagerman

Jeff Fagerman is the CEO and a licensed surveyor of LiDAR USA. Jeff is a graduate of Ferris State University and Purdue with a Masters degree from the School of Civil Engineering. Jeff is also a PLS #22408 in Alabama and a Certified Photogrammetrist. Jeff is interested in solutions for GIS, surveying, civil engineering, agriculture, forensics, BIM, heritage mapping - all things 3D and beyond. He has spent his lifetime in geomatics development which has been his specialty, particularly regarding the cutting edge technology for photo triangulation. He is also very familiar with land surveying and photo control work with conventional total stations, levels, etc., and also with the latest GPS technology. LiDAR USA is a small, aggressive team of pioneers in geomatics searching for new, innovative, and affordable solutions for the measurement sciences. They are interested in solutions for GIS, surveying, civil engineering, agriculture, forensics, BIM, heritage mapping - all things 3D and beyond. Recent focus for the company has been on ground-based LIDAR with particular emphasis on building an economical mobile mapping system, ScanLook.
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