Get To The Point: PointCab SoftwareInnovative 2D Visualization and Analysis for 3D Data

A 1.136Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE

Quick Impressions & Key Takeaways
Compatible with any LIDAR point cloud
Extremely fast
la carte pricing
Novel processing technique
Integrates into existing workflows
Multi-format outputs: DXF, DWG, DAE, & more

The LiDAR News technology review team recently took advantage of an opportunity to evaluate a new software offering out of Germany. According to the advertising, PointCab "creates a layout, section, poly lines, profile lines, DTM, meshes, and project documentation".

We ran some quick validation tests using our own data and present the findings and opinions here.

PointCab Software has its origins in an effort by Laser Scanning Europe to find a way to optimize LIDAR post-processing and analysis workflows for their customers. In 2013, founders Richard Steffen and Eike Thiele produced a new, enhanced version of the product with a more intuitive interface and faster performance. They spun-off a separate company (PointCab GmbH) that same year.

According to Richard Steffen, the CEO, their proprietary data format "lsd(x)" was extended in 2014 to unordered pointclouds which then allowed the software to handle data from mobile LIDAR systems and also point cloud data from UAV photogrammetry. PointCab claims that the software is 6 times faster than comparable packages. The software can be used in a wide field of applications, like civil engineering, planing, surveying, forensic and archaeology.

The Secret Sauce
CEO Steffen told us that the software employs unique algorithms which leverage multicore processor technology and run in parallelized format. The pointcloud processing speed scales directly with the number of cores available within the processor.

For our testing, we employed a Zeb1 handheld scanner for data generation to ascertain how well PointCab would handle the Zeb1’s lower resolution data. The software was initially designed to handle data only from high-resolution static scanners, but as mentioned, it is now able to import virtually any type of LIDAR data (even point cloud data from UAV software like Pix4D) for geometric analysis. PointCab is able to import an impressively number of pointcloud formats.

The approach to optimizing workflows seems to be rather simple: take massive LIDAR pointcloud datasets and render them into easy, CAD-ingestible formats (e.g. DWG, DXF, DAE) and provide web export and documentation (e.g. HTML, PDF). This way, Steffen informed us, legacy CAD workflows can still take advantage of information extracted from scan data without users having to spend large amounts of money updating data-handling infrastructure. Likewise, companies can share information with their customers (who may lack the capability to visualize point cloud data directly) by submitting more standard documentation to them.

For this brief software review, we confined our testing to just a few of the many modules available in PointCab. We looked at an intricate building footprint (see Figure 1) and extracted layout lines. Additionally, we looked at a more simplified footprint of a residential building. We then tested the volume extraction tool on data from a small stockpile of soil. We chose to use our own data as opposed to the samples available on the PointCab downloads page. The data samples are very interesting and, clearly, were generated using high-resolution, high-accuracy scanners. We noticed that the speed to render the plan and profile images was very quick. The software seems to be as fast as the company claims. We were able to rapidly move from one step to the next without waiting. For reference, the test computer we used was a Lenovo W530 workstation with 32GB of RAM and an Intel CoreTM i7 vPro chip. Minimum RAM requirements: 2GB Ramn only. PointCab can be run also on a small Laptop.

In several seconds, the complete LAZ (compressed LAS) file was loaded and rendered into the 3 different 2D views. Using the Layout tool to render a planimetric layout was even faster. The ability to parse the data from buildings and features by "slicing" through the objects (horizontally and vertically) is outstanding. By using a 2D layout, the presentation of the point cloud data is much more coherent and understandable. Fishing through clouds of data has always been difficult, but PointCab seems to have found an easy way to allow the user to innately grasp what they’re looking at.

The Volume Calculation tool was likewise as fast. In this case, the output products are a PDF report and a 3D window displaying the meshed volume (see Figure 2).

Time to a DWG file was on the order of seconds following implementation of the "Vectorizer" tool. The procedure for using the Vectorizer is simple. Following generation of the layouts, the user selects the area to be rendered into vectors for output to DXF, DWG, etc. (see Figure 3). We used the free Autodesk viewer, DWG Trueview, to visualize the output DWG files (see Figures 4 & 5). The user has the option of performing additional editing of the vector file either within the PointCab window or in Trueview. However, we would recommend taking advantage of the more extensive editing capabilities available in AutoCAD or a similar program.

There were many, many more modules and tools that we did NOT evaluate. We barely scratched the surface. Some of the tools were not relevant to the type of scanner we employed for the test data (the Zeb1). The tutorials on the website showed that there are some other interesting tools available, such as virtual Panorama, Photomatch and Cloud Export. Each module that we did experiment with was easily learned in a matter of minutes. The instructions, tutorials and videos were very helpful and informative (although quite a few were in German). While the instruction manual is extensive, we found it a little difficult to navigate.

Things to Consider
Pricing seemed a little high for the software. However, PointCab offers a breakdown of modules so that customers can elect to purchase only the elements they need, sort of la carte pricing. Packages can be rented by the month in a software-as-a-service mode, too. Prices are all in Euros, but Euro-USD conversion is very favorable right now.

Due to the easy to learn interface, new customers spend less effort for training their employees. The only really troubling thing we encountered was having to rely on the window sliders to pan around the layouts. It was a little frustrating as we kept trying to right-click and hold to slide the image around the window (until we Figure 5: Extracted vectors from a complex building layout discovered that holding the mouse wheel down allowed standard panning). Likewise, as Faro Freestyle), but plan on even further it is primarily a 2D viewer, rotating and developing these growth areas. tilting were obviously not available in the standard views. To enable 3D viewing Conclusion and pan/tilt/slide, the 3D view mode must be activated.

While there are 3D tools available in PointCab, the emphasis is on managing the 2D layout aspects, both plan view and side view of features. This lends itself to keeping the interface intuitive and simple.

There seemed to be many tools for a multitude of applications. This, according to PointCab is a result of user-input over the last several years. Determining which of the many features you really need comes with in-depth experimentation. They say they strive for a responsive relationship with their user-base, building
new features that are in demand.

Steffen, the CEO, said that they are working on implementing GPU-based processing which should enhance processing speed even more. They are already incorporating photos and scan data from UAVs and handheld scanners (such as the Faro Freestyle), but plan on even further developing these growth areas.

We were thoroughly impressed with PointCab. There are some user-interface tweaks that could possibly be made, in our opinion, but overall the claims of speed-to-finished-product, ease-of-use and universal importing and exporting capabilities all panned-out in our testing.

It would seem that PointCab has found a unique way to enable powerful, yet simple, analysis of LIDAR pointcloud data. The ability to get straight to a CAD product with little effort would certainly expedite workflows for firms providing these services. The ease of ingesting large datasets and then rendering them in an intuitive, readable fashion definitely makes for insightful and impactful analysis of the geometry of scanned objects and terrain.

Bill Gutelius is the President and co-founder of Active Imaging Systems (AIS). In addition to evaluating LIDAR and related products, he consults for commercial and government clients on active and passive imaging technologies and their applications.

A 1.136Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE