The Business of Laser Scanning: Change on the Horizon!

A 253Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE

To qualify the forthcoming opinion I’m about to give, I’ve been in the 3d imaging business for about 8 years, managing a 3d imaging service provider that isn’t loyal to any hardware or software manufacturer. In fact, we actively seek to work with them all, and use the best hardware/software. We average 3,200+ scans every week and create a wide variety of deliverables.

I believe the 3d imaging industry is about to experience watershed events with the announcement of new products–both software and hardware.

Instruments (predominately LiDAR scanners) will change as follows:
Inclement weather scanners. Instruments that can be used in wet conditions–and effectively underwater. The most immediate impact will be in the forensics world where needing to scan immediately regardless of the environmental conditions, is important.
Thermal imaging. Having the ability to recognize the existing temperature will not only be of value to the end user; but the data processor whose job it is to model with consistency and provide meta-data.
Improved color or photo features. Color pictures are still one of the best possible ways to stimulate and educate our senses. Think of point clouds that one day have the quality a 3d gamer would enjoy.
Smaller/lighter weight for improved transportability. Remember the first cell phones–the bricks? Think of today’s scanners as those…and the better, lighter weight units are yet to come.
Lower acquisition cost. You’d better accelerate your depreciation on your current scanner because the resale value is going to be very miniscule in the near future.
Drone scanning. The value of providing static indoor data with an entire site from all angles; or achieving data acquisition angles from hard to get to places [think high rise elevations in crowded cities]; is too big of a value proposition to not have solved.
Indoor mobile scanning. This might be the single biggest area for game-changing impact. Having the ability to accurately navigate an interior structure to provide accurate as-built information will have a massive impact. And to do it all from a robot. It’s going to change the business.

Software enhancements will be as follows:
Target-less registration. Cloud to cloud–already an option–but getting better and more prevalent saves time (labor cost) data collection process, and post processing. This will also reduce the training curve required to teach field techs, thus increasing productivity.
Automatic feature extraction. The obvious benefit is the speed in processing and faster creation of a deliverable. It should also help reduce human error.
Model/meta-data integration. Perhaps the most significant benefit of this will be the ability to have data that’s embedded that is functional and can be used over the life of the asset. Imagine the asset having costs tied to it and easy to monitor ROI.
"Smart clouds". Many times you don’t need all the data the point cloud provides–so having the ability to automatically eliminate data that you don’t care about makes the file size much smaller and easier to model/navigate.
Photo realistic data. Already in use with meshing technology in the gaming world, this will allow the point cloud to be more user friendly and many times eliminate the need for the model altogether.
Lower cost. It’s going to be cheaper than ever to process data on different pricing models that allow users to `pay as you play’.

The overall net effect of these changes will lead to much greater democratization of the entire 3d imaging industry across existing and new vertical markets. The stakeholders will benefit from reduced costs that will permeate many industries.

Ultimately we’re still in a very small industry that remains highly fragmented with a variety of technologies. However as the adoption increases/improves, more centralization will occur.

Ken Smerz is the President of Eco3d ( Comments are encouraged at or on Twitter @KenSmerz.

A 253Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE