History of Laser Scanning

Laser scanning has been around since the 60’s.  However, it didn’t break into the engineering realm until the late 90’s.  Cyra Technologies was founded in 1993 and produced one of the first scanner used by surveyors or engineers.  In 2001 Cyra was purchased by Leica Geosystems who is still a leader in 3D laser scanning software and equipment to this very day.  Laser scanning was one of those technologies that could not advance, until bandwidth and hard drive storage increased and became more economical.  Even to this day, scan data (point clouds) typically have to be delivered on external hard drives or thumb drives, because the files are too large to email or even FTP.  Laser scanning started out much the same as GPS (Global Positioning Systems).  In the early days of GPS, only military personnel, surveyors, pilots and avid boaters had ever heard of GPS.  Now GPS is incorporated into millions of devices, including our computers, cars and phones.  Today, Surveyors, engineers and Architects are working with 3D laser scanning, but soon it will infiltrate other areas of our lives.  For example;  “Xbox Kinnect” is a form of laser scanning.  Basically the game scans the players in real time, recording their size, shape and movements and from this information creates a virtual reality.

Laser scanning is a very straight forward science.  Basically we are using 3D points to define the real world surfaces that we are scanning.  Whether it be a car, house, bridge, industrial plant or even a person.  However the real art of 3D scanning is the final deliverable, the work product.  The point cloud looks beautiful in its native scanning software, however, upon delivery to our clients, many would find it unusable, because of its size.  A typical point cloud can be anywhere from 10 to 100 GB’s, rendering most CAD programs inoperable.  I can’t count the number of clients that have commented that they have tried laser scanning and the data was useless to them.  This is a result of the scanning company not communicating accurately what the final product would be and its limitations.  The real power of scanning is when you can utilize the point cloud and the as-built model derived from the point cloud; in your current software system. The benefit of being able to visualize both components; maximizes the ability to conduct proper and accurate clash detection.