FARO is expanding the possibilities of 3D laser scanning with a range of innovations. There is a clear trend towards making point clouds the focus of documentation applications.
Scanning on-site and immediately having a registered point cloud available on a mobile device – this has been a long-time dream of 3D laser scanning experts. Instead, one hour’s work in the field always meant several hours of office work to turn the scan data into usable data products. FARO Europe GmbH is now offering the possibility of registration in the field. Thanks to the new FARO® Scan Localizer, it is now possible to register scans on-site and in real time and thus generate a point cloud using equipment in the field. This add-on product is integrated into the Laser Scanner Focus3D tripod. It constantly performs 2D scans while also surveying the measuring environment within a horizontal profile covering approximately 180 degrees. It has a measuring range of up to 20 metres. The end result is a type of reference profile, which can be used to register the relevant scans from different locations within a single point cloud. This is all thanks to the cloud-to-cloud registration process, which has been a feature in SCENE for around two years. “It means that there is no longer any need for reference registration marks for overlapping areas in interior spaces,” says Oliver Bürkler, Director of Product Management at FARO. The intention is primarily to boost efficiency for projects with a high number of individual images. “We assume that it will generate significant cost advantages where there are 15 or more scans. For example, the device is absolutely indispensable when measuring interior spaces, where you often take more than a hundred scans,” Bürkler adds. According to the company, the FARO Scan Localizer is available as an add-on to the FARO Laser Scanner Focus3D (2015 model or later) and costs around 15,000 euros.
The FARO Scan Localizer is affixed to the tripod. It carries out a horizontal 180-degree measurement that enables real-time positioning in interior spaces.
FARO has launched a number of innovations onto the market to further improve 3D laser scanning. This includes integrating high-dynamic-range (HDR) photography into the FARO Laser Scanner Focus3D. This new option lets you increase the resolution for images with significant differences in brightness. The HDR camera in the Focus3D X 130 HDR and 330 HDR models deliver 170 megapixels and offer a contrast range of up to 4 billion-to-1, which means that the respective bright areas can be optimally rendered for the human eye (i.e. for the screen). Bürkler describes a practical example: “Customers working in dark spaces, e.g. pipeline construction, can decipher even small labels, which are usually very light, in the point cloud”.
Closer to reality
A first glance at the new Version 6 of FARO’s point cloud software SCENE makes it very clear that it represents a new master release. The entire user interface has been redesigned and is now heavily based on typical workflows. Making the software easy and efficient to use was key. The work steps within the workflows are divided into clear, individual steps and are arranged in a logical sequence. All of the individual functions available in the previous version are now listed as processing options for the relevant processing steps in projects. The aim is to help users, especially those without extensive prior experience to get to grips with the system easier and faster. “When we developed the workflow-based tools, we defined typical use cases and automated them completely,” says Bürkler. In the event that manual intervention is needed, the software provides appropriate support and guidance. “This keeps the training required to an absolute minimum, which means that the learning time for new users is extremely short,” the product manager said. If anyone prefers the old interface for example, for dealing with complex, engineering-related technical issues they can easily switch back to the previous GUI.
Users will also find new rendering technology in SCENE 6 interesting. It delivers an even better level of visualisation for solid surfaces and eliminates the need for further data processing in visualisation applications.
“Solid surfaces now look completely realistic,” explains Bürkler. Conventional point cloud visuals have been transformed into fully immersive virtual reality environment. For example several new features ensure that the point cloud density for walls is interpolated so that the original, roughly rendered (“holey”) point clouds are automatically converted into closed surfaces. Colours are also homogenised in this way so that solid bodies or textures become significantly more realistic. This means that solid surfaces are not visualised using individual measuring points but rather as realistic, closed objects.
New rendering features in the latest Version 6 of SCENE come in the form of closed surfaces: measuring points are turned into solid bodies to optimise the visualisation.
Ever more in the cloud
FARO insists that the benefits of this type of hyper-realistic point cloud are not just reserved for experts, thanks to the new version of its web hosting service SCENE WebShare Cloud. Being an online service it delivers significantly better performance, as well as being simpler and more user-friendly. All team members can now access documentation data quickly and easily without needing any special software or hardware. Each file is coded individually using the best encryption method available today (AEC 256), which guarantees the highest levels of IT security. In recent years, many customers have been sceptical about cloud applications for security reasons or have rejected them out of hand due to the massive volumes of data involved and the lack of fluid rendering. Nevertheless FARO confirmed that more and more customers are now using the cloud.
Consequently point clouds can be used for documentation-related tasks that were previously the reserve of CAD software. The advantage given that point clouds map complex local conditions, customers can dive into an existing environment ‘virtually’ for a more direct understanding of conditions on the ground. These features are used for example, by key FARO customers such as carmaker Volvo which documents all of its production facilities around the world using FARO scanners and uses these as the basis for further planning or new buildings. The company aims to have point clouds serve as the basis for all documentation applications leaving CAD for the virtual planning level only. This approach represents a paradigm shift since common practice today is still to translate point clouds into CAD models. A point cloud can now be enhanced with CAD functions to create a comprehensive 3D documentation IT landscape. “This will be the basis for future FARO developments,” predicts Oliver Bürkler.