Last Updated on 25th April 2022

Using 3D laser scanning to map difficult environments

The advances in handheld LiDAR technology in recent years has spiked an increase in popularity across different sectors. Handheld 3D laser scanning solutions are lightweight, time saving, adaptable, and reduce safety risks for businesses across the world. 

Industry professionals are using 3D laser scanning solutions on construction sites, heritage monuments, mines, facilities, and real estate projects. Since the commercialisation of SLAM technology in 2011, GeoSLAM has worked to create the strongest SLAM algorithm (GeoSLAM Beam) in the market, developing technology to integrate with a range of handheld LiDAR sensors.

The flexibility of SLAM devices makes scanning difficult environments less challenging or not an impossible task. Also, the lack of reliance on GPS opens opportunities to 3D map areas with no satellite coverage such as caves or mines. The versatility of the scanners allows them to be mounted onto backpacks, poles, cradles, UAVs etc. adding extra safety for the user.

Below are a few ways GeoSLAM scanners have been used to map areas and objects that were seemingly difficult or impossible to capture previously with SLAM.

3D laser scanning a large empty gas silo

In one continuous scan, the ZEB Revo RT captured both the outside and inside of a large round empty gas silo. Using the walk and scan method, the operator mapped the outside of the silo, before transitioning inside through a small hatch underneath to capture a complete point cloud in just 5 minutes.

The lack of distinctive features in the silo and repetitive environment will have prevented other ways of capturing a clear 3D model, however this was not an issue for the ZEB device. The mobility of the scanner made transitioning simple and safe, where a backpack solution or tripod-based system would struggle to access the inside of the silo effectively or at all.

Large empty gas silo
Inside the silo
Access hatch beneath the silo

3D laser scanning the staircase of a derelict building

When posed with the challenge of mapping a staircase in a derelict building, the ZEB Revo RT delivered a complete pointcloud safely and in only 10 minutes. Like the silo, the stairwell has repetitive features, which makes it difficult to map a clear and useful 3D model using other methods of 3D data capture. Our SLAM looks at an environment in intricate detail to differentiate between the floors of the building.

The team captured the staircase by simply walking at a normal pace from the bottom to the top and back down again. The speed of capture was a priority for the safety of those laser scanning, so the ZEB Revo RTs 10 minute scan for a complete accurate point cloud was ideal, and unrealistic for other scanning methods.

Derelict building
point cloud data of the stairwell
point cloud data of the top floor

3D laser scanning a cave system

3D laser scanning underground can be difficult when navigating tough terrain in little to no light. Caves often have vast open rooms, but also small crawlspaces. Using the ZEB Horizon, GeoSLAM captured Peak Caverns in the Peak District by walking from the entrance of the cave system to the end and back again, often crawling through small spaces along the way. In less than 20 minutes, a complete and accurate point cloud of the entire cave system was mapped.

Capturing this cave in full with a non-handheld system would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible and the lack of need for GPS meant that the scan could be conducted without georeferencing the data.

3D laser scanning Peak Cavern
Peak Cavern point cloud data

In just a decade, GeoSLAM’s ever evolving SLAM algorithm has opened up opportunities for industry professionals to map spaces they would have never attempted to capture previously. The mobility of the scanners has made traversing difficult and unsafe terrain easier, and the versatility of the devices has widened the scope for mapping difficult spaces. The speed of capture has not only Improved safety, but has proven to be a cost effective way of 3D laser scanning.  

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