LiDAR surveying is a fast and effective way to capture 3D data. Using laser pulses to calculate distances, capture precise measurements and measure ranges is growing in popularity. This simple way to collect data is accurate, quick, and flexible.
Find out more about LiDAR mapping, and how using light detection and ranging has transformed surveying.
All About LiDAR
It’s ground-breaking mapping technology that takes surveying mobility, accuracy, time-saving and cost-effectiveness to greater heights. That’s how LiDAR was seen when it kick-started most of its development in the early 1960s, shortly after the invention of the laser. The good news is that it has continued to play an essential role in making life easier for engineers and surveyors – and more appealing for CEOs across a wide range of industries.
What’s all the fuss about LiDAR? Well, let’s find out. However, before going into what LiDAR does, let’s start by telling you what LiDAR actually is.
LiDAR is an acronym for Light Detection and Ranging. It’s essentially a remote sensing method that uses rapid light pulses to map out the surface of the earth. It uses the pulse from a laser to collect measurements to create 3D models and maps of objects and environments. In a nutshell, the system calculates how long it takes for beams of light to hit an object or surface and reflect back to the laser scanner. The distance is then calculated using the velocity of light. Depending on the sensor used, LiDAR scanning units can fire hundreds of thousands of pulses per second. Each of these pulsed laser measurements, or returns, can be processed into a 3D visualisation known as a ‘point cloud.’
Topographic LiDAR typically uses a near-infrared laser to map the land
Bathymetric LiDAR uses water-penetrating green light to also measure seafloor and riverbed elevations.
Laser-based scanners use a process called trigonometric triangulation to accurately capture a 3D shape as millions of points. A LiDAR instrument works by projecting a laser line or multiple lines onto an object. It then captures its reflection with single or multiple sensors. The sensors are located at a known distance from the laser’s source. As a result, accurate point measurements can then be made by calculating the reflection angle of the laser light.
LiDAR System for Surveying – what are the best use cases?
There are many great use cases for LiDAR. These include civil engineering and surveying, from highways and roadworks, to bridge construction and mapping large retail developments. In fact, LiDAR is extensive, allowing surveying firms to be more cost effective while maintaining the highest level of professionalism. Some great examples include:
LiDAR surveying equipment and 3D scanners help civil engineers get highly accurate results in a very short space of time. Essential when working with tight timeframes.
LiDAR technology is perfect for creating a digital model so you can spot and correct irregularities before building work starts, as well as monitor changes between scans to show progress.
Surveyors prefer LiDAR systems to help them create detailed 3D images, accurate digital terrain models (DTM) and digital elevation models (DEMs) of specific landscapes.
LiDAR Surveying Benefits – what sets it apart from traditional methods?
Speed:LiDAR can collect hundreds of thousands of points per second making it an exceptionally fast method of surveying. Scans of building interiors can take only minutes, and even large-scale surveys can be completed in under an hour. Without the need for GPS.
Accuracy: LiDAR systems collect extremely dense data with very little room between points. This means that the results are highly accurate. This accurate data allows professionals to plot and model natural and man-made geographies with the level of precision they need to plan detailed projects.
Flexibility: When it comes to surveying land with LiDAR, there are plenty of options to choose from. Hand-held devices are ideal for laser scanning and can be mounted on to cars, poles or drones. LiDAR data can even be collected at any time of day or night since it uses light as the measurement tool.
Safety:LiDAR systems work relatively quickly and can be operated remotely, making them a good choice for locations that may be unsafe for humans to operate or stay for extended periods.
LiDAR Drones for Surveying – how surveyors are reaching new highs
Amidst all the new consumer tech developments of the last 10 years, there’s nothing that quite excites forward-thinking surveyors as airborne laser scanning for (drone) remote surveying.
And you can see why:
Capturing topographic data with a drone can be up to five times faster than with land-based methods and requires less manpower.
The beauty of airborne lasers and drones, unlike manned aircraft, is that they can fly at a much lower altitude, and are not restricted by cloud cover in making the generation of high-resolution, high-accuracy data much faster and less expensive.
Airborne LiDAR takes the surveying out of your hands and delivers data from places that humans cannot go such as dense jungles or underground caverns.
They don’t interfere or disrupt site operations below.
There are 4 main parts of an airborne LiDAR which produce a vertical accuracy of 15 cm vertically and 40 cm horizontally. It sends over 160,000 pulsesper second. This is why LiDAR point clouds create millions of points.
1.LiDAR Sensors: As the drone travels, sensors scan the ground from side to side. The pulses are commonly in green or near-infrared bands.
2.GPS Receivers: They measure the altitude and location of the drone. These tracks are important for accurate terrain and elevation values.
3. Inertial Measurement Units (IMU): As the drone travels, IMUs track its tilt. LiDAR systems use tilt to accurately measure the incident angle of the pulse.
4.Data Recorders: As LiDAR scans the surface, a computer records all of the pulse returns. As a result, these recordings get translated into elevation.
LiDAR data attributes can vary, depending upon how the data was collected and processed. You can determine what attributes are available for each LiDAR point by looking at the metadata. All LiDAR data points will have an associated X,Y location and Z (elevation) values.
Most LiDAR data points will have an intensity value, representing the amount of light energy recorded by the sensor.
The real value comes from turning raw data and LiDAR survey data into actionable information. Including being able to georeference your point cloud. With modern software, data that’s been collected can be extracted from most scanner units by either connecting the device to a PC or downloading the data to a USB memory stick. This LiDAR scan data can then be calibrated allowing analysis and modelling. Moreover, LiDAR data processing is very fast. Raw data requires just a few minutes of calibration (5-30min) to generate the final product.
Depending on the environment in which the scan is conducted and the specifics of the 3D laser scanner, an accuracy of 0.002-0.197” may be achieved. This high level of accuracy helps ensure that measurements are correct the first time so that less work is needed to complete subsequent steps in design and production. Additionally, LiDAR takes the human element out of the process making the data even more accurate.
Learn about the accuracy of GeoSLAM’s handheld laser scanners here.
When we look at the overall cost of LiDAR surveys, there are multiple cost items to be considered. First of all, the hardware: UAV LiDAR sensor sets (scanner, IMU, and GNSS) cost anywhere between tens to hundreds of thousands. How much does a drone LiDAR survey cost? It generally turns out to be about £3,000 per km2 for each of the survey grids. On the other hand, for example, GeoSLAM’s ZEB Go mobile laser scanner costs around £22,000. Furthermore, GeoSLAM ZEB products come with a software package and local storage, with no hefty storage or subscriptions costs, making it the most cost effective SLAM system available today.
LiDAR vs Traditional Surveying
We know how time-consuming it can be to set up traditional survey equipment, especially in very inaccessible environments. Fortunately, mobile laser scanners take away all this headache. You can literally create a point cloud as you ‘walk and scan’, or use remote scanning while simultaneously transmitting high-level fidelity images.
Airborne LiDAR helps to create highly accurate digital elevation and terrain models. This makes LiDAR particularly useful for example, in measuring surveying land, tree size, flood elevations, and site distances. Also, for modelling narrow objects such as power lines or road networks and poorly visible objects. All this information is captured in mere minutes – versus weeks when compared to a traditional survey crew using GPS. That means there’s no need to visit the site more than once. In short, with LiDAR you can expect three improvements over a typical survey – faster delivery, value-added service, and a better return on investment.
LiDAR laser technology in surveying has been a game-changer for many companies around the world wanting to take advantage of its many benefits, as you can see from these success stories. And it will continue to do so as the rapid development in LiDAR hardware coupled with advanced, user-friendly software offer professionals greater opportunity to conduct highly accurate surveys faster, safer and more cost-effective.
If you’d like to experience the time-saving power of GeoSLAM in the comfort of your own home or office, why not request a demo-in-a-box.
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What are control points?
Control points are points within a given area that have known coordinates. They are a key tool in the geospatial industry and can be utilised in a variety of ways, including georeferencing point clouds and aligning aerial images to terrestrial data. By using control points, surveyors are able to accurately map larger areas and position overlapping surveys of an area together. They can also be used in non-geospatial industries, such as construction and mining, to show clear temporal comparisons between multiple surveys of the same area. This method of georeferencing is also referred to as adjust to control.
Previously, checkerboards and spherical targets have been used as control markers – these items are captured in surveys and can be identified for georeferencing or aligning. The main drawback with these methods is that they rely heavily on human interpretation when processing, meaning that the processed datasets may be susceptible to an increased amount of error.
When capturing handheld surveys, GeoSLAM systems are able to collect reference points. These can then be matched with known control points to reference scans and increase the level of accuracy.
What makes GeoSLAM referencing different?
More accurate: GeoSLAM scanners are used with known control points and survey grade pins, rather than more traditional moveable targets. This reduces the margin of error within point clouds.
Save time: using known survey control points means there is no need to manually position individual targets before every scan. Data capture can then be repeated regularly, faster, easier and with no concerns that reference points are captured in different places each time.
Safer: in dangerous or inaccessible areas, targets are not required to be physically positioned on pre-defined control points prior to each scan. This reduces the time exposed to hazards and unsafe areas.
Industries using control points
Easily reference point clouds and produce reports highlighting accuracy values.
Regularly monitor site operations (e.g. stockpiles) and hazards.
Compare changes over time and map progress onto predetermined CAD/BIM models.
Point clouds with endless possibilities
Once georeferenced using control points, point clouds can be optimised further using leading third party software:
Comparisons with existing CAD/BIM models
Point cloud to point cloud registration showing changes over time within a given area
CAD/BIM model creation
For more information about our third party partnerships, head to our integrations page.
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A collective term for modern tools that map and analyse the earth and most things on it, geospatial technology is making huge advances. These technologies help us to understand spaces, monitor changes and patterns in landscapes, cities and even societies. So, what is geospatial technology?
What Does Geospatial Mean?
To understand what geospatial technologies are, we must start with an understanding of the word ‘geospatial’. In simple terms, geospatial refers to location-specific data. Geospatial information relates to features on the surface of the earth and their geographic locations.
So when it comes to what geospatial means, it’s really anything relating to a location.
What is Geospatial Data?
Geospatial data is any data that has a geographic component to it. It can describe features, objects, or even events that have a specific location. Geospatial data will combine information about the location and attributes of an object. Location information can be either dynamic or static.
Such data can be collected in a variety of ways. Using remote sensing, geospatial data can be collected without close proximity to the area. For example, vast amounts of information can be gathered using unmanned aerial vehicles which makes gathering this information fast and effective.
Examples of Geospatial Data
Geospatial technologies can be used to collect data, but this information is represented in different ways depending on the technology chosen. Here are some examples of different types of geospatial data:
Point Cloud Data
Using remote sensing, laser scanners like our ZEB family collect a huge amount of tiny points within an environment. All these points together are called a point cloud. Each point has a location coordinate, and the set of points can be interpreted to create a 3D model of an area or object. Find out more in our article on point clouds.
Vectors consist of points, lines and polygons. Each point has a coordinate, and lines and polygons are formed by connecting these. These elements represent real-world features in any given environment. Each feature will have text or numerical attributes to describe them.
High-resolution satellite imagery is a type of geospatial data too. Satellites can help to view our world from a distance, showing us a much bigger picture.
When census data is linked to a geographic area, it becomes a type of geospatial data too. For example, city planners will use population data from a Census to plan where they might build new roads, schools or hospitals.
Who uses Geospatial Data?
There are a whole host of uses for geospatial data, which means a wide range of groups, companies, and people use it. Some examples of these are:
Logistics and transportation
This data can be used for analysis, modelling, simulation and more. Geographic information is vast and rich. It can be really powerful when used effectively.
So, What is Geospatial Technology?
Now that we’ve explained what geospatial means and geospatial data is, it’s time to consider how this translates into technology. Geospatial technology is used to collect and analyse geospatial data. It’s a collective term for the various modern tools and systems that help us to map the earth’s surface, understand societies and interpret spatial patterns.
Examples of Geospatial Technologies
The term ‘geospatial technology’ is broad and covers a whole host of different things. Here are some examples of commonly used geospatial technologies:
LiDAR (light detection and ranging) is a popular method of collecting spatial data using remote sensing. You can find out more about this type of laser scanning and how it works in our dedicated article: What is lidar?
A global positioning system (GPS) is a type of geospatial technology that most people have heard of and used. GPS data is collected by satellites and is used globally for navigation and geolocation. Global positioning systems have been fully operational since 1993. All modern smartphones contain GPS so you can see where you, or somebody else is on a map in near real time.
Geographic information systems (GIS) combine maps with a database of other descriptive information. Geographical information systems allow the management and analysis of location information. This type of spatial analysis has provided so much insight, it really has changed the way the world works.
A base map can be layered with other data sources to create a powerful visualization. GIS information might include things like satellite imagery, aerial photography, point cloud or vector data. Digital software brings all this information together.
As internet mapping technologies like Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth become more accessible, it’s much easier for the average person to visualize data from a geographic information system.
Why is Geospatial Technology Important?
Geospatial technology enables the collection of geospatial information, and this data collection is extremely valuable. It’s so important because it can inform us about so many different things. From improving national security to urban planning, biodiversity conservation, providing humanitarian relief and even forest fire suppression, geospatial data science has so many applications. Take a look at our detailed blog covering why geospatial information is so important for more information.
Where is Geospatial Analysis Used?
In short, geospatial analysis touches every aspect of our lives. It’s used by scientists, decision-makers, conservationists, governments, urban planners, businesses and healthcare professionals amongst many more.
Geospatial information is often used for research and development. It can be used in modelling and simulations, which can inform future decisions. It gives people the ability to create a virtual world that can be tested and simulated to measure effects, so decisions can be made more safely. Geospatial analysis enriches our understanding of the world around us and has opened up so many possibilities.
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With mobile mapping technology readily available, anyone can effortlessly map the environment around them, whether it’s a cave, 10 storey building or a construction site. For newcomers to surveying, this tech breakthrough removes the dependency on trained experts – but it does require the mapper to have a basic understanding of a point cloud. What is it, how is it created and how is it used? In our latest education article, we look at the top point cloud questions and provide all the information you need to get started.
Point clouds are now faster, easier and more accessible than ever before. If you’re interested in mapping but aren’t trained in point cloud software – this guide is for you.
1. What is a point cloud? What measurements are included in a point cloud?
A point cloud is essentially a huge collection of tiny individual points plotted in 3D space. It’s made up of a multitude of points captured using a 3D laser scanner. If you’re scanning a building, for example, each virtual point would represent a real point on the wall, window, stairway, metalwork or any surface the laser beam comes into contact with.
The scanner automatically combines the vertical and horizontal angles created by the laser beam to calculate a 3D X, Y, Z coordinate position for each point to produce a set of 3D coordinate measurements which often includes its colour value stored in RGB (more on that in question 6) and intensity. These details can then be transformed into a digital 3D model that gives you an accurate detailed picture of your object.
The denser the points, the more detailed the representation, which allows smaller features and texture details to be more clearly and precisely defined. So, if you were to zoom in on a point cloud of The Tower Bridge in London, you’d see tiny points creating the whole point cloud.
Point cloud data is the term used to refer to the data points collected for a given geographical area, terrain, building or space. A LiDAR point cloud dataset is created when an area is scanned using light detection and ranging.
What is Point Cloud Processing?
Point cloud processing is a means of turning point cloud data into 3D models of the space in question. This data processing is made possible with processing software such as GeoSLAM Connect.
3. How long does it take to create a point cloud?
It all depends on how many scans are needed and what exactly needs scanning. Or whether you’re using traditional stationary scanning equipment or mobile laser scanning technology which would considerably reduce scanning time. For example, a 130-scan point cloud dataset (which is a lot of point cloud data) of an office building including all the individual rooms, corridors and service areas could take nearly 25 hours to process with a traditional, static laser scanner.
Those scans may have only taken a day to collect with a mobile scanner, but manual involvement in processing means that the registration of that point cloud dataset can take around 3 days to carry out, and potentially longer if manual correction is necessary. Smaller datasets can be processed in hours.
With a device like the ZEB Revo RT a slam point cloud is created in real-time and you can see the live visualisation progress with the attached tablet or phone. It requires no processing other than extracting data from the device, so you can have a full point cloud in a matter of minutes – depending on what’s being scanned.
6. Can a point cloud be created in colour – how?
When you look at a colourised point cloud of a room, you’re seeing both the dimensional measurements and the RGB value. This data is taken at each point the scanner measured. The effect is that users (both new and experienced) can understand quickly and easily what they’re looking at because the point cloud looks more like a 3D photograph. When using a GeoSLAM ZEB Horizon, colourised point clouds can be created by using the ZEB Vision accessory and workflow within the GeoSLAM Connect software. Learn more about how to colourise a point cloud here.
7. How do you put multiple point clouds together?
Handheld 3D laser scanners are efficient enough that many spaces can be captured in a single scan. However, larger projects such as a large sports arena or campus may require more scans for complete coverage, which means you’ll have a number of point clouds that you’ll need to merge into one final point cloud for the whole asset. A variety of software applications enable you to do this. However, if you use a GeoSLAM laser scanner, it makes good sense to use GeoSLAM’s complimentary Connect software.
Within GeoSLAM Connect you have the stop-and-go alignment feature where common static points are captured during several scans meaning that these datasets can be automatically aligned. A single point cloud is then exported as if the data was captured in a single scan.
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The way we work is changing. Advanced technology tools are transforming the way we collaborate, analyse, organise and innovate. In just about every sector, the tech advance is helping organisations be more productive, save time and money and work better together. And the mining industry is no different – only that it lags behind. (1)
With increased competition, the pressure is on. Around the world, mining operators across all commodities are facing the combined challenges of declining ore grades and operating efficiency. With the decreasing availability of tier one assets, and continued focus on shareholder returns, operators are looking towards digital tools and new ways of working to drive results.
The digital revolution can transform and automate the entire mining value chain from ‘pit to customer’. Advanced supply chain visualisation tools can aggregate data from multi-systems to show near-real-time operations metrics; drones can help with geotechnical monitoring and remotely conduct stockpile volumetric audits; and powerful laser scanners can build highly accurate 3D maps of underground mines in minutes.
The last decade has seen the rollercoaster of highs and lows in the mining sector; and the volatility is likely to continue.(2) While digital tools are readily available that help mining decision-makers do the job better, faster, safer and more cost effectively, there are still many businesses slow to embrace transformative practices. With change being a constant, forward- thinking mining operators need to embrace digital technology and drive innovation, or risk being left behind.
As the mining industry’s value proposition is increasingly called into question, mining companies are beginning to see that they cannot succeed into the future unless they change the way they operate.
Today’s mining companies aren’t short for choice when it comes to assessing ground-breaking technologies. From autonomous vehicles to automated drilling and tunnel boring systems, the decreasing cost of technology puts many of these innovations within reach. Even within the last few years, drone technology has taken off to the extent that easy-to-use aerial technology is now affordable – and millions of drones are sold each year. (3)
Digital technologies already employed or that will be employed in the next 3-5 years in mining operations:
How spatial data visualisation is rocking the mining world
According to Anglo American, spatial data is being used more and more in the mining industry, with spatial data models and maps becoming more detailed and clearer than ever before. Today, we are seeing breakthroughs in three-dimensional (3D) modelling, Virtual Reality (VR), and Augmented Reality (AR) technology.(1)
3D modelling creates a viewable, life-like impression with depth perception that allows the human brain to understand and relate to complex interrelated issues. VR enables a user to test a piece of equipment without the risk of damage or cost. These new technologies allow us to design new mines more efficiently and make it possible to experience what it’s like to work in a mine without being out in the field.
Digital technologies can not only help mining companies survive, but importantly, to thrive. The productivity and safety gains of embracing new technologies are huge: better equipment performance (47 percent), operational/administrative cost savings (42 percent) and better decision making (40 percent).(3) When you add in stronger collaboration across the supply chain, safer conditions for employees being removed from dangerous working conditions and waste being eliminated – even the most risk averse of mining companies can be convinced.
Yet to be truly successful – cutting-edge technology alone isn’t enough. While digital solutions will empower employees to make better decisions, they will also cause upheaval as manual jobs are automated. Mining companies need to consider how to create new employment opportunities, and how to reskill and retrain people to learn technology and tools faster. They’ll need to not only reach beyond traditional tools but importantly embrace the mindset and approach to collaborate.
Technology is certainly not a silver bullet, but targeted in the right places, it will make mines even more safe, and our operations more efficient and cost-effective.
– Dr Caius Priscu, Head of Mineral Residue Facilities, Anglo American
Rio Tinto: Mine of the Future
A decade ago, Rio Tinto declared one of the most ambitious transformation programs in mining: plans for an intelligent mine packed with driverless trains, trucks and robotics. At the heart of the program is an operations centre in Western Australia that today generates 2.4 terabytes of data every minute from hundreds of pieces of mobile equipment and sensors. Covering 16 individual mines, the one integrated centre (which looks very similar to NASA’s control centre) is manned by operators over 1,500km from the physical sites.
The mining giant was also the first mining company to introduce fully autonomous haul trucks which to date have moved over 1 billion tonnes of material and travelled over 150 billion kms. But automation doesn’t stop there: it also introduced automated drills in production drilling, which is safer for operators and more efficient, and is introducing robotic automation in its rail system – a train comprised of 244 cars stretching a total of 2kms driven by robots. Next stop, possibly a mine with no miners?
The challenges in discovering the world beneath us
We’ve long been fascinated by the underground world of tunnels and caves, and with today’s tech it may soon be possible that ‘Google maps™’ goes underground. Yet aside from exploring the depths for knowledge, mine operators need to safely tap into and excavate the wealth of minerals beneath us. And this comes with a number of challenges:
Underground mapping is one of the most difficult and demanding forms of surveying with mining professionals needing to work in tight, enclosed spaces.
Mining sites are notoriously hazardous, despite the most rigorous safety checks. Companies strive for zero-harm targets yet the mapping process itself is risky.
Pressure to Optimise
Tunnel construction and underground projects are time consuming and complex, and companies need to plan efficient site operations to optimise production cycles.
Mining professionals need to rapidly and accurately map underground environments under intense time pressure, yet traditional survey techniques are slow and inefficient.
Transforming mapping in mining environments
Access to user-friendly technology that can quickly scan difficult-to-reach environments and produce accurate and high-quality 3D data can be a game-changer for mining operators. Leading the change is 3D mobile mapping which helps mine operators improve the way they dig up commodities as well as helping them cut costs, all without the need for GPS.
Using a handheld laser scanner, operators can walk and scan, or attach the scanner to a trolley, drone, pole or mine vehicle for remote monitoring of hazardous environments. The scanner collects the data and SLAM (Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping) software turns it into actionable 3D information within minutes. With minimal training, operators can use it for rapid insight into rock mass behaviour, to measure stockpile volumes or to map complex tunnel profiles. Robust enough to deal with extremely harsh environments, laser scanners help mine owners deliver productivity and efficiency improvements, at the same time as keeping operators safer.
This technology allows us to quickly and easily view, compare and evaluate data to paint a picture of what’s under the ground. It’s like an ultrasound image of the deposit delivered in real time, something that we could never do before.
– John McGagh, Head of Innovation, Rio Tinto
Setting a new standard for the mining and natural resource sector
Creating highly accurate maps of the underground world, for the mining and natural resource industries, is one of the most complex forms of surveying. Yet innovations in laser technology are transforming and simplifying the way we map the world beneath us and are being applied to a wide range of applications including:
With powerful mobile mapping technology at their fingertips, mine operators have ready access to previously unattainable insight into rock mass behaviour. This means they can better tailor their ground support regimes, monitor convergence and better target rehabilitation areas. Other benefits include:
Operators can slash survey times with easy-to-use technology. Anyone on site can map accurate tunnel profiles, stockpile volumes, pits and caves in minutes.
You can use the technology in the trickiest, darkest and dampest of spaces, even where GPS isn’t available. Walk with the handheld or attach it to a trolley, drone, robot or autonomous vehicle.
Safety as a priority
You can safely scan underground, inaccessible and dangerous environments, even remote and hazardous areas.
Save time and money
Data capture and modelling are up to 10x faster, allowing you to successfully complete projects in minimum time with little or no disruption.
Mapping hazardous mines under intense time constraints
Beck Engineering, an Australian mining engineering consultancy specialising in mining and rock mechanics analysis, needs to rapidly map mines under intense time constraints using versatile technology which is adaptable to any environment. GeoSLAM’s handheld mobile mapping solution was chosen as it is compact, portable and delivers a high level of accuracy. With GeoSLAM’s “go-anywhere” 3D technology in hand, Beck Engineering has been able to supply invaluable data regarding the direct effects of mining to better understand the implications of a deforming rock mass. Beck Engineering is now able to accurately measure the shape of an excavation or tunnel over time. As a result, tunnels are safer, better designed and more cost efficient.
We have continued to use GeoSLAM products as they have proven to be affordable, lightweight and sufficiently robust devices for their application underground. GeoSLAM continues to produce a high-quality device that is at the forefront of practical mobile laser scanning devices. – Evan Jones, Senior Rock Mechanics Engineer at Beck
Tech advancements are already helping improve mine safety, remove wastage and drive greater productivity. And mining companies are already creating jobs that require artificial intelligence or automation-specific skills – from data scientists to automation engineers. Forward-thinking operators who foster innovation will remain competitive. While some mining companies may hesitate and deliberate choosing which technology is best for them to deploy, others are decisive and lead in the race for intelligent mine of the future.
The digital revolution is here – and it’s going underground. With unmanned technology able to carry out open-pit operations, and complex software algorithms able to mine vast quantities of sensor data, the leap to a truly digital mine is within reach.
Future Smart Mining – Anglo American
Tracking the Trends 2018 – Deloitte
Drone Sales Have Tripled – fortune.com
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Since its conception in the early 1900s, shotcrete application has developed to become one of the most critical ground supporting techniques for underground excavations. The technology has evolved from manual nozzle handling to computer guided, hydraulically controlled boom-mounted nozzles. By controlling variables in the shotcreting application, the layer of sprayed concrete can be optimally designed to meet the in-situ geotechnical constraints. In some scenarios, shotcrete will be designed to flex with the squeezing rock, whilst in others, it may simply act as a barrier to protect from rock bursts.
Understanding how the shotcrete will react in different conditions allows operators to apply the right amount of material. Shotcrete thickness is paramount when applying shotcrete, therefore it must be monitored during application using the safest and most reliable method. The aim of this article is to demonstrate how the SR-50 system, developed by GeoSLAM, is suitable for near real-time shotcrete application quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC).
Shotcrete – The modern method with failing processes
The Sika Sprayed Concrete Handbook (1) states that the only method for accurately calculating initial strength is by measuring thickness. Current methods rely on operators endangering themselves to un-secured shotcrete in order to manually collect thickness readings. A total of 5% of all tunneling injuries can be attributed to the shotcreting process in tunneling (2). Industry professionals recognise the need to balance the provision of a safe working environment for its operators with the demand for increased production rates, accurately measured and documented shotcrete thickness.
In 2016 GeoSLAM developed the SR-50 system deployed throughout the Jetcrete Australia fleet. The technology has now been licensed to Normet Oy who have adopted the technology as SmartScan.
SR-50 Software Interface
The system provides the operator with near real-time results displaying shotcrete thickness after each application cycle with a single button press. A colour-coded map of the spray area allows the operator to identify regions of concern easily and accurately. Once the operator is satisfied that the sprayed thickness complies to site criteria an electronic report is automatically created. This report documents the application cycle, providing the average applied thickness, total volume of shotcrete applied to the surface and the final thickness map that can be used for quality assurance. All data is stored on the system for further analysis and archiving. Without exposing the operator to dangerous conditions, the system can act as a training tool for novice operators, as well as aiding experienced operators to spray to the desired profile thickness, thus minimising overspray.
Analysis of data collected from sites using the SR-50, showed an approximate 20% reduction in overall concrete usage. This means that an average single sprayer operation can reach a return of investment within 2-3 months, have improved safety, and expedite the shotcrete application process.
The system created by GeoSLAM now achieves an accuracy of less than 5mm. This measured accuracy and reliability of measurement now enables the large-scale use of the technology on multiple sites.
Laser Scanning: Accuracy benchmarks
Terrestrial Laser Scanners (TLS) and Scanning Total Stations (STS) systems are based on laser technology and are commonly used across numerous surveying sectors where accurate range measurements are required. Typical systems have accuracies that range from sub-mm to several mm’s depending on the underlying technology and cost. However, in the underground environment these technologies tend to be extremely expensive, complex to use, often requiring specialist training, and can require time-consuming processing in an office environment to produce results. The SR-50, although based on laser scanning technology was specifically designed for the shotcreting industry to be simple to use, automated, cost effective and accurate.
To evaluate the accuracy of the system a rigorous approach was developed. The assessment criteria relied on the use of a TLS (Riegl VZ-400) that was deployed in a controlled environment. The TLS was chosen on the premise that to assess the accuracy of the SR-50, the reference data must of greater accuracy than the test data. The ability to control any changes in the environment was paramount to avoiding ambiguities in the results.
An artificial tunnel environment was constructed with cross-sectional dimensions similar to those in the mine tunneling environment. After an initial base scan of the environment, using the TLS and SR-50 a series of control-panels of known thickness (verified using vernier callipers) were introduced at varying positions in the tunnel. After each control-panel was introduced, changemaps were calculated from SR-50 and the TLS data. Thicknesses of 8, 13, 18 and 30mm were used.
The first assessment of the SR-50 system was to compare comparison results of the test environment with no change against the results using the TLS. Since, there was no physical change to the environment this provided an indication of the repeatability of the system. This assessment was then repeated by placing 8mm, 13, 18 and 30mm boards into the scene and measuring the average thicknesses using the SR-50 and TLS data.
The top image shows the comparison map derived from the SR-50 when no change was made to the environment. The middle shows a comparison of the computed changemap from the TLS control-panel (LHS) and the panel measured by the SR-50 (RHS), both for a 13mm control-panel. The figure clearly shows that the SR-50 gives comparable results to the TLS. The changemap for the TLS gives a more consistent result due to the much higher point density. However, the measured average change across the panels are the same. Control-panels were also attached to the sides and shoulders of the test area and an example changemap is shown in the bottom image.
Board Thickness (mm)
Smartscan Selection Mode Difference (mm)
Third Party Difference (mm)
The above table provides results for the comparison between the average thickness of the control-panels measured using the TLS and SR-50. To assess the accuracy of the automated changemaps created in the SR-50 software, the raw data was exported and thickness maps were calculated in a 3rd party software. The results show good agreement with the on-board solution available at the time of spraying.
By using laser technology and scanning the working area before and after shotcrete application, shotcrete thickness is automatically calculated across the complete working area in near real-time.
To provide an initial assessment of system accuracy, a series of measurements were undertaken in a man-made, controlled area. A series of control-panels of known thickness were introduced into the environment and thickness maps calculated by the SR-50 were compared to maps created using a Terrestrial Laser Scanner of much higher specification. Additionally, the results automatically created by the system were compared against results created manually in a 3rd party software package.
The results showed that thickness maps created using the SR-50 system were comparable to a TLS system. Average control-panel thickness was typically within 1-2mm between the two systems. The investigation shows that the SR-50 is accurate and reliable enough for the shotcreting industry. When comparing to the inaccurate in-situ measuring the industry has previously adopted (such as the ASTM C174 drill core test), the SR-50 can provide reliable results across the whole sprayed face in near-real time. The system is able to:
Provide an accurate thickness report every time a spray is required
Drastically reduce shotcrete wastage by helping the spray application process in achieving its desired thickness in a single attempt
Ensure geological ground control is achieved and upheld during the full shotcreting operation
Help nozzle-persons gain experience in spraying by providing near-real time thickness results.
As shotcreting becomes more common in mining and infrastructure projects around the world, the industry needs to evolve to accept the need for strong QA/QC methods and reporting in near-real time.
Sika Services AG. (2020). Sika Concrete Handbook. Available: https://www.sika.com/content/dam/dms/corporate/t/glo-sika-concrete-handbook.pdf. Last accessed September 2020
Kikkawa N, Itoh K, Hori T, Toyosawa Y, Orense RP. Analysis of labour accidents in tunnel construction and introduction of prevention measures. Ind Health. 2015;53(6):517-521. doi:10.2486/indhealth.2014-02
Unpublished site report: Olympic Dam, BHP, 2018.
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With ever accelerating technological advances year on year, businesses across all sectors cannot afford to become complacent. We only have to think of companies who have failed to innovate and have been left behind as rapid digitalisation overtook their dated business models, with examples like Blockbuster and Kodak easily coming to mind.
Real estate is not immune to technological advances and those that move to adopt new technology quickly enough, often end up being the biggest beneficiaries. Traditionally real estate businesses tend to fall behind when it comes to adopting new trends, however in recent years with the introduction of PropTech, more companies in this sector are exploring what technology could do for them.
Digitalisation in commercial real estate
With a combined estimated worth of $50 trillion between real estate and commercial real estate, according to the federal reserve, it is clear to see why technology companies have been keen to showcase the benefits of recent technological advancements, in recent years. Though real estate has been significantly more keen to embrace new technology, CRE hasn’t seen the same level of adoption.
The supply and creation of new, digital tools to manage large property portfolios are coming of age, with viable PropTech solutions on the market that integrate with and enhance their current ways of working. If CREs aren’t already looking to digitalise, now is the time.
Maximising property value
When it comes to maximising the value of property, those in CRE consider many factors, but what is often overlooked is inaccurate measurements of their properties due to human error or underestimating how much the floorplan of a property has changed and adapted over time. In fact, $100 billions are lost globally due to undervalued property. Embracing technological solutions like SLAM laser scanning can give CREs rapid, repeatable and highly accurate measurements and floorplans of their properties, without needing to outsource or rely on dated information.
Digital record keeping
There is a great deal of paperwork involved in CRE management, and not having a digital record is not only inefficient, but it can also be costly. Having all the documents in an easy to access digital library can be helpful when needing to access paperwork quickly. Whether you’re trying to sell your property, or you need to deal with an audit etc. having a centrally stored digital record of your portfolio can help minimise workload and maintain good standards of information keeping.
Repeatable, repeatable, repeatable
“Too many companies are prepared to put up with poor-quality data when it is entirely in their power to improve it” – RICs
With technological solutions now available for repeatedly capturing and keeping data up to date quickly and easily, CRE companies no longer need to rely on old data, ultimately saving them money.
5 ways technology has affected the real estate sector
Early adopters of new technology often pave the way for others to follow in their footsteps, however those that end up following often play catch up.
Building Information Modelling (BIM)
The introduction of 3D digital models has been revolutionary for many sectors, including real estate. This digitised advancement means better planning and execution of real estate projects.
Technology makes processing and storing complex data incredibly easy, making estimations of property value more accurate.
Virtual tours of properties have significantly reduced the distances between a buyer and seller. Somebody in the USA could now purchase a property in the UK without having physically set foot in the building.
With the advancements of digital technology comes the shift to online marketing. Traditionally selling real estate was the sole task of real estate agents, however 47% of companies in 2018 acknowledged that their highest quality of marketing leads came from social media.
Internet of Things (IoT)
As technology is intertwined into our everyday life now more than ever, it’s shouldn’t be a shock that people buying property want their homes/buildings interconnected. Real estate buyers know this, and have begun investing and developing technologically optimised buildings for the buyers of tomorrow.
Over the past few years, we have been working with real estate companies to make it easier to understand buildings. Combining the use of our handheld SLAM scanners and new intuitive software, GeoSLAM Floorplans was born. In a few simple steps, CRE companies can now have accurate measurements of their buildings, in often large building portfolios, and they completely own the data with no monthly costs to store the data. As a result, CRE companies are able to maximise their property value and have easy to read digital records of their assets.
Getting the full value of digital in construction – why it’s so hard.
Innovation in construction gets a bad rap. Which feels somewhat unfair, after all, it is a ‘bricks and mortar’ industry, heavily reliant on equipment, machinery and a ‘hands-on’ workforce. The industry is often flouted as falling behind others in how it has embraced technology. Yet in recent years in particular, many forward-looking construction companies have deployed innovative solutions to better, and more safely, construct buildings.
But few companies have captured the full benefit of digital, and some have questioned whether they have the right approach. Piloting is one-thing, getting company-wide adoption is another. And it’s not hard to see why. As construction projects are typically fragmented, there are a number of hurdles for companies to overcome:
BIM is the right direction, but isn’t the whole answer.
According to the Future of Construction, Building Information Modelling (BIM) is the centre piece of the construction industry’s digital transformation. Over the last decade BIM awareness and adoption has grown from little more than 10% in 2011 to over 70% in 2020. And the benefits speak for themselves: NBS reports that adopters report greater predictability of building performance, price and programme; as well as reduced risk and increased profitability.
Yet while BIM standards are becoming embedded, and thankfully fewer people see BIM simply as ‘3D modelling’, there is still work to narrow the gulf between ‘BIM engaged’ and ‘BIM laggards’. Deploying cutting-edge technology is only one aspect. Having the mindset and approach to collaborate is what will really unlock the value of the tech.
At the core of BIM success is collaboration. In fact, you can’t really ‘do’ BIM if you don’t have the entire team on board in the earliest stages. NBS
Paving the way to success: why you need a holistic approach.
Aside from BIM, there are a number of connected construction technologies that are being adopted to streamline and ease the process of constructing our built world. But given the array of new technologies on offer, where’s the best place to start?
When the pandemic hit in 2020, and ‘working from home’ just became ‘working’, we all realised the difficulties in communicating and collaborating with remote teams. Add to that the challenge construction professionals already had of multi-layered teams, and it’s easy to see where the friction could be.
What makes construction complex is not the complexity of the building, it’s the number of people that are required to work together to make it happen. Nathan Wood, Executive Director, Construction Progress Coalition
While it’s tempting to cherry-pick solutions that fix a particular problem, developing narrow use cases may mean missing out on the wider opportunity. But by taking a collaboration-first approach and starting with technology that improves knowledge-sharing, smooths interactions and boosts interoperability, this could have significant knock-on effects to address other challenges, too.
For example, selecting tech that has the potential to integrate well with all other platforms means you’re not facing digital isolation. And by putting data transparency and data collection first by choosing tools that create 3D maps, this data can in turn, be used as the anchor for better decisions between all parties. And in unlocking collaboration barriers, this could be the key to creating lasting value.
In ‘Decoding Digital Transformation in Construction’ McKinsey & Co., cites how one collaboration tool drove down rework costs for a leading contractor. The quoted example talks about the contractor’s process for collecting comments on defects found onsite. Workers typically provided anecdotal, unstructured or difficult to act on feedback, which resulted in unplanned rework and delays.
This radically turned around when the contractor introduced a digital app to tag defects against specific elements in the BIM model and store them in a common data environment. A simple but effective collaboration solution that on-site teams could easily adopt. It smoothed out communication plus reduced rework and improved the bottom line.
5 ways a collaboration-first approach can transform Construction
Companies that take a collaboration-first approach put themselves in a much stronger competitive position. Not only can they get first-mover advantage, but they can boost productivity at the same time as keeping costs down:
Construction has a long record of poor productivity and firms experience delays on a quarter of their projects, with nearly one fifth of projects going over budget. But with the wide adoption of mass data collection technologies, site workers can now carry out a weekly, or even daily, ‘as-built’ scan of a site which highlights any discrepancies or defects during the build. NBS research suggests that 3D modelling technology can deliver cost efficiencies (60%) and increase speed of delivery (55%).
Unify Delivery Teams
With multiple stakeholders engaged at various points of the project lifecycle, having “one source of the truth” such as BIM, enables greater collaboration and more informed decision-making. Data is brought out of silos and there’s a consolidated view of all critical information, that everyone can see, in real-time. This improves workflow, predictability and removes bottlenecks. Critical to this is having a mapping tool that accurately captures the data in 3D model form and provides an anchor for all data extracts.
AI-powered solutions not only automate but accelerate non-value-add tasks across teams. This helps improve site efficiency and allows site workers to expand their capabilities. For example, on site, AI can provide real-time alerts in the event of safety violations, such as if PPE is not used at all times. And in the back office AI can easily reconcile budgets and billing by matching what happens on the ground to what’s been billed.
Improve Data Integrity
To be able to make better decisions faster, construction professionals need to know they’re confidently working with the most accurate data. A Common Data Exchange, such as the one being trailblazed by the Construction Progress Coalition will not only transform project collaboration but address the common data dilemma of getting the right info to the right people at the right time. It will also improve overall data integrity, data usage and make it easier to evidence compliance.
Perfect the Model Virtually
Being able to create an exact mirror of the asset in a digital twin, means you can spot and correct irregularities before building work starts, as well as monitor and correct defects on-site. This enables clients to mitigate some of the risk, time and cost impacts of complex construction projects. IDC predicts that companies that invest in digital twin technology improve cycle times of critical processes by 30%.
We make it, before we make it
Royal BAM Group has a phrase that has become synonymous with the company which is, ‘We make it before we make it’. This digital-first approach enables the company to easily visualise the construction schedule, flag any potential problems and get back on track – while saving on rework.
This type of approach which aims to manage and share data between all key parties, is especially helpful when regenerating buildings or constructing new builds in busy cities. Aside from operating on constrained sites in busy locations (e.g., where the site footprint is the building footprint), sites are often live environments, with businesses in occupation. Staging construction offsite, or ‘just-in-time’ construction enables all stakeholders to virtually test the stress factors and tolerances of an asset in multiple ways, before the asset is built.
How a leading UK contractor uses collaborative mapping technology to keep complex projects on track with daily scans
Wilmott Dixon is a privately-owned construction and interior fit-out specialist renowned for working on large and complex projects across the UK. To keep projects on-track, the contractor wanted to equip on-site teams with user-friendly mapping technology that could be quickly adopted and used by anyone. Scanners needed to be mobile, lightweight, and fast – and work in any weather. Mapping software needed to be automated, accurate and easy to interpret. GeoSLAM’s Construction Progress solution ticked all the boxes.
This innovative solution combines hardware, advanced SLAM and automated analytics for smart progress tracking. Site workers ‘walk-and-scan’ with a handheld SLAM scanner, and by simply plugging the scanner into a computer, the data is automatically processed using GeoSLAM’s smart data platform, Connect. This is digitally compared against the 3D model on record, and within minutes an automated report will show you the percentage of work complete/incomplete and a simple visualisation of the site, highlighting 3D changes.
The data is centrally stored providing a clear and reliable audit trail and remote teams can confidently share progress updates knowing they have a central source of the truth. Teams can continuously collect data as often as they need to, in some cases several times a day. The automated solution not only saves time and money but enables Wilmott Dixon to be on the front foot and proactively address any issues. It’s just one way the national contractor delivers lasting value.
The key unlocking value in construction
Like many industries, the future of construction is firmly rooted in leveraging the benefits of digital technology to deliver better outcomes. While building sites will always be an organised chaos of physical, tangible assets, there’s still a huge opportunity for technology to transform the way buildings are constructed. But if you’re not getting the full value from digital technology alone, don’t give up. There is a better way. Given the history of fragmentation and siloed working in construction, it follows that any, and every, digital innovation should seek to address this traditional way of working. And in doing so, will not only be a single-use case, but will have ripple effects across the whole value chain. Now really is the time to double down on digital efforts, collaboratively, of course.
Reinventing construction through a productivity revolution | McKinsey
McKinsey Global Institute: Reinventing Construction – A Route to Higher Productivity
Top 4 Challenges Facing the Construction Industry – Future of Construction
An Action Plan to Accelerate Building Information Modelling (BIM) Adoption – Future of Construction
NBS’ 10th National BIM Report | NBS (thenbs.com)
Decoding digital transformation in construction | McKinsey
Smart Market Report – Mitigation of Risk in Construction
NBS – National BIM Report 2019
Innovation Enterprise: Guide to Digital Twin Technology
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LiDAR sensors are an essential component in GeoSLAM’s mobile mapping solutions. Together with our SLAM algorithm, these two technologies are responsible for producing 3D pictures or “point clouds” of the environment.
LiDAR technology has been around since the 1960’s when laser scanners were mounted to planes. This type of airborne LiDAR emitted light beams towards the surface of the ground to provide distance measurements. LiDAR data became a useful tool for providing accurate geospatial measurements in the late 1980s. The introduction of commercially viable GPS systems made this possible.
What is LiDAR?
LiDARis a remote sensing technology. LiDAR technology uses the pulse from a laser to collect measurements. These are used to create 3D models and maps of objects and environments.
What does LiDAR stand for?
LiDAR is an acronym of Light Detection and Ranging. It is also known as laser scanning or 3D scanning.
How does Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) work?
A LiDAR system calculates how long it takes for beams of light to hit an object or surface and reflect back to the laser scanner. The distance is then calculated using the velocity of light*. These are known as ‘Time of Flight’ measurements.
*The velocity, or speed of light is 299,792,458 metres per second
How do LiDAR sensors work?
Depending on the sensor used, LiDAR scanning units can fire hundreds of thousands of pulses per second. These light waves bounce off objects and return to the LiDAR sensor. The sensor uses the time it takes for each pulse to return to calculate distance (time of flight). Each of these pulsed laser measurements, or returns, can be processed into a 3D visualization known as a ‘point cloud’. That’s how a LiDAR sensor works explained in a nutshell.
What is the difference between Radar and LiDAR?
LiDAR works in a similar way to Radar and Sonar yet uses light waves from a laser, instead of radio or sound waves.
What is LiDAR Technology?
LiDAR technology is the application of the remote sensing method described above. It is usually used to examine the surface of the earth, assess information about the ground surface, create a digital twin of an object or detail a range of geospatial information. LiDAR systems harness this technology, using LiDAR data to map three-dimensional models and digital elevation. From handheld to airborne LiDAR, there’s a LiDAR system to capture the data you need. LiDAR mapping uses a laser scanning system with an integrated Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) and GNSS receiver or in GeoSLAM’s case, the SLAM algorithm, which allows each measurement, or points in the resulting point cloud, to be georeferenced. Each ‘point’ combines to create a 3D representation of the target object or area.
LiDAR maps can be used to give positional accuracy – both absolute and relative, to allow viewers of the data to know where in the world the data was collected and how each point relates to objects terms of distance.
LiDAR data, in the form or a point cloud, can be used to map entire cities, enabling decision makers to accurately pinpoint structures or areas of interest in millimetre perfect detail. Features and objects such as road networks, bridges, street furniture and vegetation can be classified and extracted.
LiDAR maps can also be used to highlight changes and abnormalities such as surface degradation, slope changes and vegetation growth.
What can you use LiDAR systems and data for?
There aren’t many applications that wouldn’t benefit from using LiDAR. From the games industry to Formula 1 teams – simulations based on 3D models are often used to give teams the edge before setting foot on a racetrack.
Mapping: Surveying tasks often require LiDAR systems to collect three-dimensional measurements. They can create digital terrain (DTM) and digital elevation models (DEMs) of specific landscapes.
Architecture: Laser scanning systems are popular for surveying the built environment too. This covers buildings, road networks, and railways.
Real Estate: Laser scanners can be used indoors to measure space and create accurate floorplans.
Construction: The construction industry is also using LiDAR surveys increasingly. LiDAR technology tracks building projects and produces digital twins for BIM applications. It can also help produce 3D models for the conditional monitoring of structures, and revit models for architects and structural engineers.
The Environment: Environmental applications for LiDAR are plentiful. Laser scanning is a popular method of mapping flood risk, carbon stocks in forestry, and monitoring coastal erosion.
Automotive: LiDAR is also seeing increased levels of adoption for automation applications. Smaller, low-range LiDAR scanners help navigate autonomous vehicles.
Space Travel: If that wasn’t enough, LiDAR data isn’t only useful on earth! It has been identified by NASA as key in enabling them to land lunar vehicles safely.
What is LiDAR mapping?
LiDAR mapping uses a laser scanning system with an integrated Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) and GNSS receiver. In GeoSLAM’s case, we use the SLAM algorithm to power our laser mapping technology. This allows each measurement, or point in the resulting point cloud, to be georeferenced. Each ‘point’ combines to create a 3D representation of the target object or area.
LiDAR maps give absolute and relative positional accuracy. This allows viewers of the data to know where in the world the data was collected and how each point relates to objects in terms of distance.
LiDAR point cloud data can map entire cities. Decision-makers can pinpoint structures or areas of interest in millimetre perfect detail. Features and objects such as road networks, bridges, street furniture, and vegetation can be classified and extracted.
LiDAR maps can also highlight changes and abnormalities such as surface degradation, slope changes and vegetation growth.
What are digital elevation models (DEMs)?
A digital elevation model (DEM) is a three dimensional representation of terrain and all the objects within that space. Regularly spaced elevation values collected from LiDAR scans create a coordinate system that allows the earth to be reflected and modelled with a high level of accuracy.
What are digital terrain models (DTMs)?
Digital terrain models are just like DEMs, without the objects included. They use LiDAR to map the terrain only.
LiDAR Scanning Technology Explained
So, what is LiDAR? Hopefully, we’ve satisfied your curiosity about LiDAR (light detection and ranging). This pulsed laser technology has so many applications for mapping, providing detailed information and data on the environment. What’s more, you can be assured of speed and accuracy when you carry out a LiDAR scan.
If you’re looking for a LiDAR scanner for a business application, GeoSLAM technology gives you the power to collect the geospatial data you need. Our range of handheld laser scanners uses LiDAR and SLAM technology to produce point clouds for many different applications. Contact us for more information, and find out what a new GeoSLAM LiDAR laser scanner could do for you.
Everything you need to know about the ground-breaking technology.
For anyone interested in mapping the world around them, SLAM has been a complete game-changer. But what exactly is this technology, how does it work and what’s the right SLAM for you?
What is SLAM?
SLAM stands for simultaneous localisation and mapping (sometimes called synchronised localisation and mapping). It is the process of mapping an area whilst keeping track of the location of the device within that area. This is what makes mobile mapping possible. This allows map construction of large areas in much shorter spaces of time as areas can be measured using mobile robots, drones or vehicles. SLAM systems simplify data collection and can be used in outdoor or indoor environments.
Simultaneous Localization And Mapping – it’s essentially complex algorithms that map an unknown environment.
Using SLAM software, a device can simultaneously localise (locate itself in the map) and map (create a virtual map of the location) using SLAM algorithms.
Sensors may use visual data, or non-visible data sources and basic positional data, using an inertial measurement unit (IMU). Using this sensor data, the device computes a ‘best estimate’ of where it is. As new positional information is collected every few seconds, features align, and the estimate improves.
SLAM can trace its early development back to the robotics industry in the 1980s and 1990s.
Today, SLAM technology is used in many industries. It has really opened up opportunities to better map and understand environments whether they are indoor, outdoor, in-air or underground
There are many different types of SLAM algorithms and approaches to SLAM
What is visual SLAM?
Visual SLAM, also known as vSLAM, calculates the position and orientation of a device with respect to its surroundings while mapping the environment at the same time, using only visual inputs from a camera.
Feature-based visual SLAM typically tracks points of interest through successive camera frames to triangulate the 3D position of the camera, this information is then used to build a 3D map.
What is LiDAR SLAM?
A LiDAR-based SLAM system uses a laser sensor to generate a 3D map of its environment. LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) measures the distance to an object (for example, a wall or chair leg) by illuminating the object using an active laser “pulse”.
LiDAR is both a fast and accurate approach and can be used in a wide range of environments and conditions.
The laser sensor point cloud generated from this method is highly accurate and is ideal for mapping in construction. These high precision distance measurements can be used for a whole host of other applications too.
How mapping has changed.
For anyone involved in the acquisition of geospatial data, SLAM is a huge game-changer. Gone are the days of multiple, static set-ups of bulky, tripod-based systems.
Go-anywhere mapping – rapidly and simply walk through an environment, building a digital map as you go.
SLAM can even be used to map unknown environments, helping us to learn more about the world around us.
What’s the right SLAM for you?
If you’re wanting to create a highly accurate 3D map of an underground mine, inside a building or from a UAV, you’d get the best results with a LiDAR SLAM. But if you’re wanting SLAM for computer vision (AR) or unmanned robots, then Visual SLAM could be selected.
Here are six areas to consider:
Not all SLAMs are created equal.
The CT (Continuous Time) SLAM technology used inside GeoSLAM’s product portfolio was developed by some of the smartest people on the planet. We’ve taken our technology into notoriously difficult scanning environments, such as repetitive corridors, smooth-sided tunnels and spaces with moving people, where it’s been refined, honed and pushed to breaking point. The result is a constantly improving SLAM algorithm, one that is so robust that it now works equally well in outdoor open environments as it does indoors.
A brief history of the SLAM in GeoSLAM
In 2008, the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) developed a powerful and robust SLAM algorithm primarily focused on accurate 3D measurement and mapping of the environment, rather than autonomous navigation. You may not be familiar with CSIRO, but you’ll certainly be familiar with their work – they invented Wi-Fi, 30-day contact lenses, plastic banknotes, the list goes on. They’re also Australia’s national science agency, pure experts in their field.
In 2012, Data61, the digital innovation arm of CSIRO teamed up with UK geospatial market-leaders 3D Laser Mapping (GeoSLAM’s former sister company) to commercialise their new SLAM. The result was GeoSLAM and this award-winning technology is at the core of all our products.
The first versions of SLAM used images to help with orientation, but for laser scanning a more frequent calculation of position is required and continuous-time SLAM overcomes this limitation. With our sweep-matching GeoSLAM Beam, scan lines are projected in all directions, enabling us to deliver a highly accurate and reliable digital map.
We’ve sold thousands of handheld SLAM systems to businesses’ ever since.
What is GeoSLAM Beam?
GeoSLAM Beam is what we call our next generation SLAM algorithm that powers our software platform, GeoSLAM Connect.
What makes GeoSLAM Beam the best SLAM?
The SLAM technology used inside GeoSLAM products is developed and continually enhanced by some of the smartest people on the planet. With GeoSLAM Beam and Connect you can expect:
Optimised SLAM processing to suit your capture environment
Robust and reliable in different environments, GeoSLAM Beam performs well walking, on robots, cars, scooters, bikes and even boats
Tools and filters for creating clean and accurate point clouds, automatically
Georeferencing your datais easy
A high level of accuracy that meets mapping requirements and exceeds other SLAM based mapping systems using the Velodyne VLP-16 sensor.Take a look at theAccuracy Reportto learn more.
Don’t just take it from us, our customers are continually testing GeoSLAM Beam against competitor SLAM and tell us that our accuracy and reliability are the best in the market.
What are the benefits of using SLAM?
SLAM based systems are inherently mobile – they are at their best when used on the move. Gone are the days of multiple static set-ups of bulky tripod-based systems. With a SLAM mobile mapping system, it’s possible to simply walk through an environment building a digital map as you go, saving time and money by removing laborious set-ups from the equation. SLAM based mobile mapping systems slash survey times and can be over 10 times faster at acquiring data.
Additionally, GPS doesn’t work indoors; it requires a line of sight to at least three satellites to function, but it isn’t just indoors that is out of bounds to GPS based systems. Forests prove difficult, as tree canopies block the line of sight to the sky and urban canyons or tall buildings block signals in built up environments too. SLAM based technology overcomes these obstacles by cutting out GPS altogether. GeoSLAM enables you to reach complex and enclosed spaces, either scanning by hand or by attaching a scanner to a trolley, drone or pole. This opens a whole new realm of environments to be surveyed, that were previously highly problematic, time consuming, or both.
For the built environment, this opens large opportunities as we help construction professionals carry out fast and accurate 3D models in the minimum amount of time, helping them with:
Fast, weekly progress monitoring of construction sites
Real-time surveys of residential, commercial and industrial facilities
Comprehensive site surveys of existing structures to be refurbished, remodelled or extended.
It’s easy to see how SLAM mapping devices are considered a ‘disruptive technology’ in the survey industry.
It’s not just the built environment that benefit – the pre-cursor to the ZEB-1 found its birth in a complex cave system, in south-east Australia. From these humble beginnings, GeoSLAM products have been utilised in caves, mines, forests and open fields, globally. We have customers from all sectors, many of them global enterprise organisations. To cement our market position, we are proud to have built an international dealer network of almost 90 channel partners, in over 50 countries, across all six continents. That’s why we are the experts in go-anywhere 3D mobile mapping technology.
What’s next for GeoSLAM?
Our experienced mathematicians and SLAM developers are constantly working on the next generation of features to offer even more functionality with each release, and we’re going one step further than this with our in-house innovation team headed by GeoSLAM Founder & CEO Graham Hunter.
The initiative behind the foundation of the team is to cement innovation at the heart of all that GeoSLAM does, allowing us to expand our R&D capabilities, to keep delivering industry-leading products and to fortify our place at the cutting edge of global SLAM development.
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