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What is SLAM (Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping)?

The SLAM revolution

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? 

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

Graph SLAM icon
Graph SLAM

Fast SLAM icon

Topological SLAM icon
Topological SLAM

Visual SLAM icon
Visual SLAM
2D LiDAR SLAM icon
3D LiDAR SLAM icon

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.

GeoSLAM cave scanning
SLAM in action

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:

Speed and accuracy

Quality and distortion
Flexibility and deployment
Real-time data capture
Usage in multi-environments
Coupling with hardware

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.  

GeoSLAM Beam - Our SLAM

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 data is 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 the Accuracy Report to 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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