Figure 1 – mapping what you see?

Vector mapping from 3D data sources

Guest blog post by Greg Lewis, Sales and Business Development, Blom UK

Since completion of our laser scanning project in partnership with Sterling Geophysical Surveys for Western Power Distribution, we have been busy examining the outputs and developing more traditional product from the 3D data. While the laser scanning market today is all about 3D information, intelligence and modelling of the built environment, traditional engineers and asset managers still need to consume and use 2D data products. Why? The answer is simple and that is many companies who rely on traditional mapping products (such as paper plots), to visualise, plan and build assets are not used to, nor like to use or handle 3D data, either as a point cloud, or processed into an easy to handle format, such as a web based point cloud publishing service.

3D data files are still seen by many to be difficult to handle or interpret and require vast servers and specialist software to view and interrogate the data. To some extent this is true, but 3D data is becoming easier to handle and use across IT infrastructure, but 2D data products still have a role to play. For me it’s is about being versatile and providing what it is the customer wants and is prepared to pay for. It is pointless going to the expense of modelling up an entire substation if all the engineer requires is a basic topographic map with some ground levels. I also hear you say, “so why use laser scanning, why not use a total station or GPS?” Again, true, but think of it in terms of customer education and added value. While the comparative costs of using a laser scanner is sometimes more than traditional methods, they are often comparable, so why wouldn’t you use laser scanning?

The benefits of laser scanning in dangerous environments are well documented, but from a traditional topographic survey point of view, if you miss a feature from the survey or drawing this often means a field verification is required. If you are using a laser scanner you simply revert back to your point cloud and imagery and add in the feature from your desk without the additional cost, time and inconvenience of returning to site. This is a real benefit to customers who want the traditional deliverables, without the “pain” of handing the 3D data.

Furthermore, having access to the imagery and or colourised point cloud, means additional features can be picked up and internal assets verified for position, condition and age allowing detailed attribution to be added to the mapping data.

Figure 1 – mapping what you see?

Using modern day software and tools specially designed for plotting or extracting 2D information from 3D data, reduces labour costs and puts the editor “inside” the point cloud. This allows the user to scale and plot “point to point” with a degree of confidence that wasn’t before possible when using software packages designed for airborne LiDAR solutions. The completed topographic map can then be merged with base layer information such as OSMM to put the survey in context with the surrounding environment as you would do for any straightforward mapping task. The deliverables are therefore standardised and allow a range of stakeholders to handle, view and use the mapping in a traditional way without the fear of installing and running bespoke systems to handle 3D data, but at the same time, having the intelligence and additional 3D data available “behind” the map should they need it.
We are finding with new technologies and techniques, it is a good idea to use product based planning to in turn drive the method you use for the survey. By doing this, you ensure the client gets the deliverables they require, allowing us to prescribe a suitable method that achieves this, within the budget and timescales specified of course.

Figure 2 – 2D mapping from 3D data

I think it is important to get away from limiting certain technologies to certain applications. If a newer more complete technology, such as laser scanning, can be used to deliver a product that is typical in appearance and has all the functionality need, but has added value, then why should we align traditional services with traditional products?

Just look at the way NASA used a variety of different flexible technologies to land the Curiosity rover on Mars earlier today! In this climate we need to be versatile with our technology and be flexible when considering client requirements.