Reality Capture in your pocket?
In 1991, this advertisement appeared in print newspapers across the United States. This commercial for Radio Shack which ran in syndicated newspapers illustrates a variety of consumer electronic devices, headlined by a personal desktop computer for $1599 USD (approximately $3000 in 2020). Beyond the eye-watering price of the PC, one interesting thing to note is that every single one of the devices featured in this ad has functionally been replaced by almost any smartphone available today.
This had us wondering: how far away are we from true Reality Capture technology in your pocket? To answer the question, we created a very basic test: Could our non-technical team achieve good results with off-the-shelf tools anyone could use?
Every single electronic device imaginable has grown smaller, more efficient, and where applicable with greater data fidelity. Measurement equipment is no different. Today, small drone-mounted reality capture LIDAR scanners help companies identify areas with possible emissions leaks. At the airport, you are screened for explosive detection with a table-based tool, not a laboratory. The construction industry is no different. Today, consumer-level drones that you can carry in your hand approach the level of accuracy needed to take commercially used measurements. Industrial Scanning is no different.
Voyansi has a variety of industrial laser scanning equipment. Leica RTCs, BLKs, and Faro Focus scanners we use can be brought on commercial flights as luggage due to their relatively small size. However, they are still large enough that unless you are taking a dedicated trip to scan, your baggage allotment is still heavily penalized. Likewise, the operation is still relatively technical akin to using a professional DSLR instead of a smartphone to take photos. This had us asking: how far away are we from true Reality Capture Technology in your pocket?
Very very close.
Today, you think nothing of checking your email, using a calculator, or checking the weather from your phone. 10-15 years ago, each of these applications was a separate service, application, or device. LIDAR being commonly available in consumer-level devices is a new thing, but there are several ways you can already leverage this technology:
"Will it fit?" In 2019, "trying it on" was commonplace. Will a new car fit in your garage or driveway, how would that chair or appliance look in your home? In the post-pandemic landscape, health and safety concerns mean that trying out a new product makes it difficult for consumers to take a test drive or experience a product. For large consumer goods such as furniture stores, showrooms may not even be open.
A traditional workflow of measuring your space and comparing it against the dimensional data of a new sofa or furniture piece is time-consuming. Product fit is one of the biggest applications that will become commonplace with this new technology. Many retailers such as Ford & Ikea now offer applications where you can virtually place dimensionally correct objects to see how they "fit and feel" in your life.
With a 30-second learning curve to most apps, this tech is already there. Simple to use, and the ability to access a brand's product catalog means that the end customer is more likely to be happy with their purchase.
Have you ever planned for a renovation or repair of your home? Measure twice, cut once is an old adage that belies the importance of accurately planning before you begin. Manual measurements in any space invite error through human factors. It's one thing to put the hanger for a painting slightly off. When you buy materials though, accuracy is important in order to avoid waste.
Many of our customers are already leveraging industrial photogrammetry & LIDAR technology to measure existing spaces. Matterport has bridged the gap between needing skilled labor and equipment to capture a space by working on common technology platforms such as your iPhone.
I have an upcoming project to replace some of the older shutters in my home, so I used this test as an exercise to start that process. There are a variety of both natively included functionalities on most major devices, as well as third-party applications that deliver this functionality. In my experience, this technology is already mature enough that I've gained a new tool in my home repair toolbox. Especially in areas with high ceilings, or hard-to-reach areas, the addition of LIDAR eliminates the need for a ladder or extra-long tape measures.
The first thing I did when I got my latest phone was to go out and scan things! There are a handful of free scanning apps available that can natively generate .obj or other 3D files. This is just the first commonly available set of devices that integrates this technology. The technology is cool to create fun images to share with others including these scans of both a new & contemporary Jeep. It's still a bit difficult to bring models into other environments or to place them side by side.
Verdict, it's almost there. While the applications I tested were easy to use they were not of professional quality quite yet. Still, it's pretty cool to be able to walk out to your driveway, reach in your pocket, and spit out a model. 1943 Ford GPW Scan File (.obj)