Autodesk wants to ‘democratize’ reality capture, meshing technologies
New Project Memento is 'most scalable mesh engine available,' processes 500 million polygons
by Dan McGovern, SPAR Point Group Editor
August 07, 2013
Autodesk showed off its reality capture 3D modeling advances this week, introducing three new technologies aimed at the AEC market's building information modeling (BIM) sector, and beyond, by drastically cutting the time it takes to generate a point cloud and create a hi-res mesh using massive datasets.
“We’re launching three products this week with a goal to democratize these technologies and make them prevalently available,” Elmer Bol, Autodesk’s director of product management, Reality Capture, IPG, told SPAR.
The first release on Monday was Recap Pro, an advanced version of the free Recap “reality capture” software for workflow on the desktop that creates 3D models from laser scans and captured photos.
Bol said Recap is “wrapped around BIM (building information modeling) workflow and bringing BIM into the real world. That is our target for this capability, the indoor space. It’s not for every single work job.”
Recap Pro uses an advanced, scan data registration capability that Autodesk got its hands on in January when it purchased Allpoint Systems, a Pittsburgh, Pa.-based software firm that specialized in automatic point cloud registration and working with massive point cloud datasets on the desktop for the transportation and building sectors.
The reality capture technology registers scans by snapping them together using visible features that overlap, cutting project time in half by eliminating the need for survey targets to align scan data.
“We just love the technology and seeing it become a reality,” Aaron Morris, the founder of Allpoint and recently appointed Product Manager of the Recap team, told SPAR.
Check out this video that Chad Studer, president of ADSK Solutions, produced for SPAR.
The strategy behind Recap Pro is to cut down the time-consuming process of acquiring data and exporting an as-built environment into an Autodesk workflow platform that consumes Recap Pro 3D models, specifically for building and construction, including InfraWorks, Navisworks, Revit and AutoCAD.
“Clients don’t want 3D deliverables in three or four weeks. They want it the next day,” Bol said, pointing to typical construction industry protocol to scan at night in order to have new data of a work site by the morning.
Two important aspects of Recap is a simplified user interface and making registration a real-time function, which significantly cuts down the amount of post-processing work needed.
“Simplify the user interface and you can teach yourself to register laser scans in 10 minutes,” Bol said.
Hardware first, software second … no more
The consequences for makers of laser scanners and other data capture devices, if Recap fulfills demand expectations, is a wider audience of customers, buying cheaper data acquisition devices - from lidar to photogrammetry, the handheld Kinect to a smartphone - and registering their own scans to produce a viable 3D deliverable.
“The hardware has always run in front of software,” Bol said. “Now, there is no barrier to entry.” That would certainly put software in a key position to grow the entire 3D imaging market.
Recap Pro provides direct support for just one laser scanner at the moment, FARO Technologies’ Focus 3D laser scanner. Bol said Autodesk is working with other scanner manufacturers to support their workflows as well.
Recap Pro is free for about two months, Bol said, with pricing to be formalized “very, very soon.” It will be sold as a turn-based license model, where users can purchase the software’s capabilities by the month, quarter or year, he said.
Next to be released this week, Friday to be exact, is Recap Photo, packaged as a cloud-based “photo-to-3D service” in Autodesk 360 that creates high-res textured 3D models from digital images.
With a dedicated website, users can upload their photos, create a 3D model and view and/or download the mesh.
Project Memento - 'one of the most scalable mesh engine available'
Finally, Autodesk debuted on Wednesday Project Memento, a free “Technology Preview” from its R&D arm, Autodesk Labs.
Just as Recap focuses on point cloud optimization, Project Memento deals with the complex curves of huge, mesh-based surface generated from reality capture techniques such as scanning or photogrammetry.
“It’s one of the most scalable mesh engines available,” Bol said, claiming the software can do what no other in the world can: process a half billion polygons.
“[Project Memento] has a very, very streamlined workflow for cleaning meshes and fixing the data than anything else by a factor of 10,” Bol said.
Project Memento imports high-resolution mesh data generated in Recap Photo for mesh decimation and other techniques to clean and edit meshes with huge datasets for digital and visual consumption.
Memento has automatic error detection with a capability to detect and eliminate spikes, mainly due to too many irrelevant data points, or other deformities in the mesh data, which improves the mesh surface. The software does not support texture editing but there is texture support not just geometry, Bol said.
The end result? A “watertight mesh” for physical publication, according to Bol. (Editor's Note: While the term "watertight mesh" is widely regarded as what's necessary for to conduct 3D printing applications, as meshes generated by Memento are capable of, Elmer wanted to be clear that there are technical definitions linked to "watertight mesh" that Project Memento does not yet fully comply.")
Watertight means the mesh’s surface is intact and fully enclosed with no holes in the diameter. Physical publication means 3D printing, indicating Autodesk’s intention to expand its footprint in the 3D printing space.
Need more proof? Check this out. Autodesk is now bundling a one-year premium membership of its 123D software suite with a MakerBot Replicator 2 desktop 3D printer to create a “personal design factory.” The cost is $2,249.
Other Project Memento deliverables include digital uses as add-ons for video games or other general consumer applications.
Check out this Project Memento Overview.
Bol again highlighted the combination of user interface and technology and what the user should, and should, not be seeing during mesh editing working with huge datasets.
“With the user interface, the technology portion of the software should not be visible to the user,” Bol said. “You’ll know what I mean when you see it.”
Who is the user?
So, who does Bol think will be using the new software?
“Technically, we don’t know. We’re just trying to find that out,” he said, explaining new users are asked to tell Autodesk what industry they work in and what the software will be used for.
“The goal of this project is to bring the technology down to the mainstream user, the non-expert engineer,” Bol said.
The technology definitely appears to go a long way to cutting workflow and boosting efficiencies in processing 3D point clouds. But as one industry insider put it: “If it works great! If it doesn’t, then what?”