April 18, 2014

Head in the Point Clouds

Sam Pfeifle

Sam Pfeifle was Editor of SPAR Point Group from September 2010 - February 2013.

Desktop scanners: All the rage

While 3D printers have been getting much of the attention from start-ups using Kickstarter, don't think the laser scanning community is sitting idly by. Two new desktop scanners hit the news last week, drawing attention right back to that data-capture starting point in the scan-to-print workflow that's capturing the public's imagination. 

Of course, desktop and close-range scanners have been around for a good while now. Probably most well known is the NextEngine scanner, who tout themselves as the "#1 selling 3D scanner." Starting at $3,000, it's a relatively affordable way to get into 3D laser scanning of small objects like archaeological artifacts or machine parts you'd like to reverse engineer. Then there is the popular the David scanner, which you can buy as a "starter kit" for €450 or as a structured light scanner that comes in just under €2,000. David has done some great work in laser scanning, and inspired plenty of "makers" like this guy, but the "kit" nature of their solution has likely turned a few people off, even if the price is right. 

Both of these are still considerably cheaper than the handheld scanners they most often would compete against: Even Artec, which pitches itself as a cheaper alternative to the Creaform solution, is at least $13,500 in the United States

So, I'd say this Kickstarter project from CADScan is something of a game-changer: If you get it right now, you can get a professional, fully assembled desktop scanner for £649. The makers say they've designed it to be low-cost and "as simple to use as a photocopier," with no post-processing and instant mesh. No point cloud to deal with if you rather not.

Here's the full pitch (if you're using Internet Explorer this probably won't show up. Get a modern browser):

 

Now, it's not the overnight success that the 3D printing pen (aka glorified glue gun) is, and is only about three quarters to the £80,000 goal, but there are 22 days to goal and I'm pretty sure they'll be funded. The thing holding them back might be the sample data they supply. 

Here, check out their scanned dragon (this time, IE will really let you down; you need a browser that supports HTML5, like, well, anything except IE):

 

Click on that little box and you should be able to play with the model in 3D. Looks a little rough around the edges, doesn't it? I mean, it's fine for printing out toys for kids to play with, I guess, but it doesn't seem quick sub-milimeter enough for true reverse engineering applications. Maybe the toy, with its rough surface, isn't the best test piece. It's hard to say. 

Regardless, the price is right. Who knows what it will eventually retail for, but it seems safe to say it's under the David structured light price. I expect there are plenty of people in design and manufacturing who will find that attractive, even if the scan area is fairly small. If they can deliver on all the usability promises, it seems like a no brainer. 

But maybe you've got some of that DIY spirit and you don't mind the whole kit thing. Well, then you'll probably be pretty intrigued by the Moedls iPhone app that's currently under review at iTunes. Essentially, for about $300, you'll be able to conduct desktop scanning with nothing but your phone, a rotating turntable, and a line laser. It works like this:

 

It's part of Engadget's "Insert Coin" contest entries, and has made the semifinals. They're the only data-capture folks in the list of 10 remaining entries, so maybe you should give them a vote (if you don't mind logging in via Twitter or Facebook to do it, which is lame...).

Are either of these solutions from SCANCad or Moedls likely to fit perfectly into the average surveyor's or plant operations manager's or architect's workflow? Probably not. But it shows that R&D is happening in the laser scanning arena and that's bound to reduce prices in the traditional data capture realm as well if things keep moving in this direction. 


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Sense and sensibility

One of the great selling points for 3D data acquisition is that it allows people to know their environments more intimately. To have an exact digital replica of your plant, or your crime scene, or your construction site is to know its every millimeter in a new and different way. How big is that space? How far away is that shell casing? Those are questions to which you can know the answer in seconds.

But we don't think often that 3D data capture can allow your digital devices, the machines and buildings around you, to know YOU more intimately. 

Such is the line of thinking triggered by a great blog put together following CES by Robert Scoble (I recommend following him on Twitter, as well), Rackspace's startup liaison officer, whose job it is to basically be constantly seeking out the new and exciting. He's completely geeked-up by the new PrimeSense sensor, which is more accurate than the one they licensed to Microsoft for the Kinect and yet far smaller and able to be implanted in just about any electronic device anywhere. He called it a "world changing 3D sensor." 

"World changing" is big talk. Here's a video where he gets pretty enthusiastic:

 

And, no, it's not just for consumer applications. Get a load of this:

At CES I had dinner with execs from GM and Ford and they are thinking about how to use these sensors in cars. Both to personalize the car (with a sensor like this they could tell you are sitting in drivers seat) but also to do things like wakeup alarms if you are falling asleep while driving. Also, hand gestures will be more efficient in many ways than voice systems, particularly for moving around user interfaces.

What about an alarm that goes off if someone is about to turn the wrong valve out in the field? What about a sensor system that has the design as its database and is constantly checking what's being built against the design and alerts upon deviation? What about a sensor on every vehicle in the yard that alerts upon proximity to a human-shaped object? 

Many of these new applications may also rely on having an accurate picture of reality from which to start. The active sensors might need to rely on that digital representation of truth in order to notice when something's going wrong. And the data they collect can be stored and interrogated in any number of ways. 

Scoble puts it this way: "The sensual, contextual age of consumer electronics is here, ready or not." But why would it stop at consumer electronics?


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Lidar: All up in your grill

In my first CES round-up, I pointed out the buzz Lexus was getting for its self-driving vehicle, which features the well-known Velodyne scanner spinning around on the roof. How I missed Audi's much-sleeker entry into the lidar-based auto-driving market I'm not sure. It's pretty rad.

Car and Driver does a great job of summing up the user experience in their blog entry here detailing the test drive:

Traffic-jam assist combines the sensory information from Audi’s existing radar-based adaptive cruise control system and the car’s lane-keeping assist camera (which monitors lane markers) with a compact, bumper-mounted LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) laser. Audi is particularly proud of this LIDAR unit, not the least because it packs all of the sensory ability of the giant, roof-mounted LIDAR towers seen on Lexus’s autonomous LS, Google’s fleet of self-driving Priuses, and the Pikes Peak autonomous Audi TT into a brick-sized piece of hardware. Software allows the system to steer the car; if any significant torque is applied to the steering wheel, control is relinquished back to the driver.

Well, I don't know about "giant, roof-mounted lidar towers." That seems a bit overblown. But there's no arguing that Audi's version is far sleeker:

 01.11.13.audi 

(For those still not understanding my headline, go here. But only if you have a sense of humor.)

I'd consider this a pretty impressive development. They've got 145 degrees of visibility with the lidar sensor, so they neither smack into the car ahead of them nor miss cars trying to cut in front of your car in traffic. All of that while not looking ugly. Well done, Audi.

Engadget got a nice interview from CES in the Audi booth, which was by all descriptions very impressive. It outlines Audi's vision for the "piloted car" and how the company thinks people will use the functionality:

 

Am I the only one slightly amused by the constant assurances that the piloted function doesn't work on the highway because of how fun it is to drive an Audi on the highway and no one would want to give that up? I think they're just not quite ready to promote it at highway speeds. Try my commute to work in the Hyundai - I don't think an Audi would make 25 miles on the Maine Turnpike into a laugh riot. 

Regardless, all of this activity shows that carmakers are making a real commitment to the capture of 3D data to inform the performance of their vehicles and I think it's only a matter of time before lidar is built into vehicles of all sorts on construction sites and in industrial facilities for safety purposes. 

But think about what else could be done here. What if, while these vehicles were scanning for obstructions, they were also constantly replenishing your as-built point cloud documentation? Like a Viametris unit in the front grill of your bucket loader. Couldn't you just do a data dump every night and then let it register overnight and, voila, updated point cloud?

Something to consider while you count your pennies in advance of the release of this new A6.


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Spreading the gospel

While we here at SPAR try to be measured in our evaluation of 3D technology and its business impact, there's no doubt that there's an element of evangelism to what we do here. While laser scanning and other forms of 3D data capture are no panacea for the world's ills, they can certainly be awfully helpful in certain situations. But only if you know the technology exists. And many people don't.

So we spend a fair amount of time and energy spreading the word. Sure, that means the stories I write about new products and advances, but it also means a huge attempt to reach out beyond our current audience to people who don't know 3D data capture (or SPAR, for that matter) exists. You know: phone calls, Google ad words, Facebook ads, list swaps - all the ways you can think of. Here's just one of the "101-style" white papers we point people to in hopes that they'll be hungry for more information.

It also means I pay a lot of attention to the ways that the manufacturers in the space are doing the same thing. Leica's release this month of a set of three professionally produced videos introducing the laser scanning technology concept got me thinking about what's available on YouTube and what kind of introduction a newcomer to the technology would get. Is it an accurate impression? Would it get them excited to use the technology for their businesses? Are there spammers trying to hone in our potential new community members and head them off with bunk before they get here?

Let's take a look.

First, say you went to YouTube and just searched "what is laser scanning." This is a thing that people do, I can assure you. Now, I might not get the same results as you do, thanks to YouTube being part of the Google empire and the introduction of personalized search results, but it's probably pretty close. First video for me is this one:

 

It's a pretty nice piece of work, released by Faro Great Britain about two years ago, and with 17,785 views already, which is a great count. Professionally done with a nice voiceover, it goes through a scan of an old castle, which you might apparently want to document in three dimensions. It's in strange vertical aspect ratio, though, which is a little weird for the YouTube viewing experience, and while it's very in-depth, I wonder if it's a little too in-depth for a first impression. The video goes through actual settings on the on-board software and even lets you know what the tone sounds like when the scan is done. 

Sure, this is a great instructional video for someone who already has a scanner, but is it a little "too-long-didn't-watch" for a newcomer? Possibly. The average view time for someone on YouTube is still under four minutes, even with a push for more long-form content, so eight minutes-plus might be asking a little much.

Up next on the list of returns is much-shorter piece uploaded by Michael Xinogalos, with simple animation, no specific product references, and a good use of the "show-me-don't-tell-me" school of though, converting real scenes to point clouds and doing well with some pretty pictures:

 

Of course, the only technology mentioned is time of flight, so there's a slight bit of bad information here, and the Bizet in the background is kind of annoying, even if it's not the bad techno that usually characterizes amateur YouTube videos. Still, as introduction to the technology, I can't say this is "bad," and 37,000+ views means a lot of people have seen this. There are even some comments!

The third result is a screen capture from a BBC One television morning show that's doing a feature on forensic science. It doesn't get to the laser scanning right off, and it's a good bit of fluffery. At least it shows laser scanning is hitting mainstream communications channels, but it's basically worthless. It probably doesn't do any harm, I suppose, but it's a bit too bad this comes up as a third result.

Fourth up is a nice piece from Topcon, a product introduction video for the company's GLS-1000 scanner:

 

Here, there's an implied assumption you have some familiarity with the technology, but if you're a surveyor, especially, doing research, you're probably going to be relatively at home here. There are people who look like you doing work in the field and you get a good explanation of the product technology from people talking into the camera with professional video treatment and using the professional terms you're comfortable with - "traverse," "back site," etc. At five minutes, it's a pretty good length, but it's maybe a little salesy, as it pitches the Topcon product as better than others, and that might be a turn-off if you're new to the technology and just want the straight dope.

Next up is an entrant from a UK service provider, Deri Jones & Associates, uploaded in 2009. Take a look:

 

Yes, it has some things working against it: No sound. Low res. Very basic titles, etc. But the 16,000+ views and the comments say that this is something that people are checking out when they're investigating the technology. Four months ago, someone left the comment: "How many million quad poly was it?" Which made for a brilliant opportunity to spread the gospel: "There are no polygons in this rendering, it's all done directly from the point cloud using Pointools. Modelling this scene would have taken a heap of work, but recording it and re purposing that data to make a pretty animation is relatively straightforward," someone at Deri Jones replied.

That's why I find it strange when corporations close off comments on their videos, like Topcon's above and like the Leica videos, which I'm getting to. The back and forth is where social media rules! If you put up ads, people will passively accept them as ads, but if you put up cool stuff, people will be curious and engage with you (maybe), and that's your opportunity for follow up and potentially some business.

The next few results are interesting - 70,000+ views for a homemade x/y laser scanner; an ad from Qualitech about using scanning for reverse engineering (215 views); a 45-minute recording of a webinar from Beck Technology on using laser scanning in the AEC industry (157 views); a video about building and using a David table-top scanner (47,000 views); and a video about a crazy piece of laser technology from Japan that is able to trace lines on pieces of paper and stuff (203,000 views).

Seriously, go watch that last one. The laser-light pinball is worth the view alone. Really, really cool.

But you see what gets views on YouTube: DIY stuff. Amazing stuff. People on YouTube are investigators. Probably a lot of kids just checking out what's out there. How do 200,000 people find a relatively poorly made video about a laser that can trace your shirt? Who knows? But they found it. Laser scanning is cool enough that they'll find that, too, if you let them.

In just about a month, with little promotion, 2,000+ people have found the new "what is laser scanning" videos from Leica. Here's chapter 1:

 

It's an interesting amalgam of all the other videos we've seen so far. First, it's a little bit advertising: The Leica logo is front and center and our pair of happy hosts make sure to refer to Leica as the global leader in laser scanning and to pimp up the company in the closing. Still, it's not completely in your face, and there's a ton of practical information being delivered in an easily digestible manner that's likely to be attractive to those coming new to the technology. It's kind of like one of those infommercials that come on late at night and you have a really hard time clicking away from.

These hosts are just so damn chipper! I want to be their friend! The time, at six minutes, is also sort of right in the middle between just a taste and full on product pitch. Nor is it geared just toward Leica's traditional survey base, though there's enough in there for surveyors to feel at home. Good balance, I'd say, between a b2b video and one that has mainstream appeal. Not surprising it's resonating on YouTube pretty well.

Will it reach the 165,000+ that the LaserScanningForum-posted "Know How" video about building your own laser scan has, which comes up right after Leica? Maybe not. But Know How is an actual, like, entertainment vehicle, and it involves someone's mom twirling around in a chair. Hard to pass that up.

Is there a lesson here? It's hard to say. This is one search, and one collection of videos, and people like to surf YouTube like its their job, while all the people who actually have jobs probably have much less time for it. But that's why it's so important to grab their attention right out of the gate. If an architect sits down and searches "what is laser scanning," will she be happy with the results? Will she be inclined to find out more? If you have a vested interest in that, you might want to make sure the videos that pop up early, or the links on Google, tell the story you'd hope for a newcomer to hear.


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Taking the temperature of the TX5

After visiting the Trimble Dimensions show, I had my own theories about why the company would be successful with its OEM deal with Faro to create the TX5 laser scanner, but it's good, too, to hear it from the horse's mouth. No matter what intentions happen to be, the rubber meets the road with actual customers, and they'll let you know what they think of your marketing plans.

It was good, then, to catch up at SPAR Europe with Tim Lemmon, who heads up Trimble's efforts in the oil-and-gas industry and oversees much of Trimble's laser scanning efforts.

How does the new scanner fit into the overall scanning portfolio? What has customer reaction been? How does this fit into the company's overall BIM efforts? Tim answers these questions and more in the following video:

 


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Getting laser scanning beyond the surveying niche

On my way to the Trimble Dimensions conference, I got waylaid in Houston. Don't ask how. But it ended up being something of a happy coincidence, as it meant I wound up on a flight with MDL CEO Steve Ball, and we got a chance to ride to Treasure Island together in a cab. Along the way he told me a bunch of stuff he probably shouldn't have, and when I asked him whether we were on the record he said, "sure, but if you tell anybody, I'll just say you must have been mistaken."

What he made clear, though, is that he has a vision for laser scanning that goes well beyond its roots in the survey community and industry (despite the fact that he's a surveyor himself). He's doing everything he can do drive down prices, democratize the scanning technology and the point cloud processing, and turn 3D data capture into something for which you don't need to hire a professional.

Or, maybe more accurately, something in which you can become a professional much more quickly. Just as Home Depot has made it much more likely I'll buy some Azek trim board and fix my own moldy and rotten house trim (I did this last weekend - it would have been smarter to have done it in the summer), Ball has created a virtual place where you can upload data and get it processed and registered and turned into the desired deliverable without having to buy a bunch of seat licenses, etc., thereby making it much more likely someone will either collect their own data or have someone inexpensively gather it for them.

Does it make the industry more accessible? It would seem like it. Will it possibly create more laser scanning knuckleheads (the kind whom Ken Smerz both laments and says are a good thing for the industry)? Probably. Is it going to eliminate laser scanning as a business for the surveying world? Hardly. Just because Home Depot exists doesn't mean every contractor in North America has gone out of business.

But this trend will definitely likely mean that surveyors will have to do a better job of showing their value if they want to keep winning jobs.

To learn more about how MDL is marketing its products and services, I caught up at SPAR Europe with Hannah Cotterell, from the marketing department, and we talked about the company's vision for the future of the industry - and remote-controlled vehicles:

 


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More cutting edge of forensics

For those of you who may have been to our SPAR International event in the states and are wondering what's the difference between that event and SPAR Europe, I'd say one difference is that the programming has a lot more research projects on display. Technology that isn't quite ready for commercialization, but is damn interesting.

This morning's opening keynotes are just one example - fairly incredible presentations from Luc van Gool and Marc Polleyfeys, both of ETH Zurich, showing off what's possible for turning images and video into 3D point clouds and models (we'll have a longer write-up of this at some point in the near future). Really impressive stuff. Ready for commercial projects tomorrow? Not quite. Would a creative mind see applications readily? Absolutely.

Similarly, Judith Dijk, senior research scientist for intelligent imaging for Netherlands research house TNO, almost off-handedly had on display a rig that bolted a Kinect sensor onto the back of a laptop with a tablet-like touchscreen to create a real-time 3D modeling tool. Dijk was part of the CSI the Hague project and her team developed the Kinect gadget so crime scenes could be quickly gathered and modeled. Here's what the device looks like:

 11.13.12.forensics1 

And here's just a little sample of the data it gathers (she just plugged the laptop into the projector so we could watch her gather data from the room in real time):

 11.13.12.forensics2 

From there, she spit out a very raw point cloud in about three minutes. Accuracy? Who knows? Usable data? Maybe for something. All of that could probably do with some refinement, but the thing is they're clearly pushing the envelope in looking for tools to help with investigations. Dijk mentioned they're looking for a partner to help them productize the technology and bring it to market. I think she'll probably find herself with a few follow-up conversations.

Really, the forensic track was impressive in general this year. I was forced to stop and watch when I saw the crowd gathered 'round to to watch Jurrien Bijhold, of the Netherlands Forensic Institute and CSI the Hague, proxy a live demonstration of 3D data capture of a crime scene. In this particular case, Shabtay Negry, COO of Mantis Vision, was on the spot, as Bijhold made him get all dolled up to show that the device doesn't just have to work, but it has to work with rubber gloves on and in a funny tyvek suit.

 11.13.12.crimescene 

Can the Mantis F-5 get those shell casings? No. But the new close-range Mantis product can. How does it do with glass? Sometimes not well. What about water? The water would probably not be a problem, but the shell casings in the water might be too small for the F-5. Can it read those numbers? No. Jurrien was merciless, and the crowd was riveted. Z+F came next and Bijhold gave them no quarter as well. He was a regular drill sergeant up there, which was great, since the point was to demonstrate actual crime scene conditions.

It was helpful for the forensics-minded attendees, for sure, who are attending in good number this year, but also for the manufacturers. Every vertical has its own needs and demands, and this emphasized those of the forensics community. Like many other application areas, they have their specific demands and desires and manufacturers who want their business would be wise to cater to them.


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Why Trimble is OEMing the Focus3D

When Trimble first announced they'd entered into an OEM agreement with Faro to rebrand and sell the Focus3D as the TX5, I'll admit I was a little surprised. Sure, like others in the industry, I thought maybe Trimble would buy Faro, since, you know, that's what Trimble does. But the OEM deal was like, well, I believe I told Faro CEO Jay Freeland it seemed a little bit like your mom marrying your cousin.

In the SPAR world, I knew that the two companies would be across the aisle at our show, with the same device. Sure, that happens with Trimble and Surphaser, but Faro is putting out 10 times the marketing effort Surphaser is and it just seemed in my little myopic view like they'd just be selling against each other all the time.

Here at Trimble's Dimensions conference, though, it really hit home why this makes sense.

First of all, Trimble has an army of loyalists in the construction industry who neither know nor trust Faro. That doesn't mean they couldn't come to trust them, but construction firms are pretty conservative by nature - trying new things makes buildings fall down, right? So they like a brand and organization they can rely on and go back to, and many people here seem to have been either waiting for Trimble to come out with a lesser-priced scanner of their own or to do exactly what they've done. Now they know who their distributor is, they know who's going to service it, and they have some idea that it will work well with the software they've already got from Trimble (maybe - it's laser scanner we're talking about here, so it's not like there's going to be point clouds in every Trimble software package tomorrow).

Even more so, there's a whole squadron of people in construction who don't even really know what laser scanning is, and Trimble is ready now to push the technology to their customers. The ROI is quicker, the applications are more developed than when Trimble first got into scanning, and the other industry software packages their customers are using, like Microstation and AutoCAD, are starting to more easily ingest point cloud data or already do it quite well.

I think Trimble could very well sell quite a few of these TX5s.

Certainly, the interest here was large from both kinds of folks - those in the know and less so. Here's a typical interaction I saw on the floor of someone already familiar with laser scanning, coming over to see what's different between the TX5 and the Focus3D (answer, not much - it's really just a different outer package and a slight couple of tweaks to the on-board UI):

 11.07.12.tx51 

That wasn't happening all the time, but certainly pretty often. There was definitely a contingent who wanted to show off their savviness and joke about the new logo on the old scanner. The Trimble folks were happy to chuckle about it.

However, here's a photo of the hands-on demonstration of the TX5 that was offered yesterday, involving a basic scan of the theater at the Mirage:
 

 11.07.12.tx52 

Let's just say people were crowding around. I won't say every onlooker was clueless about laser scanning, but you could tell from the questions that many people were definitely being introduced to the finer details for the first time. Which is great, obviously, as it's broadening the market and increasing awareness, if nothing else. There was quite a lot of interest in placing the spheres out in the scene and learning about the eye-safeness and what the different lights mean, etc. And I was in other sessions that weren't much more than laser-scanning 101 presentations and the rooms were very full.

Add to that some excellent next-level presentations showing the value that laser scanning can add to construction projects and I think Trimble really did well to promote their new product and laser scanning in general. Now let's see what happens.


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If the shoe does not fit, blame the scanner

Not that long ago, I bought a pair of pants at the Gap. They were a 35 waist. I didn't even try them on, since I've owned about 10 pairs of Gap pants over the years and I've always bought a 35 waist (well, since I quit smoking, when I gained 25 pounds). In fact, I was wearing a pair of Gap pants with a 35 waist when I made the purchase. But when I got home, the new pants didn't fit. Too small. This threw me into a rage that was likely somewhat disproportionate with the offense.

My wife had no sympathy, since she always tries everything on (she's very practical that way), but come on! It's the same store with the same sizing, why wouldn't they fit? It's maddening.

What's worse is that I still haven't returned the pants. I can't be bothered. I go shopping about once a year and there's no way I'm going to waste my time going back to the Gap, waiting in line, producing a receipt (I'm sure I've lost this by now anyway), and then getting my $15 back (okay, it was the Gap outlet and the pants were cheap. Yes, there's a possibility that's why they didn't fit. Nevermind. That's not the point of this story).

You've likely had the same experience. Well, likely you manage your money better and are more practical than I am, but surely you've made the mistake of thinking that a size x in one brand is a size x in another brand. It's partly why shopping for clothes online hasn't taken off as much as it should have by now: You can't be sure that the clothes will actually fit!

Well, that's a problem 3D scanning can solve. In fact, Shoefitr is already solving this problem with laser scanning. See, the company has basically taken every shoe on the face of the earth (apparently. It's hard to say what percentage of the earth's shoes they've scanned, exactly), scanned them, and then used that information to compare your favorite shoe to the shoe you're thinking of buying.

"Oh, you wear a size 9 in the Nike Air Max One Million Seventy Nine Special Edition XXX? Well, then you're going to want to go with a size 9.5 in the ASICS Aweomeness Squared Super Fast Running Shark. And it will feel a little tight in the heel."

I'm not sure exactly what software solution they're rocking, but they've somehow created a database that quickly takes the scan-created model of one shoe and and merges it with the scan-created model of the other shoe and does basic clash detection. Pretty cool, if you ask me.

What it shows you looks like this:

 09.13.12.shoefitr 

They've got a good business model, too. Basically, they sell the service to all the online shoe retailers and then, as you go to select your shoe, it offers you the option to compare and contrast. Once they're on one retailer's site, how can the other retailers not purchase their service? It's brilliant. And it's not hard to see how the reduction in returns created by bad fits creates ROI in about five minutes.

There is obviously a larger question about why the shoe manufacturers can't get their friggin' acts together and make sure that a size 10 is a size 10 is a size 10, but that's another matter entirely. For the moment, laser scanning has solved your problem. Why would you ever go to the store again, only to be told, "oh, sorry, we don't have your size"?

I think the retailer's only hope is to buy laser scanners of their own because the missing piece here is the scanning of your actual feet. Maybe one foot is wider or longer than the other and your really need different sizes for each foot. The retailer could scan your foot, feed it immediately into customized software for that purpose, and quickly deliver the shoe brands and sizes that would most ideally fit.

That would get me out to the store.

I guess scanning pairs of pants is a little more difficult, but Target has already spent a million bucks on an in-store scanner in Australia to start to fix the clothes-sizing problem. And they're to be commended for that. Now, the badly named Styku (I guess it's a play on "style" or something, but I can't read it any way other than "stick you," and I don't want to be stuck) has created a virtual fitting room employing Kinect technology. If that's not in a majority of medium-end clothing stores soon, I'd be surprised (the high-end guys will go with the tape-measure dude for a while yet - he's classy).

So, you go in, get scanned, and then you can either "virtually try on" various outfits, or get recommendations as to what clothes are most likely to fit best, or look best, when you're wearing them.

Maybe the best video demonstration of this was made by Cisco. It's not "real," but it does a nice job of demonstrating the possibilities and where we're headed:

 

But hurry up. I'm planning on shopping again in about six months and I don't want this bad-fitting pants thing to happen ever again.


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Is laser scanning still new?

This week I stumbled upon a press release talking about a brand-new technology being employed to examine post-Isaac damage in the Gulf of Mexico area. "This new capability will enable scientists to collect highly detailed information in select population areas where the hurricane had the greatest impact," I was told.

I quickly discovered, however, that someone's "new" is someone else's "not quite so new." It was just plain old laser scanning being described. This got me thinking about whether or not laser scanning is truly still "new" and what the answer to that question means to those of us already working with the technology on an everyday basis.

And that's the subject of this week's SPARVlog. Take a look:

 

Supporting material:

• Jackson area publication referring to T-lidar.

• Initial press release from the USGS.


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