April 16, 2014

Head in the Point Clouds

Sam Pfeifle

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

Sowing the South with scanners

Looks like the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is done messing around, jumping in with both feet and using laser scanning for crime scene documentation now as a matter of course. 

Such is the revelation provided by this story from the Times Free Press, which has been one of the few mainstream publications to really get 3D scanning and the benefits it can offer. The publication did an extensive piece on how the Chattanooga PD is using laser scanning late last year.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation trains at a local high school. Photo thanks to the Times Free Press.

Not only is the Georgia BI in the process of training agents across the state in laser scanning, using an area high school as a test bed, but the company tells the Free Press it's planning on doubling its stock of scanners over the next year:

The GBI already owns four scanners, which cost about $160,000 each, a price that includes the computer software, extensive training and a contract for annual calibrations.

This year, the GBI plans to buy four more cameras, which will put it ahead of most law enforcement agencies across the nation, said Jerry Scott, special agent in charge of the Calhoun field office.

Anyone else know of an agency sporting eight C-10s?

Special Agent Steven Foster touts the scanner's ability to "put the jury into the crime scene," but it will be interesting to see how the increasing use of 3D fly throughs and animations affect actual trials. I think one of the commenters on the Chattanooga story makes a good point: As prosecutors become more and more comfortable presenting 3D data as evidence, defense attorneys are going to have to counter with experts in 3D of their own. And those experts cost money. Is technology making it more difficult for people to mount successful defenses of their innocence?

That probably remains to be seen, and Leica's Tony Grissim makes the good point as well that this 3D data merely gets everyone closer and closer to the truth, and that innocent people will be able to use this data as much to show their innocence as prosecutors will be able to use it to prove guilt. 

Except that the technology is really only on one side. It's always the authorities who decide whether to do the scanning or not. The defense can't scan the crime scene after the fact. It would seem that eventually there will need to be standards created for when and why a crime scene is scanned. 

Will defense attorneys eventually be able to argue that negligence was shown in NOT scanning a crime scene? If the technology really offers the benefits we think it does, I don't think that's an unreasonable eventuality. 

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This LightSquared battle is getting nasty

Last week, it looked like the Defense Appropriations Bill had squashed any hopes terrestrial 4G provider LightSquared might have had of getting off the ground. I wondered if the fight might be over. Turns out, it was just getting interesting. 

This week, things got a little nasty, with Grover Norquist wading into the fight, and Sen. Chuck Grassley intimating he felt as though he was being offered something akin to a bribe to grease the skids for LightSquared. 

Let's start with Norquist. The anti-tax crusader joined with Kelly William Cobb, of an organization called Digital Liberty, which "advocates for a consumer-driven market free from heavy regulation or taxation of the Internet, technology, telecommunications, video games, and media," to pen a piece for The Hill, which is well read in Washington circles. Its title? "FCC can prevent crisis by moving on Spectrum now." I'm not entirely sure why spectrum is capitalized there, but let's ignore that for the moment. The thrust of the piece is that wireless companies, and their consumers, need more spectrum on which to transmit phone calls, media, communications of all sorts, and that the government is standing in the way. 

There are specious arguments throughout the piece (the early leader in the clubhouse was "they helped kill the AT&T/T-Mobile merger aimed at using spectrum more efficiently to expand coverage and capacity." Really? I thought AT&T just wanted to make a whole bunch more cash and limit my carrier options - silly me), but they quickly come around to LightSquared, which, given the timing of the piece, was likely the whole point:

Yet, when the GPS industry and federal departments complained that LightSquared’s network could interfere with some GPS devices, the Commission quickly quieted, cowered, and slowed the company’s plans. The GPS industry used influence with bureaucrats in the federal government to curb progress, even leading to the Pentagon and other agencies leaking a preliminary report on spectrum interference in an effort to tarnish LightSquared’s public image. While progress has been made by setting up a working group between stakeholders, the Commission has largely bowed to this outside pressure. Instead, they should be working to facilitate a solution. 

Well, I guess that's one way to look at it. In the very next paragraph, the authors acknowledge that this is a technology issue, not really a political issue, but they, themselves, are making it a political issue. Who said the FCC isn't trying to figure out a solution? 

The Department of Defense put a hold on this because they need their GPS devices to work without having to invest a whole bunch of money they don't have right now. Is the DoD really known as an easily "cowered" organization? Please. 

The simple facts, which no one really denies, are that LightSquared's transmissions interfere with many GPS devices currently in use. Especially affected are those sensitive devices used in commercial and governmental operations. 

LightSquared is probably completely correct that the devices were poorly or inefficiently designed in the first place, and that the interference isn't "their fault," but that doesn't make the interference go away. A bunch of devices are going to have to be replaced, at significant cost, and much of that cost is going to be footed by taxpayers. That doesn't happen in a short period of time. 

But what's the rush? Is this 4G technology so in demand it's going to save hundreds of lives tomorrow?

No, the rush is that LightSquared is funded by a big giant pile of someone else's cash, and they'd like to see their money grow instead of sit idle. They've already lost a big pile of cash committed by Sprint. They want to get this thing moving. Thus, they've called in favors with likes of Norquist, and they've done things like try to curry favor with senators.

Such as Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley. 

On Wednesday, Sen. Grassley sent a letter directly to Philip Falcone, head of Harbinger Capital Partners, which funds LightSquared. It was not a friendly missive:

On January 6, 2012, at approximately 12:45 p.m., a member of my staff who is investigating the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) decision to grant a waiver to LightSquared, a company owned by your hedge fund, Harbinger Capital Partners, received a phone call from Mr. Todd Ruelle of Fine Point Technologies.  Mr. Ruelle indicated that he “only gets paid if this deal goes through” and that “there will be a call center in the Midwest, possibly in Iowa, if this deal goes through.”  This statement is of particular concern in light of your e-mailto my staff on October 5, 2011, which read in part, “The last thing I want to do is to make this more political than it already is.  It doesn’t belong in that arena.  However, since we are already there, I believe I can make this into a win for the Senator, Lightsquared and the consumer.” Taken together, these two statements implied an invitation to pull punches in my investigation. I won’t be a part of that.  

Yikes. An "invitation to pull punches." A bribe, in other words. I'd encourage you to read the whole email if you really like Washington inside baseball. Or even if you want just a peek at how this kind of big-money politics works. 

Unfortunately, considering the value of GPS to the 3D industry, it's something that may very well affect your bottom line. Stay tuned.

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LL Bean celebrates 100 years with laser scanning

I'm guessing it's a bigger deal up here in Maine than it is where you are, but perhaps you've seen the news: LL Bean is celebrating its 100-year anniversary by, among other initiatives, unleashing upon the world the Bootmobile. Yep, a pickup truck modified to look like like the iconic Maine hunting boot that launched the company way back when (interesting side note: my father's company once molded the rubber bottoms of these boots for a few years). 

It looks like this:


How'd they do that? Laser scanning, obviously. They've got a great making-of video right here (which I'd embed, but they don't provide the code), which features the guys from Echo Artz, who've made their bones in making rides for theme parks, talking about how they laser scanned the boot, then used the point cloud and resultant model to see just where it would fit over the truck, where the touch points would be and where the foam would need to be modeled and cut. Really, it's remarkable how well the boot shape fits over the truck, and it's remarkable how perfectly laser scanning fits this application. 


Easy as 1-2-3. Scan, model, real-life.

Sure, there's still artistry involved. They still had to be creative enough to take two-inch tugboat tow rope and paint it so that it resembled the classic two-tone lace. They still had to take the model and make it real through any number of sculpting hours. But just think of the headstart scanning must have given them. We've talked often about laser scanning large objects, part of historical sites, say, and making miniatures out of them. How about taking small items and making them 18-feet tall? What other applications immediately leap to mind - pieces for theatrical sets, marketing splashes that can be created quickly, who knows?

Further, this isn't exactly a company known for leading-edge technology. This is classic, old-time, outdoor clothing. If they're going this direction, anyone might. The streets might quickly be filled with vehicles in any manner of shape, like a Richard Scarey book come to life. 

I'm looking forward to it.

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Depth acquisition, in your pocket, soon

How's this for a paragraph to get you excited?

Now imagine a device that provides more-accurate depth information than the Kinect, has a greater range and works under all lighting conditions — but is so small, cheap and power-efficient that it could be incorporated into a cellphone at very little extra cost. That’s the promise of recent work by Vivek Goyal, the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering, and his group at MIT’s Research Lab of Electronics. 

A laser scanner in my cell phone? Sign me up!

Unfortunately, that paragraph might be over-reaching just a bit (we writers are shameless!). But this new technique of creating depth maps, called CoDAC (short for "Compressive Depth Acquisition Camera"), is intriguing nonetheless. 

I came across the above paragraph in an article put together MIT's news arm, and it does a great job of getting you excited about this new technology's capabilities and possibilities. Essentially, using commercial-off-the-shelf technology, these MIT researchers have built upon the time-of-flight principle of 3D data acquisition and created a very inexpensive way to get depth information. Sort of.

When you navigate to the team's home page (they're the Signal Transformation and Information Representation Group), you'll find lots of great information about what they're up to, including this part of the FAQ:

7. What are the challenges in making CoDAC work?

There are several challenges to making CoDAC work. The most important challenge comes from the fact that measurements do not give linear combinations of scene depths. For this reason, standard compressed sensing techniques do not apply. The light signal measured at the photodetector is a superposition of the time-shifted and attenuated returns corresponding to the different points in the scene. However, extracting the quantities of interest (distances to various scene points) is difficult because the measured signal parameters nonlinearly encode the scene depths. Since we integrate all the reflected light from the scene, this nonlinearity worsens with the number of scene points that are simultaneously illuminated. Without a novel approach to interpreting and processing the measurements, little useful information can be extracted from the measurements. The superposition of scene returns at the single detector results in complete loss of spatial resolution.

Hmmm. "Little useful information can be extracted from the measurements." That would seem to be a hurdle for most of you working with commercial applications of acquiring 3D data. They also can only currently create depth maps for scenes where all the objects are basically flat, which is again quite a limiter. 

Still, they're not saying it's a finished product by any means and the size and cost efficiencies they've created are incredibly tantalizing. This is certainly important work worthy of following.

How does it all work? Best to let the MIT brain do the explaining:


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Getting past Ryan Seacrest at CES

I've had the chance to go to the Consumer Electronics show a couple of times over the years, and never took advantage of it, always following it from afar. If you're a tech geek and haven't been, perhaps you think of it they way I think of it, in the same way my kid sees Disneyland: You've got to go at least once. (And thank goodness we took care of that Disneyland thing this year - we can cross THAT off the list...) I didn't go again this year, but it's been hard to ignore some of the 3D news coming out of the show. For those of you who don't spend all day strapped to an internet browser, here's a wrap up:

That Ryan - such a great foil for Steve.

• Microsoft's annual keynote, which was its last, made it pretty clear that they're finally taking Kinect technology seriously as a commercial business possibility. Here's the official Microsoft internal blog wrap-up of the keynote from the corporate VP of communications, and there's some pretty cool stuff in there. Why on earth Ryan Seacrest was involved, and why they'd think anyone would want that giggling pretty hairstyle muddling up their tech news, I'm not sure, but pay attention to the Kinect stuff (and, no, not the two-way Elmo part):

We also announced that the new Kinect for Windows commercial program will be available on Feb. 1. Microsoft is taking Kinect for Windows beyond entertainment, already working with more than 200 partners, including United Health Group, Toyota, Telefonica, Mattel, American Express and more, in revolutionary new ways. Phew! 

That's right. Kinect's not just for hackers anymore. How are these 200 partners using what's essentially a 3D scanner for their businesses? Some of it's probably well behind locked doors, but expect to see some creative gesture recognition stuff very soon. 

I'm imagining American Express is just going to blast me in the face with a satellite-beamed projection of their logo every time I reach for my wallet in a public place, but who knows if I'm off base there. 


Thanks to Stream TV, you can get those dinosaurs of yours to pop right out of the screen.

• Another entrant in the no-glass 3D TV experience. This time, it's not a $5k Panasonic, but rather Stream TV Networks, a company claiming to automagically turn 2D images into 3D images (I feel like I need to see this to properly understand it, but here's one explanation). 

You've read me going on about the viewing experience any number of times, but I'll say again that a good 3D experience for the viewer makes that viewer more likely to see value in the 3D data, even if it's slightly irrational and good 3D data collection can easily lead to 2D paper deliverables. This entrant is interesting because:

The technology promises to address the major concerns critics currently have with 3D video—the glasses and the potential for discomfort. Price has been another setback, but because the tool works with existing machines, it is likely to be less expensive than other 3D technology.  

Cheap, and no glasses. But does it really work? I need a demonstration, clearly. 

• Cubify! It's the little 3D printer that could, aimed, with all seriousness, at 8-10 year olds. There's a great write-up of it here from Treehugger. Sure, the initial play is to just download designs from a web site, modify them a little, and then print them out. But, hey, doncha know that Geomagic has a cool way to use a Kinect and its software to make a quick print-out of your own head (or whatever you want)? Here's a handy video to explain:


Needless to say, I desperately want one. Do you think it's good for the 3D data capture industry to have an army of kids growing up with the idea that of course you would scan something and just print it out? I do.

One publication says 3D is out, though! Has the bloom of the 3D rose already faded in the consumer electronics world (again)? Just as 3D movies had a hey-day, fell apart, and then came back with a too-expensive vengeance, I do wonder if all these 3D TVs that don't really work well and give you a headache are going to force yet another retrenchment. When compared with the kick-ass ultra-thin ultra-HD TVs, they fall sort of short, don't they? Does this really matter for 3D data capture? No, I don't think so. I think a better viewing experience would help, but we all know most of this is about fake stereo 3D videos anyway. Still, a mainstream meme that 3D is on the way out could be damaging in small ways.

And don't forget augmented reality. The Guardian's lead is this: "Many are speculating that this could finally be the year that augmented reality makes a genuine impact on gaming." Haven't we heard that one before? Virtual reality is good for data capture because I think there will be a demand for real-world environments to play in. Sure, the initial demand is going to be for space-worlds, and dungeons, and places you actually CAN'T visit, but I think in the long run there will be a place for scanning and capture of places that only a few people ever really get to visit: The Hermitage (Google thought there was a marker for this), say, or the beaches of Normandy.

But augmented reality is a different animal, an integration of what you actually see and what your phone or some other viewing window can add to that reality. This new augmented reality browser Aurasma is pretty dang cool, allowing for the integration of 3D objects into reality. The example given in the article is a flying pterodactyl that you can watch fly around Big Ben, not only getting blocked out when it "flies behind" Big Ben, but also allowing the viewer to move and see different sides of said flying pterodactyl. If you can put in animations, you can put in real-world 3D-scanned objects, allowing you to, say, preserve an environment forever just before it's torn down.


Anyway, yes, this is consumer stuff. It's right there in the title of the show. But CEOs are consumers, too, and you never know what might bleed into commercial use. Like that Kinect. If only you're willing to move to Windows 8...

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BIM: Starting to pop?

BIM got some good press this week, perhaps buoyed by EcoBuild Conference in Washington last month. No fewer than four long-form stories touting BIM's benefits popped up on my radar in the last seven days (and one of them even hinted at using laser scanners - but I'll get to that). 

Perhaps most promising of all is this one in the Boston Herald. When tech starts hitting mainstream tabloids that means it's got some serious legs. It's basically got to be so obviously beneficial that even reporters not paying particular attention to an industry start to notice it. 

The headlines are certainly nice: "Tech revolutionizing building industry." Nothing like a little hyperbole to catch people's attention. But maybe it's not hyperbole. Interviewed in the piece is Bond president Robert Murray, who puts BIM's benefits at a 10 percent overall increase in project completion speed. That's not a small number. He doesn't say it's 10 percent cheaper, though, which is a notable omission. Those efficiencies must correlate to cost savings, though. Plus, he delivers the money quote:

“In the future, we’ll build the whole building in sections, not just the systems,” he said. “That’ll be the standard, almost like Legos.” 

Isn't that the promise of using laser scanning and 3D data capture in the renovation market? That everything can be pre-fabricated? The scanning industry needs to get this Lego message out there more and more. 

These university students at EcoBuild might be BIM's future (if they keep their eyes open). Photo by James Grundvig.

An even better way to get more BIM out there? Good old-fashioned nationalism. I love this quote from an Epoch Times' article with a headline that's sure to grind teeth: "New wave of BIM modeling." Ack. Is that like a new wave of ATM machining? Semantics aside, the article comes out swinging. After calling the construction IT sector "laggard," the author, James Grundvig, delivers this:

A European engineer told me that the fragmented, manual way of managing projects in the U.S. architecture-engineering-construction (AEC) industry is “primitive.” 

Kapow! Although, truth be told, after running conferences in both the United States and Europe, there's something to be said for arguments that the European AEC industry is a little bit ahead in the technology department. Presentations that might still be considered cutting edge in the States were getting something of a ho-hum response on the Continent. Just saying.

Good news is on the way, however, says Grundvig, in the form of college kids:

California Polytechnic State University, University of Oklahoma (OU), and Auburn University got together to share BIM programs, each with student teams budgeting, scheduling, and modeling a hospital project in their area. 

Their presentation was impressive at EcoBuild, he reports, and there is good reason to be optimistic about the talent being developed, and the skills being fostered, in American universities. 

Speaking of universities, Ohio State University is embarking on a building program that led Building Design + Construction to announce: "BIM: Not Just for New Buildings." Ya don't say? I guess not everyone is hip to the scan-to-BIM phenomenon. And, really, the folks working at Ohio State don't appear to be either. It's sort of unclear from the article. 

Once the funding was pulled together and an official process was mapped out, the project officially kicked off in the spring of 2011. Five students were trained in Revit and began the conversion of the AutoCAD drawings, covering 5.7 million sf of building property.

In addition to tracing the original drawings, the conversion team is incorporating an additional level of detail into the Revit models, including exteriors, roofs, and window placement, height and volume, ceilings and floors, and GIS location data.

So, first, is BIM for new buildings just converting AutoCAD files to Revit files so you can export pretty pictures? I'm thinking not. How do you know if you're even documenting real as-built conditions? The AutoCAD files might not even reflect real life! "Tracing the original drawings"? I'm glad there's some addition to that! So, they're incorporating "exteriors, roofs, and window placement, height and volume, ceilings and floors, and GIS data." How are the doing that? Seems like that's an important part of the process you might want to illuminate for people, no? (Okay, yes, I'll make a call on that...)

Also, there are many, many uses of the term "BIM model" in this article. I've defended that in the past - sometimes you need to differentiate between the BIM model and, like, the whole BIM process, for instance - but in most of these cases simply writing "BIM" would have been fine.

Regardless, I think this is a step in the right direction. Just for it to be widely accepted that BIM is something for as-built conditions is a great thing if you're in the laser scanning business. They'll see the value of real-world data eventually.

Another good sign is that secondary technologies are being released to support the BIM industry. If start-ups sniff revenue in a growing industry, that must mean something's going right for the major players pushing the technology forward in the first place. In this Constructech article, "BIM getting bigger," we're told, 

"One area that is creating an information explosion in the AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction) industry is the movement toward BIM (building information modeling)." This information explosion requires new software to manage that information and encourage collaboration, clearly, and there are companies ready and willing to sell you such information management software. I saw something similar in the security industry, with the proliferation of PSIM (physical security information management) software. 

Theoretically, the big BIM makers, Autodesk and Tekla and Bentley, etc., should be incorporating such information management and collaboration tools into their base offerings, but early on, that might not exactly be happening. Should companies like Aconex be willing to step into the void, good for them. 


So what have we got here just in the past week? Clearly, BIM is bubbling up. It's hitting mainstream publications, causing international competition, rippling through the universities, and leading to ancillary business development. 

What are we not seeing? That's right. Not one single mention of 3D data capture (well, maybe those OSU kids are doing it, and I'm looking into that). No laser scanners. Not photogrammetry. Really, nothing but software on a computer. It would have been nice for someone to ask someone in that Boston Herald article how they make sure what's being built matches the plans. Those college kids working on BIM at EcoBuild - isn't it more eco-friendly to renovate existing buildings than to build from scratch? How would you use BIM there?

These are questions that the 3D industry needs to be asking of the AEC community right now if it wants to capitalize on this BIM movement. 

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Point clouds: Steel not mainstream

Ouch. Sorry for the pun there, but I've just had another one of those I'm-living-in-my-own-little-3D-world moments. Just when I thought much of this 3D data capture technology was relatively well known in the AEC community, I run across an article like this one in Modern Steel Construction. On the one hand, sure, it's great that publications such as this one are touting the benefits of 3D data capture and laser scanning. But, on the other hand, shouldn't we be further along by now than "Not Your Father's Surveying Tool"?

Shouldn't we be further along than using quotation marks around the words "point clouds"? As in: 

After two and a half days of scanning, they used software to stitch together the data to create a registered “point cloud” consisting of 13 million points, each with x, y and z coordinates. 

Maybe they mean "modern" like the term was applied back in the 1950s. Sorry, that's a bit snarky. But I do think it should be something of a reality check that a publication that describes itself as "in-depth information on the newest and most advanced uses of structural steel in buildings and bridges" and "focusing on innovative and cost-effective steel designs and the products that help bring them to life" is still basically wowed by laser scanning capabilities. 

I was just looking at our market-sizing report from 2007 as part of some research I was doing. In that report, nearly five years ago now, we used these words:   

Customers and vendors agree the market has moved well beyond early adoption into substantial numbers of mainstream users, driven by case after case where improved dimensional control aided design, fabrication and construction, operations and maintenance. 

And here we have, in 2011, a publication covering the steel construction industry offering up evidence of these benefits as though it should be news to its readers:

“Laser scanning dramatically cut the amount of field time required to collect geometric data for the rehabilitation project,” said Steve Olson, president of Olson & Nesvold Engineers (O.N.E.). “It also permitted the quick collection of a great deal more information than using conventional surveying methods.” 

It just goes to show that we're still in the early stages of the education effort. It's a reminder that the 3D data capture industry has a ways to go before the technology and its benefits are widely known by those who might benefit from them. Still, I've got to admit a bit of surprise. Sure, I still expect to explain what a laser scanner is to the members of my mom's book club. But engineers putting up steel bridges?

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Is it as easy as it looks?

As before, when it was called Photofly, 123d Catch is blowing up YouTube. Not only is the 123dCatch YouTube channel prolific (they've uploaded 25 videos, mostly how-to, since late October), and fairly well watched (more than 130,000 views of those videos already), but the user community has jumped in with both feet, with another 200+ videos uploaded by non-Autodesk types. And that's just those using 123d Catch in their titles and keywords. 

And it's not all discreet objects. This guy did a 123d Catch model of the Columbus Crew stadium in Ohio. Here's one of the outside of Nick's house. No, I don't know who Nick is. Here's a guy who's modeled a girl I hope is his daughter (just a bit creepy there...). Regardless, there are 3D fly throughs all over the Internet now, many of them looking pretty darn good, sometimes indistinguishable from something created with much more sophisticated technology to the untrained eye.

The best part? People are coming to see creating 3D models as "easy." These are now going to be things that they want for their businesses. They'll come up with reasons to have 3D models floating around the office hard drives. They'll want to show how cool and progressive they are with technology. 

The worse part? People are coming to see 3D models as "easy." 

Obviously, the 3D models in these videos, and the professional/commercial/industrial modeling that people are doing with laser scanners and high-end photogrammetry software are two very different animals. There's the matter of geo-referencing, of course, and of accuracy, and of huge amounts of man-hours spent in converting sophisticated point clouds into Revit and AutoCAD models, but to the layman, those distinctions aren't going to be top-of-mind. Clients are going to be asking you to model this and model that and deliver it this fast because they've seen videos like this one, where you can create a cardboard creation of a statue in, oh, 60 seconds:


Easy-peasy, right? Of course, we've all played with software and had it perform nothing like the helpful little video tutorials and show-off videos that got us excited about the software in the first place. And one does wonder why it takes three separate pieces of software to get from the photographs to the model to the print out. Couldn't that all be in one piece of software? Most people can barely keep their Microsoft patches up to date - is your general consumer really going to be making these kinds of models on a regular basis?

Of course not. At least not in the short term. Even with the "blowing up YouTube" comment I made earlier, I'm aware that these kinds of numbers pale in comparison to the number of crazily bouncing videos taken from the front row of a Taylor Swift concert you can find online (quick search reveals 268,000 videos with keyword "taylor swift" - heaven help us all). 

Still, you tech-savvy asset owners are going to be all over this kind of thing. Your engineers and CTOs and random guys who are supposed to be designing ads but are really playing with 3D model-making are going to be coming up with all kinds of ideas for how they could be using 3D in their shops. 

That's the opportunity for the asset owners and the service providers and manufacturers to come together, of course. Service providers can use those ideas to help solve real-world problems and generate revenue and cost-efficiencies for everyone. 

123d Catch allows people to say, "I wonder what we could do with a 3D model of this?" Try things out. Then, when it's clear there's a business argument to be made, they call in the professionals. Ideally, anyway. We'll see how that works out.

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New tech in 2012: At least 30 percent 3D

The internet loves lists because people love lists. They're so easily consumable. Hence the flood of end-of-year lists that look back on 2011 and the flood of start-of-year prediction lists that look ahead to 2012. I admit it: I'm a sucker for them, myself. 

As you might expect, there are any number of look-ahead technology lists out there, but I though this one from PC Pro was particularly apt for this column - 30 percent of its predictions for 2012 are 3D-related! Well sort of. Let's examine.

1. HP's 3D scanner. Unfortunately, this is not actually a 3D scanner. It's not even a "scanner" as far as I can tell. Basically, it's a device that's part of a printer which takes a series of pictures and combines them into an evenly lit and suitable for online display image. It's slightly hard to make sense of, and this video doesn't really help all that much:


Perhaps most oddly, the video never actually shows you what one of these images winds up looking like. Also, why it's supposed to be impressed that you can "capture images of 3D objects" I'm not sure. Isn't that what one of those wacky things called a "camera" does?

Why is this important, though? Well, because 3D is sexy right now. People with new imaging technology want to get on the 3D bandwagon. That's a good thing, in general, as it bodes well for those of you who can actually bring 3D technology to the table. 

2. Sony's 3D personal headset. Now we're talking. One of 3D data capture's real promises is for ultra-realistic simulation technology. But if the display isn't any good, the experience of the ultra-realistic simulation isn't any good either. This headset offers the promise of much larger access to a realistic experience of 3D data. If it's good for gaming, and there's large uptake of the technology, the price will come down pretty rapidly. There are a lot of gamers out there. If they happen to make these kinds of displays much less expensive for engineering and training applications, so much the better.

3. Glasses-free 3D TV. Okay, we've been hearing about the promise of this for a while, but now at least there's something being sold commercially that seems to actually deliver on that promise. Except the 55-inch 3D TV costs about $10k. And you can only buy it in Germany (?). But if engineering firms are going to use 3D data to make decisions, having one of these babies in the board room while everyone sits around spit-balling solutions to problems discovered in the field seems like a good facilitator. 


Sure, these are consumer technologies, but I saw in the security industry how consumer adoption of HD video rapidly forced commercial security integrators to get into digital video and HD video surveillance. I think something similar will happen with 3D data capture. As consumers come to expect 3D data delivery, they'll also expect true 3D data collection, and that will bleed into commercial applications. How long? We'll see. Maybe if we see a consumer-focused 3D laser scanner (I mean one that's actually marketed that way, not the Kinect, which is sort of a laser scanner in disguise) in the predictions for 2013 we'll know we're pretty close. 

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