Cloud-based Solutions Democratize 3D Deliverables
By John Fomby
When Jarrod Black PLS, a surveying and mapping director for Georgia-based Rochester & Associates Inc., wants to get project data into a client’s hands, he considers a few questions: What level of detail do they require? How much skill do they have dealing with 3D data files? Are they set up with the right kind of software/hardware?
The answers help Black determine if a simpler and quicker report can satisfy their needs, especially if the client – often a structural engineer or architect – only wants to visualize the space, get a sense of scale and go a bit beyond 2D plan sheets.
Black’s thought process underscores the challenge surveyors face when they want to share information from massive data sets collected from their optical, photogrammetry and scanning systems. That is, the powerful data and software can be too cumbersome and technical for some stakeholders to work with.
In these situations, having a just-right tool to satisfy a minimal requirement can make all the difference in fast, efficient communication.
Easier viewing, sharing
In 2016 during the Trimble Dimensions user conference, Black talked with Trimble software developers about the need for a software-agnostic viewer that could run on a browser. Last summer, Trimble invited him to take a sneak peek at its solution, Trimble Clarity, a cloud-based application included in the Trimble Connect collaboration platform, before it was released at the INTERGEO conference.
Trimble Clarity makes it possible for industry professionals, whether land surveyors, civil engineers, land developers or site managers, to easily visualize and share three-dimensional point cloud data with clients. It also directly integrates with Trimble Business Center, enabling users to publish their 3D point cloud and imaging deliverables from the Trimble SX10 Scanning Total Station or other Trimble VISION instruments.
“I used to spend hours creating a zip drive, FedExing it over, or uploading the data,” Black says. “Clarity makes it extremely easy for a client who just wants to peruse the data without having a whole lot of skill in doing anything point-cloud based. I can email them a link, they click on the link, and within a couple of minutes they are looking at the data. It also has some nice tools.”
These include the ability to perform 3D measurements, annotate objects and quickly collaborate with project stakeholders, such as the structural engineers and architects with whom Black typically uses the software.
“The other thing that’s nice is if I do make some changes or any type of revision, the site is automatically updated,” Black said. “So, I’m not constantly needing to upload these massive files.”
Avoiding a data-sharing headache
The growth of 3D data in geospatial and related industries is creating a pressing need for tools that increase utilization of the large data files to move data analysis from the specialist to the generalist.
As hardware has become less expensive, more surveyors are making use of the wide range of data capture technologies, and as a result, are collecting massive data sets. But while the process of collecting the data may be straightforward, what to do with the data is not.
At a recent Trimble Business Center user group, many of the pain points shared by 40 attendees centered on one theme: “We have successfully collected a bunch of data, but we don’t really know what to do with it.”
When data becomes too massive to store, process and share, it becomes an intellectual property problem. For example, one customer won’t let their surveyors use the mobile mapping scanners because they are running out of hard-drive space.
Technology, however, continues to improve around connectivity, cloud computing and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), which is easing storage challenges and empowering more seamless information and data exchanges between disparate groups.
Leaping into the cloud
Geospatial technology providers are moving to the cloud to help customers avoid the need for massive $10K computers and $8K desktop licenses needed to store and process data. The cloud allows data to stay in place so users can work on it from different browsers and devices. The cloud also serves to lower the barrier of entry by keeping the data in one place and available through the web. Once the data is stored in the cloud, it should not have to move again, which also reduces time needed to make it deliverable.
Because Trimble Clarity is housed in the cloud, users can create station-based views of their point cloud data. The point clouds created in Clarity do not require heavy Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) local processors to run. Instead, Clarity manipulates the point cloud data into a 2.5-dimension view with depth in the image to enable accurate measurement.
“It’s invaluable to the end user because it’s bringing a scale into your computer,” Black said. “Whereas if you’re just looking at plan sheets, it’s very hard for you to visualize the space. This tool allows you to visualize the space and also get a sense of the scale.”
This is possible because Clarity places the user in a view that is very light weight and easy to understand, with the goal of any user being able to successfully navigate the software in the first minute. Clarity also lowers the barrier of entry by working on any platform or device.
“If we use it for nothing else than to check our survey drawings,” Black said, “it’s a very good tool for that.”
One of Black’s recent projects included gathering point cloud data for multiple levels of a historic building. Using Clarity, Black was able to share just enough 3D information so the architect could get dimensions to order and place new furniture and understand the placement of certain utilities.
“It gave them a good sense of the scale spatially,” Black said. “It brought the spatial realm into their computer.”
Tools for Chasing BIM
In addition to needing a way to share complicated data sets simply, more geomatics professionals are also interested in aligning with Building Information Modeling, the information-centric process for improving efficiency and productivity of construction projects. BIM offers many opportunities for surveyors to provide more and richer deliverables to professionals across the design, build and operate lifecycle.
But the act of purchasing a laser scanner doesn’t turn a surveyor into a BIM service provider. That level of service requires the surveyor to provide deeper understanding of the data to improve process and project outcomes.
With tools such as Trimble Connect and Trimble Clarity, surveyors now have the ability to communicate with multiple trades through a single project management environment. These types of software are part of software fleets that connect a surveyor to the entire virtual BIM process so they can go beyond measuring property lines and building foundation footprints to provide rich, BIM-ready deliverables, and be rewarded by contractors for bringing more to the entire process.
Choosing a 3D viewer
With so much riding on data utilization, it’s important to consider the various features and support for any 3D viewer. These can include:
- communication tools, such as annotations and markups
- measurement tools, such as “snapping to” for measuring on the vertical without any horizontal movements
- navigation tools to move around within the viewer
- file formats, and whether the software is flexible in handling different kinds
- pricing models, whether subscription-based or desktop point of sale
- data security, such as how data is stored, whether it can be stored in the cloud, what happens to data when it is erased, and what local governance laws allow
- privacy, such as whether data is being collected on your software use and how it will be used, such as with cookies
Probably one of the greatest advantages to a cloud-based 3D viewing software is its ability to be automatically updated.
Whatever the features, the overarching goal needs to be solving collaboration problems.
“The potential for our clients is that we don’t have to give them huge dumps of data,” Black said. “They are just pointing to a web browser and going forward.”
John Fomby is product manager, cloud strategies, for Trimble.