By David Fowkes

The COVID-19 pandemic drove an urgent requirement for extra hospital capacity around the world. As global health services respond to the crisis, geospatial technology can play an important role in the expansion of hospital capacity. Here, David Fowkes, sales director of 3D mapping and monitoring specialist GeoSLAM, explores how rapid surveying from SLAM devices can help public health officials to assess the suitability of potential medical facilities.

The UK is one of the most affected European countries by COVID-19. In its capital, the ExCel London, a 100,000 sq. m. event center was rapidly repurposed to create the 4,000 bed NHS Nightingale Hospital, designed to increase intensive care unit (ICU) capacity with an additional six projects to create temporary hospitals planned across the country.

A more extreme example of this can be found in Wuhan, China, the epicentre of the virus. In January a 269,000 sq. ft. 1,000 bed hospital was built from scratch in just over a week, as authorities attempted to contain the virus’ spread.

In such extraordinary circumstances this type of project goes from ambitious to absolutely critical. With added urgency combined with the importance of public safety, assessing the suitability for temporary or new hospitals is a major challenge for public health bodies.

Building a case for rapid surveying

When surveying potential hospital sites, teams on the ground need to be able to complete assessments quickly and safely, so accessibility and speed is more important than ever. Traditionally, public health officials may have relied on hiring a surveying expert to operate a static scanner, taking time to set up and then map out the site.

The unprecedented circumstances we face today, however, require a faster solution and this is where SLAM technology can come to the fore. First developed in the robotics industry, tools using SLAM are capable of scanning indoors or other difficult-to-reach, enclosed spaces. Using information from sensors, normally LiDAR and imagery, digital 3D maps can then be created based on the location of the device, without the need for GPS.

SLAM-enabled lightweight scanners, such as GeoSLAM’s ZEB-REVO or ZEB-HORIZON, can allow surveying teams to map and monitor sites on foot or with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Social distancing advice and travel restrictions increase the number of obstacles in the way of surveying projects. A handheld mobile mapping device using SLAM technology therefore comes into its own in these situations, as its “scan and go” capabilities mean that it does not require GPS and can be used without the need for training.

Prioritizing worker safety

In these challenging circumstances time is obviously hugely important, but staff safety is of far greater significance. The potentially catastrophic risks to individuals and communities if social distancing rules are not followed mean that limiting the exposure to vectors of the virus is critical. It goes without saying that, in a hospital setting, this requirement is non-negotiable.

Using a terrestrial scanner, setting up the device every one or two meters, it could take a surveyor days or even weeks to scan a substantial building potentially exposing them and the people they encounter to infection.

Using a handheld scanner, by comparison, offers rapid surveying, reducing data collection to minutes or hours and allowing the operator to walk through the building at a consistent pace and observe social distancing guidance.

Rapid surveying in practice

The GeoSLAM team recently worked with Microgeo operator Ventimiglia Mattia for Tecnoin Naples, who was tasked with scanning a five-floor hospital building near Naples in order to capture data to create 3D models to assess floor plans and building measurements.

Requiring a precise scan but delivered at speed, GeoSLAM’s ZEB-HORIZON was chosen as the scanning tool, given its ability to capture distant elements at a range of 100 meters. The device is able to capture 300,000 points per second, ticking the requirement for a rapid mobile scanning solution.

All five floors of the hospital were scanned in under an hour, utilizing the ZEB-HORIZON’s UAV capabilities and capturing data on foot. Reference points were used to merge the scans and geo reference the data – enabling the surveying team to create accurate 3D models for analysis.

To prove that point, when compared to a terrestrial scanner, the scan’s results were within 2mm, a highly impressive accuracy when you consider the difference in time taken for data collection. This level of accuracy would enable surveyors to identify key features of the building, not only showing potential space utilisation for beds but also providing all important details such as the number and location of power outlets for ventilators or other machines.

Added to this, by pairing the walk-through data collection with a camera, the ZEB Cam for example, surveyors can create a colorized video. This can be vital to provide context to key decision makers who are not traditionally involved in rapid construction projects, such as public health officials or politicians who also may not be able to get to visit the site in person.

While the economy must continue to function and we should keep in regular communication with our loved ones, there is no doubt that the wider health of our communities is the ultimate priority. We all hope that these new or repurposed hospitals are used as little as possible over the coming weeks and months but, if they are, SLAM technology could have a huge role to play in helping officials to quickly and easily check the safety and viability of each venue.

The global pandemic has increased our reliance on innovation to keep commerce and communication streams flowing during these challenging times. Whether it is communicating with family and friends via video conferencing, monitoring personal finances on smart phone banking apps or meeting with clients over video call, technology is playing a crucial role in society. The spread of Covid-19 is pushing many nations to extreme measures to keep their populations as safe as possible and rapid surveying methods could be part of this solution.

About GeoSLAM

GeoSLAM makes it easy to capture and connect data from the world around us. From the built environment to the natural world, GeoSLAM technology gives people the power to collect geospatial data from some of the most difficult environments, whether they are indoor, outdoors, underground – everywhere.

Pioneering highly versatile and adaptable solutions using 3D SLAM (Simultaneous Localization And Mapping) technology, the GeoSLAM family of geospatial hardware and software solutions provide rapid and easy mapping, and highly-accurate monitoring solutions. GeoSLAM technology is used globally by anyone needing to create a digital twin of their world, quickly and accurately. Some of the most recognisable locations scanned by GeoSLAM technology include the Sydney Opera House, Lincoln Memorial and Arc du Triomphe – all without bulky equipment, or long set up times. GeoSLAM has an expanding network of eight global offices, over 70 distributors, with a presence in 53 countries across six continents.

For more information, visit www.geoslam.com.


David Fowkes is Global Strategic Sales Direct at GeoSLAM. David has been heavily involved in BIM since 2015 when the UK Government mandated BIM on all centrally funded projects. He has recently joined GeoSLAM to work with companies that are looking to disrupt the markets they operate in by leveraging the use of mobile laser scanning technology.

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