3D Laser Scanning’s Segue Into Virtual and Augmented Reality

If you work in the world of construction, architecture, commercial real estate or the field of archaeology you’re most likely familiar with some of the ways 3D laser scanners are making workflow processes more efficient. Increased efficiency coupled with risk reduction saves businesses time and money. 3D laser scanning is the first step in a long list of applications that includes virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) experiences. From its applications in video games to training firefighters and first responders, 3D scanning is being used for entertainment and saving lives at the same time. We’re going to be looking at a few of 3D laser scanning’s applications in the real world. 

 

Video Games

3D laser scan of Notre Dame

In the past if a game development company wanted games to have the highest quality graphics they’d have to hire artists and sculptors to make each object individually and by hand. While the results were detailed and realistic this process was long, arduous and expensive. With the assistance of 3D laser scanners and accompanying software, video games and game art design offer players lifelike detail through a much more efficient and streamlined process. This is a win for gaming companies and gamers who can immerse themselves into virtual and augmented worlds. 

3D laser scanning has brought the video game industry stunning visualization through the use of reality capture. Laser scanners like the Leica RTC360 are able to capture real world environments and refashion them into dimensionally accurate 3D digital representations. Using point cloud data, the high-performance RTC360 can scan an environment in less than two minutes. The result is high-dynamic range imagery. HDR imagery gives the viewer accurate representations of a wide range of intensity levels — this is a fancy way of saying that the images that are rendered have a wide range of light and shadows, making the viewer feel as though they are really in the environment that’s being projected. 

3D scanning for virtual reality

In many instances 3D scanning technology is replacing 3D models created using computer software. It’s much faster to scan a real world object or environment than it is to create said object or environment using 3D modeling software. Some video games that you may be familiar with that employ 3D laser scanning technology include Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed. 3D laser scanning technology employed to make video games was used to restore the Notre Dame Cathedral after the massive fire it sustained in the Spring of 2019. The technology goes beyond entertainment and is helping preserve some of the globe’s most prominent historical and cultural sites. 

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Firefighters & First Responders Use 3D Laser Scanning Tech In Investigations

Oregon’s 36 Pit Fire

In 2014 east of Portland, Oregon a massive fire blazed through 5,521 acres of forest in what came to be called the 36 Pit Fire. 3D laser scanning technology aided firefighters in uncovering the cause of the fire while simultaneously clearing a person who was suspected of starting the fire intentionally. A forensic investigator with the Sheriff's office was sent to the scene of the suspected crime with a 3D laser scanner in tow. In forensic investigations, 3D laser scanners are greatly reducing the time it takes forensics teams to investigate and evaluate active scenes. In the case of the 36 Pit Fire, Deputy Bryon O’Neil was able to employ 3D laser scanning technology in a harsh environment not suitable for people due to the smoke, carcinogens, unstable environmental conditions and extreme temperature allowing him to determine the cause and source of the fire quickly and accurately. “There was a spot, 47 feet up the side of a cliff that the laser scanner was able to reach without trouble,” O’Neil said. “With a total station, someone would have to go up there and place a marker.” 3D laser scanners are replacing many of the investigative components that in the past would have been completed by hand, often putting investigators at risk and costing government departments time, money and resources. In this instance investigators were able to capture 12 million points of data in under an hour, something that would have been impossible without the technology. 

 

Training

The Leica RTC360 in combination with photogrammetry is helping experienced firefighters and first responders train new hires while saving departments time and money and keeping trainees safe and engaged. These immersive, realistic VR experiences are giving trainees access to six different fire investigation scenarios, two hazardous material incidents and two crime scenes. This is really just the beginning of what 3D laser scanning technology can do to keep firefighters and crime scene investigators safe and healthy while preparing them for real world experiences and environments. 

A report put forth by the National Training Laboratory (NTL) here in the United States also found that trainees are much more engaged during VR training modules than the traditional classroom approach. NTL found that the retention rates of trainees during VR modules came in at 75 percent as opposed to 5 percent for traditional lecture-based training techniques. This means that trainees are taking in the information at a never before seen rate. Time saved means that resources and money are also being saved. It’s good for the training academies and our future firefighters and crime scene investigators. Virtual reality training programs offer trainees highly valuable experiences, teach awareness and build experience in a safe, non-hazardous environment. 

From entertainment and practical training programs, 3D laser scanning is the catalyst behind VR experiences that are the way of the future. As more and more industries learn of the technology’s efficiency and benefits we’ll begin to see more creative uses for 3D laser scanning technology.