Digital Builder Podcast Ep 25: Reality Capture & Site Scanning

Digital Builder Podcast episode 25: Reality Capture & Site Scanning

Imagine having an accurate digital version of your construction project's real environment. That’s exactly what reality capture and site scanning provide. But the potential impact and scope from capturing this data is much bigger than that.

“The concept of reality capture allows us to literally do in minutes what used to take days, if not weeks–especially when we get into really complex environments.” –Kipp Ivey, Faro

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On this podcast episode

Kipp Ivey, National Key Account Manager at Faro, and Adam Settino, Solutions Engineer Manager at Openspace, join the show to break down what reality capture and site scanning is, why they’re useful, and how they work.

We discuss:

  • The purpose of reality capture and site scanning and the hardware involved
  • Common myths around reality capture
  • How to decide on the appropriate tool to use on a project
  • How to navigate the implementation process

Reality capture and site scanning defined

Before diving too deep into reality capture and site scanning, it’s worth touching on what these terms actually mean. 

Reality capture, as defined by Adam, is the practice of "digitizing the real world by capturing the environment and built world around us." 

Reality capture can be implemented through various methods, from using old school tools like a tape measure to more sophisticated ones, like 360 cameras, laser scanners, and drones. 

“Everybody has a reality capture tool in their pocket,” adds Adam. “Everybody can take pictures with their cell phone, and even some of the new ones have LIDAR. So now you can even scan with your cell phone."

It's important to note that the use of reality capture transcends the construction industry. As Kipp puts it, reality capture can be applied “to the world of forensics, the movie industry, the gaming industry, and historical preservation to name a few."

Site scanning is an element of reality capture. It's a process that captures detailed data about a site using laser scanning. The data collected is referred to as a "point cloud," which is a collection of data points in a 3D coordinate system and keeps a digital record of an object or space. 

4 reality capture misconceptions and myths

Reality capture isn’t a novel concept, but there are still plenty of myths surrounding it. Here are some of the most prevalent ones in the industry. 

Myth #1: It takes too long 

One common misconception, says Adam, is that reality capture takes too long. This isn’t the case at all, as taking photos and 360 images are fairly quick and easy to do.

Meanwhile, tools such as laser scanners may take longer, but they can save a project time in the long run. Industry data shows that 3D laser scanning can reduce the schedule by 10% and lower project costs by up to 7%.

Myth #2: It has to be 100% accurate 

Some people think that reality capture has to be super accurate. This isn't necessarily the case.

As Adam points out, "It really depends on the use. In some cases, that 16th-inch accuracy with a laser scanner is what you need. While in other cases, being accurate within an inch or two with photogrammetry is just fine."

Myth #3: It’s too pricey

According to Adam, another misconception is that reality capture is too expensive. To this, he says that while some equipment may be on the pricier side, there are a lot of cost-effective reality capture devices and methods. 

“Everybody's got a reality capture device in their pocket.”

–Adam Settino, Solutions Engineer Manager, Openspace

Myth #4: It’s only for the VDC team

The final reality capture myth is that it's a tool that only the VDC team can benefit from or use.

“There are some tools that take a little extra training. They need some sort of an output because a super or PM isn't going to get into the software and learn the technology. So you need a handover for them,” explains Adam. “But there's a lot of tools that are really easy to use.”

Kipp echoes this and says that reality capture "is beyond the VDC side and can actually be applied into the world of operations and construction.”

Reality capture hardware now available

What types of hardware or equipment should you use? That depends on what you’re measuring and the data you want to capture. Here are some of the options that our guests identified are worth considering. 

360 cameras. If you need still photos of different areas on the site for documentation purposes, 360 photos will do the trick. They're quick and easy, and they make photo documentation more efficient. While traditional photography requires you to take thousands of photos (which can be a challenge to categorize and sort), 360 cameras can reduce the number of shots you need to take.

Adopting 360 photo technology is a great entry point for firms that want to add reality capture to their workflows. 

As Kipp notes, “I think most people are going to migrate, probably early on, to the world of 360 photos first, and then realize, ‘Okay, this is a good start, now I need to move to the next level.’”

Drones. Drone technology can be effective for aerial surveys and when you're working at a large job site. "If you need to capture a large site to plan logistics, you’re probably going to need a drone,” says Kipp. 

LiDAR. Short for Light Direction and Ranging, LiDAR is a site scanning method that measures distances using light to build a point cloud. That point cloud gets used to recreate a 3D model of whatever it is you’re scanning. It's a more advanced and very accurate reality capture method most commonly associated with surveying. Historically, LiDAR is also one of the most expensive methods due to the fact that it has many moving parts, which require routine maintenance or repair–though non-construction technology leaders are enabling more affordable options.

LiDAR is particularly useful in understanding a jobsite’s viability for construction and getting a “footprint” of the built-environment before you actually embark on a project. It’s also very helpful in 3D modeling, building a digital twin, and monitoring project progress. It can even be used to identify maintenance and repair needs in built environments.

Laser scanners. Laser scanners are LiDAR-based and they’re ideal for capturing things in much greater detail and precision. 

“If you need high-level accuracy and the ability to measure stuff down to a sixth of an inch, that's going to be your laser scanner,” says Adam.

All that said, you have plenty of options when it comes to reality capture. Ultimately, the right decision depends on your objectives. The best way to figure out what you need is to educate yourself and your teams on what’s possible.

It's always about knowing the right tool for the right job and understanding those nuances. All of that is going to start with education.

Kipp Ivey, National Key Account Manager at Faro

"Education is key," remarks Kipp. "If you go into a job site thinking that you're going to get submillimeter accuracy through the use of photogrammetry, I've got some bad news for you. You've got the wrong tool. If you think that LiDAR scanning is the best tool for project documentation, especially progress documentation, I've got some news for you: it’s not.”

He continues, “It's always about knowing the right tool for the right job and understanding those nuances. All of that is going to start with education.”

5 tips for getting started with reality capture

Of course, there’s a lot of detailed guidance on implementing reality capture in this podcast episode. Here’s a summary of a few high-level, quick tips from Kipp and Adam to kick things off.

Going in, you should know that reality capture generates a considerable amount of data. As such, it should be part of a larger digitization strategy. Adam and Kipp both share insights and thoughts on what data to capture, how much information to collect, and how your organization should manage it. 

“As long as that digitalization strategy is appropriate, and has some thought process behind it, then it gives you the ability down the road to append the data, rather than constantly having to go back and recollect the whole thing over and over and over again,” says Kipp.

1. Talk about your goals

"First thing first is to have an internal discussion about what you want to get out of a reality capture tool," recommends Kipp. 

During this discussion, it's important that you determine your values and priorities. As Adam puts it, you must "identify what's most important to you. Is it speed? Is it accuracy? Is it accessibility to the data, ease of use, or consistent and frequent capture rates?”

The answers to these questions will point you in the right direction. 

2. Research and test

From there, you should start researching, testing, and piloting tools. The trial part is particularly important, adds Adam. 

"I was always big on trials. I got sold on promises of what a product could do once, and never again, so I always need to test it. And going back to what's important to you, a lot of the time you roll out a tool and think it’s going to have a certain value or fit certain use cases. And you end up finding more and more uses for that tool. So it's not just trying a tool based on how it’s advertised, but learning where else it can fit in the big picture and fill in the pieces of the puzzle."

3. Obtain buy-in before purchasing a tool

You should involve key stakeholders (such as your field teams) in your decision and ensure that they have a say in what tool to use. 

This will make rollout and adoption much easier. "Get the field teams involved in your decision-making process," remarks Adam. "If you already have their buy-in before you purchase the tool, they're going to want to use it because they're a part of the decision.”

4. Engage your tech champions

You can also improve adoption by getting internal tech champions on board. Adam recommends engaging these individuals and getting "quick wins" using the new technology

"Once you have those wins, you can show the value, and then you get the word out again. ‘Here's where we use it on this project. Here's where it was useful on project A, B, C.’ And now the entire company starts to see the value, and then they start to implement it on their own projects."

5. Consider renting reality capture tech

Kipp says that if you’re facing resistance to technology in your organization, consider renting the tools you need and demonstrate their value to your stakeholders. 

“We have some amazing partners that rent our scanners every day, and it does give you the ability to touch, use, and consume them at a very low impact,” Kipp explains. 

“That way, you can eventually say,  ‘Okay, this makes perfect sense; we're just going to go ahead and buy our own now.’”

New podcast episode every two weeks

Digital Builder is hosted by me, Eric Thomas. New episodes of the Digital Builder podcast go live every two weeks. 

Adam and Kipp have plenty more to say about reality capture and site scanning, so listen to the full episode and discover how you can maximize your success with these technologies. 

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Eric Thomas

Eric is a Sr. Multimedia Content Marketing Manager at Autodesk and hosts the Digital Builder podcast. He has worked in the construction industry for over a decade at top ENR General Contractors and AEC technology companies. Eric has worked for Autodesk for nearly 5 years and joined the company via the PlanGrid acquisition. He has held numerous marketing roles at Autodesk including managing global industry research projects and other content marketing programs. Today Eric focuses on multimedia programs with an emphasis on video.