Technology is Changing the Game

(Drones, Optical Capture, Point Clouds, 3D View Simulations)

By: Patrick R. Fuscoe, P.E.
Chief Executive Officer

I was recently interviewed by a newspaper on the use of drones in our work. The reporter surprised me by first asking about all of the “technological breakthroughs” I have seen in my 45-year career. I pondered that question and answered that I have seen three major disruptive shifts and that we were now in the middle of number four!

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The first shift was when Texas Instruments and HP hit the market with hand held calculators which eliminated pages of long hard calculations fraught with arithmetic errors. The second was when our computers, which had evolved to be faster, better and cheaper began to draw for us. The third was when we switched to designing in 3D. Not only have we left 2D behind, but we are now doing Building Information Modeling (BIM) plans in the “cloud” and in real time! Several consultants can now design their respective systems all-at-once and in the same model (e.g. architect, structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, civil and landscape). The first time we did this we found 150 conflicts! Now, we truly collaborate to not only eliminate costly construction phase conflict delays, but we’re actually helping one another make better solutions. But I digress. The fourth and most recent “disruptive technology” is Optical Capture. We are the only firm in the U.S. using this newly developed software that is capable of creating a 3D point cloud model from simple photography pixels. These models are perfectly accurate to less than a centimeter and can be directly sent into Revit or AutoCAD files for immediate design use.

Compared to time consuming and clumsy laser scans or old fashioned 2D aerial photogrammetry, this result is exponentially faster, better and cheaper – a winning formula every time! We are currently using aerial drones or hand held SLR cameras to “capture” images of historical buildings (for restoration); existing structures (for remodeling) and sites or neighborhood environments (for planning, view simulations and new building design). The provided link to a drone video at the bottom of this article is an 80 million pixel “point cloud” of the St. Regis Resort which began a full makeover of its two acre pool deck this spring. Every feature is visible, measurable and exactly located with x-y-z coordinates. Imagine the time and cost we saved over tedious field measurements and weeks of plotting.

We also recently had a client call who wanted to “marry” a 30 story office tower (including basements) to an old 1972 existing building which had no electronic or hard copy plans. In 45 minutes, we photographed the basement (56 snap shots of hallways, rooms, doors, exposed plumbing, etc.) and flew the drone around the building. That afternoon, we processed the optically captured images into 3D Revit files with millimeter accuracy for the design teams immediate use. One day! So, yes, Optical Capture will revolutionize how we map, measure and even design new projects.