Infrastructure professionals will soon be able to instantly model the real world using the camera on their phone following the latest acquisition by construction software business Bentley Systems.
Digital images are converted to a 3D mesh scaled to the photo resolution
The acquisition of specialist digital photography firm Acute3D by Bentley Systems means that digital photography rather than expensive specialist laser scanning techniques can now be used to capture and convert real situations into scalable 3D models.
Greg Bentley, chief executive of Bentley described the acquisition as being “more exciting” than any other in the company’s 30 year history for its ability to at last put “reality modelling front and centre so that it can be part of every project and every asset”.
The ability to create a 3D model using digital photographs means that the gap between the real infrastructure on the ground and the data in digital models used by designers, constructors and asset managers will be more effectively bridged using this software breakthrough.
“We started with laser scanning and point clouds and that is integrated into our design and construction modelling and, in fact, many of our users now start every project with laser scanning and point clouds,” said Bentley highlighting the growing demand for so-called reality modelling across the sector.
“But the bridge is a better bridge if it does not have to start from rare and exotic observations that you might not have to hand,” he added. “Laser scanning is useful but you have to do it with a laser scanning device and specialist equipment and personnel.”
Photographs to 3D mesh model The Acute3D software automatically converts any digital photographs into 3D meshes, scaled to the resolution of the photograph so that the closer you are to the object photographed, the greater the resolution of the mesh allowing either whole cities to be photographed and modelled or individual objects.
Any overlapping digital image can be used – from the camera on the phone in your pocket through to more sophisticated digital SLR cameras mounted on cars or on aircraft of unmanned UAVs.
And while the technology is not in itself new – it uses the same basic techniques currently seen on mapping such as used by Google – the key to the Acute3D solution is the ability to automatically output to a 3D mesh which is measurable and interfaces with design and construction models.
“There are two breakthroughs – first is that there is no laser scanning – it’s what is in your pocket or on your UAV,” explained Bentley. “But the other breakthrough is that the output is not a point cloud that is dumb and bulky but is a mesh in the same medium as our design and modelling environment.”
Reality modelling processes observations of existing asset conditions using data from conventional survey, laser scans, from digital photographs or a combination of all. However, for the output to be really useful to infrastructure professionals it must align with the data in the design and construction model.
Until now the only way to achieve this was to laser scan and create a point cloud model which is converted to a mesh to interface with the design and construction modelling. While still useful, the downside to point clouds is that they generate large data files and specialist equipment to is required to create them.
Acute3D research work has taken the state of the art of photogrammetry forward and the business was recently rewarded at the French “most innovative start-up” Awards. A free version of the software is available on Acute3D’s website.
The smart 3D capture product has emerged from a “think tank” of 25 man-years of research at two major European research institutes, École des Ponts ParisTech and Centre Scientifique et Technique du Bâtiment.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)
The use of UAVs for surveying is already becoming increasingly common across the industry. However, as Bentley explains, this new technology also enables the technique to move towards inspection by creating output that can be measured and interrogated as a part of the digital design and construction model.