Above and beyond point clouds

Everything you need to know about point clouds

When we talk about 3D and LiDAR (LIght Detection And Ranging) technology, we cannot overlook point clouds. As the name reveals, a point cloud is a cloud that has many points. To point out exactly, point cloud is a collection of millions or even billions of points. Every surface of an object has a great number of points. Let’s take your phone as an example, in case you are reading this with your phone. The screen displays thousands of points; thus you are actually looking at points right now.

To produce a point cloud, one needs a scanner to collect and measure points. However, a scanner does not necessarily need to use a laser to be able to gather point clouds. Next to LiDAR sensors photogrammetry can also be used to create point clouds. This is possible with the help of multiple photographs to survey and measure an area or an object. Remote sensing means gathering point clouds through satellites or aircrafts.

Each point in a point cloud has X, Y and Z- coordinates to position it. A point cloud forms a 3D model of the object or area measured. Point clouds are a set of data points in space. Some additional data can be found in a point cloud, such as a colour value in RGB format and a luminance value of the point.

What is the point in using point clouds?

Now that we know what a point cloud is, what is the point in using it? Point clouds give us very precise and measurable data. This data can be used to create very realistic 3D models of an existing object. Capturing reality that can be easily measured and analysed is vital in some industries such as construction and architecture. There are also many other industries and a rapidly growing number of different ways to utilize point clouds.

INDUSTRIES THAT UTILIZE POINT CLOUDS HEAVILY

Here are some of the industries that have been utilizing point clouds in their day-to-day activities:

 

Construction

Architecture

City Planning

Civil Engineering

IT

Digital Design

Below are listed some of the most common ways to use point clouds:

    •   Updating and creating very precise geographical maps
    •   Creating CAD models that can be used to build realistic computer models that offer its users rendering and animation capabilities
    •   Using a 3D model to detect and inspect errors on a building sites or product
    •   Creating reliable floorplans of already existing buildings
    •   Planning smarter and more functioning cities with the help of better visualization

There is a growing number of different ways to use point clouds. As scanners have become more precise and affordable over the years. In addition, unconventional industries have found new ways to use point clouds.

How unconventional industries utilize point clouds

As the quality of 3D models has increased, it has been possible to create digital twins that are nearly as precise and realistic as the actual model. These digital twins have made it possible for newer industries, such as the gaming industry and even the film industry, to cut costs. For example, it is much easier and less time consuming to use a digital twin of an already existing place than to create a completely new digital world from scratch.

In the vehicle industry, 3D point clouds are used mostly with the help of LiDAR to create sensors for autonomous vehicles. It helps to create a map of the surroundings and can identify the distance to the next vehicle or obstacle.

Robotics and AI (Artificial Intelligence) have developed rapidly during the resent years partly thanks to point clouds. If you happen to have an autonomous vacuum cleaner at home, it is highly likely that it uses a LiDAR sensor to create a map of its surroundings with the help of point clouds. Like autonomous vehicles, robots also use point clouds that are created with sensors.

The video gaming market alone has been estimated to grow over 200 billion U.S. dollars by 2023. This rapid growth of certain industries has also increased the amount of research done in finding new ways to utilize point clouds.

What is the future of point clouds?

Forecasting the future is never easy, but there are signs that suggest that point clouds will become more mainstream. This has a lot to do with the so-called unconventional industries that have discovered new ways to implement point cloud data into their technology. This development has a lot to do with scanners becoming more affordable. Another driver has been the rapid development of artificial intelligence.

One can, for instance, teach AI to process point cloud data to create close to perfect floor plans. This is especially useful in cases when there are objects or features that hide parts of the surrounding and cannot be properly captured by a scanner. With the help of large amounts of previous point cloud data, AI can be taught to create the hidden area with the help of other point cloud data. This is one way that point cloud data can be used to teach AI.

Point cloud technology is becoming everyday business as scanners can also be found on smartphones. Your own smartphone might already have a pre-installed 3D scanning application, but you can also download one. The scanners create 3D models of point clouds or mesh data. Now that every person can use point cloud data with their smartphones, there are practically endless possibilities how 3D point cloud data could be used in the near future!  

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