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Home   LiDARmag     

Improving Point Cloud Data Accessibility with Web Browser Solutions Print E-mail
Written by Lauri Hartikainen   
Friday, 17 July 2015

A 2.367Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

With the continuously increasing use of laser scanning and other 3D data collection technologies within civil engineering, construction, renovation and maintenance of buildings and industrial facilities, improving the accessibility and usability of these massive datasets also outside the traditional user groups has recently become ever more important. Most of large-scale surface mapping and facilities' modeling processes these days are taking advantage of laser scanning technologies and the valuable data collected should have a simple access point for any user groups within the organizations to improve communication of teams and supporting also multiple tasks of asset lifecycle management.

Traditionally, working with point clouds and laser scanning in general has been considered as a relatively niche expertise and it is still common to associate these mainly with creating vector maps, 3D models or other representations of existing constructions and environments to be mainly used by surveyors and engineers during design processes. However, laser scanning and other 3D documentation methods are nowadays used successfully in all stages of an asset's lifecycle as a support to activities that are devoted to the ongoing operations, maintenance and the actual use of the asset. Some examples of these are quantity surveys, condition monitoring and assessment, spatial information support for site training and improved communication of maintenance and upkeep personnel.

Point clouds should be considered more as a full 3D documentation of the existing environments and as important source of information for larger audiences. These new types of potential point cloud users (maintenance and upkeep personnel and their superiors, asset and project managers and also decision makers) are generally not too familiar working with point clouds and also don't have the necessary tools or knowledge to work with them. Therefore a platform providing the information of "as is" conditions in the form of easy-to-access 3D point clouds would benefit these new types of user groups. For example with the help of modern web technologies, the massive point cloud datasets can be quickly shared to a wider user audience only utilizing a standard web browser connected to a unified data streaming service.

3point Oy, a Finnish company has developed and recently launched their Pointscene platform to help customers increase and improve point cloud usability and accessibility for larger user audiences. Pointscene.com is an online service enabling its users to utilize massive point clouds in standard web browsers without the need of any additional plug-ins. The solution is a user-friendly web platform where users can easily work with their own point cloud data sets. This solution allows registered users to upload their own point cloud data to a secured data server, managing and using the different datasets and creating project environments which then can be shared as 3D environments within specified user groups.

Finavia is one of the organizations that has already decided to take their point cloud usage and data accessibility to a whole new level with the help of Pointscene.com. Finavia is a company providing airport and air navigation services in Finland and it maintains and develops the Finnish network of 24 airports and the air navigation system. Pointscene.com has first been taken into use in the Helsinki airport, where Finavia is currently carrying out large runway resurfacing projects and other major improvement projects for the airport infrastructure. Finavia documented and modeled a large part of the Helsinki airport's existing main runways, taxiways, aprons and their immediate surroundings using mobile laser scanning. The collected point cloud data is now also made available for the department of Airport Engineering using Pointscene.com--platform.

Heikki Putkonen, design engineer at Finavia, explained their ideas behind the new approach a bit further: "The point cloud data which was primarily needed for the resurfacing design and other construction operations contains also a lot of valuable information of the airport environment beyond the paved areas, such as signs, poles, lighting, safety equipment etc. Most of the actual design work for Finavia is conducted by subcontractors and controlled by Finavia's own project managers. Project managers and others involved with these processes still need the relevant information about the environment to support the design process. "The users that would not usually have easy access to the point cloud data itself or have the necessary tools for using it, can now quickly check the recently documented conditions in 3D with their web browsers and make necessary measurements in the virtual environment without a timeconsuming field visit. Physically accessing the airport areas, especially runways and taxiways, is highly restricted also for our own personnel and additional permissions' procedures are always needed, so each field visit we can possibly avoid is a big improvement to our work efficiency", Heikki Putkonen continues.

The Pointscene.com platform supports the use of any kind of point cloud data up to several billions of points at a time, whether it is collected with airborne, terrestrial, mobile or bathymetric laser scanners or created from images using photogrammetric or SfM (Structure from Motion) technologies. The platform automatically handles all the necessary processing steps for the uploaded data sets and serves the data to the end user's web browser in a high-performance format. Each Pointscene.com subscription package includes hosting up to 1TB of data and if needed, the storage space can be easily increased with a relatively small additional hosting fee. Therefore Pointscene.com is also a data management tool for organizations that have collected or obtained large amounts of point cloud data or are otherwise handling multiple simultaneous projects with potentially large and scattered teams. For organizations who either collect highly sensitive data or otherwise have strict security policies for their services, Pointscene.com can also be implemented to these customers' own servers as a local deployment package.

Pointscene.com provides end users with easy navigation and powerful visualization tools. Users are able to fly around freely in the environment using game-like 3D navigation tools or just by a double click, the camera view is automatically flown to the clicked point of interest for a closer inspection. For improved visualization, each point cloud class can have their own parameters and therefore enables highlighting key features in the environments. Visualization parameters feature options such as coloring by RGB colors, intensity, elevation and classification. Also the point size for each class can be individually adjusted and all of this then can be shared with other users just by sharing them a link of the corresponding view. In addition to viewing the data, users are also able to make simple measurements, such as distances, heights, angles and areas directly in the point cloud. In addition to the collected point cloud data, simple vector datasets can also be visualized as additional "Information Layers" within the Pointscene.com--solution. Information Layers are mainly used to either visualize the existing vector maps or line work within the point clouds for comparison, or to show the results of an analysis as a thematic representation in the 3D environment.

Future developments in the Pointscene.com roadmap include some highly interesting features, such as the capability to stream vector layers along the point clouds, and including a location-tagged commenting and annotation tools which will enable attachment of files (notes, documents, drawings, photos etc.) to a certain location in the point cloud environment to improve information management and sharing. The team is also developing tools for downloading point cloud data of user-specified areas for further local use (for example for importing those to design software) as industry-standard file formats.

Lauri Hartikainen (MSc, photogrammetry) has been working within the mapping and surveying business in technical and commercial roles nearly a decade, primarily in Finnish and other Nordic markets. In 2014 he co-founded 3point Oy (Ltd), the Finnish startup company behind Pointscene.com solution.

A 2.367Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

 
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