Is laser scanning about to die?… a Guest blog by @oatfedgoat – Matthew McCarter


…. In the short term, certainly not. However, beyond the short term, without revolutionary hardware innovation the decline of laser scanning is inevitable.

I know each manufacturer has some very good features that work for it’s current customers. But where is the true innovation in hardware?  The last time I experienced a true wow factor from a laser scanner was 10 whole years ago. The first time I saw a full 360 dome scan done with a phase based scanner in around 5 minutes my mind was blown at how much data we could collect in a single shift. Prior to this a full dome scan took so long that an essential piece of site equipment was a laptop and a healthy pile of DVD’s to watch whilst scans were in progress!

Every two years or so, each laser scanning manufacturer releases a new product. The survey industry gets excited when certain vendors announce there is a new product coming. But ultimately, these turn out simply to be a natural evolution of technology rather than a revolutionary new product.

To me, it’s been apparent that simply expecting to sell units based on the history and prestige of a brand name would be a precarious path to walk. It currently still works in the survey industry, but even some of “us” are beginning to yearn for more and question the lack of true innovation.

But, it’s not fair to single out one particular brand or tactic.

Similarly, was the game-changing Faro Focus 3D much more than a very good step in evolution of scanning? The Focus was far smaller and lighter than any other scanner on the market when it launched back in October 2010. Technical laser nuances and survey related “dual axis compensator” differences aside, it did everything that the market leading scanner of the time did, but from a unit around a quarter of the size of it’s competitor – The Leica C10.  Cramming all that technology into a nice small unit was a master stroke and retrospectively such an obvious gap in the market that Faro spotted and filled very well. That one product disrupted the market and made laser scanning more accessible to users outside of the survey industry.

What great leaps and bounds have we seen from vendors since 2010 though?

None that spring to mind. I know that the manufacturers will mostly all disagree and say that they all have worked hard and brought new features to their hardware. Which is true, they have.

They will also claim that they have listened to customers’ feedback and implemented some changes based on what they want.  The trouble is, listening to customers that are nearly all from the survey industry is potentially part of the reason for only a slow evolution of laser scanning technology.  Like all disciplines, the survey industry is only a small part of the AEC industry. I would add that more than most, it is only inward looking and rarely looks “outside”.

What the vendors should be looking at, is what the survey company’s clients actually require. Instead, they are getting second hand information of what us in survey ‘think’ our clients need.
In the UK, thankfully some of the laser scanning manufacturers are really starting to get involved with the #ukbimcrew and learning from outside of the survey industry.  In my experience, two vendors are truly engaging in bidirectional discussions with new industries. Another vendor has equal involvement, but unfortunately is telling industry what it needs (sometimes incorrectly if I’m honest) rather than listening and discussing with new sectors. It won’t take a huge leap to work out which companies I refer to here and I make no apologies for it.

Thanks to the small size of this little rock we live on in the UK, the #ukbimcrew community has been such a fantastic platform for me to discuss laser scanning with people from many other disciplines to understand what they actually need from laser scanning. As a result of this, my esteemed blog host here and I have shared our knowledge and experiences and developed a process which we believe adds huge value to construction for a process for as built creation that we have coined

Construction Progress Recording (CPR)

We will be presenting on this topic at the upcoming GeoBusiness Show in London and of course chatting with anyone in the industry that would like to discuss it.

For those who know me, I sound like a broken record but essentially all outputs from scanners end up more or less the same.

It’s a point cloud.

One might be a bit cleaner (less noise) than the others (by a few mm), one might be more accurate than another (by a few mm). But how many projects do these tiny differences actually matter on?

The scope for true innovation lies in the software side in my humble opinion. Crack the true automatic feature extraction (not just pipes and planes) and you have a USP for the existing markets that will also be disruptive enough to change industry workflows and open up new opportunities.

Let’s not forget, there are other ways of capturing 3D data on site.  Photogrammetry is in the midst of a huge resurgence with tripod-mounted HDR SLR cameras through to UAV-mounted GoPro cameras and even phones and tablets through Autodesk’s 123D Catch. 3D cameras are a market that’s going to grow a lot in the next couple of years.  Mobile phones will also increasingly become common ways of generating 3D data suitable for AEC in the very near future (was anyone in the UK accepted for Google’s Project Tango trials?)

So, without a true breakthrough in laser scanning hardware soon, is laser scanning set to lose its position as the default ‘go to’ technology for site capture?  Quite possibly…


Matthew McCarter, London Underground

Matthew has been working in the survey industry for 15 years.

He spent 10 years at the first survey company in the UK to purchase a laser scanner working primarily as a CAD technician developing early workflows for extracting geometry from point cloud data.

Matthew currently works in the Land Survey team at London Underground where he has been responsible for their laser scan related workflows and dealing with their considerable data storage requirements.

He has twice spoken at the SPAR Europe laser scanning conference on laser scanning and BIM in London Underground and the UK construction industry.

Matthew is frequently visible in the UK BIM arena both online and at industry events expanding his knowledge outside of his chosen discipline.

He was one of the key members of the working group that produced the UK BIM Task Groups’ first technical guide. – A Client Guide to Laser Scanning and Data Capture.  Matthew also sits on the committee of the Survey4BIM group as a client representative for the BIM Task Group.

You can follow him on Twitter as @Oatfedgoat



2 responses to “Is laser scanning about to die?… a Guest blog by @oatfedgoat – Matthew McCarter

  1. Reblogged this on BIMopedia blog and commented:
    “Is laser scanning about to die?” Interesting opinions from Matt Mccarter regarding the technology behind laser scanning on Casey Rutlands ‘The Case for BIM’ blog.

  2. I actively discourage use of the current feature recognition features. When used, nothing comes in square, making the model extremely difficult to work with. Also Revit in particular can get unstable when working with almost parallel objects.
    I know its not the most accurate reflection of what truly exists on site, but to be useful in a design sense, I need the sprinkler ranges, for example, to come in level, parallel to each other, parallel to both walls, and all at the same height.
    It requires an enormous jump in the ability of feature recognition software to do this & possibly it’s a step too far. So for the foreseeable future I’m relying on human intelligence in my own office to make good decisions when tracing over out of square services.

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