At the SPAR3D 2017 conference, Burkhard Boeckem, CTO of Hexagon Geosystems, gave a vision of the future of 3D technologies developed by technology firms such as Hexagon. Among the well-known brands that form Hexagon Geosystems is Leica Geosystems, which recently introduced two new ground-breaking LiDAR scanners, the SPL100 and the BLK360. These devices are targeted on very different markets. He used these devices as examples of how a new technology becomes democratized among a much broader professional community than the small number of specialists it was initially targeted on.
By way of background, up until recently LiDAR scanning was pretty well restricted to the surveying community and a few other specialist groups. Leica has made LiDAR devices for these specialist communities for over a decade.
Single photon LiDAR is a new technology that differs from the current waveform LiDAR mainstream in that it can detect weaker reflected light where current devices need much stronger light. The SPL100 is a single photon LiDAR sensor that collects 6 million points per second which means that planes can fly higher and still collect 12 - 30 points per square meter, depending on flying height. Leica says it is 10 times more efficient than conventional waveform LiDAR sensors for this type of mapping. The SPL100 is initially targeted on a very specialist, exclusive group of mapping professionals who scan large areas - states, countries and regions.
In contrast the BLK360 is a very small (1 kg) imaging LiDAR scanner, which is targeted on a potentially much broader professional audience for 3D data, including many people who haven't heard of LiDAR or even considered whether 3D data might help them. It is very simple to use - it has only one button. It can complete a full 360 scan of a space with a range of 60 meters in three minutes. All subsequent processing of the point cloud and imagery to visualize the data is performed on an iPad. The BLK360 is the culmination of laser scanning development at Leica which began in the early 2000s targeting the surveyor community. The BLK360 is intended to dramatically expand the domain of users of high precision 3D data.
Burkhard Boeckem used these two devices as a model for how he sees new technology first being developed and introduced for specialist professionals and then being democratized among the broader professional market.
Looking toward the future he sees single photon LiDAR and Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) as important breakthrough technologies that are very new and are only now being introduced into the specialist market. For GNSS-denied areas such as inside buildings, tunnels and mines Leica has just introduced the Pegasus Backpack which relies on SLAM to track the wearer in a building or other areas where GNSS does not penetrate. The Pegasus Backpack appears to be targeted currently on a relatively small market of specialists. Based on 15 years of laser scanning development at Leica, Burkhard Boeckem's message is that by analogy with the process that culminated in the BLK360, in the future we will likely see very simple "one-button" devices descended from the Pegasus Backpack and the SPL100 aimed at the broader professional market.
Getting technologies like the BLK360 out to people who could benefit from 3D data has become the current challenge according to Shabtay Negry, Senior Vice President at Mantis Vision who manufacture one of the earliest handheld 3D scanners and whose 3D technology is used in the Google Tango project. The target for the BLK360 and other small, easy to use, and inexpensive devices are professionals who could benefit from 3D technology. The introduction of the Xbox 360 Kinect in 2010 lowered the technology price bar for 3D scanners. The Kinect and many of the low end scanners currently on the market use very inexpensive infrared plus photography technology to create 3D point clouds with associated images. As an example, the Matterport Pro, which lists for $3600, is such a device targeted on Real Estate professionals. With these types of devices Shabtay Negry expects the 3D market to expand by 100,000 units in two to three years. As examples of the types of professionals for whom 3D technology provides benefits he mentioned plumbers, upholsterers, insurance adjusters and many more. Honeywell Logistics, who are not 3D specialists, use 3D scanning for space optimization. Price as a barrier to the adoption of 3D scanners has been virtually eliminated. The Structure sensor is $400 and attaches to iPad devices. Mantis Vision promises to make its technology available for everyone - being able to scan an object, share the 3D model online, and send it to a 3D printer—from a smartphone. Mantis Vision is working with the Google Tango project to make 3D scanning available on an Android tablet.