Paracosm, a start-up technology company based in Florida, envisions far-reaching potential for 3D models based on LiDAR scanning performed with an easy-to-use handheld tablet. By designing a low cost scanner and developing software to process and share 3D data, Paracosm is expanding access to indoor space information for applications such as facilities management, asset management, architecture, volumetric analysis and space optimization.

The name Paracosm is indicative of the pioneering nature of the company’s founders. According to Wikipedia, a “paracosm” refers to a detailed imaginary world created inside one's mind, or in this case in a digital virtual world. As an innovative middleware company, Paracosm focuses on developing tools to collect, view and share 3D data to expand accessibility. Users are able to transform reality into a 3D model, which can then be managed, tracked and updated with GIS software such as ArcMap and ArcGIS 3D Analyst, or manipulated and modified with CAD tools for design and modeling.

“We connected with the GIS community and learned about potential applications through close partnerships with ESRI, Google and others,” said Gannon Wilder, Paracosm Business Development. “In particular, we recognized a need for up-to-date information for facilities and asset management on campuses and at other large infrastructure operations; however, a terrestrial LiDAR scanner can cost $100,000 or more and requires a high level of expertise to operate. Our tablet makes data available to many people as a measurement tool at a much lower price point.”

The hand-held tablet sells for $2,999 with two months of cloud access to Paracosm’s processing software, after which there is a $199 monthly subscription fee. Data captured by the tablet is accurate to a few centimeters, which is appropriate for many applications such as creating floor plans and modeling assets. Terrestrial LiDAR scanners produce survey-grade data with sub-millimeter accuracy for specialized engineering applications.

Accurate 3D asset information can expedite maintenance efforts by showing the exact location of equipment in a building and how it is related and connected (pipes, valves, etc.). Additional GIS layers provide type of material, dimensions, inspection dates, manufacturer, etc. Thus far, most customers have purchased the tablet to log assets for facilities and asset management and GIS. General contractors are also using the tablet on construction sites or for architectural design. NASA Langley is conducting a pilot project using the tablet for space optimization/volumetric analysis to increase efficiency managing buildings and their work force by proper placement of assets.

The user-friendly device takes a little practice, but does not require the expertise of an engineer or surveyor to operate. It is similar to taking a video—if the camera doesn’t see something, it doesn’t exist. It takes about ten minutes to scan a medium-sized room, and the output is an RGB-colored point cloud or mesh, or simple CAD geometries. The data is processed in the cloud into multiple formats compatible with other software tools. Uploading raw data to the cloud optimizes the processing of large volumes of data and offers users the flexibility of sharing data via a secure link in a web browser, or downloading to a local server. As scanning technology evolves, it may be used in smart phones, which will eliminate the need for additional data collection devices.

“Paracosm was introduced to the GIS community at the 2013 ESRI International User Conference and we received very positive feedback,” said Wilder. “One of the keynote speakers pointed out that GIS is going indoors after many years of documenting the outdoors in great detail. The next frontier is obtaining and utilizing information about indoor spaces, which is our primary focus.”

Data output is in industry standard formats for RGB-colored point clouds or mesh.