In March 2014, a mobile app named RiALITY was released by RIEGL Laser Measurement Systems for viewing and navigating LiDAR point clouds on an iPad with the added functionality of augmented reality for projecting point clouds into the real world. Over the past six months, there has been enthusiastic feedback from users and an expectation for future development.

RIEGL clients are leveraging this technology to improve communication with their own customers who may not be familiar with LiDAR point clouds or who have trouble interacting with 3D data.  Augmented reality allows the user to present a vision of the future that everyone can relate to, which leads to “buy-in” for new projects at all levels.

“The value of such a system is that it is immediately intuitive, and represents RIEGL technology as it really should be,” explains Ananda Fowler, Manager, TLS Software Development for RIEGL. “Laser scanners have produced data in 3D for a long time but until now, we’ve only viewed it on 2D screens. RiALITY brings a 3rd dimension to the perspective. Once you see a point cloud in 3D, you no longer question things like ‘What is it good for?’ or ‘How can we use it?’ The mind immediately starts to think, ‘Wow! I could apply that to my projects right now!’ It is really exciting to see and use 3D data this way.”

Feedback provided by RIEGL clients actively using the app indicates that RiALITY is great for leveraging presentations of their technological capabilities to impress and attract

Augmented reality establishes the spatial relation between virtual content, in this case a LiDAR point cloud, and the real world.

business. When potential customers see how easy it is to interact with the 3D data on an iPad, they gain confidence in the LiDAR technology and recognize the untapped possibilities.

“The Augmented Reality, or AR, experience brings interaction between humans and devices to another depth to help visualize a number of different objects and media in 3D,” said Fowler. “In essence, it enables personal experiences that previously have only been experienced by scientists in the lab.”

The unique AR functionality of RiALITY is based on establishing the spatial relation between the virtual content, in this case a LiDAR point cloud and the real world, where the connection to the real world is established through a reference object that can be identified by computer vision algorithms applied to the camera’s image stream. This reference object could be a special marker, a planar image, or a more complex object. With this reference image printed out onto a flat surface, such as a sheet of paper, RiALITY is then constantly looking for these reference objects many times per second in the images provided by the tablet’s onboard camera. Once it is detected by the application, the virtual content can be fixed to this object and seen on the display as if it were part of the real world. The process involves sophisticated computation made possible by computing power, advanced algorithms, and high-quality cameras found in today’s tablets.

RiALITY is the first real AR app for laser scanned point cloud data, although there has been a mobile point cloud viewer for image applications available for several years. Currently, RiALITY supports RIEGL scanners; however, if demand continues to increase, RIEGL will commit further resources to develop improved solutions for future applications, as well as improved accessibility, meaning support for more operating systems and mobile platforms.

“I think the future is clearly heavily loaded with AR implementation,” said Fowler. “The Oculus Rift virtual reality head-mounted display has really made a broad impact on the wider community, and a lot of us are also looking forward to auto-stereoscopic displays, which enable 3D visualization without the need for special glasses. RIEGL will continue to endeavor to be at the forefront of such technological developments.”