After more than 13 years of using photography and terrestrial LiDAR systems to document existing conditions of most anything, I am always amazed at how reluctant many professionals are to utilize these technologies for the built environment. I understand the resistance to change that results from an unfortunate experience with a new technology or with a service provider. I understand, too, the reluctance that arises from an inability to keep abreast of changing technologies. However, as our world changes and these technologies become essential to our personal and professional lives, a more receptive response and a more “open” perspective is imperative to capturing new business opportunities.

I recently gave a presentation at the 2012 National AIA conference in Washington D.C., the single largest conference I’ve experienced thus far, with nearly 20,000 attendees, more than 800 exhibitors and many more who reflect the massive industry that supports architects. Few “point cloud generation” technologies were represented. Yet I envision a future where the first thing every architect, engineer or contractor will request is the point cloud for the project. I believe the point cloud will be the Internet of the positioning world.  

Depending on the specifications, a project could have several accuracy versions of the point cloud. A preliminary investigative point cloud could be captured with a system that integrates a camera or laser with a UAV, backpack, handheld or other mobile platform that provides the appropriate perspective and meets the use case. A site walk could result in a 3D dataset that is plus or minus a few inches. As the project progresses, a higher accuracy point cloud could be collected for critical MEP systems, etc., using the tools necessary for each task.

Optimization and customization are the words of our future. Our phones are a clear indication of the extent of specialized hardware and software combinations that meet a specific need or interest: Use the 5-in-1 tool, but be aware that it will operate like your 5-in-1 printer. Choose your tool wisely.

The point cloud is a 3D record of the project, and I believe the architect is the best one to own and manage that data. Throughout the Investigation, design, bidding, construction, contract administration and post-project uses, the point cloud improves the execution of the project, saving time and money. The architect has an accurate tool to develop more services for their clients, thereby improving relationships and reducing liability.

The point cloud service provider is probably not the optimal person to be integrating point clouds into project-necessary documents. However, these knowledgeable individuals can offer tremendous insight into how the data can be used based on the specific needs of the project.

Small and medium-sized architectural firms therefore should qualify and team with point cloud service providers to better understand how to navigate the complexities of hardware and software development and determine optimal uses and formats of the point cloud. In this way, architects can avail themselves of the most useful and necessary information as efficiently as possible.

Developing point cloud service teams internally or through acquisition would allow architectural firms to implement the technology on countless projects, since every project can benefit from this technology.

Amazing technologies are becoming available, and teaming with people knowledgeable in those technologies will produce optimal systems that make everybody successful.