What’s the Point of a Pointcloud? Why Your Next Building Project Needs One?

August 17, 2023 By Analytikal9gmail-com

Point Cloud

Most people have heard of 3D modelling, but can the same be said for pointclouds? If you’re thinking about the digital storage cloud, you’ll have to think a little more sideways.

A pointcloud is the output of 3D laser scanning: the digital translation of objects from our physical realm. Based on the real world and built for the real world, a pointcloud can have many real-life applications. In this blog post, we’ll explore what a pointcloud is, what it’s used for and how it can help you with your next building project.

What Is a Pointcloud?

As discussed, a pointcloud is the end product of 3D laser scanning. Consisting of multiple data points, the points of a pointcloud all fall somewhere along X, Y and Z axes to form a 3D image. Each individual point is a virtual laser light, which you can think of as a single pixel—or atom, if you want a real-world equivalent—of the replicated object. Basically, a pointcloud is a collection of dots that fall upon a three-part Cartesian graph, which you cannot draw on a 2D piece of paper.

If you want to replicate the colour of the object you’re ‘uploading’, you can also include the RGB (red/blue/green) value into each point. Because red, blue and green are the primary colours of light, you can replicate almost any colour from this base triad. Once you’ve formed your digital impression of your physical item, you’ll be able to examine its physical properties at all angles. Thanks to 3D laser scanning, LiDAR (light detection and ranging) technology and photogrammetry software, you can view your pointcloud assured in the knowledge that its coordinates will be to scale.

Why Is It Called a Pointcloud?

‘Pointcloud’ is rather a self-descriptive, image-evoking term that alludes to its collection of data points. In the real world, many minute water droplets or ice particles come together to form a cloud. In the digital world, however, thousands or millions of data points come together to form a ‘cloud’—which is the perfect metaphor for the replicated dimensions. As smart as the technology and software can be, it’s important to remember that it cannot see the wood for the trees.

In other words, it cannot interpret its data points as a meaningful whole, which means it cannot recognise the objects the points are representing. If you prefer that the software ‘knows’ what’s what, 3D modelling may be a better choice for your project. 3D laser scanning is more efficient, but rather than projecting a solid ‘object’, it ultimately generates a cloud of data points.

What Is a Pointcloud Used For?

We’ve discussed the process of generating a pointcloud via 3D laser scanning, LiDAR technology and photogrammetry using a variety of softwares such as Realworks, Cyclone, Recap, Context Capture and many more. These can all produce different output files, such as .e57, .Ply, .LAS, .xyz, .obj, or .3mx, depending on which type of data is needed and how you intend to use it next. But what are those next step practical applications? Well, you can use pointclouds to educate, entertain, preserve and build.

Building & Renovating

With pointclouds, engineers and architects can create 3D BIM models. These models capture the building’s structure, allowing them to assess it more closely and at leisure when off-site. This helps them understand the current state of the structure, including beams, metal framing and concrete. All of this is vital information for building further additions to the structure, along with renovations and repairs. With the knowledge from the pointclouds and BIM models, risks and safety issues can be appropriately managed or removed. The 3D models also allow everyone to clearly understand how the end product should look.

Preservation & Restoration

In their essence, pointclouds are eternal timeframes. So, even if an historic landmark should disintegrate or crumble, its former form can still live on via a digital ‘backup’. Sometimes, it’s nice to keep these on file, like a piece in a digital museum. Other times, they can serve as critical blueprints should you ever need to reconstruct a building following an accident or disaster. For example, did you know that a pointcloud has been instrumental to restoring the Notre-Dame de Paris following its fire damage? This is a fantastic illustration of how a billion data points can help us rewrite history word-for-word.

Facility Maintenance

With a pointcloud and further generated 3D BIM models, it also makes taking care of a space and structure easier. This includes making it easier to spot arising issues sooner when they are simpler and cheaper to repair. For instance, using a 3D BIM model built from a pointcloud of an existing building means facility maintenance teams can keep tabs on a site. If there are concerns about sinking foundations, they can check current measurements against the preserved data in the model. They essentially have a digital twin of the building to which they can compare the existing structure.

Safety Inspections

Each building project comes with key milestones marked by safety inspections. A great way to streamline these inspections is to create a pointcloud of the site at each ‘checkpoint’. By having a digital copy to refer back to in addition to a one-time site review in person, you’re not only keeping receipts of each safety inspection but you’re also creating a catalogue to refer back to. You can use these pointclouds to check how closely builders are following the architect’s blueprint or to investigate whatever issues may arise with the building further down the track.

Education & Entertainment

If you can’t travel to an historic landmark, viewing its pointcloud form may be the next best thing. This technology allows you to go on a digital tour of the wide blue yonder without leaving the living room! Whether you want to ‘see’ Buckingham Palace or the Great Wall of China, you can experience the true-to-life dimensions thanks to pointclouds. This can be a fantastic activity for the classroom, especially if you’re learning or teaching geography.

Self-Driving Vehicles

Self-driving cars are the way of the future, and it can be daunting to imagine how they run without human intervention. So, how do these vehicles navigate the road ahead? By sourcing information from a pointcloud! If you think about it, pointcloud information is a fantastic way for machines to learn and develop algorithms. The more a machine learns, the better its chances of becoming 100 per cent autonomous.

What Is the Difference Between a Pointcloud & a 3D Model?

While a pointcloud is a type of 3D model, there are some differences between the two at a basic level. The big advantage of the pointcloud is that it’s quick. Thanks to 3D laser scanning, you can replicate the exact coordinates of your targeted object almost immediately. In fact, you could think of the output process as virtual 3D printing minus the wait time. Where a 3D model trumps a pointcloud, however, is in its intricacy. Though more time-consuming, designing a 3D model yourself does give your software a more solid idea of what’s what.

For example, if you were to create a 3D model of a building, the software would recognise the walls as walls and treat them as separate entities. As discussed earlier, the pointcloud software cannot recognise the sum of its thousands or millions of parts.

Ultimately, each process is the inverse of the other. While a 3D model is a human invention, a pointcloud takes pointers from reality. Whichever one you need will depend on the project at hand. If you’re seeking to duplicate an already-existing object, a pointcloud is a better option than a 3D model, the latter of which a) you would need to create from scratch and b) will inevitably stray from the original coordinates, even if only by a nanometre.

Geospatial Services at Galaxy City Are Out of This World

Pointcloud-curious? Keen to take advantage of our 3D laser scanning technology? At Galaxy City, we have a range of geospatial services available to help you with your next big project. Get in touch to explore how we can create pointclouds and so much more. You’ve never seen technology that is so groundbreaking and yet so out-of-this-world! Get into our orbit today so we can help you find your bearings.