So, Matthew, you’ve got a passion for construction, technology, podcasting, and recording. Tell us a bit about your background and how you got involved in reality capture.
Well, the short story is that in high school, I started working in land surveying as my dad was a licensed land surveyor. I wasn’t very passionate about it at first, but after a couple of years, I saw it as a potential career. Around 2009-2010, someone introduced us to laser scanning, which was relatively new and not widespread at the time. This was a game changer for surveying as it allowed us to digitally capture entire sites in 3D.
As I was younger and good with technology, my survey firm asked me to look into this new technology, which was very different from traditional surveying. This completely changed my career path. My focus shifted to the technology aspect and how it could be integrated into different industries and projects. We started using laser scanning in industries we had never worked in before, such as oil and gas facilities.
Before laser scanning, creating existing condition models or as-builts of facilities was a complex process involving tape measures, total stations, and lots of paperwork. With laser scanning, we could capture all the details, creating a digital replica of the facility, including pipes, bolts, steel structures, ground, and stairs.
After working with a couple of different companies, I started my own business to educate companies and industries on how to integrate these technologies and solve problems, as there’s a massive opportunity.
Regarding construction, I think it has only adopted about 20% of the potential of reality capture. It’s more useful for complex projects and facilities, such as oil and chemical plants. One of the biggest challenges is the lack of awareness. Many engineers, architects, and construction companies have not yet fully embraced the technology, so there is still a lot of room for growth. Although it has been used in various industries like forensics, architecture, BIM projects, and industrial facilities, there’s still a massive opportunity for growth in adoption.
It seems to be a recurrent thing in construction, where engineers or architects might be aware of a technology, but there’s no real motivation to incorporate it into operational systems. Do you think there’s a reason for that?
That’s a good question. I think one thing is that many people and companies are hesitant to change. You often hear the saying, “don’t fix something that’s not broken.” People get stuck in comfortable workflows and ways of doing things, so the idea of innovation doesn’t come naturally to them.
We are starting to see a focus on innovation in certain companies. Sometimes, they’ll create innovation departments that look at different technologies, create use cases, and carry out pilot projects to assess if they’re beneficial or not. However, even when they find a beneficial technology, they may still have a hard time adopting it because employees are hesitant to change or afraid it could replace their roles.
I always try to tell people that technology won’t replace their jobs, but rather make them more efficient. You can’t stop an industry from becoming innovative, so if you keep the mindset of not wanting to explore new options, at some point, other companies will adopt those technologies and replace the need for you.
We see this in all industries. For example, there used to be stores where we rented VHS tapes to watch movies, but they didn’t adapt to digital streaming, and now they’re gone. The same can happen in your own industry or company – it’s important to think ahead and look at the technologies that are coming and how they can improve processes to deliver work more cheaply, quickly or at a higher quality to clients if others are also adopting them.
For about 20% of the projects in the industry, reality capture is used. Commercial projects have a huge future, but for small residential markets, the technology for portable devices might catch up quite quickly in the next few years. It feels like there might be a use case where you can create a scan of your house from your phone. Do you think that’s possible? Have you got any insights on that?
Absolutely. When the iPhone first incorporated lidar, I bought one and did some testing with it. I recorded webinars showing how to use the phone to scan a building, a car, and even compare the data from a phone to a traditional terrestrial laser scanner. The one thing I always tell people is that you can’t expect a £1,000 phone to have the same quality of data as a £50,000 laser scanner. However, there is a use case for all of them.
When a new tool comes out, professionals should evaluate its use cases, determining which situations it’s accurate enough for and which it’s not. For instance, scanning a room to create a floor plan or using augmented reality to place furniture. There will be simple use cases for the device that’s already in your pocket.
One of the impressive things about the phone is that it’s always in your pocket. It’s useful for quickly documenting something when you don’t have a laser scanner. There might even be commercial applications, such as when you can’t access certain rooms during a scan job. The person on site could use their iPhone to scan the room and send the file.
The biggest issue is people not understanding the technology enough to know the differences between an expensive terrestrial scanner and an iPhone. If you’re going to use a tool, you need to understand how they work and their pros and cons so that you can make informed decisions about their applications.
Absolutely, I agree. For those who might not fully understand laser scanning and its uses and benefits, a laser scanner is a device that can create a digital representation of an object or space. It can sit on a tripod or be handheld, and it uses a laser to take measurements at an extremely high rate, collecting around a million measurements per second. This results in a point cloud, which is a collection of x, y, z coordinates representing each measured point.
Laser scanning is particularly useful for capturing the details of existing buildings, especially when a renovation or construction project is planned. Traditional methods, such as using a tape measure, are time-consuming and can miss important details. Laser scanning, on the other hand, captures all the necessary information quickly and accurately.
Some people may be hesitant to adopt new technology because they think it will be more expensive. However, laser scanning can actually be more cost-effective than traditional methods. For example, a project that would have taken two people with tape measures two weeks to complete might only take one person with a laser scanner three days. In addition to being faster and more accurate, laser scanning also produces more visually exciting deliverables that clients can use.
Every second sentence you say, I want to jump in because you’re talking about so many interesting things. Did you see any business model potentially within this? Because currently, the architect is the gatekeeper of these scans usually, and they don’t talk to each other. The architect has, let’s say, 500 projects, and the owners of these homes don’t see their designs. It would be great if there was an available platform to put their homes on, but then there are security issues probably and all of this stuff.
That’s a good question. I think it’s an interesting one because, with security or ownership, would there be a marketplace that has a copy of everybody’s home? I’m not sure. There has to be a reason that it would exist, and for the most part, the only person that would want that is the owner of the home. So when it comes to residential, I don’t know if there would be a need for a marketplace where if it’s already been scanned, it goes to some database that people can purchase. But I do believe that every homeowner in the future will have a digital twin of their home that they can use for renovations or other purposes.
I believe that in the future, every building will have a digital twin, and there are different levels of detail that a digital twin would need. For residential, it might be just for something like paint and decorations. But for industrial facilities, airports, or hospitals, they would need accurate data linked to systems. Even during construction, you might need to know access to certain areas for maintenance or improvement.
So, what’s the difference between a digital twin and just a building that’s scanned? The term digital twin has many meanings. Some people say that if you scan a building and give them a point cloud, that’s a digital twin because it’s a replica. But to me, a digital twin is when it’s more than that. If you scan a building, that’s just an as-built point cloud that’s dimensionally accurate. If you create a 3D model of the building, that’s an as-built model that’s dimensionally accurate. When you add intelligence and link to databases and systems, then it becomes a digital twin.
It’s a bit like BIM, where they have levels of detail. Maybe we need different levels of a digital twin, with the lowest level being just a dimensionally accurate dataset. But most people right now, when they’re talking about digital twins, mean using real data to have a real-time model that’s linked to accurate measured data.
How does a company go about dipping their toe with a little bit of laser scanning? It’s a great question. Honestly, the reason I’m focused on education, my podcast, and creating educational content is to help people learn about laser scanning. There haven’t been many good resources online to learn about it, so I want to help people get started.
To get started, you need to do some research on different types of scanners and what gear fits your needs. There are various types of laser scanners, handheld scanners, mobile scanners, and terrestrial scanners, with prices ranging from $5,000 to $120,000. It’s essential to identify the right hardware for your use case. You can often find a company that rents the gear so you can try it out on a project, do a pilot project, and see if it’s useful or if it improves a process.
I would say when you first start, either try to rent one or hire somebody who already does it to collaborate with you on a project so you can see how it’s done. That’s the best way to get started. Companies like Matterport offer competitively priced services, and their newest scanner has a LiDAR sensor on it, which is suitable for entry-level laser scanning for residential houses. For larger commercial jobs, there are companies like Faro Technologies, Trimble, and Topcon.
Research what you’re looking to use and find companies already doing what you want to do in your market. There’s plenty of information available, and you can always reach out for help or feedback.
It genuinely sounds interesting, and laser scanning is a future-oriented technology. As things become more digital, there’s a need for buildings to be scanned and the information passed smoothly between property owners. This digital version of the property would include construction details, materials, etc., getting more into the digital twin realm.
The need for a digital twin of a building is there and it’s growing. There are many companies constantly purchasing existing buildings and converting them into something else. They want to know the space, what they can fit, and need an architect to design a new layout. Currently, many buildings have old PDF as-builts that might not be accurate. It would be much better if there was a digital twin of each building to help with the planning process.
Looking at old drawings from years ago can be challenging when trying to figure out construction and if it’s possible to add another storey to a building. It’s just a question of time before every building needs to have a digital twin, but it’s unclear how this will be enforced.
One issue with creating a platform for digitising buildings is that many building owners want to keep their data confidential. At some point, it may become a requirement to have a digital copy of a building. Companies that have started using digital twins and see the return on investment (ROI) are looking to scale this technology across all their projects. However, there are learning curves, technology challenges, and a lack of skilled people who know how to perform these services.
Many people in the industry are learning on the job or self-taught, and there is a growing demand for educational content to help people learn about digital twins and how to use them properly. In the next five years, there may be a significant number of people who want this technology and service but will need others to perform it for them, creating a gap in the market.
Promoting awareness of reality capture solutions is essential, as many people in the construction industry may not know much about it or how to use it. The fear of change and learning curves can discourage people from adopting new technology. Providing educational content that demonstrates successful use cases and the time and cost savings that can be achieved can help encourage companies to try the technology. This kind of content can increase adoption across the world.
When it comes to software versus hardware, there is more room for growth in the software side. There are already many impressive hardware options available, but the software side still has some complex workflows and requires multiple pieces of software. Improvements in software and cloud hosting would be beneficial. The hardware is already quite advanced, with any future improvements likely to focus on speed or efficiency.
The conversation then shifted to discussing the various companies and events associated with reality capture.
Starting in laser scanning around 2010, the speaker worked for several companies before quitting their job to start Nexus 3D seven years ago. This consulting company focuses on surveys, scanning, drone technology, and BIM. The speaker emphasises the opportunities available around new technology for career advancement and innovation within a company.
Reality Capture Network began as a podcast to share information and build a community around the technology. The network then started hosting in-person conferences, bringing together hardware vendors, software providers, and users to share knowledge and use cases. These events help attendees connect with others in the industry and provide valuable educational content.
The Reality Capture Network Events have been held annually for the past two years, with the third event scheduled for October 17-19. The speaker highlights the interest in learning about these tools, as evidenced by the growing number of attendees. The new website for the network will include an education centre with industry experts creating content to help newcomers learn about laser scanning, drones, and other related technologies.
Before addressing the last question, the topic of reality capture during construction was discussed. Although many people scan existing buildings for renovation, there is an opportunity for more frequent scanning during construction to monitor progress and compare it to the design model. Catching issues early can prevent problems later on, and scanning throughout the construction process, as well as at the end, can result in a complete as-built model. This is an area that could see growth in the future and currently requires more attention.
Moving to off-topic questions, the speaker’s communication skills were complimented, and they were asked for tips on improving communication. The speaker credits frequent practice and learning from others, especially online resources such as podcasts and YouTube videos. They mentioned being inspired by Gary Vaynerchuk to start a podcast and by Grant Cardone to start a conference. The speaker suggests exposing oneself to various resources and learning from different successful people to enhance communication skills and foster innovation.
Mostly through their content, the speaker discovered influential figures online, read their books, and attended their in-person events and conferences. They emphasised the importance of learning from as many successful people as possible, regardless of their initial impressions, and taking valuable insights from them.
The speaker then shared their experiences scanning a diverse range of objects and environments, from fishing vessels in Alaska to underground gold mines in California, forensic projects, high-rise buildings, airports, and NFL football fields. They expressed excitement about the many uses of reality capture data, which extend beyond construction and encompass entertainment projects, movie sets, and gaming environments.
To find out more about the speaker, they recommend connecting with them on LinkedIn and visiting realitycapturenetwork.com, which hosts their podcast, education centre, and information about events. They have plans to expand the community and potentially host events in different countries, including the UK.