It’s not virtual reality — it is reality capture. Nor is the technology exactly new, but it is the future of land surveying, according to professionals at Houston Engineering, who say capturing reality is advancing the ways in which data is gathered and how that information is processed to create designs for, in the company’s role, infrastructure projects.
Think of reality capture as a high-end, cost-effective survey solution that goes beyond traditional survey methods. It uses LiDAR — which stands for Light Detection and Ranging — to create high-resolution models of ground elevation.
Chad Qualley and Erik Nelson, drone operations manager and senior technician, respectively, said Houston Engineering, based in Fargo, N.D., has been at the forefront of providing reality capture services that can be used in a variety of applications for clients across the upper Midwest. The survey service improves accuracy, productivity, quality and safety throughout clients’ infrastructure projects.
“LiDAR is actually one of the tools that we use for reality capture and it’s one of the biggest ones, really,” Nelson said. “When you can spray an area with billions and billions of points, you basically get a right-now image capture of what’s going on at the site you want to capture.”
LiDAR works like this: A laser scanner transmits brief pulses of light to the ground surface. When reflected back, their travel time is used to calculate the distance between the laser scanner and the ground, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Data is collected as a “point cloud” or dataset “of individual points reflected from everything on the surface, including structures and vegetation.”
LiDAR, of course, is nothing new. It has been around a long time, Qualley said, and he’s been using it ever since he arrived at Houston 18 years ago. “But it has really changed,” he said, mainly because other technology has changed.
“The sensors that shoot the lasers, which is LiDAR, have gotten to be so much more precise and so much more inexpensive,” Qualley said, explaining that LiDAR can now be used on much smaller projects than in the past.
Qualley described himself and Nelson as “software experts” who run “various specialized software” that allows them to process the “point cloud that the LIDAR sensor shoots and extracts from.”
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