Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Scan a Building in Seconds

The days of pulling out a sketchbook to record a building using one's hand and a pencil are long gone. Or at least, they could be. In recent years, the development of 3D imaging technology has allowed contractors, architects, and engineers to acquire a full scan of a building within seconds, with no more than the click of a few buttons. The creation of this technology is a result of a collaboration of many different companies, engineers, mathematicians, and architects, but my research comes from research published by the American Institute of Architects (AIA). This technology rapidly compiles a massive amount of information--coordinates, points on an object, ranges--to create a flawless 2D "scan" of a building. Buildings that rise into the sky are quickly translated into 2D scans (most often compatible with the Auto CAD software), with dimensions and intricate features accurately labeled.

The data is collected using multiple distance-measuring tools that have left rulers and tape measures in the dust. My Dad is an architect, and he was recently explaining this technology to me. He pulled a laser distance measure out of his bag, turned it on, set it on the ground, and aimed it at the ceiling of the cafe in which we were enjoying a sandwich. Before I had even located the tiny laser point dancing above my head, the small machine beeped and showed a measurement on its screen. With the push of a button, we knew that the ceiling was 15 feet and 6.5 inches above our heads.

Since it's inception in 2007, 3D imaging technology has successfully been used in a wide range of projects. In addition to translating 3D, tangible information to 2D drawings, this technology has the capability of instantaneously producing 3D models. The 3D laser scanning sends out laser beams that hit a surface and return, the speed at which they return containing a plethora of information. During this time, the x-y-z coordinates of that specific point are captured. In a full scan, this process occurs rapidly millions of times. The culmination of all of these points creates a "point cloud," a data set that can then translate to a 3D model.

This technology is being used often for historic preservation or renovations of buildings. In the past few weeks, I have seen multiple building scanners (as seen below) set up along Michigan Ave, pointed upward to capture the dimensions and intricate flourishes of the skyscrapers.

Learning about this technology sparked my curiosity about its origins. 3D Imaging Technology is a recombination of all of the discoveries about perception and technologies that precede it, with the boost of more accurate devices that greatly improve the efficiency of many people's jobs. Although this specific technology is only recently gaining momentum, these concepts have origins that date back to 300 B.C. No, laser measuring devices did not exist among the ancient Greeks...but Euclid did. Euclid, a Greek mathematician whose dissertation Optics created a paradigm shift for the study of vision, can be considered the Big C Creative behind 3d imaging technology. Euclid's secret lies in his application of an existing perspective (mathematics) in a novel way. Vision had previously been studied from psychological and physical perspectives, but Euclid was a pioneer for approaching the theory of vision with a mathematical lens. While there are no autobiographies or Ted Talks giving us insight into Euclid's creative process, his divergent thinking is obvious. He offered a new way to "solve the problem" of understanding how we perceive the world around us. Euclid's ideas laid the groundwork for understanding human vision, which has led us (over 2,000 years later) to develop 3d imaging technology that acts as human eyes and records what it sees.

While it is hard to trace the first use of the 3d Imaging architectural or engineering purposes that AIA describes, it is interesting to consider the work environment that kindled this creative invention. This specific architecturally-oriented technology is undoubtedly categorized as employee creativity, as was described in Baer's "Rewarding Creativity" study: "We consider employee creativity to be the production of ideas, products, or procedures that are (a) novel or original and (b) potentially useful to the organization (Amabile, 1996; Shalley, 1991; Zhou & George, 2001). These ideas may reflect either a recombination of existing materials or an introduction of new materials to the organization." I can speculate that the creators of this technology were intrinsically motivated to make their own jobs more efficient. The AIA lists many benefits of this new technology: value, accuracy, efficiency, non-invasiveness, and flexibility, validating this technology as BOTH "novel or original" and "useful to the organization." 

Works Cited
American Institute of Architects: Innovative Capture and Modeling of Existing Building Conditions
 How We Got Here: A Brief History of 3D Imaging

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