Newsletter | Nov/Dec 2022

LiDAR Seminar

by Suzan Swabacker

LiDAR Seminar on August 30, 2022

On Tuesday, August 30, 2022 a small group of OWADP members were fortunate enough to hear Frank Collazo and Al Dram talk to us about LiDAR equipment and its use in the design/construction industry today. From hospitals to underground sewer tunnels to single family residences, the LiDAR equipment can handle it all.

LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) cameras are used to produce as-built drawings in a very short period of time. The cameras use lasers that send waves to map solid surfaces via reflected light that returns to the camera. Frank, a representative of Leica scanners, told us that the building mapping cameras use most of the same technology that self-driving cars do.

Perhaps the most informative part of the presentation were details described by Al Dram, an architect-graduate from Iran who has started his own company in Emeryville. For example, the fixed tripod system such as the Leica BLK360 takes much longer to map than the newest, hand-held Leica BLK2GO which can take a matter of minutes to map an interior. However, the fixed tripod cost is around $20,000 whereas the hand-held model is over $50,000. Once the mapping is completed the point-cloud is downloaded via one of several software programs. The software is next loaded into REVIT at a scale the architect or engineer requests. An important detail is that the building(s) must be segmented in short layers to develop a floor plan or an elevation accurately/easily. Unless the person drafting breaks the point-cloud image into “bite-size” segments, the information will be too big to easily convert.

As for the file type, yes, some architects do still request CAD files rather than Revit files. This means a 2nd export from Revit to Auto-CAD, typically. While the original cloud files are quite large, the laser also photographs (in color) whatever it is measuring which means a designer can go back and double-check what the camera saw as it flew through a space. The example we saw was clear. However, several OWADP attendees noted that the camera only “sees” the wall surface. It cannot tell us if the wall is concrete or brick or wood. Another reason that the fly-through photographs become so important.

It should be noted that there are at least 2 prices for obtaining an as-built floor plan (RCP, elevation, etc). The first cost is from the person who goes to the site, brings his equipment, and creates the point-cloud. A second cost is the download to Revit or CAD and the creation of a scaled floor plan (or roof plan or elevation or RCP). My company recently used a gentleman in Turkey to create the floor plans and elevations in Revit. As you might imagine, the labor cost for Turkey or India (which Frank uses sometimes) is much less than local labor costs. However, Al Dram’s company is a “one-stop-shop” with competitive prices, who can do all the above locally. Al indicated that his company does a lot of work for OSHA, Tesla and schools. His company also completes typical plans for permits, and they are even starting 3 new design-build projects. [His company is hiring. See his contact information below.]

Al said that the Ai software is becoming so powerful he believes we will be able to load a mapping application into our IPhones within 10 years. Anyone who has tediously measured a building to create an accurate floor plan will see this as a major miracle. Interestingly, from the internet we learned that the first laser-like systems were developed by Hughes Aircraft in the early 1960s for the purpose of tracking satellites. As the saying goes, they’ve come a long way baby.

Contact information:

Thank you Jiane Du for letting our group meet at BSA Architects

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