3D Laser Scanning Techniques

Types of 3D Scanning

3D scanning is the act of mapping an object, structure, or area, and describing it in the form of x, y, and z coordinates – a format known as a “point cloud”. Some of the more unusual forms of 3D scanning include computed tomography scans and ground-penetrating radar, which have fascinating uses in fields like archeology and medicine.

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Three specific types are prevalent in the AEC industry:

Due to the unlikelihood of having an unlimited budget set aside for 3D scanning, this article will explore a few different technologies and compare both their performance and their costs – the budget may not capture reality data down to the nanometer, but that does not mean no tool is available to achieve the goal.


LIDAR was originally a combination of the words LIght And Radar, (and later on an acronym for “Laser Imaging Detection And Ranging”.) and was first used to accurately model clouds following the invention of the laser in the 1960s.
Just as radar uses radio waves to measure the distance between the radio tower and an object, LIDAR uses lasers to create points between the laser and an object, structure or landscape. LIDAR proved itself particularly useful in surveying land and creating accurate topological maps, replacing photogrammetry due to LIDAR’s accuracy in sifting through objects that would obscure elevation and other details.

2. Digital Photogrammetry:

There are three types of digital photogrammetry
Digital photogrammetry evolved from analog photogrammetry, which appeared simultaneously with the invention of photography. This technique depends on triangulation – by taking multiple photographs, different lines of sight – sometimes called “rays” are created. Just as the brain triangulates images from the eyes to create an accurate model of distance, the photographs are mathematically intersected to create accurate three-dimensional coordinates. With photogrammetry, taking great photographs is imperative to creating good models. This means paying attention to exposure, field-of-view (FoV), and focus.

3. Infrared or Structured Light 3D Scanning:

Structured light 3D scanning devices use projected light and a camera system to shoot light onto the surface of an object, creating a “line of light”. Distortions in the line of light are then used to recreate the object’s surface geometry. Of course, there are multiple projections of light happening – many stripes of light, produce distortions based on the object’s surface structure. Due to the stripes of light being parallel to each other, 3D coordinates from the object’s surface can be collected.
3D Scanning Infrared Photogrammetry LIDAR
+ Inexpensive Balanced between cost and resolution of scans Highest quality
- Not as high quality For a higher resolution, you need a more expensive camera Most expensive option by far, also
requires specialized knowledge and
software and a relatively high-end

A Word About the Uses of 3D Scanning

There is a misconception of “objects” translating “inanimate”, but of course, 3D scanning knows no such distinction – even a living being can be digitized and rendered inanimate with 3D scanning. An abundance of cameras and the decreasing costs of laser technology are allowing 3D scanning to find new uses in diverse sets of hands

Other fields that use 3D scanning include:

A curious novice or an inquisitive expert, now have the information they need to take their next step.

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