Atoms to Bits: A Series for AEC Professionals

Murray Blore introduces our new shop talk series along professionals of the AEC industry

August 22, 2022
Durban, South Africa
We’ve been talking about reality capture for a while now.

What started as an expensive novelty that you only saw at trade shows, has become widespread.

We forget how quickly the AEC industry can move on occasion, but it’s only about 5 years ago (maybe 7 or 8) since NONE of us had used a laser scanned point cloud as the basis to know what our actual existing site really looked like. 

We’ve come a long way, baby.

And reality capture itself is only a tiny part of the information modeling story, which might have its conclusion at a “Ready, Player One”-style Metaverse, or with you having a fully-functioning digital twin of your warehouse or retail space, or portfolio of assets, or maybe just your apartment or local park.

But, who cares?

No doubt you’re as busy as I am. It’s great that there’s new technology out there. But sometimes new technology gets forced on you out of hype more than anything else, and I believe the phrase goes something like “innovation is an expensive hobby”.

People make mistakes when they’re learning something new. Scan to BIM projects are notorious for running late and over budget. 

In our defense, (sincerely, from those of us who’ve been here long enough to have learned the hard way), the problem of how long it will take to scan and model your project, is that you can’t tell us what we need to model. If you knew what was wrong you wouldn’t need us.

Without Scan to BIM you wouldn’t have even known you were wrong until someone stumbled across your mistake.

And I know it’s in the nature of our work, but someone once asked me why people didn’t just use whatever the existing drawings were. Literally every single point cloud I’ve ever seen which came with a set of existing drawings, has been so far wrong that it’s always easier to just ignore them.

Every. Single. Building. Is drawn wrong. 

Incorrect knowledge can lead to costly mistakes.

What about “Atoms to Bits”

We take what’s physically there, and turn it into a digital version of itself. Typically, so that we draw changes to the digital version, and get that transferred back to the physical by your trusty local contractor.

Why have a podcast?

Well, let’s go with a live Discord chat.

30 minutes is enough time that you can catch it just after lunch without missing your day. And you can watch it live which means you get to ask the tricky questions if you’re so inclined.

It’s not about talking shop

I spend my life working with reality capture and the technicalities of converting that data into an information model. Some of the forum conversations I end up in are inanely technical, and only someone deep in the weeds of that particular aspect of BIM is going to be even slightly interested. 

It’s about taking a step back and looking at the whole picture

Let’s try to get some clarity about what’s hype and what’s tried-and-tested.

If you’re new to accurately capturing your project or asset with reality capture technology, I’d like to shine a bit of a spotlight on the opportunities that are easily available to you, to increase efficiency and avoid costly mistakes in design and construction; to understand your portfolio of assets if you’re in real estate; there are myriad use-cases, and it’s worthwhile examining what they are - either because the user doesn’t know we could help them, or we don’t know what the user needs.

Use-cases do boil down quite nicely though, to verifying dimensions, visualizing spaces, and quantifying inventory and equipment.

All of the above can be disregarded. Thanks for reading anyway.

The Plan
  1. LiDAR: The eyes of spatial data

First, let’s talk to a few people who know what’s possible with today’s reality capture tech. 

While there are great options available for high-end LiDAR scanners, the market share seems to be going to the more budget friendly options (starting from the BLK360 and moving on down from there). I think the high-precision end of the market will keep its niche when their degree of accuracy is required. But if we’re honest about the accuracy we can achieve, I think we’ll find that architects don’t need the kind of micrometer perfect precision that a neurologist needs from their scans, and the budget-friendly options shouldn’t be dismissed out of turn.

But, know the limits of the technology. Tolerances, scanner range, and site conditions (trees, people, mirrors, mostly) offer technical challenges which it’s best to be aware of. On the other hand, each platform has its advantages.

Also, what do you get when you ask for a point cloud scan of your space?

Obviously BIMIT & Integrated Projects have products designed to help you out here.

But if you’re not using BIMIT, then a lot of people come unstuck after they’ve paid a lot of money for a scan, and then they don’t know how to create an information model from that.

You don’t always need BIM though, and potentially some might gain more benefit from a realistically textured mesh than an object-based parametric BIM. 

  1. Atoms to Bits, to BIM

Ok, so you got your point cloud, now what?

Assuming you don’t have masochistic tendencies to want to learn to model Scan to BIM yourself, you have to get somebody else to convert the model for you.

How do you know what you’re getting?

BIM comes with all sorts of LOD tables, 3D, 4D, 5D, parametric data, jargon, technicalities.

Well, we have a standard for that. Actually, we have a few. No, they’re not the same as each other. 

Heck, those LOD tables we’ve been using - NONE OF US put any faith in that little LOD 200 definition we put at the beginning of our specifications. Ignore the part about LOD, just read the damn table your modeler gives you, and you’ll have a better idea of what you’re going to get.

There’s also a tension between the modern need to “productize the service”, and the traditional architectural need for everything to be bespoke.

Is ISO19650 actually helpful in defining the user-need and thus the project deliverables?

Are the old LOD tables better? Do we need a standard at all or can we just write a spec for each project and be done with it?

What do you need? Why? Have you asked for that? Does everyone understand the requirements?

  1. 2022: The year BIM came to the Web

You can view your model in your web browser now?! Surely that’s not even close to as good as the expensive proprietary options? Also, what about security, model authoring, model data editing.

What started with Autodesk or Microsoft hosting servers has morphed radically into offerings from Speckle; ifc.js; and a host of others.

Is that really going to change anything? Do you really have to make the jump from Revit to IFC?

Is this not just a marketing gimmick, and all the real workers will send their models to each other via WeTransfer, just like they always have.

I think it’s here that the conversation starts to pivot naturally away from the AEC industry, and towards a wider audience.

If we can get BIM on the web, untethered from the proprietary platforms that they were authored in - then that whole new audience is the exciting part.

  1. Digital Twins

Reality captured; converted to BIM; and now? Fully IoT-integrated, real-time, digital twins.

You got an asset information model from your construction or reality capture partners. Now you have to integrate that with actual processes and live changes inside your building each day.

That’s complicated. Actually, if you’ve already got real-time sensors dotted around your building, and you’ve already got an accurate information model of your building, then it’s just a case of linking the two in the right places.

Let’s do it!

First event kicks off tomorrow - Tuesday, 23rd August @ 2pm (EST)

Register to the event here

Then we’ll aim to do about, which brings us to November and the end of the year.

If you listen in on the conversation, hopefully you’ll come out with a better understanding of the big picture of what’s going on in reality capture and scan to BIM, and how you can harness all of that for yourself.

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