Handheld Scanning for Architecture Gets Real….Google Enters The Picture

project-tango-google-mapping-outThe jigsaw pieces are starting to fill in with google’s Project Tango , and the structure.io sensor.  Capturing existing buildings has never been an easy task, as much as the purveyors of existing scanners would like you to believe otherwise.  Current laser scanners are expensive and the process was usually too much, too much effort, too much expense for most projects.  Additionally, since the entry price was so expensive and each scanner has its own proprietary software, lack of open standards slowed innovation; but here comes handheld devices starting at around $400, and an open source universe that lets a universe of people to start working on current problems. Paracosm working with Project Tango looks like it has come up with a crowd sourced platform to put together fuller models of buildings from multiple people/scanners.

From the videos and data, and although everyone admits it’s early.  A regular Joe can walk with a handheld scanning device and capture their world.  Allowing for the crowd sourced, user generated 3D mapping of the world.  Besides the eery feeling that the Matrix was more prophetic than fiction what can be done with all this cool stuff, what’s next?

It will be in the processing of this data and digestion of it that will make it launch to the next steps.  Typically the hurdle of laser scanning is going from scanned data, to data that people can use.  Think of scanning this stuff….cool.  To floorplans and 3D walk throughs for realtors.  So if a realtor can take a $300 handheld scanner, walk around a home or apartment, and have it simply turned into a walk through tour and dimensioned floor plans of a home, excellent. Share those floorplans with a carpet installer for a price, great.

Before scans and point clouds were expensive to attain it looks like the price is about to drop dramatically.  Dramatic price drop, easier to attain, increased supply. Increased supply, bigger market. Bigger market, more people. More people, more better.  We are just at the start.  There will be a lot of companies starting to fill in ways on how to capture and deal with this data and since the world spends about $8 trillion on construction alone there will be room for players.  You’re invited.


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Burns McDonnell Finishes Months Early Using PKNail Pro : Documents 1.5 Million Square Feet Directly In Revit

Revit_Image 1Burns McDonnell was tasked with documenting 40+ buildings totaling more than 1.5 million square feet.  The variety of buildings included hospitals, boiler plants, gymnasiums, residences and offices.  A total of 8 PKNail Pro licenses were deployed so teams of one could measure and model in real time directly in Revit.  The result…

 “We’re done months early.”

Vicky Borchers, Associate, LEED AP  Architectural Production Section Manager

Previously, PointKnown ran a pilot with Burns McDonnell.  A single day of training on sight at their offices in Kansas City followed by two days on sight  We would be going head to head with another technology documenting different levels of the same building to compare “apples to apples” measuring speed of capture, accuracy, and workflow.  Afterwards they would make a decision on which technology to choose.  The training went smoothly the first day at their offices and individuals quickly got up to speed utilizing the PKNail Pro interface measuring and modeling directly in Revit from a laser range finder.  Once on sight they declared a winner within hours, “Jim wins, everyone on PKNail Pro.”

“There is nothing more efficient out there.”

  Steve Cline, Project Manager 

Mark Wagner, co-founder of PointKnown. “Having them engage with PKNail at this level allowed us to prove PKNail Pro could handle complex projects easily…plus we were able to make some improvements to the product during the process for our client.”

“Jim and Mark were wonderful to work with  implementing the use of PKNail on a large scale project.  They have both provided top notch support in a quick and timely fashion.  They are always willing to get user input on how to improve the product and will not stop until a resolution is found.”

Jeff Campbell, Senior Application Specialist

The one problem with deploying PKNail and increasing efficiency… “Dave is very disappointed to lose his 7 minute commute to the job site. He was expecting to be there until March”
Sorry Dave.

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Deep Analytics Coming to AEC : Data Wants To Be Free. #BIM #XML #AEC

gorilla thoughtSo with Google announcement of Project Genie : Vannevar Technologies and with IBM opening Watson to the programming community one has to believe that deep analytics is coming to the AEC industry.  Not silo attempts by industry leaders.  It’s got to get easier to run energy analytics, design options, facility management…integrated in a way that is push button easy, and as anyone in the industry can attest we are still far from push button easy.  However, getting thousands of people, the collective intelligence of the programming community solving problems.  Getting data centralized, performance feedback, learning from that virtuous circle, that is exciting stuff.

Data is the foundation of all of this, without the data, we have nothing to run with.  For the AEC environment, it’s the building whether it’s in the design phase, or most likely, already operating.  How long will the data reside in proprietary formats?  How long is that a viable business model?  We will see that companies that can provide the most value with the data start to thrive.  Hence the opening up of Watson as a platform and the fact that Google is coming to the AEC marketplace shows there is some seismic shifts in store.  I’ve written before that getting the AEC crowd to change their stripes, adopt new technologies, can be difficult, however it’s really going to be Autodesk 360, and what they can offer you in house vs. the world.  There has been talk of the ICFxml gbXML  or ways to have BIMs in an open environment.  This may very well be the tipping point.


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1st Place New Car, 2nd Place Steak Knives, 3rd Place “You’re Fired” : Yahoo embraces employee ranking #fail

bell-curve-hiring1So on the heels of Microsoft throwing their stacking system under the bus, and running as far away and as fast as they can from Steve Ballmer’ s lackluster rein Yahoo in their infinite wisdom decides to implement a grading system and forcing everyone into the bell curve so essentially, 3rd place “you’re fired”.  Now I understand poor employee hires are the bane of the workplace but assuming the bell curve and natural distribution in your workplace….I don’t get it.  In fact, NPR, “Put Away the Bell Curve Most of Us Aren’t Average,” and follow up from The Drucker Institute , Curve Ball for the Bell Curve, put the bell curve to task in business.  You can go straight to the source  THE BEST AND THE REST: REVISITING THE NORM OF NORMALITY OF INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE.  But boils down to that there are a few superstars and there is everyone else.  Superstars can be a product, a service, sales to a particular a client, an individual and then everyone else, and sure special care should be taken to nurture this superstars.  Jack Welch originally wanted GE to be #1 or #2 in each market it competed but then back off saying it was taken to “nonsensical levels” by an “insidious bureaucracy.” My experience on the small scale that it is is Organizational Behavior is like playing 3D chess in the 5th Dimension, what motivates people, how you inspire people, how you create a workplace people are fired up to be at and want to work hard to achieve common and uncommon goals.  It would seem to me either Yahoo is a bit backward thinking on this one, or is setting up a framework to clean house.  my bet, they clean house and then they get rid of the ranking system.   Read about the stacking system at Vanity Fair. and their lost decade.


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Google X : Project Genie : Vannevar Technology -> Wants to Change AEC, Change the World

gren buildingsThere seems to be little known about what’s going on at this century’s Xerox PARC, Google X and it’s Project Genie, but a small amount of information was unveiled at ArchDaily.  Google’s commitment to sustainability is apparently going to reach into the AEC industry and possibly trample into Autodesk’s campsite.  While other software firms are hampered by their own internal growth and sales and what they can commit to marketing, (Autodesk wins there) and R & D.  The folks at google, know no such bounds.  The spinoff Vannevar Technology (which sounds suspiciously close to Vandelay Industries,) is working on creating…..who knows. Their website states “Reimagining building design for a more sustainable future.” Which is about as exciting as the 5th slide in a time share deck. However, google has the clout and cash in what can be a very stubborn, hesitant to change,” what are you talking to me ” culture.  Typically the principals in architecture firms don’t care about technology, they have minions to get it done so why invest in software or new tech when my current pricing, business structure, ROI formulas are working and set in stone, plus I don’t like business that much I like designing building so the less I get involved the better.  Engineers will analyze and without comparable metrics to analyze, then…paralyze. Construction managers will embrace tech if it saves the time, which equals money, so time and money but they have to live with the consequences, so embracing new tech….tough crowd.  Which is far from saying that things can’t be done better.

The small bit of copy on the web site rightly touts that buildings, yes buildings produce the most greenhouse gases, 40%, so what is google going to do about it?  Systems, software, construction methods, materials, vertically integrate and go borg on the industry.  My guess is whatever they do, they will be building some buildings with Vannevar Tech for proof of concept and case studies.  My guess it’s got be some integrated design and FM system to produce tangible CO2 / greenhouse gas savings, plus energy savings.  Some have guessed it might be a SketchUp on steroids, but then why did they sell it to Trimble. And who cares about the design process, what part of that is the current lifecycle of a building, very little, I’d want to own the building for most its life, it’s operating life, and want to own the management of it, and the data.  There ya go, so then, IBM and Maixmo, meet google, you might know them.  These are the crazy kids floating balloons for internet access. loon


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3 Myths About Laser Scanning and Point Clouds for Architecture and the Built Environment

Warped curtain

Are laser scanners and their resulting pointclouds right for you and your project?  As with all lists, it is simplified and of my opinion.  Whether you want to trust my opinion, well that’s up to you, but my company Interioreview has, for over a decade, surveyed / drafted / modeled hundreds of buildings and starting in 2006 delivered Revit Models of existing buildings.  My company, PointKnown, has created an Add-In to Revit that allows you capture and model  buildings as you measure, in real time with a hand held laser.   Now that I’ve blown my own horn here are my top 3 Myths:

It’s Foolproof and Error Free.

Wrong.  I have not once received a model from a ‘pointcloud’ surveyor without dimensional errors in the model.  Not once.  Only because of our internal controls and surveying was I able to call out the errors and was not satisfied with other companies internal controls that the errors would have been found if my company had not found them.  Such that we now will do all the modeling in house.  Just because someone has a scanner does not mean they do it well.

From the “Analysis of The Accuracy of Terrestrial Laser Scanning Measurements” FIG (International Federation of Surveyors) Paper

it is concluded that features such as reflectivity, color, and brightness of the  object surfaces have impact on the quality of the data, therefore, although 3D point cloud data is very useful it should be considered that the data can be sometimes irregular and corrupted and thus not exactly reflecting the features of the scanned object.

It’s Easy to Produce a Model From a Pointcloud.

Holy cow, no.  How many technologies come into play to get a scan created, consolidated, registered, exported, modeled? First the hardware/scanner, whether it’s from Leica, Faro, whoever, they have their own software to manage the scan/cloud, and then you can export/import to Revit to use as a background to model over.  You can use other technologies to help with this process such as Scan to BIM, or to cut portions of the pointcloud you can use ReCap, export to Autocad and re-import that data into Revit, etc.  My point being there are a variety of methods to get from here to there but they are not necessarily consistent and have their strength and weaknesses, but you are using human power to make those decisions at each step.  And then you are essentially using the pointcloud to ‘trace’ over.  That is, you cut sections of the pointcloud in what ever view you are working in and trace over them.  Has the person ‘modeling’ the building ever surveyed a building?  Or have construction or architecture experience to know how a building should be put together.  Does the architect really want to see a wall with a .08 degree deflection of wall off 90 degrees because it will create numerous amount of Revit errors, and was it really there or was the pointcloud interpreted incorrectly?  There is no easy button.

It’s Cost Effective

Putting a scanning crew on site for a day is going to cost you between $3K-$4K typically, just to get the exterior of a building, with the pointcloud only, expect at least a 2 day buy in for between $6K and $8K, and that’s typically without going inside, and at the end you get the point cloud, not a Revit model. So a typical house, modeled from a point cloud, inside and out, best guess $8K-$10K.  12 Story Commercial Office Building, $50K+ and so on.  Maybe that’s in your budget, but if so why?  Why would you need to spend thousands of dollars to be told a room is square and has a 10′ ceiling?

Once dealing with the pointcloud, if you are dealing with it yourself, I hope you have a box/computer that is going to have a minimum of 16GB RAM, multicore XEON processor, etc. and ideally has a solid state drive, this is recommended by Autodesk for ‘pointcloud’  interactions.

You as a consumer of this data need to know what technologies are out there, your choices and their cost.  I have seen circumstances and white papers where laser scanning pays dividends many times over, most consistently in existing exposed MEP intensive facilities, think utilities, drilling platforms, power-plants and the like where having a accurate representation of all that data can allow people to retrofit power-plants with few change orders or zero defects.  Imagine an offshore construction platform that can lease for $100′s of thousands a day finishing early because of the accuracy of data, very good investment indeed even if it costs $200K to model it accurately.   However, do you need that kind of data for a commercial building or an adaptive reuse project?  How are you going to capture the interiors?  There are methods to capture the built environment accurately for your needs without wasting money and effort.


Start with the simplest model you need, dimensionally accurate, volumetrically correct using whatever technology that gets you there cost effectively and with a level of confidence.   Adding details to the model should be done dependent on scope and need.  Power-plant of a building, you may want to bring in a scanner to model the piping package, etc.  Accuracy of a historic structure that you may need to impact because of a project, sure scan it, but to scan an entire project is overkill in many circumstances no matter what you are told.  Scan where you need details added.  Know your options.  Your tool box needs more than a hammer.




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Android Everywhere: Toasters, Robots, and Lasers…The World

androidarmySure we want our phone to do everything, make payments, take pictures, unlock our house, turn on the oven….but if you think of all those appliances why don’t they just have a touch screen and create my own button, Jim’s Toast. And if they all can talk to each other, and then tell me when my toast is done.  Why have single use buttons at all, why should I go through fifteen menu options to defrost chicken in my microwave, shouldn’t there be an app for that?  Even better how about a ‘cook chicken’ app that knows what appliance it is running on and then just does the job of cooking the chicken, microwave, oven, toaster oven, crock pot, doesn’t care.

So why, presumably tackle this, on this blog.  In my day to day pitching software as well as services, I get asked in 98% of the meeting, does it run on an ipad, what is your ipad strategy.  It starts to sound like the scene when John Malkovich drops into his own brain in the movie “Being John Malkovich” but instead of the word “Malkovich” being spoken as every word, it’s ipad.  Listen I got an ipad, it’s great at content and information delivery but as much as I’d like to strap it on to a pair of robot legs and have it run the world, it can’t do everything, and in the AEC profession we still need a set of professional tools, but we can certainly learn from the UI experience of the ipad, and its apps, touch interface etc.  And if the iOS was available to stuff on every appliance I’d say iOS everywhere, but it’s not, and Apple long ago made the decision to control their ecosystem.  So Android.

Drilling this down into my day to day I use two hand held devices almost everyday, first it’s my phone, and secondly it’s a laser range finder.  The phone, while not yet making my toast, does an extraordinary amount of work.  My laser, essentially a brick that gives me a critical piece of data.  We have software running on a workstation that takes the data and does good things with it, but the laser itself, not so much.   However, put Android on the laser the User Experience I can give our clients increases exponentially, or at least geometrically.  Instead of looking at a set of single use buttons that we assign sub routines to, we can design an interface that is simplified, elegant, self explanatory.  The laser itself becomes the hand held with wifi, bluetooth.  You can serve information, query data, use it as a walkie talkie on a job sight, etc. granted your not taking it out on the town at night, but during the day this is it.  You put the apps on it that make sense.  Need to capture the volume of a room, assign it a room number and move on, boom done.  All on the hand held.  There is a start to this, with a laser you can strap on the iphone, so somebody is up and thinking, but I don’t have an iphone and the laser/strap on doesn’t have the features and commercial strength I need but on the face of it, great idea.

So Android Everywhere, appliances talking to appliances, cats with dogs, and with Bluetooth Smart Ready, your phone will unlock doors, tell you when your toast is done…just hope google doesn’t serve me an ad after my toast pops up, ‘Wouldn’t You Like Some Smuckers Jam on that Toast”



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Great People, Great Pilot: PKNail Pro and Burns McDonnell #BIM #Revit #Existing #Speed

Burns McDonnell I was told was tasked with capturing the existing conditions of numerous buildings for the VA.  They had first seen PKNail Pro demonstrated at the the KC RUG (Kansas City Revit User Group) by Seiler Instrument and wanted to learn more.  I flew down for the pilot on Sunday night.  In office training Monday, on site at Leavenworth VA Tuesday and Wednesday. We were to compare two technologies, head to head for capturing existing conditions.  I was excited for the opportunity but also to learn about new field technologies, and while I have horse in this race and want it to win, I realize there needs to be more tools for everyone to assist in this often overlooked yet critical task.

Burns had gone through the process of scanning/converting/drafting a Revit model from existing drawing, brought CAD files created from the model to the field, and were running tablets that could take pictures and allow you to draft directly in the CAD so the model could be updated later with that data.  My team was running Revit Architecture, PKNail Pro on standard laptops, on a tripod outside, AV cart inside.  My team, within the first 90 minutes had created the entire shell of the hospital with customized windows/doors/openings and all floor levels, and within those same 90 minutes the Burns McDonnell team had decided to go with the PKNail Pro.

There is no rocket science involved, there is creating improved work flows, using the right technology, and having the personnel committed to doing the job, with Burns McDonnel we had all three.  They had to learn a new technology, incorporate field surveying techniques, and learn a new way to do things.  That is a lot to heap on a team in three days, yet they were up and running creating a Revit model, when on Tuesday morning all they had was a blank Revit screen.

I have never claimed PKNail Pro as a cure all for every circumstance, and as a company I have used Pointclouds (more on that later) to capture difficult and hard to reach geometry, but you need to have as many tools at your disposal as possible and I will argue that PKNail Pro that allows you to measure and model directly in the field will give you speed gains you never thought possible.

Thanks Burns McDonnell for the opportunity, and thanks Steve, Vicky, Jeff, Thomas, Mary, Dave and Brian for your work ethic, your hospitality and your willingness to try something new.

Give me a call or email to learn more.


sales (at) pointknown.com





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Freezing the Federal Footprint #gsa #bim

redtapeThe Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management meets this morning to discuss ‘Freezing the Federal Footprint’.  This comes from an Office of Management and Budget memorandum that stated “ all Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act Executive Branch departments and agencies (agencies) shall not increase the total  square footage of their domestic office and warehouse inventory compared to the FY 2012 baseline.”  

The memorandum also states that “Each agency should work collaboratively with other agencies and GSA to find opportunities for smarter space usage through co-locations and consolidations.”  Ha ha ha, woooha, maybe it doesn’t mean anything, and I can’t say how much power a memorandum has vs. an office action, vs. an order but certainly can effect those depending on the largess of the GSA for a living.  One wonders if the GSA ever moved forward with the GSA BIM IDIQ, that could have given them a solid assessment of properties they have etc. BTW did anyone ever make a dime off that?  I found out the hard way that getting the award and having it funded are tow different things, so I guess it looks good in a frame.


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Architectural, Engineering, and Related services: Top 5 Fastest Growing Industry For Small Business

GrowthA recent article in Entrepreneur Magazine, has Architectural  Engineering and related services in the Top 5 Growth Industries for Small Business with growth pegged at 11.4%, #1 was Residential Building Construction.   Now this has to be year to year growth but that factor was not mentioned in the article.  It also is not so surprising considering the complete ass kicking these industries saw 2008-2010.  However, it is encouraging because if the AE portion of AEC is busy, and stands to reason Construction is either in lockstep or not far behind.  And this AEC ship is a big one and carries lots of people.


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