What Mobile 3D Scanning Means for Design and Architecture

The mobile 3d scanning revolution is here, and it will change the way we design and construct buildings forever. You’ve probably all seen or heard of the blk360 or the blk2go. They’re amazing pieces of tech and definitely have their use cases for certain projects. The high degree of accuracy projects, where precision is needed without compromise.

The issue is these scanners are 18k and 60k to enter the mobile realm. It’s out of reach for most people. The compromise is the lidar-equipped iPhone. It’s affordable, relatively, and always in your pocket. Just like with photography there are amazing cameras out there that can do lots of great things with but the best camera is the one you have with you. Most of us keep our cell phones with us all the time.

This mobile phone lidar scanner is already capable of some amazing things. Scanning a room or objects. Have your space digitally captured right there on the screen as you scan. There are software platforms that will then take those scans and create 2d floor plans or even SketchUp models for you.

This saves an immense amount of time. I believe it’s the next generation of construction documentation, which used to be done with photographs can now be done with accurate to scale models. Models which allow you to pull dimensions and confirm a number of different details.

The iPhone is not without its issues though. There are still some limitations to the scanner, like range and accuracy at larger scales for example. With the iPhone you are looking at around 15–20 feet. Although companies like Everypoint are experimenting with photogrammetry in combination with lidar to increase the range and resolution.

Photogrammetry is a way to make 3D models by taking lots of pictures. You take lots of pictures with your mobile phone or camera and then the software will put all the pieces together. What Everypoint is doing is taking those photos and combining them with data scanned from the lidar to create more complete models. Typically photogrammetry models are not scaled models. They are meshes that are relative in scale to the other objects in the scene but they don’t have real-world dimensions. By combining Lidar and Photogrammetry you get models with lots of clarity tied to real-world dimensions.

What does this mean for design? It means we can take existing buildings or spaces, scan them in an afternoon, and have a detailed model to use as our base to work from instead of just guessing what something looks like based on old floor plans or drawings. This is huge! With mobile scanning you can quickly create accurate models. As I mentioned before the phone is still a phone. It can only do so much at this point is it is important to still confirm dimensions on site. For this, I will typically use a laser to grab the overall dimensions.

Even with this quick lasering of the space you save time capturing the areas, and have the added benefit of being able to look back on areas after you have left the project. So this serves as a great tool for early design stages but also has it’s place in construction.

The use of mobile lidar devices allows for a more collaborative process between owners, architects, and contractors. Mobile scans can be taken of areas in the field to help explain the concept to the team. It can be used to understand conflicts and overcome those challenges with more complete information. How many times have you been asked to solve a conflict in the field with only one bad photograph?

As a designer, you can take advantage of technology that was previously cost-prohibitive for most people, but now has reached a point where it’s accessible without breaking the bank. It’s also interesting to see how many people don’t realize the power of the phone in their pocket. Have a conflict in the field. Scan the area and grasp the full understanding of the structural relationships and how to resolve them. You’re working with more information. You’re more likely going to come up with a better more reasonable solution.

Mobile lidar scanning devices are currently reaching the market at affordable prices that will allow for their widespread adoption across design and construction teams. This means that mobile scanners will soon become standard equipment for every designer, architect, engineer, contractor, etc.

For example: I was recently working on an addition to an existing building. The addition was going to be added to the south of the existing structure. Possibly in the way was a transformer and several trees. Before even getting a surveyor on board we were able to quickly determine the impacts on the transformer location and the adjacent trees without extensive measurements on-site.

Mobile scanners work pretty well outside, although some apps are better than others. The lidar system works off of sending light bounces off objects. Because of that, it can be difficult on extremely bright days. But after several exterior tests, I found that Polycam app performs the best under those conditions so it is usually my go-to for exterior captures.

Polycam can also be used in order to create models for interior design projects. It’s ideal for renovation projects. Because it is so fast and simple you could meet your client and discuss the project then quickly scan the space before you leave the meeting. This allows you to get started with the design when you are ready without having to schedule another meeting to have the home measured.

Scan an area of the home that they wish to renovate, and then create a digital twin model of that space. From there you could either start sketching over the scaled model or start to build a more refined 3d SketchUp or Revit model from that scan. You can capture the space but also capture any particular items they want to make sure get incorporated. Maybe a dining table or special piece of furniture or artwork. It’s awesome for quickly grabbing dimensions of objects like those.

These are some of the many benefits that come from mobile scanners and lidar technology. They are affordable, mobile, lightweight, and extremely powerful. The widespread adoption of mobile scanners across the design field will change everything for designers and architects around the world.

What do you think? Is mobile lidar something you would use with your project team, or onsite throughout construction?