Challenges for 3D mapping

Feb 2020 | No Comment

From controlling project timeframes and cost consumption, to sustainability and overcrowding, SLAM (Simultaneous Localization And Mapping) technology has become a powerhouse for progression in developing economies

Graham Hunter


Although awareness of SLAM (Simultaneous Localization And Mapping) technology is at a very nascent state in some countries such as India, mapping technology itself has been particularly influential in the decisionmaking process and management of various built environments. From controlling project timeframes and cost consumption, to sustainability and overcrowding, this technology has become a powerhouse for progression in developing economies.

Mapping a challenging landscape

Among other factors, the biggest hurdle for leaders of developing economies is to complete projects within promised deadlines and budgets. While this is a frequent obstacle for most countries around the world, the implications of underbudgeting and forecasting an unachievable timeline in a developing economy could be significantly detrimental, wasting materials, labour and, in some cases, bringing projects to a complete halt. As India’s government seeks to improve its population’s standard of living, the country is undergoing enormous infrastructure development works in order to meet the demand of the rising population. The scale of the country means it also has the second largest railway network in the world, and the government is working to electrify the entire network in order to bring the benefits of the latest technological innovations to the economy.

Implementing these changes however is a challenge in itself, because of the country’s diverse and challenging physical geography, which spans 3,287km2 across a broad range of terrains. Much of the country’s existing infrastructure including bridges and roads, which were built during the nineteenth century, are no longer fit for purpose.

Overcoming skills shortages

India Today recently reported that over 80 per cent of Indian engineers are unemployable, citing a lack of newage technology skills and an absence of fundamental training. It also stated that only three per cent of engineers have skills and knowledge in areas that are booming, including AI, machine learning, data science and mobile development.

Combatting these skills shortages, GeoSLAM’s method of data collection can be performed by anyone, from inexperienced junior staff to senior construction workers through its easyto- use mapping solution. Individuals do not require any additional skills to operate the devices, enabling the project to continue with no hold ups.

Pushing a ‘mega city’ to its limits

The overcrowded city of Mumbai for example, which houses roughly 22 million people, is the fourth most populated city in the world, coined India’s largest ‘mega city’. Pushed to its limits through poor city planning, its residents are suffering at cramped railway stations, office buildings and roadsides. The situation became so bad, that in 2013 the state minister for housing backed calls for another new city to be constructed 50 miles away in Uran, to spread the load.

Several versatile devices capable of being used as a handheld device as well as being mounted onto a vehicle and an UAV, will enable city planners to access a clear, aerial view of the ground beneath, providing an indication of severely overcrowded areas of a city or locations of interest for future infrastructure, in order to avoid future mismanagement.

To tackle the housing crisis, GeoSLAM teams visited India in 2016 to help support the redevelopment of slum housing, as part of the Prime Minister Housing Scheme (Pradhan Mantri Aawas Yojna PMAY).

The scheme, which aimed to build 20 million low-cost homes by 2022, involved demolishing collapsing slums and setting out plans to create new homes, which were better fit for purpose.

Managing the built environment

Unlike the UK, bridges in India are not inspected every year and so many problems with infrastructure go unnoticed. Mounted onto an UAV or simple backpack solution, the Horizon for example can map the current state, movement and predicted decline of a structure, as well as rapidly demonstrating where improvements are needed to ensure stability.

We’re also working with more other Asian countries like Singapore and Malaysia, as they drive to become ‘smart’, and, like India, tackle the increasing number of people moving to ‘mega cities’ in search of a better way of life. Mega cities need to be mapped out, managed and maintained carefully in order to properly cater to the masses.

Costa Rica, a country, which has recently witnessed steady economic growth, has also turned to the latest technology to assist with rising population rates and the increase in deforestation. Monitoring systems have been used by city planners and non-governmental organisations to map areas of the country’s built environment to locate where people have built illegal properties, and as a way to monitor sustainable forest management.

This technology will enable governments and city planners to enforce planning models into cities, ensuring dangerous situations such as these don’t occur again. This might include mapping areas for potential development of businesses and apartments; reducing the rate of deforestation and organising new networks for a streamlined transport system and installing fibre-optic cables so that everyone is fully connected.

UAVs flying high

From delivering life-saving medicine, to mapping and monitoring sites for refugee camps, UAVs have huge potential for helping developing economies.

Although their benefits are proven, their reputation for causing disruption in the air precedes them. However in my opinion, the effect of drone-captured data and a drone’s ability to deliver drugs to remote or hard-to-access areas, far outweigh any concerns that people may have. If restrictions on drone technology were relaxed, then perhaps more countries and citizens across the world would experience the benefits that come with these systems.

Democratising 3D information

I would predict that we are going to see more rapid data capture. We live in a ‘3D plus’ society that historically has proven hard to capture.

For us, what we’re doing is democratising to the world the ability to have 3D information at your fingertips. This data is no longer in the domain of surveyors or companies selling expensive high-end equipment – it’s there for anyone to access. The real challenge though, is how to interpret and manage that data.

With the demand for capturing data on the rise, more devices are entering the market with a focus on accessibility and ease-of-use. As more data is created, the need for managing that information and providing useful insights quicker, will be on the increase.

Data is also being shared more frequently too, from construction sites to head offices across the world, putting more emphasis on the importance of managing results so that that data can be interpreted in a meaningful way.

New workflow software’s are being developed that will be able to manage the vast amounts of data that will be generated, then to automate the processing and communication of that data. It will also be a platform for data to be backed up and stored in the right place, so that it can be accessed from anywhere in the world.

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