How spatial technology is revolutionising planning, construction and development

Every long-standing homeowner has had the experience of waiting for tradesmen to appear on time for a measure and quote.

Well, what if in the future, you could take a video with your phone and tradesmen could accurately design and cost a solution in 3D without stepping a foot onto your property?

Wait no more.

To go with DJI’s recent LiDAR carrying drone, the latest iPhone 12 now includes a depth-scanning LiDAR sensor. This puts into everyday hands the ability to capture an accurate and measurable 3D model of what stands before you.

You may have seen Apple’s keynote, but imagine you could capture the rooms in your home as simply as capturing a video. In full 3D.

Since the LiDAR-equipped iPads and iPhones have debuted, a handful of apps have emerged offering 3D scanning and augmented reality that can blend meshed-out maps of spaces with virtual objects — which can be useful for home design and renovation.



depth-scanning LiDAR sensor


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depth-scanning LiDAR sensor

Accurate 3D models from the palm of your hand.

Occipital’s Canvas app on the iPhone 12 Pro can scan an ordinary room in 3D so accurately that it can be converted to workable CAD models.

It is not just revolutionary for indoor home trades and renovation. The wider urban construction industry is estimated to waste more than $1 billion per year in travel time in Australia alone. This is before counting the costs of regional and remote area management, plus ancillary expenses on vehicles and fuel.

We are also beginning to see wider community benefits for government planning bodies and climate change, with the mapping of large-scale changes in natural resources, such as water bodies and native vegetation, and even handling remote infrastructure, such as road decay and other utilities.

Only recently, with widespread damage from the recent bushfires in Australia, LiDAR aerial imagery provided a pivotal leapfrog moment in government efforts to assess the scale of destruction and environmental impact remotely. It would otherwise have taken years to carry out physical assessments with huge margins of error and an inability to target help and resources for where it is needed most.

The concept of LiDAR has been around since the 1960s, in the era when it seemed that all futuristic tech came out of either the military or NASA space programs. It was pushed along as part of the Apollo 15 mission to map the surface of the moon.

In short, the scanner works by firing out laser beams, which times how quickly they bounce off objects and return, which enables a 3D environment to be mapped.

With LiDAR now finding its way into everyday devices, and large swathes of aerial imagery already accessible from providers such as Nearmap and Metromap, the technology cost is coming down and on its way to commoditisation.

We are only at the tip of the innovation cycle.



a close up of a speaker


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Aerial imagery and LiDAR is already heavily used by many within the planning, property development and construction industries, but we are only on the cusp of commoditisation of the space.

Real transformation of business practices today is picking up pace as other industries discover new use-cases.

I heard of one recently whereby aerial imagery and measurement was included in an events planning platform.

After speaking this year with many planning, construction, development and ACE technology professionals, I’ve learnt high definition imagery and measurement data have unearthed dozens of time-saving applications that can reduce countless site visits and otherwise un-economic efforts to measure, count or visit.

We can take a single piece of urban sprawl-affected land, and track it through the development to homeowner lifecycle over 10 years. From initial government planning policy through to home renovations, there are more than 25 time-saving use-cases, with more than 100 different applications.

“The quality and accuracy allows remote design which significantly reduces field surveying requirements during feasibility and concept design project phases,” said James Paull, the geospatial team leader at Jacobs.

It could be something as simple as landscapers quoting on design and construct, or property developers using AI overlays to identify appropriate blocks of land for acquisition.

Construction managers can plan from their desks to work out if a crane to be brought on-site has sufficient swing room. Developers may resolve disputes with sub-contractors by using the historical overlays to show when work began.

The AI has now improved to the point where automatic identification and measurement at scale is occurring: pools, solar panels, trees, road impacts. Even the novelty of general new construction areas to inform roaming food and coffee vans.

The technology has recently spread further downs the property lifecycle, with leading international real estate firm, JLL, launching a ‘3D Virtual Leasing Map’.

This experience gives prospective office tenants a virtual alternative to an initial physical inspection, speeding up the time it takes to shortlist potential premises.

“Our Sydney leasing team has been using virtual inspection technology to cater for a growing online audience as part of the shortlisting process for occupiers. All it takes is booking in a video call with a prospective tenant, and you are able to follow a similar journey to the in-person experience, all within a 15-minute meeting,” said JLL’s head of Sydney CBD leasing Will Hamilton.

So whether it is home renovation or larger-scale space-scanning, spatial technology is rapidly changing the way we do business, the way we plan and manage our communities, our cities and our natural resources.

Well beyond the normal headlines of creating virtual twins for gaming purposes!

This article was first published on Medium and has been republished with permission.

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