While we may not realize it, 3-D imaging is part of our daily lives. Every time we access Google Maps for directions to a new destination, for example, we are employing 3-D imaging. This same technology—or a variation of it, laser mapping—is now available for use by architects and engineers for surveying building conditions and exterior elevations, which then can be integrated into building information models.

Building information modeling (BIM) is used to cultivate and foster a client’s vision. With laser mapping, the effectiveness of BIM can be enhanced. Benefits of laser mapping include expedition of a design team’s efforts, field-investigation time savings, increased accuracy of field data with definition of actual location, reduced safety risk (personnel do not have to climb ladders or reach around equipment), and further development of client electronic files of existing conditions. One of the most significant benefits is that engineers can spend their time more effectively, addressing actual engineering issues, rather than drafting issues. Yet despite these advantages, many design professionals shy away from laser mapping because of a lack of understanding of what it is and how to incorporate it into a project.

With 3-D laser mapping, laser beams rapidly scan the shapes of objects, and the time for the beams to travel to each point on the objects is calculated. From this scan, point clouds—data points that each are given an “X,” “Y,” and “Z” coordinate—are developed. The more beams projected in a given area and time frame (density), the more defined an image will be, resulting in a better end product. Density can be varied based on how detailed the survey needs to be, along with how many target points are used. Density and number of target points correlate directly to the cost of a scan. The use of 3-D laser mapping, along with increased computer power, is making imaging technology more effective, more precise, and more usable across platforms.Point cloud from a laser scan3-D model