GeoSLAM began in 2012 as a joint venture with Australia's National Science Agency (CSIRO). Today, the company provides 3D mobile mapping primarily oriented toward surveying for architecture and building information modeling (BIM) indoors that depends upon geo-referenced modeling with high accuracy. 3D Visualization World Magazine interviewed Richard Betts, CEO at GeoSLAM to learn about the company, technology and some of the many projects this company has been involved in.
3DVW: How did you become interested in indoor mapping and 3D related measurement? What prompted the formation of GeoSLAM?
RB: GeoSLAM was formed in 2012 as a joint venture between CSIRO (Australia’s national science agency and the inventors of WiFi) and a UK-based investor. CSIRO had developed a very robust 3D SLAM (Simultaneous Localisation And Mapping) algorithm for mobile, indoor mapping, which they wanted to commercialise.
The company first came to my attention when I was approached by Odgers global recruitment in September 2016. I immediately saw the huge potential in this company, and was impressed by the company’s growth and increasing market presence in just 4 short years. I came onboard as GeoSLAM’s CEO in January 2017.
3DVW: What does GeoSLAM do? Can you describe the service that you offer?
RB: GeoSLAM provides rapid, easy to use and versatile mobile mapping solutions. Since our products don’t rely on GPS for accurate positioning and mapping, our scanners are regularly used for indoor and underground applications, such as building surveys, cave and mine mapping. But our technology is also perfectly suited to outdoor, GPS-poor environments – such as forests and building exterior scans in urban canyons, for example. There’s two elements to our offering – the hardware and the software. Our scanners are compact, lightweight and operational within 2 button pushes – so can be used by anyone. Our software is just as user-friendly and comes in 2 versions – a cloud-based and a desktop-based, to suits the various needs of our client base.
3DVW: Where are your products and services being used, can you share a few examples with us?
RB: In a word, globally. GeoSLAM has a network of almost 50 distributors in over 35 territories worldwide. We sell to a wide range of market sectors, including surveyors, mining corporations, architects, construction and civil engineering, foresters – the list goes on.
Recently, GeoSLAM technology has been used to survey an historic gatehouse in England, a 9000m2 depot in Turkey (in under 1 hour), a cave system in the Pennines, a 14,000m2 office building in France, greenhouses both old (Kew Gardens, London) and new (The Eden Project, Cornwall, UK) and many more besides. A satisfied US customer Archidata Inc. recently announced on Twitter how they had carried out over 1,200 scans since April 2016, and described the technology as a ‘game-changer’.
3DVW: How important is 3D and visualization to the work you do? Why?
RB: 3D data is vital to GeoSLAM, and increasingly so to our customers. We live in a 3-dimensional world, which is becoming ever more designed and urban. As this built environment becomes ever more complex, traditional 2-dimensional data such as paper plans and elevations is simply not up to the task. Architects, contractors and engineers are demanding intelligent data that is current, quick to obtain, and representative of the real world – 3D. As we move towards a more intelligent, more integrated, BIM-focused methodology, 3D data will become the norm. At GeoSLAM, we are preparing for that future.
3DVW: Many of our readers are directly interested in 3D measurement technology and applications, they come from many industries. Can you explain why indoor mapping is important and what benefits different industries might expect from its use?
RB: Whilst outdoor mapping technology has seen a huge amount of progress in the last 20 years (Lidar, GPS, terrestrial laser scanners) indoor mapping has lagged behind – surveyors often still resort to a tape measure (low accuracy) or laser Distometer (time consuming). Yet indoor mapping is just as vital as outdoor. In the developed world, we spent up to 90% of our time inside buildings, and the spaces we create are becoming ever more complex and sophisticated. Therefore, the ability to accurately map and understand these spaces is crucial. Indoor mobile mapping can be utilized at all stages of a building’s lifetime – at the initial build stage, to check that the situation on the ground matches the design, during the building’s use, as a tool for rapid asset management, and, at the end of a building’s life, for renovation and redevelopment purposes.
3DVW: What do you see as the main challenges for those interested in indoor mapping?
RB: The biggest and most obvious downfall for indoor mapping is a lack of GPS, immediately rendering satellite-dependent technology impractical. This is where GeoSLAM’s technology comes into its own. The common challenges facing many of our customers are limited time on site, and occupied facilities. Luckily, both of these challenges are overcome using a GeoSLAM scanner. Take the case of a recent customer in the UK, who needed to survey a residential care home for redevelopment. Time on site was extremely limited and disruption to residents had to be kept to a minimum. The customer opted for a GeoSLAM ZEB-REVO, considered to be the only tool that could do the job in the timeframe allowed, whilst causing minimum disturbance. The entire 3-storey building, 30-plus room survey was completed in just 30 minutes, to an accuracy level of 15mm +/-, well within the accepted tolerances for an as-built survey.
3DVW: GeoSLAM is noted for software applications as well. Can you tell us about the software side and the products you offer? Why is software so important in this kind of work?
RB: The SLAM algorithm and the processing software are at the heart of what we do. The 3D data registration happens in two stages – local registration and global registration. The local process happens throughout the scan – every few seconds, the scanner is comparing the data collected with the last few seconds, and aligning familiar features together. But the global registration is what happens after the scan, and for this, you need our processing software.
We provide two ways to carry out global registration – either a pay-as-you-go upload (GeoSLAM Cloud), or a desktop based system (GeoSLAM Desktop). Clients can choose the processing option that best fits their business model. Whilst the cloud uploader is suitable for non-regular users, GeoSLAM Desktop allows unlimited data processing, and can be done whilst out in the field.
3DVW: As we speak about the topic of indoor mapping, obviously, the next questions is: How do mobility tools and applications include results from GeoSLAM technologies? Can a client use other platforms with your technology?
RB: We have a number of OEM agreements with partner organisations who are using our SLAM algorithm. In spring 2016 we partnered with US-based Basis Software Inc. to develop a highly-accurate mobile mapping system. The project involved the collaboration of Basis hardware (the Surphaser 10 laser scanner) and GeoSLAM’s real-time SLAM registration software to create SurphSLAM. The trolley-based system is capable of real time scan and registration at a speed of 1m/s, with sub-centimetre accuracy achievable. It can also transition between indoors and outdoors seamlessly, with no downtime.
Later the same year, we partnered with another US-based partner, Blackdog Robotics, who design and manufacture modular robotic platforms. Our SLAM technology and a modified ZEB-REVO were incorporated into Blackdog’s remote-operated vehicles, enabling rapid 3D mapping in hazardous or dangerous locations. The beauty of this system is that the REVO can be initialised and de-initialised remotely, with no physical contact, enabling personnel to remain at a safe distance, and to ensure no redundant data is collected.
3DVW: Is there a link between robotics and GeoSLAM technology? Can you describe this please.
RB: SLAM technology was born in the robotics industry – so there is a strong link indeed. SLAM was originally designed for use by autonomous vehicles, in order to simultaneously map and navigate an unknown environment. CSIRO noticed that this robotics SLAM could be modified, to focus more on the 3D measurement and mapping of the environment, rather than autonomous navigation. When considering the involvement of partners such as Blackdog, it seems that we have come full circle - a SLAM algorithm originally developed for the robotics industry is now being used in a mobile scanning unit mounted upon a robotic platform.
3DVW: Can you explain the benefits of high quality, 3D indoor mapping and why it matters?
RB: As mentioned before, 3D indoor mapping is a huge growth area – especially when using laser scanning as the mapping method. According to a recent Point of Beginning study, the top growth sectors for laser mapping are Architecture & BIM.
The benefits are real and numerous. Accurate and current building plans are crucial for the successful delivery of a construction project – whether it be a new build or refurbishment. Mobile, indoor mapping can be utilized to quickly scan and collect data throughout a building’s development. Once a project is completed, a 3D scan of the finished article can be used to produce 2D as-built drawings, or, increasingly, a 3D BIM model. Such models can be used throughout a building’s lifetime, for asset management, for building modification, and for redevelopment. When utilizing a versatile, rapid mobile mapper – such projects can be completed with minimum disruption, minimum time, and therefore, reduced costs.
Richard Betts is an energetic and enthusiastic business leader, specialising in the nurture and growth of businesses in the technology sector. He has a proven track record as a CEO – performing a management buy-out of software firm Mettoni taking it to a successful exit. Richard has had several successes including expanding companies from UK to global businesses whilst increasing profits by over 400%, as well as the successful acquisition and sale of over 8 other technology companies, in both the UK and USA.
For more information: GeoSLAM