Throughout the lifecycle of a building there are many points where a high quality reality capture can provide real value. NCTech uses a ColourCloud algorithm to blend images and 3D data from LASiris VR. 3D Visualization World interviewed Cameron Ure, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder at NCTech to learn more about innovative technology and services the company provides.
3DVW: Could you tell us how you personally became involved and interested in work that involves imaging and visualization? What initiated your involvement in NCTech?
CU: Neil Tocher and I worked together prior to NCTech, delivering imaging services with a focus on real-estate. That was prior to the 2007 market crash. We set up NCTech to bring products to industrial and other markets where we could see there was a growing need for high-quality, automated 360-degree imaging.
3DVW: NCTech produces both hardware and software solutions. Can you briefly explain your product focus, and describe the relationship of the hardware to the software?
CU: Sure, hardware can be considered the foundation of the capture capability, but the software layer is really critical to how people access and interact with hardware. We have a strong emphasis on democratization and automation, enabling people who are non-experts do things that otherwise are in the exclusive domain of technical experts. That requires a total solution, hardware and software, both at the algorithmic level, to ensure people get good outputs irrespective of raw capture input, and also at the UI level to make the products easy to use with minimal training and expertise required.
We also recognize that we operate in technology ecosystems where people tend to resist adopting technologies that are not interconnected with other things they want to use. We have an open-integration emphasis and release SDKs for all our products to enable core functions to be driven from within other platforms.
3DVW: I was immediately interested to see the cameras NCTech produces. Please tell us more about the LASiris VR 3D Reality Capture Camera. What is it used for, why is it valuable? Are there a few examples you can share with us where this camera is used?
CU: We developed LASiris VR to support the democratization of virtual reality, with a solution for capturing high quality, long-range capture of real-world spaces. Our current user base are typically involved in survey, AEC and GIS applications. With LASiris VR being based on LIDAR technology, it is naturally going to be of interest to these guys too, but for different reasons than their use of ‘traditional’ terrestrial laser scanning.
As a simple example, throughout the lifecycle of a building there are many points where a high quality reality capture can provide real value. From early phase project planning for space utilization and planning approvals, to providing quality visual information for construction companies to bid. Also during the construction process for project monitoring and contract compliance, for building maintenance and condition monitoring during use, and right through to demolition planning at the end of the life of the building.
Of course, a survey grade laser scanner with HDR capability
could produce these assets, however we can see there are real limitations in terms of equipment cost and also time and capability of capture which is restricting adoption. The LASiris VR can address this.
3DVW: Just a short while ago we learned about the COLOURCLOUD solution. Does that relate to the above camera? Can you explain the relationship please?
CU: ColourCloud is a complex algorithm implemented in software that enables us to accurately apply our HDR imaging (from our iSTAR panoramic camera) to point clouds from other laser scanner manufacturers. This meant scanner operators could benefit from iSTAR’s 20-second HDR capture rather than waiting several minutes, as can be the case with some terrestrial scanner’s internal HDR cameras. We use the same ColourCloud algorithm to blend our own images and 3D data from LASiris VR. This means any ColourCloud integrated software will also be automatically integrated with LASiris VR, and be able to read in our raw data.
3DVW: NCTech also markets the iStar and iris360 Pro cameras. What differentiates these products? Would a customer choose one over the other for a specific application or are there other considerations?
CU: There is some overlap between iSTAR and iris360 Pro in terms of HDR imaging applications and also their ability to be used with our ColourCloud and Measurement Module applications, however iSTAR remains the camera of choice for those needing rugged machined aluminum housing and IP64 rated use.
3DVW: It seems that panoramic and 360 degree imaging is still new for many of our audience of infrastructure professionals and 3D visualization specialists. Can you explain why 360 and or panoramic imaging is useful? Are these images geo-referenced and can they be used in surveying, building information modeling (BIM) and other geospatial related activities?
CU: There is a real potential to be unlocked by 360-degree imaging for any business that can potentially benefit from ‘in-context imaging’. It is commonplace to take a huge amount of site photography, but these images don’t have any inherent context in relation to each other so are not always that useful. A 360-degree photo is the most basic form of virtual reality - it gives the ability to put the viewer back in the position of the camera at time of capture so is therefore the perfect low-cost site documentation tool. The images can be geo-referenced or simply ‘pinned’ into floor plans or aerial images.
We are seeing an increasing number of simple to use and low-cost software solutions providing this capability - Spherevision and Holobuilder are a couple of examples. They are currently leading the game from a solution software perspective compared to the larger dedicated BIM platforms, who we would love to see implementing this capability also, as it could add a lot of value to what they do.
3DVW: As we understand it, the Immersive Studio software is used for processing imagery. What kinds of things can it accomplish? Could it be used with any imagery, or is it required to use a NCTech hardware product with the software?
CU: Immersive Studio is currently our 360-degree image processing software, however we will also be incorporating our ColourCloud functions for the LASiris VR data processing. Immersive Studio only works with the calibrated captures from NCTech products, so it’s not possible to use other camera sources.
3DVW: Why would someone want to colourize a point cloud? Can these processed images then be imported into design software like AutoCAD, Dassault Systems or MicroStation? How about geographic information system (GIS) related software?
CU: Simply, a colorized point cloud gives a better visual representation of the scene. Standard data formats such as E57 incorporate color so any software that reads in these files can benefit from what we are delivering from LASiris VR and also iSTAR colorized point clouds from third-party scanners.
3DVW: It also seems that NCTech is at the forefront of integrating highly quality 3D imagery with augmented reality or VR technology. Can you explain what you are involved in on that front please?
CU: This is a really exciting space and a key part of our motivation for developing this product. There are many applications outside of the survey and engineering space which also can benefit from reality capture, however their priorities are very different to the current typical terrestrial laser scanner user. Key to these applications is the simplicity and automation of capture and processing to produce VR/AR environments.
3DVW: Many of our readers are directly 3D and visualization focused and are interested to becoming more ‘digital’ in their workflows across many industries. Can you briefly explain why they should consider to learn more about NCTech and why it might help them?
CU: We have some great capture tools with unique value propositions, and this is a great start, but I think the real difference we can provide is our flexible and dynamic approach to working with others in the ecosystem to create synergistic solutions which return maximum customer value. We are very keen to speak with people looking for new ways to do things where we can contribute. If that’s you, please get in touch!
Cameron Ure is Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder at NCTech. With a powerful track record for entrepreneurialism, innovation and with over 20 years extensive business experience, Cameron co-founded NCTech in 2010. Cameron’s background is in the publishing sector and media sector and he has worked within the panoramic industry for over 15 years pioneering the use of 360 imaging across multiple sectors. As an experienced innovator and marketer, Cameron drives the company's strategic approach to making NCTech a global leader in innovation.