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Nine Major Benefits of Using Handheld Lidar

Posted by Sean Higgins on 1/16/20 10:15 AM

When handheld lidar scanners entered the market, the industry started to ask the usual questions: Will they replace the documentation tools I already use? Will buying one make me want to sell my terrestrial lidar and laser disto?

The short answer is: no, these tools are not going to make the rest of your technology obsolete. However, these handheld lidar scanners will make an undoubtedly powerful addition to your toolset.

Here are nine reasons you should consider a handheld lidar scanner.


1. You can leave the tripod

The primary benefit of handheld lidar scanners is that they scan as you move at a normal walking speed. No more setting up the scanner on the tripod, leaving the room, scanning, coming back in, moving the scanner to the next location, and repeating, over, and over, and over again.

This benefit seems simple, but the effects on your workflow, budget, and timeline can be huge.

2. You can capture and analyze more complex spaces than before

The first effect is that you'll have a lot more flexibility about what kinds of spaces you can capture.

Just a few examples: You can easily bring your handheld lidar into small, enclosed spaces where you couldn't even fit a tripod. You can can capture the entire exterior of a building in one go, or even remove a ceiling tile and stick your scanner up above the ceiling to get the whole picture of a space.

As a result of enabling you to capture spaces you couldn't get into before, you will also be able to analyze those spaces. That means data, and answers, that you've never had before.

3. You can do the same work in less time, with fewer people

UK-based general contractor nmcn recently performed a head-to-head test. They captured a 57-meter wide complex of buildings with a PX-80 handheld lidar, while a team of service providers captured the same set of buildings with terrestrial scanners and laser distos.

Here's how each capture worked out:

  • Handheld scanner
    • Employees: 1
    • Total field hours: 4
  • Tripod-based scanner and distos
    • Employees: 2
    • Total field hours: 32

Quick math says the handheld lidar was 8X faster. Accounting for all related costs, nmcn determined that the handheld scanner was 10X less expensive.

Still feeling skeptical? For more details on this project, check out our case study in our resource portal. Or read about nmcn's test over at AEC Bytes.


4. Handheld lidar can be used by anyone

It's true that using a point cloud to its full potential requires training and expertise, no matter what tool you use to get the data. But when you use a handheld lidar, capturing the point cloud itself is easier than ever before. It's designed to be easy to operate, and gives real-time feedback on the scan as you capture it. You can have anyone on your team perform the scan—even the intern.

Here's how easy it is:

  • Press a button to turn it on.
  • Put it in the holster.
  • Walk around your asset (our customer experience team recommends moving like you’re a big truck—it’s weird, but effective).
  • Use the iPad app to stop the scan and let the scanner process the data
  • Congratulations, you’ve captured an asset!

One of our customers summed it up well: “If you can walk, you can scan.”

5. You'll get photos and colored point clouds automatically

A handheld lidar scanner can be of the simplest, most cost-effective way to capture 3D lidar data and color photography at the same time.

Where capturing color imagery with a tripod-based scanner requires buying an external camera (and performing an extra processing step), some handheld lidar scanners include a built-in camera and do this job automatically. 

That means two things:

  • You will have pictures to refer to when you are modeling on top of the point cloud.
    There are endless uses. For instance, making a floor plan and need to know which way a door opens? Pull up the photo for a fast answer.

  • The scanner will produce a colorized point cloud. 
    The lidar points and the color imagery are merged together to make the final data look photorealistic. This makes it much easier to discern elements in the scan data, like walls, columns, cars, trees, and so on.

    See below for a good example of a photo, and the colorized point cloud.

colorized point cloud

6. You can take on bigger projects

With a handheld lidar, you can move through spaces so much faster and get the work done with a small amount of untrained people in the field. That brings another benefit: You can take on bigger projects than you could have managed with tripod-based scanning.

Our customer AkitaBox, which offers floor-plan generation services for customers who want to get into the company's innovative FM software, says they wouldn't have been able to scale their services for larger assets if it weren't for handheld lidar.

Co-founder Josh Lowe put it even more succinctly: "If it wasn’t as easy to scan as it is with this SLAM-based handheld lidar, we wouldn’t be able to get the price point down to where it’s a no-brainer for bigger customers to say, Yeah, I really want that information, let’s go get it.”

Read more about AkitaBox's floor-plan generation workflow, and their ROI, in our case study. Click through over at our resource portal.

7. You'll cause less disruption when you scan

Sooner or later, your scanning is bound to get in the way of someone else's work. That could mean you have to ask a construction team to stand to the side as you scan the area they were working in, or shutting down a hospital for a few critical minutes to capture data for a floor plan.

A handheld scanner works even when there are people inside a space, helping you minimize that disruption. As you scan, the device can capture every angle easily—with no worries about scan shadows, or missing data because someone stood in your way. Just ask everyone to sit still for a minute or two, and then you're done.

Here’s an example of a scan we captured in our office by asking everyone at Paracosm to stay at their desk:


Screen Shot 2020-01-15 at 11.20.00 AM

8. There's less risk of theft

If you’re scanning with a tripod-based lidar, that means setting it up, and walking many feet away before you capture a scan. You're leaving tens of thousands of dollars (or more) sitting out of arm’s reach. 

A few customers have told me that there are areas they wouldn’t consider scanning using tripod-based lidar, including public areas where theft is more common. A handheld scanner is, by definition, in your hand all the time—and much harder to steal.

9. You'll develop new workflows and transform your business

Think of a handheld lidar scanner less as a replacement for your other tools, and more as a new kind of capture tool that will open new possibilities. Is there a 3D-capture workflow you haven’t developed because it would take too long, cost too much, or require too many trained employees? Data you can't get because a traditional scanner won't fit? A handheld lidar scanner might be the key to solving these challenges and sharpening your competitive edge.



Topics: Laser Scanning, PX-80, lidar