What Exactly Is 3D Laser Scanning?

When you hear about land surveying, more often than not the term “3D laser scanning” is mentioned. So what exactly is 3D laser scanning, and how is it applied within the land surveying process?

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3D laser scanning utilizes devices equipped with lasers to measure the physical world by capturing millions of measurements. The collected data is then used to generate polygon meshes or point clouds that represent the geometry of a physical object. This technology is used in many professions and applications, including dentistry, archeology, mining and urban topography. In the land surveying business, 3D laser scanning is highly appreciated for its unprecedented range and speed, as well as its precision.

Trained surveyors using 3D laser scanning can rapidly and accurately measure existing buildings, structures and other sites. At Feldman, we use 3D graphics software to create realistic digital renderings, also referred to as virtual reality models, of our subjects. These are representations that viewers can virtually walk around, through and over! One of the most exciting aspects of this technology is that we can now record precise measurements of existing structures, including historic buildings and heritage sites. That means we can virtually recreate and preserve sites that are degenerating over time due to erosion as well as culturally valuable buildings that need to be maintained in their original states. Our collected data can even be used to reconstruct buildings that have been damaged due to earthquakes, fires or other events. Over the past few years, numerous heritage sites around the world, such as Mount Rushmore and Pompeii, have been scanned for both preservation and education.

Our firm uses 3D laser scanning in a range of different projects. For example, we’ve scanned the Boston Public Library, McKim Building as part of our pro bono Scanning Historic Boston Program. We’ve also scanned the Burnham Building, better known as Filene’s Basement, for the site’s redevelopment under the direction of our client Millennium Partners. And we continue to use this adaptive technology in our work on both existing and new sites.

Scanning Historic Boston Program

Why Feldman Founded Their Pro Bono
Scanning Historic Boston Program

Have you ever wondered how historic buildings such as George Washington’s Mount Vernon in Fairfax County, Virginia; the African Meeting House in Boston, Massachusetts and the Philip Johnson Glass House in Plana, Illinois are restored and preserved?

Symphony Hall 1
Boston Public Library 1
Cambridge Center
Clapp Barn
Meeting House
Fairbanks House

The answer is simple: dedicated preservation restoration specialists such as historians, architects, engineers and surveyors record as much information as possible about the sites. Based on these details, mockups are created and serve as reference materials for all future work on the buildings. This allows for realistic and historically correct restoration and preservation of numerous culturally valuable sites throughout our country and the rest of the world.

Not so long ago, blueprints and models were used to record this kind of information. But in recent years, 3D laser scanning and 3D graphics software have become increasingly popular for these projects. 3D lasers enable surveyors to quickly and accurately to measure even the most miniscule details and process them in 3D software programs to create ultra realistic digital models of the sites.

Feldman Land Surveyors – Scanning Historic Boston

When Feldman first adopted 3D laser scanning technology, we realized this technique could be a valuable method to record local historic sites. Since Boston—the “Cradle of Liberty”—and the surrounding area have numerous buildings and landscapes of national historic significance that are managed by government or non-profit with limited budgets, our firm launched our pro-bono program: Feldman Land Surveyors – Scanning Historic Boston. Our goal is to help provide a digital 3D archive and reference library of Boston’s most loved historic sites.

Since founding the program in 2008, each year we choose two sites from a number of nominations and perform 3D laser scans of them—pro bono. To date, we’ve scanned the following sites:

As professionals who work with sites, structures and buildings every day, it’s our honor to contribute to the preservation of Boston’s valuable landmarks. Our goal is not only to help preserve our heritage, but also encourage others to become involved in the conservation of our city. You can read more about our pro bono projects on our website, as well on those of the sites listed above. And stay tuned for news and updates on future projects!