Wider Horizons

Laser scanning, or high-definition surveying, brings objects to life in length, width and depth, Leica Geosystemsproviding highly accurate data about a physical space. It is a useful tool for students in Civil Engineering Technology, Geomatics Engineering Technology, and Engineering Design and Drafting Technology programs, who can use it to collect information about everything from coulees and flood plains to mechanical rooms and bridges. Eventually, the students in Criminal Justice or Conservation Enforcement could even use the scanner as a way to understand the scene of a crime.

The scanner is a welcome addition to the tools used by students who will soon be working in this quickly-changing field.  “The engineering and surveying industry is moving forward rapidly with the use of this technology,” says Warren Salberg (Civil Engineering ‘85). “The ability to quickly gather and use point clouds made up of millions of accurately located 3D points can transform the way we design and build engineering projects.”

Salberg adds that the use of 3D scanning will increase significantly in the near future. “Our graduates will be able to use this technology and the associated software which enhances their employability,” he says. “It is one more complementary skill set to add to those that they already have in their repertoire.

The new scanner, which engineering chair Bill Smienk says costs between $70,000 and $80,000, works by emitting a pulsing laser beam that makes a systematic sweep over an area as large as a few hundred meters. As it does so, the beam hits objects (like walls, the ground or coulee edges) and bounces back to the scanner, where it records the time it takes for the beam to come back, accurately measuring the distance. This process happens tens of thousands of times a second, in every direction. Multiple scans can even be combined to survey very large areas or objects.

This data is then collected and combined into a detailed 3D representation of the scene called a point cloud, which can be viewed and manipulated in computer software. Point cloud data can be used for a variety of purposes including creating 2D plans and elevations, creating panoramic images with measurements, evaluating clearances, calculating volumes, and creating topographic maps. The last part of the process is the output or deliverables. From a simple computer file, to an accurate 3D printed scale-model of a space, building, or structure, there are almost endless applications for this technology. Salberg says students in his second year Engineering Design and Drafting Technology program will be using the scanner this September for a surface drainage project. The college and the engineering technologies advisory board decided that this was an important investment for the college to make for two reasons, Salberg explains.

“Lethbridge College is a progressive educational institution,” he says, “and keeping up with emerging technologies is critical for the success of our graduates.”

Wider Horizons
Lethbridge College
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