This startup has made real-time 3D mapping possible with only a handheld device

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Creating a 3D model of a space for architecture, engineering and construction is a time-consuming process, to say the least. You scan the surroundings, transfer the data to the software that processes it, and then digitally convert the spatial data into a 3D model. Phew! What if we told you that a 2-year-old Pittsburgh-based startup has developed a handheld device that can not only scan a 10,000 square meter building in around 2.5 hours but also reproduce a 3D map of the area in real time?

If that sounds too good to be true, it’s because nobody else has managed to do this before! Kaarta’s portable, touchscreen LiDAR scanner Contour is only a wee thicker than a tablet and can capture ~43,000 measurements per second at a range of up to 49 feet. Under the hood, it is powered by Kaarta Engine software which “lets the device sense, scan, process, and digitally reproduce its surroundings on the go.”

The company, which was formerly known as Real Earth and has won Microsoft’s indoor mapping competition for two consecutive years, wants to minimize mapping costs by eliminating callbacks – the compulsion to go back to the survey site because a spot was left out or something looks amiss. Contour, according to Kaarta CEO Kevin Dowling, achieves this by adding ‘robot smarts’ to 3D modeling devices.

“We are proving that real-time results are attainable, and that accuracy needn’t suffer for the sake of speed and usability. 3D modeling through mapping and localization is ripe for a step change especially for indoor applications, underscored by our maxim that ‘the inside is as big as the outside’,” he says.

The City of Pittsburgh has already given the green signal to Kaarta to test the device in real world municipal environments under its PGH Lab program and see how it can be used for applications like planning, design, construction, maintenance, and inspection. Contour also has the blessings of CAD developer Autodesk, which anticipates its enthusiastic adoption in the renovation and construction trades.