[Updated: 2020-12-22 added additional applications]
Okay this is a bit of a niche post for those interested in 3D scanning of buildings (modern and historic, inside and out), as well as sites (a walking route or garden) without forking out a lot* of money. Following on from my previous post I have tested the iPhone 12 Pro more with a variety of applications and buildings.
Please note: If you want a real professional survey with cm/mm accuracy backed by survey-grade equipment, then this article is not for you. None of these applications currently positions the resulting models geographically (although you can place it manually). My only observation here for those who look down on this particular piece of LiDAR technology and by this particular smart phone manufacturer (Apple) is this: I feel this is the first generation of ‘scanning’ hardware that is actually useable and it will not be the last. Many people will end up owning this device and this technology so we cannot ignore it.
Personally, I have found scanning gardens, smaller houses, and historic buildings to be more accurate than I expected. It is not perfect but if you know the limitations and error margins this might make some of your work quicker, cheaper, and better. My starting point is this: if you got three trained competent professionals to measure a property inside and out you will probably get three different measurements within a range or error margin. These error margins would also be larger when measuring old buildings, sometimes our work comes down to interpretation.
The scenario on which I base this review
Consider a common scenario for an Architect, planner, or related professional. Turn up at site alone with a phone, perhaps a real camera, and a tape measure. The site plans you make will form the basis of a planning application. You do not have time to repeatedly visit a site repeatedly, so you need to get all the measurements you need first time. We use photography to capture as much of a site or building as possible. We try and get all the measurements we need, but be honest here, anyone who has done this on a regular basis knows measurements can be missed, levels can go unrecorded. Now, often we are using our mobile phones to take the photos and perhaps an app to backup those photos for use back in the office. If the phone in your pocket now has the ability to quickly create a reasonably accurate 3D model of a place which allows you to get ‘good enough’ measurements for places you might well have missed why wouldn’t you use it?
I have now tried the iPhone12 Pro on enough buildings in enough conditions (sunny and rainy) to be confident enough to recommend using the applications below to produce 3D measurable scans for getting dimensions and using as part of visualisations across a range of potential jobs. There is some caveats: you might not reach the roof without a ladder or a pole! Also do your own testing, make sure the outputs work for you, workflows and software choices are important. A reminder that this in my mind is the first of useable 3D capture technologies on a portable and relatively* cheap device. For me seeing it work on sunny day on a range of surfaces felt like a gamechanger.
The Recommended LiDAR 3D Scanning Applications
I currently recommend four applications for you to explore in more depth, each app has a different use case I feel that could fill a niche in someone’s work. I will do another post where I can outline a few workflows that work for me, as well as software that might help. All the apps as far as I can tell work in the same using the same Apple AR SDK (so that means they all have similar limitations), but each take a different approach to exports. It should be noted none of this place the result scans in a geographic position, they are all locally related coordinates that need positioning. I have thoughts on that in the next post (when I get around to writing it) but it is not a deal breaker at this time.
- 3D Scanner App – http://www.3dscannerapp.com/
I cannot tell you how good this is, and it is currently free! If nothing else download this. It captures from what I can tell no end of data (I walked 0.2 miles to my local school with it running). I have captured my house inside and out (I will not post imagery of my messy house here sorry. It can export in all the formats you would want and importantly it also can give you all the photos it took so you can use them in other photogrammetry software if you need to. It has a good and easy to use interface. I love that I can export quickly to DAE and use directly in SketchUp. Much of my imagery comes from this app.
- Polycam – https://polycam.ai
This application like 3D Scanner App is bloody fantastic, clean easy to use interface, with an amazing array of export options. I also think this has better features for scanning rooms as it has some nice simplification and voxel size options. However if you want to export to anything useful (other than USDZ for iMessages) then you need to pay for a yearly subscription of £19.49 per year, £3.99 per month, or £54.99 as a one-time purchase. If you’re just experimenting I’d recommend staying with 3D Scanner App…
- pronoPointsScan – https://prono82.com/pronopointsscan/
As the name suggests it scans points, its free for limited use but pay the one time £6.99 and you have no limits. It basically scans and outputs the resulting data as plain text files which record the position of the point and the RGB value. Free products like CloudCompare can read this stuff. It has a terrible interface, not attractive and not intuitive like 3D Scanner App, but hey I guess it will get better and it’s not impossible to use!
- EveryPoint – https://everypoint.io/
Interesting scanning app that seems to focus on point cloud production. A big downside seems to be not being able to view a scan after completing it. It saves as ply file (point cloud) and when you are scanning it shows you a depthmap as well which I like. It is free currently so worth having a look at.
- SiteScape – https://www.sitescape.ai/
Another point cloud scanner application that feels really fast when scanning. Not much in terms of interface though and little in the way of export options (just ply files). I like it but needs some more work, however check out their website as they are talking about analysis of scans so I think this app is the first of a larger picture for SiteScape.
- Canvas – https://canvas.io/
This is the grandfather of 3D scanning applications, Occipital were one of the first (if not the first) to produce 3D scanning hardware for iDevices like the structure sensor 1 & 2. I have a structure sensor and it could never handle outdoors well. Now with the new iPhone their software is what makes them brilliant. Not only can you scan buildings (it’s built for internal plans) you can also process it in the cloud for better models and they have a service where they turn your scans into SketchUp ready models. The application and scans are free but pricing depends on what you want as an output.
- RoomScan LiDAR – https://www.locometric.com/lidar
This is quite different from the applications I’ve discussed above, for one thing it is a subscription model (£9.99 a month). But it really does take a fantastically different approach. It’s main aim is to produce floor plans so instead of wobbly meshes that you have to cut or interpret to make straight lines for architectural plans this app does it for you. The interface walks you through the process and really you walk around a room labelling each wall, then you label doors, and windows. With labelling doors it asks you what room it leads to and quickly you build a really nice floorplan. Plus the scan you make is used as part of the floor plans (they call flyplan) to add an artistic take to you outputs. I can see many people using this. A word of warning this is probably not good for historic buildings with wobbly walls!
So, what do I recommend? Well they are all built on the same software and hardware kit essentially. I would go with the first one, try it out see what works for you, then start exploring other applications. Definitely RoomScan LiDAR and Canvas are very good for professionals wanting clean outputs but they are at a cost. For cool experiments pronoPointsScan is well worth a purchase but you need more technical knowhow for this data.
My intention is to write a follow to the post detailing the various software applications you can use with the outputs from a couple of these applications.
*When I say a lot (or relatively cheap) I mean in the 10s of thousands of pounds not the £1000 price of this particular hardware device. Architects and planners frequently pay thousands already to get scans or surveys of their sites.