Mystery Creek Cave – LiDAR Survey Trial

(Extract taken from Speleo Spiel 450, May-June 2022 Edition)
17 April 2022Gabriel Kinzler (with notes by Craig Stobbs)
Party: Reena Balding, Gabriel Kinzler, Craig Stobbs, Ethan
Stobbs, Oliver Stobbs

This year, Easter Sunday turned into a family caving tech trip for me, Craig and his family. The company he works at, Fulcrum Robotics, kindly let us borrow a portable 3D scanner, namely an Emesent Hovermap, which uses LiDAR surveying technology. We chose Mystery Creek Cave to trial it out, in what could be a Tasmanian first. The Hovermap unit shoots hundreds of thousands of laser beams every second and in all directions. LiDAR data is processed onboard in real time to produce a local 3D map of the surroundings. It is then possible to use this data in various ways, including for simple 3D visualisation on any device. Colourisation is possible too for a more realistic look. It was decided we’d tour the cave (first visit for the Stobbs) before starting to play with the device. The kids enjoyed hunting for the Boiler Room, then we continued along The Skyline and turned around, down The Laundry Chute, to return to The Broken Column via the lower levels. There, Craig took the Hovermap out of its rigid backpack case. The main purpose of the backpack is to protect the unit during transport in harsh environments. The Hovermap uses a battery that can either be attached to the device itself, or
housed inside the backpack (in which case a power cord is connected from the device to an external port on the backpack, which contains the battery plugged in internally).
Craig then proceeded to walk back towards the entrance, holding the Hovermap at an arm’s length. We went with him through the Shipwreck Chamber, the Walls of Sorrow, Glowworm Chambers 1 & 2, and stopped just before the Entrance Chamber. The next part consisted in importing the data on a computer. Different professional software suites are available for point cloud processing, but there’s also open source programs available to the layman, like CloudCompare. In Craig’s chosen settings, the Hovermap shot approximately 150,000,000 points over a 15-minute scan, so roughly 10 million shots/minute, or ~166,666 shots/second, which amounted to a 1.5 GB file. Ideally, though, you want to work with a x10 subsample (150 MB), unless you have a very powerful CPU and GPU. The point cloud can then be adjusted with different parameters: you can cut out certain parts, populate dark zones, change visual settings, etc. There is a plugin that allows you to convert the point cloud to a mesh (polygons/surfaces instead of a constellation of points), but this takes a lot of computing power (and thus time).

 


Teaming up with Trendspek, Fulcrum delivers clients with rapid asset capture, and 3D models with an unprecedented level of detail. Already an innovator, Mike hopes to see this more advanced and accurate form of inspection become business-as-usual for asset owners around the country and the world.

About the project

Why did Fulcrum decide to use Trendspek’s software and 3D models?

The reason we’re using Trendspek, is because the quality of the data output is very high when compared to other systems. Other systems are good, but they are focused on mapping and produce lower quality 3D models. The client looks at those models and thinks they’re nice and that’s about it.

We do a lot of asset and environmental work, so we need to be able to sit down and show clients what the issues are. They need to be able to interrogate the models, and those issues, to form an opinion that has an engineering aspect to it and produce a clear and confident outcome.

Our clients like to do things the old way, so we were looking for a software solution that had that granularity in terms of data quality, and that focus on risk mitigation.

How did Trendspek provide a more accurate solution for the Water Works in Hobart?

Typically, we’re engaged to bring information on an asset to a customer that may be related to a very specific issue. For example, using Trendspek, we developed photogrammetry and thermal models for local storages in and around Hobart, including older dams because they typically want to know if there is any horizontal or vertical cracking occurring in a specific locations on a dam wall.

This is a highly political and social issue, the failure consequence rating for many dams around the greater Hobart area is typically quite high. We were confident the old software wouldn’t give us the level of clarity our clients needed to make the required decisions.

In many situations, our client needs to understand the state of any defects, cracks or other deformation, so engineers can form an opinion on whether they would take the asset out of service– very big, important and costly decisions.

Because of the nature of the assets, it’s also very useful for the client to be able to refer back to the model on an issue in the future.

How did Trendspek reduce costs and increase safety?

Large dams can be really dangerous if they aren’t managed well.

The models we provide are so detailed and so accurate that a client doesn’t need to engage a lot of roped contractors to undertake a detailed inspection of the asset. The model was able to show us and the client where the issues were, and they were then able to target physical inspections, if required.

Large dams can consume multiple man days of rope work, Fulcrum was able to cut down to just one day of capture with drones, and a highly detailed 3D model produced in 24 hours. There’s a cost saving and a move towards much safer practices.

How does Trendspek compare to traditional models?

I’ve got two models for a large irrigation dam, one in Trendspek and one on another platform. For Trendspek, the pixel resolution is down at 2cm or below.

Using the other platform, I can’t see anything, I can’t see the texture of the concrete or cracking in the concrete. When I use the model in Trendspek, the texture and any defects are obvious.

That level of forensic clarity is what leads to an outcome, it leads to that image being sent to the engineer to get advice or form a decision with confidence.

 

Chris and Max prepping a T10 for spraying works. This is the Agras T10 a very capable UAV in the right hands. Fulcrum operate Tasmania's largest fleet of UAV's combined with the best CASA licensed pilots.

Fulcrum's UAV sprayers are very suitable and agile for working large expanses of land and over rough terrains and very flexible with the weather conditions with high efficiency. These drones are prominent in size offering a larger and broader spraying span.

 

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