A game-changer for 3D laser scanning

By on 12 June, 2023
With the Leica Geosystems BLK2GO handheld imaging laser scanner, large jobs can be scanned in just hours or days instead of weeks.

The Leica Geosystems BLK2GO handheld imaging laser scanner is turning impossible jobs into ‘walk in the park’ jobs.


It’s anyone’s guess as to how many older buildings and facilities there are in Australia for which only paper plans are available, or for which the plans have disappeared. Or maybe there have been so many alterations and modifications that any plans that do exist are no longer accurate.

That’s where professionals such as Brad Ellis, managing director of Brisbane-based As-Built Drawings, come in. Brad specialises in surveying such buildings to produce new plans and digital models.

For years, Brad was doing this work the traditional way — measuring up and crunching the numbers to produce drawings. But late last year he invested in the latest and greatest technology for doing exactly this kind of work — the Leica Geosystems BLK2GO handheld imaging laser scanner from C.R. Kennedy.

Brad’s first job with the BLK2GO — and indeed the contract for which he bought the unit in the first place — was to scan multiple properties within a resort village in Tasmania. “The resort’s rooms were really tired and dated, so the client wanted to give it a good facelift and maybe a redesign. My drawings were going to be used by the architect and interior designers to do their stuff,” said Brad.

The problem for the client was that the buildings were so old that nobody, including the local council, had any real record of floorplans. And the scope of the job was huge — approximately 300 rooms within more than 50 buildings.

But with the BLK2GO in hand, Brad completed the entire scan in just two-and-a-half days. The modelling to produce the floor plans took just five days more.

“It would have taken at least a couple of months to measure up and then draw it the old way, so my time-saving was huge,” he said.

Without the BLK2GO, Brad would have had no way of being able to easily handle the contract, which is why he’d decided to bite the bullet and purchase the unit… and it paid for itself with that first job.

Brad Ellis with the Leica Geosystems BLK2GO.

A GrandSLAM for making plans

The BLK2GO recreates spaces in 3D by capturing images and dimensionally accurate 3D point clouds in real-time and uses SLAM (Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping) technology to record the user’s trajectory through space. The LiDAR data is automatically combined with the imagery to produce a colourised point cloud.

The device can scan over and under objects, through rooms and doorways, around corners, and up and down stairwells. The SLAM spatial awareness technology enables the BLK2GO to always know where it is and where it has been.

According to Leica Geosystems, the BLK2GO is the smallest dual-axis LiDAR available with what is claimed to be best-in-class accuracy. The unit is enclosed in a fully protected and encapsulated dome that scans up to 420,000 points per second. Both axes continually spin while scanning.

There’s no need for a tripod, and data is collected on board. The vision system is a 12-megapixel camera for high-contrast imagery plus three panoramic cameras for visual navigation via SLAM, point cloud colourisation and capture of panoramic imagery. The handle contains the WLAN connectivity electronics, a rechargeable battery capable of 45 minutes of continuous scanning, data storage for six hours of scans, and a USB-C port for fast data transfer and edge computing. A light guide that encircles the BLK2GO provides user guidance while scanning and communicates the device status and data quality. All up, the unit weighs in at just 775 grams.

The BLK2GO’s GrandSLAM technology combines the high-speed, dual-axis LiDAR, multi-camera vision system and an inertial measurement unit to make the unit self-navigating.

The right scanner for the market

Another of Brad’s launch clients for the BLK2GO is the operator of a famous historic market in the Sydney CBD. The market comprises 13,000 square metres across two levels in an old building with a cramped interior comprising hundreds of stalls with walls, hoardings and other things that can get in the way of a survey, plus a complex network of ceiling services (eg. pipes and ducts).

Having got the call to do the job, Brad simply threw the BLK2GO into his backpack and flew from Brisbane to Sydney.

“I only had two photographs to quote on,” he said. “The client needed all the ceiling services scanned and modelled, but when I got on site and saw how many services there were, it was quite overwhelming.”

And yet the job ended up being a breeze.

“The time it took me to physically walk around and scan the market was only an hour and a half,” said Brad. “If you were to try to do it the old-fashioned way, I just don’t think you could do it. The amount of manpower and time it would take to do what I did in an hour and a half, would see the cost just blow out and it wouldn’t have been feasible for the client to pay that.”

Large jobs can be scanned in just hours or days instead of weeks.

Because there were hoardings and other things blocking some views, Brad was able to scan only about 92% of the total volume… yet that was far more than the client had been expecting.

“I just got off the phone with the architect and the mechanical engineer, and they had just opened up the model and had a look, and it was ‘Brad, this is unbelievable’,” he said.

“To hear that sort of feedback from the client was wonderful.”

And it isn’t just large jobs that the BLK2GO is well suited for. Brad recently got a contract to scan a house extension — it took just eight minutes to do the whole house, inside and out.

Time is money

A lot of Brad’s work comes from scanning existing buildings that are so old, their owners don’t have any floorplans and no services drawings exist.

“More and more I’m hearing that ‘We have a bunch of drawings over the last 50 years, and there have been extensions and stuff like that, but we want a consolidated set of plans’,” he said. “So that’s when they get me to come on and scan the job and then re-draw it up as one drawing, instead of having 50 different versions of the extensions over the years.”

“They can then work my model into their architectural drawings or presentation files and create 3D internal/external views for their client, or whatever else they need it for.”

Brad describes the BLK2GO as a game-changer.

“My time is extremely valuable,” he said. “I’m able to do so many jobs now that I wouldn’t have tackled before. It’s opening up opportunities for clients to accomplish work that they would have put in the too-hard basket previously.”

The Leica Geosystems BLK2GO handheld imaging laser scanner.

“The BLK2GO is saving me so much time in terms of site visits, and then also measure ups, and just boosting the level and quality I can provide the clients. For instance, if they require panoramic imagery, this machine provides panoramic views. You can just click on a dot and zoom around and see it in real-time.” Hearing Brad describe the BLK2GO and what it can do, really makes it sound like the stuff of sci-fi dreams from decades ago. But it’s not sci-fi anymore — it’s a real, off-the-shelf capability that can be operated by just one person and in just minutes or hours produce complex point clouds with ease… as opposed to days, weeks or even months doing it the traditional way.

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