Nearing the end of the speed-accuracy trade-off

By on 19 June, 2023
© Inc.


By Oliver Bürkler

In the last several months, discussions concerning AI seem to be everywhere. One of the key reasons AI has garnered so much attention of late, is that by some measures, companies like OpenAI (makers of ChatGPT) and others are on the verge of resolving, or least greatly mitigating, what’s known in computational, biological and mechanical sciences, as the speed-accuracy trade-off, or SAT.

Modern AI is now fast enough and accurate enough (though still far from perfect) to approximate natural conversation with both speed and accuracy that mimics human-like exchanges with a computer’s speed of data retrieval. This same balancing act between speed and accuracy plays itself out in 3D laser scanning and its related offshoots like panoramic 360° photography and photogrammetry.

In traditional 3D reality capture, high-accuracy scans can take minutes to capture and much longer than that to process the information and register the point-cloud data. Accuracy at the loss of speed. This, for any company looking to complete large-volume scans, can mean a potential loss of business. A panoramic camera, however, can capture an image with great speed but the corresponding data is far less detailed than a 3D point cloud. Speed at the expense of accuracy.

But if AI research suggests that the end of the speed-accuracy trade-off is in sight, what is the next digital domino to fall? Not one to be left in second place, the 3D laser scanning industry, which includes 3D visualisations for architecture, engineering, construction and operations and maintenance, and public safety pre-incident planning applications, is poised to claim victory here too.

A world waiting to be scanned

Today, those in the business of as-built documentation, are also continually looking for faster, better, easier ways to get the job done. They are looking to simplify tasks and streamline workflows — without sacrificing quality for speed and speed for quality.

Why are they looking for this ‘holy grail’ of speed and accuracy? Because the entire professional measurement services industry has a lot of work on their hands. And lots of time, money and human and technological resources are at stake if BIM models aren’t accurate or if image capture and processing speeds are too sluggish.

Across the globe collectively the industry is scanning the interior and exterior of large structures; they are mapping and measuring industrial facilities like power plants; they are assisting police and law enforcement with their pre-incident planning; they are aiding specialty and general contractors in their engineering projects; and they are empowering facility managers/owners with the real-time facility management insights they need to track building operations and to streamline and eliminate any inefficiencies they uncover.

New frontiers

Whether it’s the physical frontier, the biological frontier, the mechanical frontier or the computational/digital frontier whose limits are pushed by today’s fastest computers and ever smarter algorithms, what has been true since the first cities emerged from the Fertile Crescent of the Eastern Mediterranean thousands of years ago remains true today. As long as humans populate this world, large, complex structures, will be built, requiring fast, accurate assembly and long-term project oversight. And for public safety, the need to mitigate worst-case scenarios before they occur will be ever-present.

With these two realties a given, 3D laser scanning will continue to advance. Not only will speed and accuracy increase, but the equipment’s size, weight and bulk will continue to decrease. While app-based LiDAR scanning is beyond the scope of this article, advances in generalist technology, no bigger than a smartphone or tablet is where the future ultimately lies.

Combined with the promise that quantum computing offers — the world’s first universal quantum computer with more than 1,000 qubits is slated for rollout by IBM later this year — the new frontier is likely to push well beyond the speed-accuracy trade-off in the decades to come.

But for now, hybrid reality capture is the technological breakthrough the 3D laser scanning industry is just beginning to capitalise on. The speed-accuracy trade-off, long the essential pain point for a variety of disciplines across time, is increasingly a challenge looking for a solution that’s about to be solved.

Acclaimed British science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke may be known for his often-quoted observation that: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” But while true, Clarke’s quote says nothing about how exciting the magic can truly be — if you’re one of the visionaries helping bring that magic to life.

Oliver Bürkler is the Director of Laser Scanning, FARO Technologies, Inc.

If you need fast, accurate 3D scanning, contact Synergy Positioning today for your FARO solution:, 07 3801 2242.

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