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Point clouds and VR: The future of point cloud visualisation

By Charles Thomson
April 21, 2020
We explore why VR is important to point clouds and the opportunities that VR presents point cloud processing.

Virtual Reality (VR) has become a valuable addition to the fields of digital entertainment, manufacturing, construction and collaborative workspaces.  Virtual applications share something in common: all work with 3D modelling and their levels of detail, and value, are enhanced by the use of point clouds. 

So why is VR so important to point clouds and what does the future development of this tech look like?


Why VR is important to point clouds (and vice versa) 

Ultimately, VR is a way to visualise 3D point cloud models (not raw point clouds — a distinction worth noting — the point clouds being a field of dots and the model being an accurate 3D model based on that point cloud). A few companies are currently offering point clouds in VR, such as Veesus, RiVR and FARO Scene, to name a few. 

A picture really does speak a thousand words. Concepts become understandable, meaningful and memorable by using images. Virtual reality can provide context, illustrate principles, emphasise connections, and reduce ambiguity. People learn and understand more deeply from immersive 3D representations than with words and pictures.

One of the key aspects of virtual reality production is conveying a sense of realism. Virtual reality is about transporting the user into a believable simulated reality.  So creating 3D assets to the highest standards of realism is of vital importance. Technology is now in place to quickly and accurately register and store a large number of point clouds to create such dense and detailed simulations. And multi-threaded cloud processing makes it fast and cost-effective.


What opportunities are there for VR?

VR business applications are growing rapidly: from film and television, games, education, eCommerce, construction, travel, medical and so on. Let’s look at some of the areas it’s making an impact.



One of the fast-emerging applications for VR is training. VR technology can easily be used to simulate an environment like a construction site. Without leaving the training centre, people can safely “visit” a range of sites and scenarios to learn on-site procedures and security protocols. This is also an interesting way of re-using BIM (Building Information Modelling) scans to provide real-world training examples of different types of sites at different stages of completion.

According to research company IDC, "Interest in VR within the enterprise continues to ramp up as more companies use the technology to drive a wide range of training scenarios. Beyond the typical examples around training people for jobs that involve expensive equipment or dangerous situations, we're seeing a notable uptick in interest in using VR for soft skills training from line-of-business managers." Employees are now being trained to do everything from customer care to dealing with a major incident in the workplace, and VR is making it even easier to do so. Walmart, for example, has distributed 17,000 VR headsets that give employees access to more than 50 learning modules. The program includes almost 4,600 Walmart stores in the US and more than 1 million employees.



Using VR, clients can have unique experiences of products or locations before they are even completed. As virtual worlds become more prevalent, they will have an obvious place in marketing, events and expos. Rather than a simple booth, visitors might put on a VR headset and explore the twentieth floor of an as-yet-unfinished skyscraper or visit the renovation of an ancient monument.

Realistic “digital twins” for all types of real estate can be created enabling clients to explore and evaluate properties with ease. The virtual experience can streamline the decision-making process for prospective tenants, buyers or investors. It can even render different furnishing and fixtures in situ to enable clients to “walk through” the simulation to get a feel for the layout and spot potential problems early.



One application for virtual reality that has been quietly gaining ground is in therapy. A variety of situations can be explored using VR that a therapist would otherwise struggle to recreate. People with PTSD such as veterans can explore traumatic environments from a place of safety. Some phobias can also be treated: immersion therapy for arachnophobia would previously have required a collection of spiders, fear of public speaking would require a crowd, claustrophobia would need a real-life small space, and so on. 

The importance of detailed and realistic scans of locations to make the virtual reality as real as possible cannot be underestimated in such cases — and who would have thought of therapy as a potential market for surveyors and their 3D scanning skills?



Virtual reality has completely transformed how we design and manufacture goods. Automotive engineering is a good example. Jaguar Land Rover, for example, generates a 3D model of every part of a car so they can visualise, and even look inside, the vehicle to see how these fit together. Such models also allow the company to simulate the performance of the components, systems and the whole vehicle. 

Virtual Reality even helps with the design of the factories used to assemble the vehicles. It simulates the vehicle passing through every stage of the manufacturing process to optimise tools, facilities and processes. This ensures each vehicle can be made just as engineering intended.


Crime scenes

For several years, law enforcement and forensic experts have been surveying crime scenes with 3D laser scanners. The resulting point cloud captures an incredible amount of detail. But viewing a 3D model on screen doesn’t really convey what it feels like at the scene. Now that data is being converted into a VR form, it can be experienced by law enforcement and legal professionals without any advanced training. Investigators can now “walk-though” crime scenes, examine the relationship between objects and even explore possible lines of sight.


Virtual tours and experiences

Virtual reality also opens up opportunities for virtual tourism in the form of visiting popular tourist destinations and taking tours of these. This is this ideal for those who want to travel and explore certain places but can’t — for example, those who are disabled — because they are unable to access certain historical buildings. VR gives them the ability to experience this and ensure they aren’t missing out.  


The benefits of VR

There is a direct link between visual stimulation and understanding. VR helps better communication with clients and improves remote collaboration among specialists. It enhances areas such as user experience, design and maintenance. 

  • End-user experience — Personal experiences of any given environment can be tailored to the individual by creating and rendering digital models, enabling “what-if” visualisations of built environments.
  • Design and fit-out — VR can make carrying out otherwise manual processes quicker and with improved precisiozrn. It also enables visualisations to be shared more easily, creating shared understanding and having more impact.
    • Upkeep of facilities and equipment — Particularly in specialised or critical environments, VR can radically reduce the time taken to safely maintain equipment and facilities.
  • Collaborative engaged working — VR improves collaboration by allowing teams to interact with data and their environments together, making workflows more efficient. It also allows for remote collaboration as information can be shared with different locations. 

Making Virtual Reality real

For VR to be really useful, you must start with a good point cloud. Point cloud registration tools can take VR to the next level. With technical advances such as AI-based software and multi-thread/multicore processing in the cloud, you can register multiple point cloud data sets of any size simultaneously. 

Expanding the scope of VR will require new ways of thinking. Individuals will need to be able to see, touch, feel and interact. A virtual meeting place, a manufacturing plant, or even an outdoor location will require skill and vision to create an engaging VR world. Once done, it will undoubtedly create the potential to unlock new possibilities and new interactions. 

It will be a challenge to produce such VR cinema-quality digital twins. To get this done, it will require technology leaders in various fields — and surveying skills will be high on the list. VR is the perfect way to visualise point clouds, and point clouds in turn will be the basis of novel and exciting uses of VR.

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Tags: point clouds