What Are the Most Popular Types of Point Cloud Processing Software?
There is a 'point cloud boom' going on at the moment, driven by developments in point cloud processing and registration software. To put it simply, maturing hardware technology is leading to more software innovation.
New capabilities are being spurred on by competitive and innovative thinking. Propelled by smaller and cheaper scanners, armed with improvements in point cloud registration, new scanner technology is becoming integral to many diverse projects, with multi-scanner workflows becoming the key to achieving the best outcomes.
By deploying multiple sensor arrays — for example, SLAM plus static LiDAR, you can create startling results using effective and flexible workflows. This kind of multi-faceted and multi-scanner outcome (enabled by software capabilities) defines modern reality capture and should be a central consideration when looking at point cloud processing software.
The narrative has now moved away from brands and integration with their hardware to incorporating the outputs from different scanner types. This boils down to thinking about workflows and outcomes rather than just individual scans. Now more than ever, it's crucial to pick the right software, which means understanding outcomes and workflows.
Where previously we may have looked purely at scanner compatibility, we now have a broader selection criteria. For example, does the software feature:
- Multi-stage processing for faster and more robust results.
- Cloud-based processing that aids flexibility and speed.
- Multi-scanner workflows selectively incorporate SLAM with terrestrial scanning.
- Data capture and classification.
What follows is a shortlist of popular software vendors. This list highlights the shift from proprietary manufacturer-led processing offerings to more independent, workflow-driven software to innovative, outcome-driven leading-edge solutions. So, let's start there with our own offering – Vercator Cloud.
At Vercator, our mission is to transform and disrupt best practices around laser scanners. In many industries, we have seen dependence on proprietary hardware devices give way to interoperability and software-driven transformation.
Real value-add is now appearing in the downstream analysis and classification of data sets — with software that is increasingly located in the cloud.
Vercator aims to transform point cloud processing by providing results with greater accuracy at an affordable price point.
- Cloud working: Eliminating the need for hardware and software updates, consumer computer performance has become a thing of the past.
- Accelerated and automated execution: Our stable, multi-stage and vector-based processing algorithm delivers accelerated processing speeds.
- Multi-format registration: The same robust registration process that enables Vercator to take advantage of cloud-based parallelisation and scalability provides a stable platform for cross-referencing multiple scan types.
- Token-based flexible pricing: Only pay for what you use — simple and affordable. No contract required.
Suggested reading: If you want to learn more about Vercator and our journey so far, check out our blog — The Vercator Roadmap - Where We Started and Where We are Going.
Leica hardware is intended to interface with its own Leica software, using proprietary file formats and encryption. Their point cloud processing software accommodates a whole range of input and export formats, and interfaces with third-party technology.
The Cyclone family of products is a part of a complete Leica solution, with the various Cyclone modules providing a start-to-finish workflow.
- Auto-alignment tools and cloud-to-cloud registration abilities.
- Linework capabilities to allow files to be imported directly to CAD software in a nearly finished capacity.
A significant player in surveying and point cloud processing, Faro produces both scanners and processing software. Like Cyclone, Faro's point cloud processing software, Scene, is designed to interface with its own hardware and third-party scanners.
- Capable of producing high-quality, full-colour data scans quickly for registration.
- Purpose-built to interface with virtual reality (VR), it can connect with cloud services hosted by Faro.
- Fast and known for easy registration processes.
Z+F LaserControl Office (central) and Scout (on-site) are intended to work with Zoller + Fröhlich laser scanners. A range of tools are available to filter, register and colour 3D point clouds, and a large selection of export formats enable further processing in common 3D software applications.
- Several registration options including target registration, Cloud-to-Cloud and Plan-to-Plan.
- “Blue workflow”, which is a term Z+F uses to describe a series of optimised work steps to facilitate measuring and processing measured data.
- Three viewing options including top view, the 3D point cloud and the 2D panorama view.
MAGNET Collage is Topcon’s 3D point cloud processing software. It can process, collate and analyse multi-source point cloud data from traditional survey instruments as well as reality-capture laser scanners, mobile mapping systems and UAVs.
- Combines mobile and static scan data into one immersive 3D environment.
- Segments and reduces point clouds to export to third-party software.
- Can combine civil, mapping, BIM and survey data.
- Provides matching and ground-control functionality for a variety of sensors.
- Wide-ranging projections and geoid exports.
Trimble is a US leader for both point cloud processing software and hardware. Founded in 1978, it has developed laser rangefinders, inertial navigation systems, UAVs, and GNSS receivers. Trimble technology has a reputation for being clean, fast, and consistent. Trimble's RealWorks is considered its flagship point cloud processing software.
Edgewise is Trimble’s BIM specific software intended to be used in conjunction with RealWorks. They also offer a CAD-only program called Trimble Business Center.
- Register, model, cleanup, and develop deliverables in a single program.
- 3D modelling capabilities – although each stage has fewer options than purpose-built software.
Point cloud engines for downstream processing
The software we’ve discussed to this point is all focused on point cloud processing. However, this is only the start of the point cloud journey. Although it’s common to use dedicated modelling software, there are also processing tools that deliver a broad range of capabilities spanning both processing and modelling. However, it has to be noted that this type of software generally doesn’t provide the same advanced features as the dedicated tools we have covered — particularly when it comes to processing capabilities. The leading examples include:
Autodesk is the colossus of point cloud processing and reality capture software, while AutoCAD remains its flagship computer-aided design (CAD) software. The company is one of the few traditional players that does not produce in-house hardware and focuses on hardware-agnostic software systems.
ReCap is the point cloud enabler/engine for AutoDesk products — be it AutoCAD/Revit etc — and is mainly targeted at Autodesk's media clients, but offers powerful reality capture capabilities for both 2D and 3D modelling. However, ReCap is no longer under further development, so it will have a limited lifetime and eventually be replaced.
Bentley, like Autodesk, is focused just on software — creating systems capable of interfacing with several hardware configurations. Again, this software provides a range of end-to-end capabilities with a focus on visualisations and modelling in addition to processing.
Known primarily for consistency, Pointools provides both active saving and referencing capabilities within a range of tools. It is powered by Pointools Vortex, a point-cloud engine targeted at very large point clouds.
Veesus offers point cloud manipulation tools such as slicing, clipping, smoothing, magnification, colour ramp and export. It has recently integrated a new cloud file management offering, Zappcha, with its existing products. Users of Arena4D, Point Clouds for Rhino, and Point Clouds for SolidWorks can access the Zappcha Cloud natively through their software making it easier to share and analyse downstream 3D scan data.
Multi-scanner workflows and cloud-based processing
The above list shows that most of the popular software currently available for point cloud processing is still rooted in the hardware of their parents. Inevitably, this causes problems when trying to include other types of scans into a new workflow — the tendency of manufacturers when faced with interoperability will almost always go back to "just use ours."
However, cloud-based software-driven automation is here now, and it is profoundly changing point cloud data handling. A future-proofed strategy and future-focused approach will require a software-focused solution that is more flexible and able to take advantage of opportunities as they emerge.
The great thing about a cloud-enabled software-driven approach is that many new developments will be included in existing software solutions as new versions are rolled out. They are giving you a risk-free method to being at the forefront of new developments.
Software advances change the game both in what 3D point clouds can accomplish and how they are created. Vercator has pioneered the latest innovations in point-cloud technology, and we’re here to help you understand and access these opportunities yourself. Why not sign up for your free Vercator trial.
Additional reading: For more on multi-stage and vector-based registration, take a look at our eBook — Point Cloud Processing Has Changed.