Taking part in the SPAR Europe Conference in The Hague this week made me feel a little out of place among all those business executives with their suits and ties. The t-shirt and sweater fraction was very likely below 10%, quite similar to the percentage of women attending this conference. So, yes, it was quite technical and business-oriented. It was interesting nonetheless to see the newest examples of 3D acquisition and application techniques.
Of course, the presentations by the business representatives were quite often of the “our product is the best on the market” or at least of the “look what we can do!” type. The more inquisitive approach that you find at scientific conferences would have made it more interesting (for me at least).
Still, the conference drew together a quite diverse range of people. The main focus seemed to be on terrestrial laser scanning on one hand and on airborne structure-from-motion on the other hand. Especially in the field of 3D generation from multiple digital photographs, the differences in technological complexity (and hardware costs) could not have been greater: from using smartphones or 99 € digital cameras to 260-megapixel cameras with 5 spectral channels or multi-camera setups capable to acquire one or two gigapixels per second, from working with a few images to processing 2.8 Million images in one large process (Building Rome on a cloudless day), from consumer laptops running open-source software to dedicated multi-processor number-crunchers deployable in aircrafts or hangars.
Asked about the processing time to create a dense 3D model from a given set of a few thousand photographs, one speaker said, well, that would depend on how many hundred processor cores we throw at the task. How surprising is it that one of the presentations with the technically most advanced setup had not only “gigapixels” but also “soldiers” in it? So while 3D methods (in particular photogrammetry / Structure from Motion) are becoming increasingly available for scientists having to work on a low budget (for example many archaeologists) or non-profesionals, military applications are, as usual, quite far ahead.