Technology is Changing the Land Development World

Virtual reality is here to stay – get on board, or get left behind


There have been four disruptive technology shifts in my 50-year career and this one, “Optical Capture” is by far the biggest. We are the only firm in the U.S. using this newly developed software that is capable of creating a 3D point cloud model from simple photography pixels. These models are perfectly accurate to less than a centimeter and can be directly sent into Revit or AutoCAD files for immediate design use. Compared to time-consuming and clumsy laser scans, or old fashioned 2D aerial photogrammetry, this result is exponentially faster, better, and cheaper – a winning formula every time! We are currently using aerial drones or handheld SLR cameras to “capture” images of historical buildings (for restoration), existing structures (for remodeling), and sites or neighborhood environments (for planning, view simulations, and new building design). Every feature is visible, measurable, and precisely located with x-y-z coordinates. Imagine the time and cost we saved over tedious field measurements and weeks of plotting.

We also recently had a client call who wanted to “marry” a 30-story office tower (including basements) to an old 1972 existing building, which had no electronic or hard copy plans. In 45 minutes, we photographed the basement (56 snap shots of hallways, rooms, doors, exposed plumbing, etc.) and flew the drone around the building. That afternoon, we processed the optically captured images into 3D Revit files with millimeter accuracy for the design team’s immediate use.

Armed with a complete scanned model of a site, what else can we do with a “smart computer”? We have earned access to WATSON, the IBM computer that beats anyone at chess or Jeopardy and generally knows everything! When we scan a site and show it to WATSON, lots of opportunities arise. For instance, “Watson, how many parking stalls are there? How many trees?” We found he can count anything instantly and with 100 percent accuracy. Okay, so we can count. Now, can he sort? Yes!

We asked how many trees were Redwood, Pine, Walnut, and so on and so forth. Watson gave us a count by type.

Finally, we wondered if he could also analyze. Yes! He can if we teach him. So, we showed WATSON what a beetle-infested tree looked like and said, “How many trees in this forest are healthy? How many are stressed and where are they?” Bingo – instant answer with the number and an aerial photo with circles around every diseased tree!

Imagine the applications for automated counting, sorting, and evaluating in the Land Development world. We are, and we intend to use A.I. for counting, measuring, and categorizing trees and plants, parking fields, buildings’ roofs, windows, and fixtures, roadways and trails, rooftop equipment, and more.

Now, I would like to share how we are taking these millions of points and using them to create compelling and accurate view simulations. Imagine that you fly a drone over downtown Los Angeles for about 15 minutes. Now, you have a 3D model of every building, street, and site to play with. So, next, you take the Revit files for new buildings and simply insert them into the model, giving you the ability to look at it from anywhere, or from it at anything – with precise accuracy. Almost every Entitlement Application for projects now involves creating view simulations for neighbors and officials, not to mention for yourself (we had one client so appalled by his huge building that he reversed course on it and redesigned it to fit in better!). These views can be static line-of-sight shots or moving videos (like the view from the I-5 of passing cars) of a downtown skyscraper. A fast, accurate, and compelling tool for Land Development approvals or winning over officials, the public, and investors!

What if we could immerse you into the virtual models we have made? What if you could actually go inside your project? Imagine this: you slip an Oculus goggle set over your eyes and you are suddenly standing in the living room of your model project – one that has not been built yet. So now you look around, up at the recessed ceiling lights, which are on and lighting the room just as in real life. You look down at the hardwood floor, appreciating the wood plugs and stressed grains in it. You scan sideways at the sofa, overstuffed chairs, and end table with a coffee cup and vase of flowers on it.

Now, you move around in the room looking back into the kitchen, forward toward the glass doors and patio, to the side again down a hallway. You approach the glass doors and look out at the view and a sunlit tree waving its leaves in the wind. This is Virtual Reality! VR is here to stay and can enhance the planning, design, and even construction of Land Development Projects.

Patrick R. Fuscoe is the Chief Executive Officer for Fuscoe Engineering Inc.

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