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Portable Laser Range Finder Enables Real-Time 3-D Mapping

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Via Scientific American

Major automakers—along with upstarts such as Tesla and Uber—are racing to put self-driving cars on the road, leading to advances in enabling technologies such as laser range finders known as lidars. A lidar works like a hyperactive laser measure, scattering laser light in multiple directions to gather hundreds of thousands of measurements per second and build up a “point cloud” of spatial information. A computer processes these data to form a coherent picture of a vehicle’s surroundings.

Now a Pittsburgh-based start-up called Kaarta has integrated a lidar—more affordable and speedier these days, thanks to accelerated development by suppliers serving the auto industry—with a motion sensor, processor and seven-inch touch screen into a handheld device. Called the Contour, the device enables architects, builders and others to generate 3-D computer models of their surroundings on the fly as they walk through them, the company says. A camera on the device captures color data and maps them onto point clouds to render models in realistic hues. When loaded into standard computer-aided design (CAD) software, the models can then form the basis of building renovation plans or other projects.

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