The First Three Years Of Apple LiDAR 3D Scanners And The Second Generation Coming In iPhone 15
This article is about why Apple’s LiDAR sensors still stand out over 3 years after the groundbreaking sensor was introduced in iPad and iPhone Pro and why we are excited about the upcoming release of the upgraded sensors in iPhone 15.
There continues to be a buzz in digitizing buildings, reality capturing and 3D production industries. Digital twins, NFT houses and Metaverse worlds are just a few of the seemingly magical words, phrases and initiatives that have raised awareness of the topic and brought it to a broader audience. In the past year alone we’ve seen new developments in NeRF 3D scanning to create virtual tours that challenge companies like Matterport, 3DVista and Teliportme and their business models. Instead of specialized cameras like the Insta360 and high recurring licensing costs, it can all be done on a LiDAR-equipped Apple device with a faster and more streamlined workflow.
Almost all 3D tools, apps and techniques have their own unique features and capabilities. It can be difficult to get a solid grip on what is going on. We’re continuing on our mission to spread our knowledge about the latest developments in the field in ways that we hope shed more light.
A Brief Retrospect: What Methods And Apps For Digitizing Buildings Existed Before The iPad LiDAR Release?
Traditional 3D scanning companies like Faro, Leica and Trimble. Over 60 years after they were invented we still have less than 1% of buildings digitized. The scanners are expensive and they require specialist work. More lightweight mobile scanning solutions are coming out and prices are getting lower but it’s still quite high above what is reasonable for most buildings and projects.
DIY and Camera-Based Apps like Magicplan, Floorplanner and Coohom. Requires tech-savvy users and longer training time. They have technical limitations and plans are typically not created/processed instantly on site. The platforms usually have unique file formats that can’t easily be shared and some solutions struggle with inaccurate scale and geometry issues affected by conditions on the site.
Surveyors, Construction Companies, 3D production studios. This group is also expensive specialist work. Most surveyors and construction companies are bound by laws and regulations that require them to use 2D drawings. 3D studios are typically expensive and the output is often just images or video renderings and not the actual 3D model they are derived from.
Five Things That Were New With The iPad Pro in 2020
1. Price and accessibility
When it was released in 2020 the price was 1/5 of the cost of the closest alternative.
LiDAR Hardware Price Reduction Over Time
2. Speed of capturing.
3. Amount and quality of the data captured.
Rich and accurate compared with existing methods.
Comparable with traditional 3D scanners
4. On-device real-time capturing and processing.
No external sharing of data and no internet connection is needed.
The output is easily shareable in multiple formats and small file sizes.
5. Versatility and interoperability
First time we see something like this built into consumer electronics. Making it a powerful all-in-one device.
Reliable and less dependent on site conditions than existing alternatives.
Ability to capture both indoor and outdoor areas.
Communicate, sketch ideas, annotate data, add notes and all other things you can do on iPads and iPhones.
Why Are These Points Critical?
A mobile LiDAR sensor, great camera, Screen (the optional pen for sketching) and overall capabilities of iPads and iPhones make them a dream come true for many property professionals and would have seemed completely unbelievable 20 years ago.
Overall ease of use for the operator in scanning, processing and sharing work.
The operator can check and verify the data while they are still on site.
Replacing or improving existing methods and working in real-world situations.
In the video linked below we dig a little deeper into the topic of comparing different technologies based on 10 different criteria. Comparing technologies for capturing buildings
Early Adopters And The Applications
Here are five examples of businesses we have been working with in recent years to document and digitize existing buildings.
1. Property owners and renters
Capture existing conditions, as-built drawings, permit plans and virtual tours.
2. Architects and Engineers
Create as-built drawings, concept drawings and quotations in early stages.
Complementing the more advanced scanners that are already in use.
Interior designers, Floor planners and Design and build companies, mainly for residential property but also for small to medium-sized commercial buildings.
4. Tech Developers and Innovation Companies
Automating parts of existing processes connected to documenting and measuring existing buildings.
5. Platforms Channel Partners
Companies delivering data to architects, designers, contractors and installers.
3D scanning and surveying and measurement capturing services companies.
Challenges And Limitations of the first-generation LiDAR
There is rarely a shortage of ideas for applications when something as big as the Apple LiDAR is released. Here are some examples of things the first-generation LiDAR scanners are not suitable for.
Fully automatic solutions:
Extracting volumetric and measurement data. There are apps that generate automated calculations but they are not accurate or reliable enough for professional use.
Displaying systems and configurable products or materials in real-time in the actual environment. Some solutions are in development and this is also dependent on integration with other 3D technology.
Exteriors and land in combination with interiors:
No capture app or solution is good at combining interior and exterior capture capabilities.
Hardware limitation. 5-meter sensor reach and drift issues when scanning large areas.
Scanning outdoor. Sunlight interference results in larger errors on exterior scans.
Failure to capture vegetation and water.
Here's our video about Apple LiDAR scanning outside areas - Accuracy test
Large buildings and construction sites:
Some use it to capture parts of larger sites. The Point Cloud-based app Dot3D has built-in support for AprilTags which can give more accurate scans over larger spaces and SiteScape has built-in support for merging multiple smaller scans into larger models.
With LiDAR scans the visual quality is poorer than existing virtual tours made with 360 cameras. NeRFs and Flythroughs by Lumalabs.ai can however create comparable output in an easier and faster way.
Millimeter precision projects
Never rely on scans alone for high-accuracy projects like custom-made cabinets or worktops.
Creating 3D models of furniture, vases and other things.
LiDAR is better for capturing spaces than objects.
We help customers work around these challenges and find solutions to them at LiDAR3D.io. Reach out to us if you want to know more.
Expectations On The Second-Generation LiDAR
We expect the ability to capture larger and more accurate scans with new and improved hardware and software and processing power. We have not seen any Apple LiDAR hardware upgrades in over 3 years so it will be interesting to see how much better the second generation is. Better cameras equals better 3D models so we are also excited to see how Photogrammetry, NeRF and other 3D creation methods will look like with the new iPhone hardware setup.
Apple has a lot riding on this new sensor which will help lay the foundations for its Vision Pro headset and web3 applications with its 3D content creation abilities. Expectations are high.
We specialize in 3D and 2D processing and editing of raw spatial data, delivering custom solutions tailored to our clients. Whether it's global 3D models or unique virtual experiences, we can help.
Learn more about our services and how we empower companies to be efficient, sustainable, and customer-centric at www.lidar3d.io.