Point cloud data is used around the globe in a variety of industries, from construction and engineering to highway planning and the development of self-driving cars. Point clouds allow technology to interpret and represent 3D spaces through 3D digital images. 

But if you haven’t worked with point cloud data before, you might want a better idea of what exactly point clouds are, how they’re collected and how you can make the most of them. So what is point cloud data? Here’s everything you need to know.

What Is Point Cloud Data?

As the world’s gone digital, so too has technology, being used ever more in construction and planning projects. 3D images representing real-world objects, landscapes and spaces are being generated by software and displayed digitally. But for these images to be created, we first need to be able to read and identify their dimensions. That’s where point cloud data comes in. 

Point clouds are a series of different “points”, similar to pixels in a digital picture. Each pixel is made up of two coordinates – X and Y, while a LiDAR point is made up of three coordinates — X, Y and Z — which refers to a specific position in a three-dimensional space. 

A point cloud is made up of lots of these points, typically millions, which together represent a 3D shape or environment. This data can then be imported into software programs like TopoDOT, where it is processed and transformed from countless points on a screen to a 3D mapped model. 

How Is Point Cloud Data Collected?

Before point cloud data can be processed, the individual points need to be collected. This is usually done using LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology, which uses light to measure distances and dimensions. Time of flight LiDAR (the most popular method) works by sending a pulse of light from a laser. An extremely accurate timer starts and measures how long it takes for the laser light to reach a surface and bounce back to the LiDAR sensor — the distance is calculated by a formula you may remember from school: Distance = Time X Speed of Light.  

Each pulse is measured and added to the point cloud. Once the entire space or landscape has been measured, the point cloud can be used to create a 3D map or CAD model.

Point clouds can also be collected using photogrammetry, which uses multiple photos, taken from various angles, to calculate points. Photogrammetric point clouds give each point an RGB value, which then creates a colorized point cloud. Both photogrammetry and LiDAR point cloud generating systems are popular. Typically, photogrammetry systems are cheaper, but LiDAR systems are much more accurate. The correct choice depends on the application of your project.

What Is Point Cloud Data Used For?

Point cloud data can be used to bring coordinates to life in the form of a 3D CAD (Computer-Aided Design) image. For example, if a point cloud has been collected from a highway, once the data is added to point cloud processing software, it can be transformed into a digital model of the road. The 3D model will include not just the transport corridor but also its surroundings, such as buildings, road signs, trees, and curbs. 

With TopoDOT point cloud processing software, the environment represented in the 3D CAD model can be manipulated, just like in a virtual reality environment. Changes can then be tested for functionality in the safety and flexibility of the digital world.

3D CAD models can also include moving parts, such as cars, so that project managers can see how they will interact with the existing structures and how they might be affected by certain changes. For example, when TopoDOT is used in the transportation industry for highway or railroad planning, it can accurately identify and prevent collisions. TopoDOT can also use point cloud data to calculate the maximum advisory speed on certain road sections. 

By using point cloud data in conjunction with point cloud processing software like TopoDOT, you can more than just create 3D models, but also identify risks and create solutions. Project become not only more efficient but potentially life-saving. This isn’t limited to point cloud analysis- traditional survey requires teams to be on the sides of busy highways and rails much compared to using LIDAR. Ultimately, project managers can save both time and money using point cloud data, as planning, measurements, and experiments can take place safely in the digital point cloud environment. 

How to Use Point Cloud Data

When working with point cloud data, you’ll need to use point cloud data processing software. This can help you transform scan data into a useful CAD model. 

TopoDOT doesn’t just create a 3D model, but it also makes modeling easier than ever. Our software can automatically extract features from point cloud data, including topography and structural models. 

With an accurate 3D digital image that pinpoints various real-life features, project managers and engineers can test models as they exist in reality,  try suggested changes, new layouts, use vehicle simulation to analyze risks of collision, and much more. All this can be done in the digital space and without the time constraint, money, safety risk, and trial and error in the real world.

Find out how TopoDOT can help you streamline your point cloud processing efforts by signing up for a free demo today or book at Discovery Call with

Categories: Technology


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