Virtual Design Analysis Group is a division of NVentum, LLC.

This unique collaborative endeavor; to utilize the latest reality capture technology to document the artifacts, buildings and campus of History San Jose, provides opportunities for private sector, non-profits and institutions of higher education to work together to solve some of today's most pressing engineering issues. The protocol for retrofitting as-built historic facilities and the use of new technologies to preserve our most prized historic treasures are vital to the continued success and expanded influence of our museums.
This blog will document the challenges and successes of this ambitious, one of a kind project.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Keepers Of San Jose's History

Photo Courtesy of History San Jose
"One of the most promising uses of 3D technology is heritage conservation. Museums are filled with priceless artifacts – bits and pieces of history that tell the stories of our ancestors – but war, 
Photo Courtesy of History San Jose
earthquake, handling and time cause irreplaceable historical treasures to be lost, damaged or even destroyed. Yet museums have a mandate to present the nation's heritage to visitors, students and scholars. 

 By creating virtual 3D models of museum artifacts, museums could limit the handling and movement of artifacts. Displays of virtual artifacts have the potential to last indefinitely, ensuring generations to come will continue to admire and learn from them, without causing damage."...
National Research Council Canada. January 2010
Photo Courtesy of History San Jose

Photo Courtesy of History San Jose

The Project

At first glance, the goal of this project is simple and straight forward; the gathering of sufficient data to create a 3D BIM model of History San Jose. However, a detailed analysis of the project reveals the complexities inherent in such an ambitious endeavor.
History San Jose is not your typical museum by any stretch of the imagination. The eclectic collection of artifacts, the size of the campus, the condition and nature of the various historic buildings make this a truly unique undertaking. Consider some of the more obvious challenges:

Photo Courtesy of History San Jose
-More than 2500 photographs, from early settlers to agriculture to nature scenes
-Santa Clara County records from 1849 to 1930
-Bicycle collections
-Agricultural tools: yokes, harnesses, plows, prune grader, tractors
-Architectural pieces: doors, fence posts, banisters, staircases, wood planks….
-Household items: stoves, refrigerators, ice boxes, sewing machines, washing machines…
-Furniture: beds frames, mirrors, dressers, cabinets, chairs, tables, desk, lamps…
-Vehicles: tractors, wagons, sleighs, trolleys….
-Antique adding machines, printing presses, switchboards, typewriters….
-Music: pianos, player pianos, phonographs
-Over 1000 local maps from 1847 to present
-Aerial photographs from the 1930s
Photo Courtesy of History San Jose
-Cemetery Records

Museum Buildings
There are 30 buildings in various conditions and stages of restoration located on the museum campus. Some buildings have been totally restored, are in excellent condition and open to the public. Other buildings have been partially restored and are a work in progress.  Still, other buildings are incomplete and missing part of the original structures. 
Laser Scan Of History SJ Printing Office- K.Hanna, NVentum llc. 20011

Photo Courtesy of History San Jose

The Campus

History San Jose Campus Circa 1975
Photo Courtesy of History San Jose
There are no detailed site maps of the History San Jose campus. As a result, records are in question and the need for an official topographical survey of the site is an essential component of the project's overall mission.
Campus Map Courtesy of History San Jose

Laser Scan of History SJ Plaza (SE), K.Hanna- NVentum llc.2011

The Opportunities
Our stated goal is the gathering of data for the development of a BIM Model of History San Jose. However, the objectives and milestones in route to that goal offer tremendous opportunities for education, innovation and workforce development.
One of the challenges NVentum continues to face is the lack of a knowledgeable and trained pool of individuals with an understanding of reality capture methodology. Of those who are fortunate enough to have found training opportunities, many haven’t had the practical experience to apply what they’ve learned to their field of endeavor.  This project provides ample opportunities for students to practice new skills and techniques that are essential in today’s job markets. Reality capture techniques and technology, topographical surveys, asset management, virtual design construction, facility retrofits, sustainable technology, point cloud registration, augmented reality are just some of the educational and training opportunities available for engineering students.
We are currently developing educational opportunities in conjunction with the engineering schools at Santa Clara University and San Jose State University.  Evergreen Valley College in San Jose has recently developed a BIM program with classes scheduled to begin this Fall. Students in the third semester of EVC’s BIM program will be able to take classroom theory and apply it to the History San Jose project under the supervision of professional staff.  The practical applications of these unique skills are critical to the development of our next generation of architects, curators, designers and engineers.

There is a major emphasis on sustainability for both new and as-built facilities. By comparison, designing and constructing sustainable buildings from the ground up as opposed to retrofitting as-built facilities is an easy proposition. The inherent challenges in as-built retrofits can be daunting to put it mildly. Let’s take an example of a historic building on the History San Jose campus; how do you retrofit a building that was built at the turn of the century, has no forensic data, no blueprints and has been updated several times over the past 100 years?  Challenges arise when the mix of technology and construction methods over the past 100 hundred years of maintenance, operations and building upgrades are all combined in one building. The lack of universal platforms and adaptable technology can create major obstacles to a preservation and/or restoration project. History San Jose provides an opportunity to address this challenge and others like it.
What is the true definition of sustainable retrofits when discussing as-built facilities? At what point does it become impractical to retrofit an older facility? When is forensic reality capture appropriate and/or necessary in the preservation process?
As you can see, this is not your typical project. The opportunities presented, the applied technology, the potential impact on the next generation of scholars and engineers  make this a truly unprecedented project and a model for future collaborative endeavors between the private sector, non-profit community and higher education.
Laser Scan w/Texture Map Image of History SJ Print Office-K.Hanna, NVentum llc. 2011

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Documentation Process

As an advocate for laser scanning technology, I am constantly preaching the virtues and vast untapped uses for this particular type of reality capture. However in a practical sense, it wouldn't be wise for me to ignore the obvious short falls of this technology and the questions surrounding its applications. There are indeed a myriad of applications and functions that this technology can offer; including entire new jobs functions and career paths. However, there are also limitations to the technology that must be addressed before we can realize the industry expansion and growth we know will eventually take place.

As for the pros of laser scanning as a documentation process for historic buildings, there are plenty. Laser scanners can gather millions of bits of information in a single scan. Scanners can gather information from dangerous/hazardous locations, difficult to reach areas or extreme heights. Scanners provide access to data that would otherwise be very costly and/or even dangerous to obtain. Scanners also provide a level of detail that cannot be found with even the most high resolution cameras.

Photo Courtesy of History San Jose
As for the documentation of artwork such as paintings and written documents, the laser can capture even the most subtle nuances such as the artist's brush strokes or details in penmanship. All without posing a threat or hazard to the artifact.

Documenting pottery, turn of the century kitchen utensils, furniture and tools are all appropriate applications and areas where this technology shows tremendous promise. At times, the upside of this technology and its applications appear endless.
Freedom Papers Of Sampson Greaves filed with Santa Clara County Recorders in 1854
Photo Courtesy of History San Jose

Though the arguments in favor of this technology are loud and clear, some of the challenges to the expanded applications are glaringly apparent. First and foremost, reality capture technology is much like basic photography; "it's line of sight" technology. The laser can only see what is in its direct path. Anything that is blocked, obscured or invisible to the laser's beam cannot be documented. Therefore to avoid physical barriers to the scanning process like bushes, fences and other obstacles, multiple scans from various angles must be performed to get the full benefit of the technology. The time required to set up and complete a scan, relocate the scanner for the next set of scans can be a bit much, especially when working under strict time constraints. Thus, when dealing with small, multi-room structures it may be easier, less time consuming and less costly to utilize hand measurement tools. (Conversely, the documentation of large, open facilities such as auditoriums, convention halls or warehouses are an ideal applications for this technology.) These visual limitations obviously extend to other areas such as the rooftops and underneath buildings. A basic rule of thumb when using laser scanning tools is if you can't see it, neither will the laser.

Because lasers work off of an object's reflectivity, they have a very difficult time collecting data from dark colored items. This can be compensated for when incorporating texture mapping

techniques to the final product however this idea is not without its flaws. Mainly, the quality and resolution of a laser scan is extremely difficult if not impossible to match with today's photo technology. The moment the photo overlay is applied to the laser scan there is a marked reduction in quality, sharpness and to a much lesser extent, accuracy of a laser scan.

To document the floor plan of an as-built facility, each room must be scanned individually. The adjoining/transitional spaces such as hallways and foyers must be scanned and the individual sets of point cloud data registered to form an dimensional accurate model. Once again, time equals cost and this process can take time.

When operating the laser at lower intensity levels, the edge of the point cloud can look "fuzzy" and lack the detail necessary to take accurate measurements. Though, I'm sure the type of laser and its application has a major impact on this phenomenon. I am anxious to test the application of different models and types of lasers in a variety of situations and duties during the upcoming months of this project.

For forensic documentation purposes, the laser is unable to gather details about construction materials so certain aspects of the process require significant operator input. No matter how advance the technology, the human factor is critical to the accuracy and effectiveness of the product. This underscores the importance of this project's educational component. Through every step of the project, from the documentation/reality capture of the campus to the reality capture of  and documentation of the farming equipment; the capture of all data, how it is accessed, shared and utilized will be developed through practical application in the real world environment.

Serious consideration must also be given to the long term maintenance and sustainability of electronic files and records. What happens to files that are constantly in use, altered, shared and manipulated? The deterioration of electronic files is a very serious concern that must be addressed. Redundancy, back-up systems and alternative records are essential to the documentation and preservation process. The 3D model can be used to create printable 2D floor plans, campus maps and schematics as backup and supplemental documentation.

The bottom line is a project of this magnitude will require multiple strategies to achieve the optimum results for the museum, its artifacts and the general public. Particular elements of the project will require deep forensic documentation while others may require a much less detailed accounting for condition monitoring and exhibition. In some elements, laser scanning technology may be supplemented with other documentation processes to achieve the best possible outcome for the museum's artifacts and for exhibition purposes.

As with all emerging technologies there are still questions to be answered, techniques to be mastered and applications to be discovered. Stay tuned.....