Geo Week News

December 30, 2014

3D Printing Wags the Dog (and Other Observations from 2014)

3d printer

2014, we hardly knew you! It seems like every year passes a bit faster than the last, and 2014 was no exception. I’m told that the perception of time passing more quickly is very common as people age. (As a quick aside, I became very interested in this about 6 months ago and found a great documentary on the changing perceptions of time. I’ve been trying to work it into a blog post ever since to no avail. So I’ll leave the link here and we’ll consider one more thing accomplished this year!) 

But on to the point of this article, a quick look back at the highlights of 2014.

  • 3D Printing becomes the tail that wags the dog. I use Google alerts to keep up with all of the various technologies we work with. The number of stories that show up referring to 3D printing is more than the stories about BIM, laser scanning, and point clouds combined. Considering that 3D printing is at the very end of the workflow, it is striking that it receives so much more press than everything else. However, press equals investment and if you are not paying attention to where investments are driving the market you might find yourself on the wrong side of a tech decision – even if it was made by the tail instead of the brain.
  • Autodesk continues to bring new users to the fold. ReCap continues to add users and tens of thousands of Autodesk users are discovering that they have the power to work with point clouds in software they already own. Judging by the questions I heard at Autodesk University, it is still the early days but that certainly makes me bullish on 2015. Add to this the Reality Computing track at AU and the new REAL2015 conference and you have a major player in the industry making major moves.
  • Topcon gets serious about 3D imaging. Speaking of making moves, Topcon grabbed some new talent from the European market by hiring Matt McCarter and John Foster among others. Stateside, Topcon has been a steady presence in the land survey and GIS markets but a bit of an “also ran” in the 3D imaging world. It will be interesting to see what this new talent will bring to the table for Topcon in 2015, but I know that I am more interested in watching them than I was this time last year.
  • UAVs continue to build momentum. While there are some legal issues that still dog the industry here in the USA, they do not seem to be slowing the momentum that is steadily growing behind the use of UAVs. Most are still too light to carry LiDAR but processing software for imagery is improving at such a rate that it may not matter for non-engineering grade data.
  • Processing power continues unabated. The only thing that seems to be improving faster than imaging technology is computing power. The laptop I was issued in October has more processing power, a bigger video card, and more RAM than the top of the line workstation I bought 2 years ago. The great thing about this is that it flows downstream and improves every aspect of our industry(s). I processed some data last week (TIN to TIN volumes) and it took about two hours. I remember taking 2 days to do the same thing a few years ago. Now if I can just figure out how to charge the same as I used to…

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