Geo Week News

September 30, 2008

Autodesk Licenses Ambercore's Point Cloud Engine

Last week Autodesk quietly announced a deal to license Ambercore Software‘s point cloud processing software for its AEC, BIM and geospatial products.

The announcement contained no details about when customers should expect to see Ambercore technology inside an Autodesk product, but we managed to catch up with Ambercore CEO Martin Sendyk and Gene Roe, Surveying & Mapping Product Manager, for Autodesk’s Geospatial Business Unit to get a better idea of their plans going forward.

According to Roe, more and more Autodesk customers are asking for point cloud processing capabilities to inform 3D design — in many instances point clouds are the starting point for a 3D workflow. The challenge is that the data sets are often very large, hundreds of millions of points, or even billions of points. Roe says most of the other point cloud processing technology they looked at required decimation of the data, i.e sampling and then discarding the captured points in order to make them manageable.

Last summer Autodesk began talking to Ambercore, attracted by the company’s claims that its spatial indexing technology could handle billions of points. Sendyk claims the company’s geospatial engine “can handle data sizes without limit. No matter how big the data is, you don’t have to cut it up. It’s extremely fast and we have algorithms (some patented, some trade secrets) that allow it to do that. When we process points, we do it in a way where our algorithms visit each point only once allowing it to be very fast. You don’t lose accuracy and you can display it very quickly…it’s been built in a way that makes it very easy to layer analytics — various modeling and simulation layers of software on top of it.”

Autodesk has also licensed Ambercore’s DEM (digital elevation model) engine; Roe’s view is that most of today’s tools based on creating triangulated irregular networks (TIN) are unable to handle large LIDAR databases without serious decimation. Herein lies the value according to Sendyk, “there’s still a lot more intelligence one can extract out of point cloud data … it all begins with market leaders like Autodesk being able to pull the data into their software so you don’t get into this silliness where you’re collecting very accurate data and then watering it down so the software can handle it [while]losing the accuracy you’ve collected in the first place.” Steve Stanfill, Autodesk AEC business development manager for transportation and civil engineering adds that point cloud data improves the productivity and quality of traditonal GIS and engineering workflows because the data elements are collected quickly (particularly with mobile scanning solutions), accurately measured and geo-referenced. This can allow engineering systems to inform GIS systems to inform maintenance management systems, for example.

Ambercore, headquartered in Ottawa with satellite offices in Houston and in Eastern Europe has more than 100 employees and is venture funded. Earlier this year the company acquired mobile scanning solution provider Terrapoint from Pulse Data. The company provides enterprise scale spatial data software to oil, gas and mining firms. Sendyk says the company seeks to be an end-to-end provider from data collection to processing to integration to intelligence extraction. Sendyk likens the spatial data market to the food market “on one end, you’ve got a collection of bags of grain. On the other end, you’ve got people who want to eat sandwiches. What’s missing is the ability to turn that grain into bread and add a little cheese and a little ham to it.”

Sendyk says that the firm’s strategy is to work with industry leaders with the necessary APIs and .net environments. He says that though Ambercore’s licensing agreement with Autodesk is non-exclusive and that the company is working with other partners, “no-one has anything as advanced as Autodesk has.”

Spar Point’s view is that this deal bodes well for everyone — laser scanning customers, engineering firms, building owners, public infrastructure organizations, service providers and hardware firms. Market growth in the 3D imaging market in our opinion is constrained less by hardware cost and data acquisition cost and more by the lack of software to process point cloud data. Autodesk has a record of bringing technology to masses of users, millions of them – “democratizing” technology as they put it. Autodesk’s imprimatur on point cloud processing will let laser scanning go wide and far.

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