Geo Week News

May 23, 2012

Autodesk releases E57 plug in


Index an E57 file to PCG format in AutoCAD, Inventor, Revit, etc.

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. – Last week, in relatively unobtrusive fashion, Autodesk released a free plug-in that allows users to index an ASTM E57-formatted file of laser scan or other point cloud data into the company’s native PCG format, which can then be used in any of Autodesk’s software in the AutoCAD family. You can download it here in either the 32- or 64-bit version.

“Adhering to standards is an important thing,” said Elmer Bol, director of reality capture at Autodesk. “One of the reasons we put this out is that a lot of customers have had issues with data exchange between different software applications from different vendors. It’s a very painful process. Obviously, if the different vendors can adhere to a single file format, it makes it easier to switch data from one vendor to the other.”

Bol called writing the plug-in “fairly easy to make happen,” saying the ASTM standard provided a lot of example material about how to write the conversion capability for the format (technically the E2807 Standard Specification for 3D Imaging Data Exchange, V1.0. See the many tools available here).

However, this doesn’t mean that one simply presses a button and E57 data magically converts to PCG at the snap of the fingers. “The indexing process still needs to take place,” Bol said, which will take longer or shorter depending on the size of the file being converted. “It’s just a data exchange format; it only solves a problem with regards to exchanging data. It doesn’t remove the need to reindex or convert to a native file format,” he said.

“There is no index format for visualization,” he continued, “and I would doubt that would exist in the future. All the vendors have their different ways of visualizing point clouds, and they will always have that. I don’t’ see that standardizing anytime soon.”

However, E57 should be enough to spur some innovation, Bol speculated. Having founded a small software company, himself (Alice Labs, purchased by Autodesk last year), Bol knows the difficulty of creating software that has to work with many different proprietary file formats.

“If all of the hardware vendors support a single standard,” he said, “as a new entrant into the industry I just need to be able to support this one file format and I could cover all the vendors out there – assuming they actually support the standards. It lowers the barrier to entry to work with different file formats and different vendors.

“That stimulates innovation and I think that’s a good thing for the industry.” 

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