Four years ago, Leica Geosystems released the Leica RTC360 terrestrial laser scanner. The RTC was a technological and scanning work of art four years ago. I wanted to dive in and look at where it stands in todays scanning landscape. When talking about anything technological these days, it seems that by the time we finish our sentence about how great something is, there is something else being released that is even better. I was excited to see the RTC at the dealer meetings in Las Vegas when it was released. That excitement was not only for the new scanner but to see what the competition would do to make something even better. A lot of time has passed, and I have to say I am still waiting to see something better. I can only imagine the Faro, Trimble and other scanner makers are still sitting in a room scratching their heads wondering how Leica created the almost perfect machine. As far as I am concerned, Leica still has the best laser scanner on the market! Let me explain.
The first feature that I would like to mention is not a button to push or something related to operating the scanner. No lights or bells or whistles here. I am talking about what might be the greatest feature of the scanner. Of course, that is simply its portability. For those who have never seen the scanner, the entire setup (tripod, batteries, battery charger, scanner, USB sticks and even an iPad) fit into or onto a separately purchased backpack made specifically for the scanner. The images below show everything that fits into the backpack (minus the red case of course). The tripod collapses and is held onto the backpack with a pocket and side straps. All of this helps transport the scanner in and out of jobs that might otherwise require a few people to transport just the equipment.
That was all about just being able to transport the scanner. Now let’s dig into actual features. If you have ever seen a demonstration of the scanner, you know that another major feature to the scanner is that is works with a variety of mobile devices (iOS and Android). I use mine with an iPad and it makes life so much easier to complete field work. Of course, field registration increases productivity by not having to register in a complete project in the Register 360 software. Viewing the data on a mobile device also allows the user to review areas they may have passed by during the scanning process. Using the Cyclone Field 360 mobile application empowers users to create supplemental data (photos, videos, documents, text) and attach that data directly to where it exists in the point cloud. This data is known as GeoTags. This is a very powerful tool because sometimes even though the camera on the scanner is amazing it doesn’t collect details like serial numbers, model numbers etc. This data is not only available in the Leica registration software but also available in the published LGS file.
Moving to the scanning process and features the scanner provides. Going back to the release of the scanner and hearing that the average scan time would be 1 minute and 50 seconds (collecting 2 million points per second), I was completely skeptical on what that data might look like. To my complete shock, the data was clean, dense and resembled a slightly grainy photograph. When I look at the data today, I am still amazed that we are capturing such quality data in a short time period. Even at a higher resolution which takes more time, we are scanning at 2 minutes and 42 seconds. That is a complete scan with HDR photographs and 3mm@10m (1/8”@30’) spacing!! Some might say this scanner or that scanner can do the same thing but when we compare side by side, they either aren’t scanning at the same densities, or their scanner takes three to four times longer than the RTC at the same density. Being able to scan this fast, changes the game when it comes to getting large project done. Before the RTC360, a project of 300 scans might take over 10 days with a scanner would take a day and a half with an RTC360.
I would like to take a moment to revisit in-field registration. I mentioned earlier in this post that we could use an Android or iOS device to assist in the registration, but I didn’t mention that the process to do this was enhanced by what Leica refers to as their VIS system. VIS stands for Visual Inertial System which is a fancy way of saying the RTC360 utilizes a series of 5 cameras, a GPS, and an altimeter to locate one scan in relation to another. This means your data is essentially registered for you and your job is to simply approve what the scanner has done for you.
Anyone who has ever used any scanner before has probably experience the challenge of objects moving through the scene as data is being collected. This of course can not only be frustrating, but it can cause issues with registration or simply something blocking the data we were hoping to collect. While it is my belief that we will never fully solve this problem, the Leica line of scanners does a good job with something they refer to as a double scan. The double scan feature does exactly what is says, it collects the data twice by spinning the scanner 360 degrees instead of the traditional 180 degrees. The data is compared and if data was moving through the scene, it removes what it believes is the unwanted or moving data. Of course, this will increase the scanning time by roughly a minute, but it can save cleanup time in the office.
When we discuss photography in relation to scanning, most scanners have a way to turn on and off not only the photos but also the HDR photos. This is not the case with the RTC360. We can turn the photos on and off but there is not a feature to turn off the HDR aspect of the photos. Some could look at this as a negative, but I would argue that we have no reason to turn off the HDR. The scan times from the RTC are still much faster than any other scanner.
The data collected on the RTC is stored on one of two USB sticks that come with the scanner. This means that the data can easily be transferred to a computer, deleted from the USB stick and then scanning can resume.
So, I have mentioned a few of the features and I really want to get back to why I wrote this article. I wanted it to be a hands-on after 4 years. All the features I have mentioned in this article still make the scanner one of the best out there. As a matter of fact, if you offered to buy me a scanner of my choosing to be fast, versatile and the best all around scanner, the RTC would be my choice. It does more than most jobs require and scans at a higher density than most jobs require. I know there are those out there that might say they need a scanner that can do detail scans of certain areas at longer distances and that is perfectly fine. I believe that to be out of the norm for most people.
The last item I would like to address is more about some of the questions I get during the sales process. The first thing people ask is how long does a scanner like this last and still be relevant? My answer is always the same. This scanner is 4 years old and still stands at the top of the scanning industry. I always tell people if they treat the scanner right, there is no reason they can’t have it for a very long time. Even if Leica were to produce a new scanner tomorrow, this one would still be a great scanner to have in your toolbox. The second is how often is there an update to the scanner. Leica seems to just fix things they can as fast as they can, but I expect a new firmware to be out at least once a year. That may change the older the scanner gets but that is my current expectation. The last question I get often is how hard is it to operate? The short answer is not very hard. To expand on that, it is something that requires you to learn from someone who knows what they are doing and if you pay attention to them, you can pick it up very quickly.
I am sure I haven’t covered every aspect of the scanner, but these are the high points and if you have read this and have questions, please feel free to reach out to us here at IMAGINiT.
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