Visualizing surface and environmental data

Assessing the condition of road surfaces: inspection of measurement results made easier through visualization

Surveying road surfaces generates enormous amounts of data. Field measurements are collected over several hundred kilometers, where the road surface is measured down to the submillimeter range. The several terabytes of data accumulated in each set of field measurements are usually evaluated manually, where researchers examine the images and search for certain structural features such as cracks, potholes or patching. While the first automated evaluation processes are now available, the final examination is still performed by specially trained staff.

Software developed by Fraunhofer IPM prepares the measurement results such the specialist staff can examine the data much more efficiently than would be possible without an optimized visualization. For the visualization, methods such as contrast adjustment or edge detection are applied in real time. Special algorithms enable data to be reloaded continuously and smoothly without creating jerky motions. The color, contrast and identified edges can be adjusted in real time. The modular software features an interface for data structure from the BASt (German Federal Highway Research Institute). Other interfaces can also be created on request. The integration of software which can automatically detect structural features in the road surface and is tailored to the visualization software is planned for the future.

Visualization techniques improve the quality of environmental data

Infrastructure inspection, construction project planning, smart factories or autonomous driving – more and more areas of professional surveying rely on the production of high-resolution 3D environmental measurement data in the form of point clouds. However, due to large gaps between measuring points, point clouds alone are too abstract for the human eye. Against this background, we are developing visualization software specifically for environmental data which meshes the point clouds and closes the gaps between the points. A visual reconstruction of the scanned environment is created in real time using cutting-edge 3D visualization methods. This depiction primarily serves as a quality control function during the data capture and verifies its completeness. Any gaps become evident and it becomes clear if additional imaging perspectives are necessary to complete the imaging of the environment.

Furthermore, we are working on integrating simple, additional information into the depiction. This could include a false-color representation of other measurement data channels (intensity), other information derived in real time (distance, height, fissuring of the surface) or the visualization of automatically detected objects. When capturing a road environment, this information could include vehicles, roads, sidewalks or vegetation; in factories this could be pipes, walls, machines or storage units, each with dimensions, volumes or even material properties.

Depending on the application and visualization environment, the demands on the software can be complex. It is important to take into consideration the various possible user interfaces, such as a desktop computer, tablet, smartphone or VR headset, as well as the variability of the information to be displayed. A platform-independent modular software system, currently being developed at Fraunhofer IPM, provides the most suitable software according to the application and interface.