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A Digital Coworker: Automation in the Trimble X7 Laser Scanner

Key automation features of the Trimble X7 3D scanning system bring it a step closer to being a cobot”—a trusted digital coworker.

While surveying instruments have not reached the levels of autonomy that we might associate with the term robot,the high level of automation in the Trimble X7 makes it more like a cobot.It operates with a substantial amount of autonomy, with key input and direction from its human co-worker.

Scanning Workflows

Four key developments incorporated in the Trimble X7 have completely changed customersscanning workflows: 

  •  Automated Fine Self Levelling
  • Self-calibration
  • Automated registration of point clouds
  • Protected critical components in sealed assemblies.

Automated Fine Self Leveling

Legacy scanners can be challenging to level within a narrow range of <2° for survey grade accuracy or they're unable to achieve survey grade accuracy at all. This is a common source of error and the use of a tribrach is time consuming and best done by experienced hands. The X7 has a much wider compensation range of ±10° and no expertise or time is required to visually set up the instrument for automatic adjustment to survey grade accuracy of <3” (arc seconds).

Trimble X7 LE34


With the X7’s self-levelling feature, the Danish surveying consultancy LE34 was able to reduce hours of work down to minutes for a housing project. Tasked with scanning thousands of housing flats to create 3D models for their clients to use to manage affordable housing, their field crews were able to reduce the time needed to scan each unit from several hours to about 45 minutesincluding the time to move from one unit to the next. LE34 Engineering Surveying Director Anders Nygaard Møller said that this would not have been possible with legacy scanners.

Self-Calibration

Legacy scanners need to be sent into a factory or qualified lab for calibration annually, or even more frequently depending on the level of usage. The X7 calibrates itself in the field in about 25-45 seconds, and on a continuous basis without needing to set up any target or be in a special environment.  

Avoiding downtime for factory re-calibration is crucial for the Survey Group (SG), a West Australian surveying consultancy that performs scanning to support mining operations. Ben Simpson, who heads up Operations & Business Development for SG said, Sending in the scanner for calibration can be costly. But it is the downtime that really becomes problematic.

Automated Registration of Point Clouds

With the X7, the registration process is automated in the field while the scanning is in process. It allows the user to be able to check for completeness and avoid time-and-cost-busting situations where they would need to go back to get something they missed.

It is possible to check the registered point clouds before leaving the site and to export the data as a direct deliverable for many applications. LE34s Møller said, Being able to register and check the cloud in the field and eliminate much of the office work, made our operations for the large-scale housing management project practical and cost effective.” 

Sealed Units

With these automation enhancements, this new type of scanning system can serve a broader range of applications as it is ruggedized to work in diverse environments. With exposed components, legacy scanners are not particularly resilient in harsh environments. SGs Ben Simpson related an incident during a large scanning job of an iron ore mining facility. Although the area was arid, it was subject to acute torrential downpours. The X7 survived one such storm, but an old-style scanner did not, and they had to send the older scanner in for repair.

Trimble X7

It is this kind of automation in workflows that has been responsible for the rise in popularity of the X7 for AEC, accident forensics, remodeling, theatrical and motion picture set development, BIM, and historic preservation. The advent of the X7 means that operators can be an expert in their field without having to be an expert in scanning. Many more people can now tap into the power of high-precision 3D data with the help of this scanning cobot.