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June 13, 2023 Paul Tice

What Is Reality Capture? An Introduction

What is reality capture? Image of drone flying over California mountains.

As everyone in the AEC industry knows, you can’t understate the need to do things faster and more efficiently.

Enter reality capture, a technological breakthrough that holds immense potential for the AEC industry. It promises to revolutionize how we plan, design, and construct our built environment.

Despite that promise, only about 50% of mid and large-sized firms use the technology. Many have heard of reality capture, but few truly understand how transformative it is.

Read on, because we’re about to uncover the game-changing impact of reality capture in the AEC domain.

What Is Reality Capture?

Now, if you were to Google this question, you might get confused by the results. That’s because there’s RealityCapture and reality capture.

Reality capture is the general term for the process of collecting data from various forms of technology and creating a 3D model from it.

RealityCapture is a software suite created by Capturing Reality.

It’s like the difference between tissues and Kleenex. They both relate to the same thing, it’s just that one is a broad industry category and the other is a brand within that category.

It is important to know the difference between the two because you’ll come across a lot of information about both.

The reality capture we’re covering in this article refers to cutting-edge technology that allows you to create highly accurate digital representations of physical objects and environments.

It’s essentially a way of taking measurements of the real world and turning them into 3D models that can be used in a range of applications.

In the world of AEC, these detailed digital models can be used for a range of purposes, from designing buildings to simulating traffic flow. That’s the 30,000-foot view of what reality capture is.

The Benefits of Reality Capture

About 82% of professionals believe that a 3D walkthrough is a better way to communicate job site status. Still, only half are realizing the benefits of what reality capture has to offer.  If you’re still sitting on the fence, this is what you’re missing out on.

One of the key benefits of reality capture is its accuracy. This level of precision allows us to design and construct with greater efficiency and accuracy, saving time and money in the process.

You can capture precise measurements of objects and environments, which in turn allows you to create highly accurate digital models. The data you obtain with reality capture technology allows you to develop BIM models and as-built documentation.

This level of precision means that you can identify potential issues like design errors and omissions early in the design process and make adjustments before construction even begins.

As a result, you avoid costly mistakes and delays that could have significant financial consequences down the line.

Would you like to have relevant information at your fingertips to make decisions faster? Reality capture does that and you can trust the data in front of you.

In addition, reality capture can also help improve safety on construction sites. You can create detailed models that can be used to identify potential hazards and plan for safety measures.

This can help reduce the likelihood of accidents and injuries, which not only benefits the workers but also helps reduce the costs associated with workplace accidents.

Some studies by OSHA show that the ROI on safety alone can deliver a $5 return on every $1 invested.

Top Reality Capture Methods and Technologies

Reality capture technologies have revolutionized the way we approach design and construction, providing us with incredibly accurate and detailed digital models of the physical world.

Reality capture is a broad category with several different methods to capture and collect data. Each method has its limitations and advantages. We’ll take a closer look at some of the most popular reality capture technologies: Aerial LiDAR, 3D laser scanning, photogrammetry, and 360-degree photo capture.

Aerial LiDAR

Let’s start with LiDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging. This technology uses laser pulses to measure distances and create 3D maps of environments.

LiDAR is highly accurate and precise, making it an ideal choice for capturing macro data for site planning, environmental applications, BIM model site rough in, site analysis, and more. It’s particularly effective in outdoor environments, where it can penetrate foliage and capture accurate data at long ranges.

However, LiDAR does have its limitations. It’s an expensive technology, which can be a barrier for smaller projects. It can also be affected by weather conditions such as fog, rain, or snow, which can impact the accuracy of the data. LiDAR is also limited in its indoor applications because it relies on reflective surfaces to capture data.

3D Laser Scanning

Laser scanning is another reality capture technology that’s commonly used in the AEC industry. It uses lasers to create a point cloud of an object or environment, giving you highly detailed and precise models.

It’s a great choice for many projects because you can use it indoors and outdoors. Laser scanning is also highly accurate and can capture data at a range of distances, with some units having up to a 5 kilometer range; popular for roadway surveying applications.

One of the main advantages of laser scanning is its ability to capture fine details. This makes it an ideal method for historic preservation projects, where the preservation of small details is crucial.

Laser scanning can be time-consuming, as the data captured needs to be processed and edited to create a usable model. However, this process has dramatically improved with the introduction and latest improvements on SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) technology. Processing times for large datasets can be as little as 24 hours. Cost can be a barrier if the project is large and/or complex.


This reality capture technology uses photographs to create a 3D model of an object or environment. It’s a cost-effective and accessible technology that lets you use a wide range of cameras, from high-end DSLRs to small 360 cameras and smartphones.

Photogrammetry is an excellent choice for smaller projects or those with limited budgets. It’s also highly flexible, as it can be used both indoors and outdoors.

Photogrammetry is often used in architectural visualizations and real estate, where the accuracy of the model is not as crucial as the visual appeal.

However, photogrammetry can be time-consuming. Similar to laser scanning, you still need to store, process, and edit a large amount of data to create a working model.

It’s also highly dependent on the quality of the photographs captured. This means that the photographer needs to have a good understanding of lighting, composition, and focus to create an accurate model.

360-Degree Photography

360-degree photography involves taking a series of photographs using a camera that captures images in all directions around the camera.

These images are then stitched together to create a seamless, panoramic view of the environment. This technology is commonly used to create virtual tours, construction progress photos, or documentation for facility management.

The output of 360-degree photography is typically a series of high-quality, high-resolution panoramic images that can be viewed in a web browser or on a mobile device.

360-degree photography and photogrammetry are two different technologies used for capturing and creating digital visualizations of real-world environments, but they differ in their approach, output, and applications.

The main differences between 360-degree photography and photogrammetry are the level of detail and accuracy in the output, as well as the applications for which they are used.

360-degree photography is ideal for creating immersive experiences that showcase an environment, while photogrammetry is better suited for capturing accurate and detailed 3D models of objects and environments that can be used for a variety of purposes.

Challenges and Limitations of Reality Capture

Why aren’t 100% of AEC firms using reality capture? Like any new technology, it comes with its own set of challenges that need to be overcome to fully realize its potential in the AEC industry.

Some of those limitations are too big to overcome, while others are manageable as long as you’re aware of them and plan for them accordingly.

Volume of Data

One of the biggest challenges of reality capture is the sheer volume of data that it generates.

Tools like LiDAR, laser scanning, and photogrammetry can capture massive amounts of data, which can be difficult to manage and process. In addition, the data can be highly complex, requiring specialized software and expertise to work with effectively.

Plan ahead and know how you’re going to organize, store, and process the data. It’s important to have trained personnel who can work with the data and turn it into actionable insights.

You’ll be able to create a smooth workflow that lets you take advantage of the data instead of letting it sit there because you don’t know what to do with it.

Limited Room for Error

Another challenge of reality capture is the need for accurate and up-to-date data. While some applications don’t need a high degree of accuracy, many depend on it. This can be a challenge in environments that are constantly changing, such as construction sites.

This is where the expertise and guidance to help you choose the right data capture methods will help right from the very beginning.

A team of experts will tell you that you might be better off with tools like drones and mobile mapping systems instead of handheld 3D laser scanners.

You’ll also need to consider how you’ll put a system in place for updating the data regularly to ensure that the digital models remain accurate.


Another challenge of reality capture is the need for interoperability between different software and hardware systems.

You’ll need to be able to seamlessly integrate data from different sources and use it across different platforms.

This is another reason why planning is such a big part of the process. You’ll be able to look at all of your systems and software and choose the ones that integrate together. You’ll need to know which file formats the various platforms support, how they interact with each other, and the data requirements.

This simple step should help you streamline your processes and create a more efficient workflow.

Cost of Reality Capture

Finally, there is the challenge of cost. How much does reality capture cost? It depends. The complexity of the project and whether you choose to outsource or keep the task in-house affect the cost.

Evaluate the costs and benefits of reality capture for each project. This includes considering the potential cost savings and efficiency gains that can be achieved through the technology, as well as the costs of the hardware, software, and personnel required to implement it.

Here’s the catch when it comes to using reality capture. The cost and accessibility of data capture are low. Where the real ROI is derived from reality capture is how the data gets validated, processed, and analyzed.

This is why firms adopt reality capture technology but fail to maximize its full value. There are often data quality issues because of environmental factors or a lack of expertise.

If you choose to do everything in-house, you’ll need to invest in the right software and hardware to process and store the data. You also have to give your team enough time to process the data.

Not fitting this into your budget will result in delays and additional costs.

Despite the challenges, reality capture offers tremendous potential for the AEC industry. It helps to know what these are in advance and how to overcome them before you get started.

Understanding the Basics of Reality Capture

Reality capture is an important and underutilized technology for AEC. Once you understand what it is and what it can do for your business, you won’t be able to operate without it.

No matter what reality capture method you use, you can realize the full potential of reality capture for design and construction.

Don’t wait any longer to implement this technology. What’s the first step that you’re going to take?

If you need help with that, give us a call today.


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