Imagery has always been a useful aid to training, emergency planning and incident management. Developments in imaging technology from high resolution spherical cameras with High Dynamic Range capability to 360 degree video and associated viewer software with measurement capability and Virtual Reality immersive environments now makes interactive imagery a highly useful source of information for site training and familiarisation, emergency planning and incident management.
At geosphere4d we have for many years used terrestrial laser scanning techniques to capture 3D point cloud data from which we generate 3D models and drawings and create visualisations. We became aware that for many clients 3D data and in particular the viewing of that data was proving prohibitive based on computing requirements and the level of understanding required to effectively interact with that environment. For many clients their requirement was based around visual content and with an underlying requirement for measurement capability.
Based on these client requirements we investigated existing and emerging technologies and in 2012 purchased a high resolution spherical camera with High Dynamic Range (HDR) capture and interactive measurement capability via a dedicated viewer software solution, which can be standalone, web based or network based. The system also uses a camera lighting system which allows for spherical imagery to be captured in dark environments.
Subsequent projects involved the capture and delivery of interactive spherical imagery within a range of market sectors, including processing and manufacturing plants, heritage properties and oil and gas sector. The main requirements for capturing imagery within these sectors included:
- Site replication to minimise site visits
- Site training and familiarisation
- Health & Safety assessment & review
- Asset Management database
- Condition assessment, inspection and dilapidation
- Image record
- Image based ‘Timeline’
- Geometric database
- Document repository
- Compliment the BIM process
- Digital Operation & Maintenance manual
In 2016 discussions with a UK nuclear facility lead to a commission to capture and deliver interactive spherical photography of a number of site areas, with the imagery used to assist with operational activities that would benefit from site familiarisation and the ability to measure required dimensions during planning exercises.
The imagery was successfully captured and standalone interactive projects delivered, giving the user the ability to navigate from image to image through the site area and within each image take measurements and change the HDR settings to lighten or darken the area of viewing. The positioning of the images was based on existing site plans on to which the spherical camera positions were created as hotspot symbols and the image correctly orientated so the direction of view indicated on the site plan was reflected in the spherical image view.
Within the spherical images additional digital files can be embedded as a database structure, including still imagery, CAD drawings, PDF files, Word and Excel documents and links to external web sites relating to specific items visible within the spherical imagery. See Figure 1.
Using this workflow the spherical imagery becomes the user interface of an interactive Asset Management database of the site or facility and could for example include an Asset layer for fire equipment, alarms and exit routes.
The spherical imagery was subsequently viewed by the nuclear facilities Training department who identified it as a potential aid for site familiarisation, health and safety reviews and risk assessment planning in areas that would normally require training, specialist equipment and work orders to access.
A further requirement particular to the Fire & Rescue Teams was to have the ability to view the imagery with a smoke effect overlay. In addition to the usual computer based viewing of the imagery a Virtual Reality viewing option was also required.
Discussions took place with the team at SphereVision, who agreed to undertake the development of their software to meet the requirements for VR viewing and smoke effect overlay.
In late 2017 the software development was completed and the spherical imagery captured in 2016 was reprocessed and delivered with a Virtual Reality (VR) viewing option and the ability to switch on a variable density smoke layer within each image. See Figure 2 & 3.
The software also has the ability to embed additional documentation into the image and to add interactively notes, all of which can be opened and viewed within the Virtual Reality environment.
It was recognised that whilst the Virtual Reality viewing of the imagery was required for training and planning purposes, it may also be used during an incident and by a broad range of personnel with varying degrees of IT and VR viewing skills. It was therefore, decided not to include the use of hand controls as part of the VR viewing, but to make all interaction with the imagery, including turning on and varying the smoke density layer controlled by the VR headset cross hairs, with the operator needing only to look at the item to be opened or switched on for 2 seconds. This method of operation has proved very successful and has reduced user’s initial concerns on the use of a VR headset.
The VR viewing software can also be used with 360 degree video. In this configuration the user is immersed in the moving video and can look around the video whilst it moves. The video can be stopped at any point and the image viewed as a static spherical image, but of lower resolution than those captured by a dedicated spherical camera.
The video can also have additional documentation, images and digital files embedded into it, which can be opened and viewed. The 360 video provides a method for capturing, for example, an emergency access or exit route as a continuous view.
A further use of the spherical imagery and 360 degree video is for incident investigation where imagery can be used to assess damage, plan remedial works and provide site familiarisation to post incident work crews. Post incident environment image capture is particularly suited to the spherical camera with HDR capability and interactive lighting system.
If imagery has been captured of a facility pre-incident then the post incident imagery and any additional documentation can be added into the database project. If further imagery is captured during the investigation and clearing of a site following an incident this can all be added to the database to provide an interactive image based timeline review. This review allows images taken from the same location at different dates to be reviewed interactively, moving from one to another with the images opening with the same orientation.
The ongoing future use of interactive imagery continues at a pace, with developments in imaging hardware offering significant improvements in image resolution and capture time and software developments allowing 3D point cloud data to be generated from the imagery and geo-referencing of imagery, providing users a range of additional data features and options for training, emergency planning and incident management.
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