SAVING THE PLANET
Coral is in trouble. It seems every week we read about a new study warning us about how treasures like Australia's Great Barrier Reef are retreating, coral being bleached or killed from ocean acidification.
A good part of the effort to stem the tide of our dying oceans is accurate measurement so we know the rate of decline, and traditional methods give us only very rough estimates.
Divers would traditionally lay grids of PVC pipe across coral beds and make a visual guess about the percentage of surface area in a given square had suffered bleaching. To measure changes accurately you have to dig coral up, which kills it and defeats the purpose of the research.
Now a program called Hydrous is transforming the world of underwater conservation through 3D modelling. Researchers need only swim slowly past coral beds, taking pictures with very high resolution underwater cameras.
In the same way you can take a few pictures of yourself in many consumer apps and end up with 3D model (more below), sensors readings of an object form more angles let the 3D engines more accurately plot it.
Powerful computing systems (or distributed computing networks found in the cloud) process the data and return an accurate 3D model you can flip, spin, invert or manipulate as much as you want.
In Hydrous' case, such accuracy has seen the measurement errors of coral beds plunge to less than 5 percent, giving scientists a far clearer idea of how much coral we're losing.
MAKING BETTER BUILDINGS
In 2010, the Empire State Realty Trust engaged a renowned consulting organisation to make the iconic Empire State Building more energy efficient.
The first step was a BIM (building information modelling) model, which gives a picture of everything from the energy usage to the movement of human traffic throughout a building. Back then it took nine months to do all the surveying, measuring and plotting.
Today, with an array of visual, electromagnetic, photogrammetric (more below) and other smart sensors, a BIM can be called up in minutes and constantly updated with live data. BIM can tell owners and managers which power outlets are being used, light levels and humidity, people patterns such as spots workers gather socially, where they tend to work on weekends, etc.
It makes management like the heating, cooling or lighting or certain areas much more immediate and responsive.
But you can do even more with a BIM model. If you're planning to increase production in a factory and need to extend a conveyor belt through a packaging area, a BIM will let you make the changes virtually before you spend a cent, finding the most cost- and efficiency-optimum way to do it.
You don't want to start a very expensive construction project only to find there's an air conditioning duct or forklift route in your way.
The same principle – of tweaking digital models – can be used in almost any field or industry. The computer can tell you how best to design a road bridge to cross a mountain pass, using the least amount of materials, making it the easiest possible ride and exerting as little impact on the environment as possible.
As we saw above, seeing how different car designs perform in simulations of reality is far cheaper than building a single prototype.