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How (and why) Trimble created the world’s most detailed record EVER of an ancient Roman landmark

At a glance, did you think this image is a photo? 
Most people would… until they looked closer!

In reality, it’s the most detailed point cloud model of the historic Library of Celsus, ever. And it has millions of data points to prove it. 

Created with laser scanners that capture 500,000 points per second, this model offers rich, actionable data that could never be captured in a photo. 

If a picture is worth a million words, a point cloud model is worth exponentially more. More on that soon, but first, the context…

Why did Trimble take point cloud scanners to an ancient Roman landmark?

Trimble is not in the business of documenting historic landmarks. So exactly why did we go all the way to Turkey to point cloud scan the Library of Celsus? The short answer: for you!

Here’s why… we know that technology has the power to revolutionize the construction process. Specifically, to make work easier, connect project information, reduce project waste, increase profit, and free up construction professionals to do what they do best: design and build amazing structures. 

The world needs more examples of how technology can transform construction. We hear so much about how our industry isn’t adopting innovation enough. But it’s hard to feel inspired by doom and gloom. And in our opinion, it’s missing the point. There is so much to be gained through technology adoption! It’s not a story of doom, it’s a story of massive untapped potential. 

So we’re charting a path to the future of construction and showing you how you can get there, too, in a bite-sized documentary series. As the episodes progress, you’ll see how innovative software and hardware make the construction process easier, from as-built scanning through to a fully detailed, buildable design. 

Finding the perfect location to test the limits of modern construction technology

First things first, we needed a location. After all, this isn’t about conceptual discussion of Connected Construction. It’s about applying the tools and processes in the real world. 

When we found the Library of Celsus, we knew it was perfect. It grounds our project in history, linking ancient construction to modern tech. As an added bonus, the crumbling ruin provides a challenging starting point, perfect for testing the limits of technology.

So... there you have it! We traveled to Turkey to create a 3D model of our location to use as the foundation for the project, The Great Library. Thanks to the scan data, our architects will be able to design their addition without ever stepping foot on location. 

Ready to see the results? 

Spot the difference: Compare photos to the point cloud model created with 3D laser scanners

Comparing photo (upper left) to point cloud model images of Library of Celsus - The Great Library
Upper left - photo of the Library of Celsus. Upper right and lower - point cloud scanner images of the library, created on-site with two X7 3D laser scanners.

So, how'd we do it?

X7 3d laser scanner at Library of Celsus, used to create point cloud modelTech toolkit: Two Trimble X7 3D laser scanners

Time required: We worked early in the morning, to avoid the heat and crowds, and it took 2 days. All in all, it was a day and a half of scanning. And half a day of processing the data. 

Biggest challenge: Perhaps surprisingly, even scanning such a complex structure was pretty straightforward.

Our team agreed, the biggest challenges were the sweltering summer heat and tourist crowds, neither of which caused any issues for our equipment, just the humans!

Number of scan locations: 46

Accuracy: Within 2.4 mm

“The X7 is a great tool to take the as-built. It's a 3D laser scanner, so it's going to make a point cloud out of the area. It's great because you can take measurements out of your point cloud and create a model from it.”  

-Fabrice Costello, Application Engineer, Trimble

Meet the makers: Fabrice & Luke talk about creating the scan and how they’d do it without a 3D laser scanner

Comparison: Scanning an ancient site with cutting-edge modern tech vs with outdated tech

Without a 3d laser scanner, creating an as-built model this detailed would have been impossible. 

For the sake of comparison, and accepting that older tech wouldn’t create as detailed of a final result, here’s what doing the same process would look like without a laser scanner. 


With a 3D laser scanner: 
The scanner collects a lightning fast 500,000 points per second. And it’s not just fast, it’s accurate within about 2mm for standard jobsite conditions. 

Without a 3D laser scanner: 
A surveyor would manually collect measurements, one data point at a time. At best, they may have a Total Station that can collect individual points. But even with digital tools, they’d have to supplement the work with tedious manual measurements and calculations. 

With a 3D laser scanner: 
The scanner provides instant results that the operator can view on a tablet, on location. All the operator has to do is look at the results and notice areas where the laser's line of sight was blocked. As the operator moves the scanner to fill in the gaps, the tech completes the picture.  

Without a 3D laser scanner: 
The surveyor has to manually piece together a puzzle while in the field, without instant results or data.  They cannot see the full picture until they go back to the office and coalesce all the data points, work that may even be completed by someone else. Collecting all the necessary data, without return trips, is incredibly difficult. 

With a 3D laser scanner: 
An advanced scanner like the X7 makes accurate data collection nearly foolproof, with its automatic self-leveling and calibration. The operator’s role becomes simple: just set it down, wait for it to indicate it’s ready, and press start. 

Without a 3D laser scanner: 
From manual data collection to tools that aren’t quite right for the job, there’s opportunity for error at every step. Small errors quickly add up to inaccurate data, which causes problems in the design and implementation phases. 

Head in the point clouds

When news of our point cloud of the Library of Celsus was released, it caught the attention of Ádám Németh - a passionate virtual reconstructionist committed to bringing the past alive. His goal is to make the past exciting and accessible to everyone through his new app, allowing users to explore the ancient Library of Celsus as it was two millennia ago.

For his project to be successful, he needed more precise data on the structure, so we happily provided him with our point cloud scan. To find out how he transformed the scan into an incredible virtual reconstruction, read our interview with Ádám Németh.


So we’ve made a point cloud scan… now what? 

Check out Episode 2 of The Great Library to see what comes next. You’ll see more on-site footage of how our team collected the data for this incredible point cloud scan. And that’s just the beginning! From there, you’ll discover how the point cloud model is the foundation for this project’s success. After a quick upload, the project architects in Los Angeles start their innovative design for a modern addition on the facility, without ever having set foot on site! 

If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to The Great Library updates. Not only will you get notified when new episodes publish, we’ll also let you know when we release new guides and behind the scenes footage! 

The adventure continues in episode two of The Great Library!