I was slacklining with my friend who had come to visit me in Church Hill, which is a neighborhood in Richmond, Va. My iPhone 6 ran out of batteries, and I still had a lot of cool slacklining to capture.
A man passed by with his unusually colored pit bull, and I noticed he had his phone in his hand. People in the park were taking pictures of my friend’s balancing antics, as the slackline was stretched about 50 yards between the two trees from which it was suspended.
I asked the guy with the pit bull if he would mind capturing some slackline craziness with his phone. He obliged, and I gave him my Facebook information to contact me.
After a few back-and-forth communications, I told him that I had just received a new3D scanning device that I was eager to test out. Turns out he only lives about a block away, so I invited him over one day to check out the Matterport 3D camera.
Unpacking the Matterport
The Matterport Pro 3D camera normally costs USD 4,500 (though it's currently on sale for USD 3600), but users need to buy a subscription to the Matterport cloud for processing and hosting data for your Spaces—options are available but it will cost at least $49 per month.
The Matterport 3D camera in a carrying case was extremely easy to set up and start to use.
You also need an iPad (that is not either the iPad Mini 1 or the iPad 3) to use the free Matterport Capture app, which tethers wirelessly to the 3D camera. (The company also recommends that the iPad have at least 128 GB.)
In addition to having the right Apple mobile device, you need to pony up for a subscription to Matterport's cloud plan. You get three, seven or 11 Spaces processed for free. The company has two sizes of Spaces, the Standard Space, which has between three and 100 scans, and the Large Space, which has between 100 and 200 scans.
If you can manage that, you will also need a tripod that can hold at least 6.5 lbs and a quick release clamp. A carrying case would be a good idea as well.
It took about five minutes to set up, but it is remarkably easy to do. Once tethered with my iPad, I took my first Matterport scan with the camera. Though the swirling digital capture looks like a NORAD representation of a hurricane, it quickly becomes obvious that each scan has to be within 5 to 8 feet of one another. Most of the stitching and rendering is done in the Matterport cloud.
Welcome to my living room.
It only took a few scans to capture the room. The photorealism was pretty impressive, and this took about 10 minutes to capture. I had not done any reading on how to optimize my captures, and it still came out well.
I took about five scans and changed the Wi-Fi connection back to my home network. In the Matterport Capture app, I clicked the upload button and signed into my Matterport account, which I had already set up. I checked back the next day and immediately was impressed by the photorealism and ease of navigation from both my laptop and phone.
Main Street Station Train Shed In Richmond
My new neighbor whom I met in the park that day turned out to be Paul McClellan, a real estate development professional and programs administrator for the city of Richmond. I gave my new neighbor a demonstration of the Matterport 3D camera, and he invited me to bring it to the RVAPHotog Invitational event at the Main Street Station train shed the very next day. I went to a gathering of professional photographers who were competing to win a contest sponsored by the city of Richmond and brought the Matterport along with me.
Rendering of the Main Street Station train shed in Richmond. (Image courtesy of the city Of Richmond.)
I was the only one with a Matterport 3D camera there, and the photographers of Richmond and the event staff were genuinely curious about it. I was asked repeatedly to explain what is was and how it works. After all, this was a competition and everyone else’s camera looked the same—you either had a high-powered digital camera or an analog camera or were a weird person no one had ever met who was aiming a camera that appeared to be capturing everything at once.
Because I had only tested the camera once, I was interested to see how a Matterport 3D camera would perform in this photography competition for someone like me— a person who has zero training in photography and who just received this device in the last 72 hours.
You can see “digital phantoms” from people moving around during the 360-degree capture. The initial 3D scan is necessary to host the photo on the MatterportSpace. This is just one scan and one 360-degree photo.
I knew that I didn't have time to scan everything and that I might have some trouble with light since the competition began just before sundown. As the company explains on its Matterport FAQ page, “because we use HDR (high dynamic range) photography to balance the dark and light areas of an image, no special lighting or lighting equipment is required. However, direct sunlight can interfere with data collection from the infrared sensor, so we suggest avoiding direct sunlight when possible.”
Dimensions: 9in tall x 10.25in wide x 4.38 in deep. Weight: 6.5 lbs. Mount: 3/8 in-16. Wireless: Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n 2.4GHz (client or AP). Battery life: 8 to10 hours. Battery recharge time: 4.5 hours. (Image courtesy of Matterport.)
Because the event was held during sundown and lasted two to three hours, I figured I would just experiment and see how the camera reacted to whatever lighting happened to be there.
As soon as I connected the Matterport, I linked it up to my iPad and decided to take a bunch of 360-degree photographs without using the scanning function. After all, this was a photography competition, not a 3D scanning competition—and taking a 3D scan or a 360-degree photograph are your only two options for capturing data on a Matterport system.
What I mistakenly inferred at that time was that the Matterport cloud could also somehow stitch together these stereoscopic images. I looked it up and this inference turned out to be incorrect. So I ended up taking about 30 photos and spent most of the time explaining what I knew about Matterport to the inquisitive and busy event-goers.
The front side of the historic Main Street Station in Richmond, where the RVAPHotog International event and contest was held.
Everyone left the event, and I was still using the Matterport to try and get some good captures without any people (or their movements) there. The Matterport 3D camera does not “appreciate” any motion in its captures, so I wanted to take some 360-degree photographs while no one was around and everything was still.
Two people approached me—one was Brent Graves, one of the four owners of Taylor and Parrish, a construction company that has been based in Richmond for over 100 years. The other was Jeannie Welliver, who has served as the senior architect for the city and project development manager along with Vickey Badger, transportation planner for the city, for well over two decades.
In operation since 1915, Taylor and Parrish is a construction company that offers construction management, general contracting and design and build services.Taylor and Parrish is the general contractor for the train shed revitalization, a $40 million overhaul funded via a transportation grant.
Welliver dreamed up the RVAPHotog Invitational event to call the local amateur and professional photographers to the Main Street Station to document the dynamic architecture of this amazing train shed. The event’s work will be launched to the public to showcase the progress of the project.
My friend Paul asked me if I could come in and scan both floors of the 100,000-square-foot space. I agreed, and over the course of three weekends, I took over 300 scans with the Matterport 3D camera.
We started on the bottom floor, which had every kind of construction debris you could imagine—wiring, scaffolding, plumbing components, bags of concrete, wood, bricks and various construction vehicles.
This was my first time using the Matterport to capture 3D scans of a large space. I heeded Matterport's advice to take 3D scans every 5 to 8 feet and had no idea that 100,000 square feet was maybe a little ambitious. The company doesn’t recommend going over 100 scans.
Following this series of fortunate events—slacklining with an iPhone 6 (and newly discovered battery issue), meeting a random passerby who was interested in testing out the Matterport 3D camera in an industrial setting, seeing the interest in Matterport from curious photographers and spending about 12 hours capturing about 300 separate 3D scans of the Main Street Station train shed in Richmond—I thought about how quickly this happened.
Day 1: Receive Matterport in mail.
Day 3: Bring camera to photography competition.
Day 9: Begin 3D scanning construction site of a $92 million, federally funded reconstruction of a historic train station.
Day 13: Finish up the last of 12 hours capturing 100,000 square feet of a site littered with construction equipment and supplies.
So how did it turn out?
See for yourself.
Basement Floor Of Main Street Train Shed
Top Floor Of Main Street Train Shed
If I can create a project this quickly, the implications for professionals in architecture, construction and engineering (commonly referred to as AEC) could be pretty impactful. The sentiment was echoed by Bill Brown, Matterport's CEO who said this:
"Matterport addresses two major challenges in the AEC market – field to office coordination and point cloud creation. Bringing our immersive technology to project documentation, project teams can virtually explore a job site from anywhere in the world and our 3D data exports enable the creation of CAD and BIM files at unprecedented speed. We feel our consumer-grade simplicity and low price point will enable us to have a strong impact on this market."
I forgot to mention that another practical additional feature is the ability to annotate and add hyperlinks to your scans. In this case, you could theoretically add as much construction documentation as you wanted to and connect the basement scan to the top floor scan.