3D scans of Forth bridges

Richard Furlong - City Surveys Group

Home » 3D scans of Forth bridges

Published: 24th January 2017

This Article was Written by: Richard Furlong - City Surveys Group


In a groundbreaking project for the UK, billions of detailed 3D laser scans have been made to create innovative computer-generated animations of the iconic Forth bridges in Scotland.

The fascinating and unique footage is the result of a £300,000 digital scanning project.  First mooted back in 2014, and will be used to produce a series of educational games, apps and virtual reality tours based on the bridges.

The scanning project was first announced as part of a plan to improve STEM skills among Scottish pupils. It is hoped it will encouraging students to consider civil engineering as a career option in a bid to meet a widening skills gap in the profession.

Work began capturing images of the Forth Bridge, the Forth Road Bridge and the Queensferry Crossing Bridge (currently under construction) in May 2015.

Initial work undertaken included laser scanning of the bridges to form a dimensionally accurate map of Scotland’s UNESCO World Heritage Site. The resulting data was then used to create a series of images for digital development, using billions of tiny points to form what is known as a ‘point cloud’.

To show its support for the project, Transport Scotland provided an additional £425,000 grant to enable digital heritage experts to start work building the real-time interactive models for virtual headset tours and video fly-throughs, due for release in 2018.

A series of responsive games, apps and detailed educational resources will also be developed using the animation, with a view to providing a platform from which engineering students can develop their skills.

Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf, said: “The Forth bridges represent Scotland’s industrial past, creative present and our dynamic and innovative future. They are the pinnacle of world-leading design and engineering and it’s right that we conserve and protect them and also seek to inspire and educate the young engineers of the future.

“If the bridges are a globally unique showcase of Scotland’s world-class engineering skills, this amazing 3D scanning project also showcases the world’s-leading design, research and innovation in our higher education institutions.

“The possibilities for this comprehensive digital data are almost endless. It allows the production of detailed information and tools for conservation, educational resources, improving accessibility and delivering virtual records to help health and safety training as well as promoting tourism.”

The laser scanning and digital development work was carried out by the Centre for Digital Documentation and Visualisation (CDDV). A partnership between the Glasgow School of Art and Historic Environment Scotland.

The scanning team used a variety of approaches to surmount the challenges presented by the size and scope of the project. Scans were mapped out either on foot, using ropes, from vehicles or by boat, and work  took a total of 90 days to complete, during which time billions of images were amassed.

Alastair Rawlinson, Head of Data Acquisition at the Glasgow School of Art, said: “Laser scanning each of the three bridges has posed unique challenges for our team.

“We have had to use our combined experience, gained through digitally documenting globally iconic structures such as the Sydney Opera House and Mount Rushmore, to create innovative methodologies to allow us to capture these incredible bridges in great detail.

“We will now use this specialised 3D dataset to develop interactive learning resources based on advanced gaming technologies and virtual reality to make the information accessible to school children across Scotland and beyond.”

Miles Oglethorpe from Historic Environment Scotland (the man responsible for securing World Heritage status for the Forth bridges) added: “Having such an extraordinary, detailed and accurate 3D record of The Forth Bridge is a tremendous advantage for us as we set about sharing Scotland’s sixth World Heritage Site with the world.”

A panel of local school teachers, professors from Napier University and the Institution of Civil Engineers are now helping CDDV to develop further opportunities for the data by deciding the best way forward for additional projects.

Why not take a look for yourself? You can view an animated video made from the ‘point cloud’ data obtained from the scans here.

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