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3D Mapping the Great Indoors

Photonics Spectra
Dec 2015

As it goes through a period of extensive modernization, the Deutsches Museum in Munich plans to either fully redesign or update its exhibitions, including its impressive maritime, space and aviation displays. Meanwhile, the science and technology museum has thoughtfully pursued a virtual, 3D mapping approach to make many of its exhibitions available to the public for the interim and beyond.

A high-resolution point-cloud view of the maritime exhibition at the Deutsches Museum in Munich.
A high-resolution point-cloud view of the maritime exhibition at the Deutsches Museum in Munich.


With the help of patented indoor digitization/navigation technology from NavVis GmbH of Munich, users can now take a photorealistic tour of Deutsches Museum displays from anywhere in the world. The browser-based IndoorViewer enables exploration of a majority of the museum via tablet, smartphone or computer either in audio- or self-guided format. The interactive audiovisual experience includes the option to zero in on objects of interest to learn more. The museum teamed up with Munich-based digital agency Baro & Pfannenstein to combine its extensive content with 3D imagery to create a digital storytelling of the exhibitions — suitable for a virtual walk-through.

“Today, everyone’s enjoying the benefits of a digitized outdoor space: precise maps, navigation and location-based services,” said Dr. Georg Schroth, managing director of NavVis. “However, 90 percent of business-relevant trades take place indoors where digital maps are rare and conventional GPS navigation doesn’t work. In other words, outdoor is digital, indoor is not — yet. And the potential is huge: at least 50 billion m2 of interior space are estimated to be digitized within the next five years.”

NavVis’ 3D M3 Mapping Trolley, the core of the company’s indoor mapping system, is designed for everyday scanning work and can easily be pulled up stairs and wheeled down corridors.

Portable 3D M3 Mapping Trolley
The portable 3D M3 Mapping Trolley was used to create interactive, photorealistic versions of important exhibitions at the Deutsches Museum in Munich.

Using three laser scanners, an inertial measurement unit and cameras, the device continuously orients itself in uncharted environments via a 2.5D simultaneous localization and mapping algorithm. At the same time, Schroth said, the indoor environments are scanned in a range of 30 m with an accuracy of about 20 mm, thus creating 3D point clouds in industry standard formats.

The trolley’s six digital cameras capture high-resolution images (16 MP each), which are stitched together by trolley software to form panoramic views. “The unique combination of panoramas and point clouds allows for a very realistic impression while exploring the digital model,” according to NavVis.

The trolley software automatically processes the raw data captured, enabling it to be displayed on the Internet within hours. The technology could, for example, map a trade show the night before its opening and provide visitors with the digital model the next day, Schroth said.

“Up to now, the digitization of indoor spaces was cumbersome and expensive. Our mobile mapping system allows for mapping 30,000 m2 in a single day. Thus the price per square meter has dropped significantly, in turn enabling a variety of new applications in construction site management, real estate, facility management, retail, navigation, insurance, etc.”

Moving forward, the company is working in partnerships, tailoring its technology to specific applications. For example, NavVis has teamed with Esri, a geographic information system technology company, to work on seamlessly integrating indoor and outdoor mapping and navigation. The companies have initially designed a “campus navigator,” a browser-based app that allows campus visitors to search for rooms or people and be routed to the destination.

NavVis also is working with Intershop, an omni-commerce services provider, to enable a combination of online and offline shopping. The technology would allow users to browse a physical shop virtually and select products by clicking on the corresponding point of interest.

As for the future at the Deutsches Museum, the virtual exhibitions will serve a historical purpose, providing a detailed record of how the museum looked before its major renovation.


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