Use of 360-Cameras in Civil Engineering Projects

This is a guest blog by Nick Heim, P.E.

Civil engineers are designers and builders of everything related to infrastructure: roads, bridges, dams, ports, and many others.

While construction and maintenance of any asset happens in the physical world, there is a lot of work in the digital world that accompanies it.

Today, I would like to talk about one of the tools that is changing the way data is captured in the field: 360 cameras.

Note: For more information and insights related to this blog post, please refer to Episode #05 of the AEC Engineering and Technology (AECTECH) Podcast.

1. What Is a 360-Camera?

An omnidirectional camera (from “omni,” meaning all), also known as 360-degree camera, is a camera having a field of view that covers approximately the entire sphere—or at least a full circle—in the horizontal plane (source: Wikipedia).

The primary benefit of a 360-camera is that, unlike a conventional camera with a field of view less than 360 degrees, the entirety of a scene or area can be captured with one instead of multiple photos.

This can have a multitude of benefits and use cases, which we will talk about next.

Picture1 1

The Insta360 OneX3, an example of a consumer-grade camera with two (back and front) lenses.

2. Use Cases for 360-Cameras

Now that we understand what a 360-camera is, let’s talk about some of the use cases applied to civil engineering projects.

After many a site visit in the field, I have experienced or heard some form of the following:

  • “Where was this photo taken? What is the context of it?”
  • “I wish I would have taken a few more pictures of that area of interest.”
  • “Can you go back and get better documentation of X?”

360-cameras can alleviate some of these issues by rapidly and inexpensively capturing more data than is feasible with a standard camera.

Some examples of data capture could include:

  • 360-photos:
    • One of the most popular use cases of 360-photography is Google’s Street View. Note the ability to pan around the photo to get full context.
  • 360-videos:
    • Like 360-photos, but in video format. Note how you can pan around the video as it plays.
  • 360-tours:
    • 360-tours are a combination of individual 360-photos, or frames from 360-videos, that are placed in succession to create a virtual tour.

Let’s be clear: 360-cameras are no replacement for standard, “2D” cameras. The two should complement—not compete against—each other.

3. Limitations of 360-Cameras

Understanding the limitations of any tool you use is critical to successful use of it, and 360-cameras are no exception.

Because 360-cameras are capturing more data than a standard camera, there is a trade-off in photo quality (the two tend to be inversely proportional).

If you are looking to capture something very specific in high detail (let’s say a concrete defect), a standard camera is still the right tool for the job.

This capture, however, can be complemented by some 360-photos in the same area to give context to that defect (what element is it a part of, how does that element interact with adjacent elements, etc.)

The rule of thumb, then, that I like to employ:

  • Standard camera = detail
  • 360-camera = context

About the Author Nick Heim, P.E.

StructureCareNick is a field, sales, and VDC engineer at StructureCare, owner of Green House Property Management, and the Civil Engineering Collective Coordinator. Nick’s interests lie at the intersection between the built world and technology, and he can be found looking for the ever-changing answer to the question, “How can we do this better?” He can be found on LinkedIn, producing content about use of technologies in his civil engineering career and small business.

We would love to hear any questions you might have or stories you might share about using 360-cameras in civil engineering projects.

Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below.

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To your success,

Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success


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