#007- Would you benefit from buying BLK360?

Leica produced the world's smallest consumer terrestrial scanner but is it the best customer’s choice?

Many customers, especially those who are not familiar with laser scanning technology look for a small and simple device that will be easy to use and profitable at the beginning of the reality capture journey. Very often the choice feels on Blk360. In this article, I would like to review this device and subjectively score it.

Fieldwork

As most of Leica‘s TLS family, also Blk360 can be remotely controlled by the Cyclone Field360. In case the user forgot a smartphone or tablet, Blk360 has also a single button on its housing that lets us begin the scanning process. The small size and lightweight make the fieldwork pleasant. Only the carbon tripod included in the standard kit could be 50cm higher. It would help to reach more areas with fewer scan stations.

Pict. Blk360 managed to work at -18°C (felt like -25°C).
  • Simple mounting on the tripod
  • Small size and lightweight
  • Cyclone Field360 app
  • The standard tripod could be higher

The acquisition process is simple but that’s the kind of standard for Leica equipment. In my case, where I mostly work with RTC360 last few months, I noticed Blk360 is much slower. The acquisition part is kind of annoying because of the relatively long time of waiting for the data to download from the scanner to the tablet. Yes, Blk360 does not store data in any internal memory. All of the scans (point clouds and images) are downloaded to the device which runs the Leica Field360. So the waiting time can be so long in high scanning resolutions that I don’t see any point to use it. I am going to present this situation in numbers:

Tab. Comparison estimated time in Blk360 and real scanning time - own study.
Pict. Progress of downloading high-resolution, HDR colorized data (7min 10sec) from Blk360 to an iPad Pro with Cyclone Field360.

As you can see, in the case of high-resolution scanning, you would have to wait almost double the amount of time comparing to just acquisition time. Likely you can change the position of your scanner and start a new scan. In this case, even though your second scan is finished and you are ready to begin the third scan, Field 360 would still be downloading the first one.

Luckily, the user is not obligated to use any iPad, Android tablet, or smartphone to scan with Blk360. It has a single button that is not just to power on/off but also to scan. This feature is called Push Button Operation and lets to scan up to 100 medium resolution scans - I never checked this capacity out. The user has to follow the information given from the device by the LED ring that blinks with different colors depends on the statement. In this way of approaching a scanning, there is no control of collected data and you have to just trust your good scanning skills.

Blk360 does not have a compensator! It is important information for those who would like to have leveled data. It is important in some cases like as-built documentation or levelness examination.

Data produced by Blk360. Point clouds

Like any other TLS, Blk360 collects point clouds and HDR pictures but also takes thermal pictures.

Let's start with the main reason why people invest in laser scanners - a point cloud. Blk360 has a rather weaker laser comparing to its bigger siblings like RTC360 or C and P series. That’s why the point cloud is neither as dense as previously mentioned nor has as long-range as them. This means a need for more scans in the same scanning area comparing to competitors and therefore more time spent in the field. It also means some troubles from time to time to combine single scan stations with high accuracy.

Pict. Verticality test of the chimney.
Pict. Scanning in low temperatures.

One of the projects I have worked on was done to check the verticality of an old chimney and test out the usability of TLS in such cases. Most of the scan stations could be placed close to the scanned object. Unfortunately, to cover with point cloud the entire construction, I had to have a minimum of one scan station on the other side of the river - up to 20m wide. I worried about the distance approx. 25 meters between outdoor scans can be too long. Processing the data confirmed my fears. Only one of four connections (the shortest one) Leica Cyclone Register 360 connected with an error lower than 15mm. The rest of them had errors over 35mm. In the case of precision measurements, Blk360 is not a good choice at all, and I could experience that.

Pict. The point cloud in perspective view.
Pict. All of the red connections were over 25 meters in between the scan stations.

Point clouds generated by Blk360 miss most of the points representing black and very dark brown elements of scanned space. It looks similar to the BLK2GO’s problem with scanning very dark surfaces. I talked to other users of Blk360 and they confirmed having the same issue so it’s not the problem of my unit.

Anyway, short-range point clouds look very good and for sure can be used for visualizations, BIM, or CAD modeling. In my opinion, it is the perfect device to scan inside small size buildings or be a perfect extension of the Matterport device.

Camera and taken pictures

Blk360 produces panoramic pictures by sticking pictures taken by 3 built-in 15Mpx cameras. The entire panorama has 150Mpx and can be taken in HDR (High Dynamic Range). This means that a user gets quite good quality pictures which can be good documentation of the project’s space. In halfway of zooming pano, the quality drops which makes trouble to read labels or see details.

Pict. Tone Map Editor can also help to adjust images.

HDR helps a lot to adjust the white balance of pictures, especially on sunny days. HDR is not automatically applied to a pano picture but the user can switch to HDR mode and use a slider to adjust the brightness to their own preferences or needs. Leica Truview Local users have to rely on images adjusted during the post-processing. Truview Local does not give a chance to have an HDR slider.

Pict. Panoramic picture without HDR. Not good color reproduction and overexposed.
Pict. Zoomed in the pano-picture.

As mentioned previously, Blk360 has an unusual feature which is thermal pictures. What does it mean and how does it work exactly? During taking pictures, the device captures thermal panoramic image 360°x70°. It uses a FLIR system created by Teledyne. the thermal picture is not a full-dome picture like RGB panorama which covers 360°x300°.

The thermal pictures can be useful in the case of e.g. auditing apartments or entire houses for the determination of the building’s thermal class. I believe that professionals, who work with thermal checks every day, know more robust and professional equipment to use. Anyway, Blk360 has this feature and some of the users probably would benefit from it. I see a quite good use case in the situation of scanning a technical room with many pipes. The thermal images can be additional information for MEP professionals to recognize failure in the piping installation.

Pict. The thermal image overlayed a regular picture.

Additional aspects

The Blk360 can be used with or without a tablet/smartphone. In the case of using them together, the user has a choice of three different apps:

  • Leica Cyclone Field 360
  • Autodesk ReCap PRO Mobile - supposed to work until 2021
  • Matterport app

I had a chance to work once with the ReCap app and once with Matterport app, so I will not focus on them.

Summary

If you have a small surveying company and would like to learn to use laser scanning, then Blk360 can be a good beginning. I believe some other engineers like architects, MEP or construction specialists, or even 3D artists can find it useful in most of their projects. It will suit small projects or bigger projects as a supplementary scanner.

I know there are some people using Blk360 to scan thousands of square meters but those are professionals with plenty of work hours on their projects or just people who are economically wise forced to do so. In my opinion, this way of approach is not competitive and will be verified by the market sooner or later.

These people who would like to predicate their business on laser scanning should probably consider buying bigger, faster, and more accurate TLS or even MLS.

Props

  • Low price
  • Simple mounting on the tripod
  • Small size and lightweight
  • Thermal images
  • Works with at least 2 different apps

Cons

  • Long downloading time to Cyclone Field 360
  • Low panorama quality comparing to competitors
  • Black and very dark surfaces are invisible in a point cloud
  • Short scanning range -not a disadvantage for some users
  • A relatively long time of downloading data to PC
  • No compensator on board
Pict. A point cloud collected on a cold winter day.
Pict. A scanned surface on almost 53 meters in distance.

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I am a geomatician and software developer with over decade experience in reality capturing and BIM. More info read on 3d-points.com

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Lukasz Wiszniewski

Lukasz Wiszniewski

I am a geomatician and software developer with over decade experience in reality capturing and BIM. More info read on 3d-points.com

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