Geekspeak: January 15, 2001

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2001-01-15 Print this article Print

Scanners Helping Machines Get Better Acquainted

The antonym of choice for "dot-com" is often "brick and mortar," but the essence of industry is more often "pipes and pumps." This is especially true in the process plants that feed our economy electric power, fuels and other chemicals vital to its well-being. Maintaining and upgrading process plants is a high-stakes race against the clock. Three-dimensional graphical power, now moving onto portable systems, accelerates the pace when it harnesses the latest tool for telling computers about the world around them—the laser scanner.

Washington Group International, an eWeek Corporate Partner, uses its own devices to develop a "point cloud" thats assembled by software into a virtual-reality model of structures and equipment (see screen). With new-generation scanners encompassing a 320-degree field of view, a three-person crew can measure a process plant unit in a week, said Denis Dugan, Washington Groups director of IT for power and petrochemical business units. As computers get faster, the hard part of IT is finding faster ways to tell the machines what they need to know.

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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