Geekspeak: January 15, 2001

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.