Bentley opens door to reality modelling

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Acute3D acquisition positions Bentley at the forefront of nascent market with technology that allows constant data capture, using smartphones and drones

Bentley Systems is jumping into the nascent market for real-time monitoring of construction process and asset performance, a through-the-looking-glass technology where photographs and 3D scans can be blended with CAD models. The company has acquired French software developer Acute3D, maker of a fast-rising photogrammetry product called Smart3DCapture. The program takes data from any photographic source — from smartphone to LiDAR — and creates a ‘reality mesh’ to capture existing conditions.

Both companies are privately held; terms of the purchase were not disclosed.

Bentley says Acute3D’s technology opens the door to “reality modelling”, defined as the process by which observations of a physical asset are captured from any device and made available in the existing construction or operation’s digital workflow. Also known as constant capture, the goal is timely access of up-to-the minute construction progress or an update on current conditions.

Bentley announced the deal at the recent ARC Industry Forum. A story making the rounds at cocktail hour told how Acute3D was used to show a concrete subcontractor was “mistaken” about how many trucks made deliveries one day, as real-time updates proved one of its trucks never found its way to the construction site.

Bentley is not just looking at smartphones for data capture, but also Unmanned Aerial Vehicles — drones. As Bentley senior vice-president Styli Camateros said at the conference, “Bentley believes the UAV will be an ever-increasing source of digital image information”.

Bentley co-founder Keith Bentley, a respected tech visionary in his own right, says Acute3D is important for two reasons. “The world-class Acute3D developers have already achieved two breakthroughs, which remove the barriers to the adoption of reality modelling. First, Acute3D has made it possible for anyone to sufficiently capture existing conditions with just a camera. Of equal importance is the value of the Acute3D result. Rather than a voluminous cloud of discrete points, Acute3D produces a 3D ‘reality mesh’ — intrinsically in the same geometric idiom as engineering models, readily aligning the real-world context.”

Mobile triumphs again

Construction managers have been using first mobile phones and then smartphones informally to photograph project progress as long as they have been on the market. Acute3D has taken the informal nature of these snapshots and added the information needed to bring it into the formal project management environment. With photographic capture incorporated into the Bentley portfolio, real-time or regular updating of physical asset conditions becomes part of project management. Digital assets can move from future tense (as designed) or past tense (as built) to present tense (as is), bringing the asset model into closer alignment with the physical asset.


Bentley says the system is scalable “from site to city” with precision limited only by the quantity and quality of photography. Acute3D technology assures existing conditions are contemporaneously considered throughout the construction and operations of an infrastructure asset.

In this case ‘mobile’ is not just a smart phone in the pocket. In November 2014 Acute3D launched a partnership with Belgium drone builder Altigator, in which its customers could buy a Remotely Piloted Aircraft System, a license of Smart3DCapture, and training.

Acute3D was co-founded in 2011 by Jean-Philippe Pons and Renaud Keriven, headquartered in Sophia Antipolis (the French ‘Silicon Valley’). The product is based on research from two French research institutes, École des Ponts ParisTech and Centre Scientifique et Technique du Bâtiment. In 2011 Acute3D signed an industrial partnership with Autodesk to advance its work on city-scale 3D reconstruction.

Since its founding, Acute3D has attracted a rapidly expanding user base that includes Nokia, Pasco, and Saint-Gobain, and OEM licensees that include Airbus Group and Autodesk. In China, Internet giant Tencent is working with Acute3D to do large-scale 3D city modelling for several mega-cities, from both aerial and street view photography. Other applications of Acute3D have included existing conditions capture for construction sites, manufacturing facilities, mining operations, pipelines, and oil and gas exploration.

Dr Pons says, “When Renaud and I founded Acute3D, our vision was to make widely available, at industrial precision, what we now describe as reality modelling. With our team, we are very pleased to be joining Bentley to complete our reach. Together, we have already shared and embarked upon many new initiatives to incorporate reality modelling within design and construction modelling.”

The software was updated December 2014. Key advancements include:

Support extended beyond Nvidia GPUs to AMD and Intel-based graphics processors

A new software development kit

A new block export option for exporting photos without lens distortion

A new User Tie Points editor

Support for Autodesk FBX, Collada DAE and stereolithography STL format

Import and export of camera optical properties

Sensor size and focal length data is now option for import; the software’s aero triangulation uses a 35mm equivalent focal length of 50 mm by default.


Author, Randall S Newton is principal analyst at Consilia Vektor. He has been writing about AEC technology and industry trends since 1987.

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