Case Studies

Digitally Documenting the Most Populated “City” in West Virginia

Digitally Documenting the Most Populated “City” in West Virginia

Formed in the 1990s, the Natural Resource Analysis Center is a multi-disciplinary research and teaching facility in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design at West Virginia University. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing have been integral parts of the research and teaching programs of the Davis College for many years. The wide range of research and teaching activities at the Center have been designed to complement work within the College, and include environmental planning, environmental and natural resource economics, recreation, wildlife management, forest ecology, and land and water reclamation.

The NRAC (www.nrac.wvu.edu) provides research, teaching, and service in environmental and natural resource issues with a geo-spatial context. Areas of expertise at the NRAC include economic development and environmental sustainability, remote sensing, land cover mapping, landscape analysis, watershed-based analysis and applications, and GIS-based planning and decision making. Recent projects have included development of water resource GIS datasets for West Virginia and parcel prioritization methodology development for land conservation.


Believe it or not, according to the 2010 U.S. census, Mountaineer Field is the most populated “city” in all of West Virginia during home football games each fall. The 60,000-plus people attending each game are packed into two, one-acre pads at one time or another, and most are trying to leave the stadium at the same time after another Mountaineer victory.

As such, it might surprise some that a current digital documentation of the concourse areas did not exist. In the summer of 2012, this was rectified in a joint project with the NRAC and Triad Engineering (http://triadeng.com) of Morgantown, West Virginia. When Triad was contracted to provide survey data of the concourse areas, they quickly contacted the NRAC. Triad had heard the NRAC was operating a FARO terrestrial scanner and wanted to discuss the capabilities and the possibility of implementing FARO data into their operation. The discussion involved the benefits of laser scanning, the accuracies, densities, and how best to implement the FARO scanner into different surveying projects, even beyond the Mountaineer Field project.

“We (the NRAC) were extremely excited when Triad Engineering came to us asking about implementing laser scanner data into this important stadium project,” said Adam Riley, NRAC GIS Analyst. “The field crews for Triad were very receptive, and interested, in the FARO Laser Scanner.”

The NRAC and Triad met at the stadium to work out the logistics and plan of the project. Triad’s surveying crews would digitally document the existing features, utilities, vegetation, and general conduciveness for expansion of the area. Data collected by the NRAC using FARO’s terrestrial laser scanner as well as an airborne LiDAR would be fused with the CAD data collected by Triad to create a highly detailed and comprehensive dataset to be used for informed decision making.

The Technology

The FARO Laser Scanner is a high-speed 3D terrestrial scanner for full-detail survey and documentation. The Laser Scanner utilizes non-contact laser technology to generate highly detailed three-dimensional replicas of complex environments and geometries in a matter of minutes. By recreating the real world within a virtual space, the Laser Scanner can create an image that is actually a collection of millions of 3D measurement points that results in an accurate digital representation of as-built, or as-is, conditions.

The NRAC uses the FARO Laser Scanner for many applications. By developing protocol to implement this technology with other data such as airborne LiDAR, long-range terrestrial scanners, and other surveying data, the NRAC has the ability to document projects in areas such as historic preservation, heritage planning, and the visualization and construction of three-dimensional digital models at the building/structure scale.

“The FARO Laser Scanner allows us to quickly document the environment while not disturbing or manipulating any features or objects,” said Mr. Riley. “Additionally, we are afforded the freedom of selecting each scan location and point density that best fits the particular requirements of a project.”

FARO SCENE is software specifically designed for the FARO Laser Scanner. It combines ease-of-use and an enhanced 3D experience to form a complete scan processing solution. Processing and managing scanned data both easily and efficiently with automatic object recognition, scan registration, and positioning, SCENE has the ability to generate high-quality, colorized data very quickly.

“FARO’s SCENE is all-encompassing and is certainly software to have in your geo-rectification toolbox,” said Mr. Riley. “It allows users to not only perform quality assurance on each scan, but to assign coordinates, interchange units, and to verify data by intensity. And that’s just some of the features we use every day.”

The Project

The concourse areas at Mountaineer Field are located on each end of the stadium underneath the upper decks. Each area is approximately one acre in size and each has a paved surface that encompasses supporting structures, concession stands, drainage lines, utility lines and conduits, light fixtures, signage for exits and restrooms, and even bird decoys.

In addition to the “normal” challenges of any documentation project, scanning the football stadium before this season presented some additional challenges. This is West Virginia’s inaugural Big 12 football season and that has brought with it much fanfare and attention. League officials have visited Morgantown several times. Additionally, football camps and other functions and activities made scheduling time for data collection a little more difficult. Even the usual foot and vehicle traffic associated with the preparations of an upcoming season, like concessions and maintenance, seem a little more intense this year. Plus, this summer was one of the hottest on record with days being well over 90-degrees even in the shade of the concourse.

The project to digitally document the current, as-is, condition of the concourse areas was done in conjunction with Triad Engineering’s ground survey which documented corners, elevations, features, and other data. The NRAC used Triad’s GPS control to geo-rectify scan locations on-site. By tying into their GPS, the FARO scans were able to supplement the surveying field crews by not only documenting ground features and subsequent locations, but also the walls, conduits, signage, and the other existing features.

The Data and Results

The FARO Laser Scanner met the needs of this project by allowing the NRAC to collect very high point densities (up to 20,000 points per square meter) in a relatively short amount of time. By simply requesting the appropriate control point coordinates from Triad, it was very easy to implement the FARO scanning data into their (Triad’s) database and coordinate system.

The total area scanned for the project was a little more than one acre per concourse. That amounted to roughly 90,000 total square feet which was covered in 43 scans in about 9 hours time (four and half hours per concourse).

There were some issues with refraction (“window points”) and false reflectance, but FARO’s Customer Support, specifically Carol Baumgardner, offered great advice for cleaning these data issues.

“In addition to the documentation of features throughout the concourse area, people have been really keen on the visualization and functionality of the data,” said Mr. Riley. “FARO SCENE is great because it allows clients to sit in and see the data in all phases as we work through it, from raw to cleaned, seamed, and geo-rectified. We then use Pointools to create videos that allow friends and partners to see, and use, the data collected.”

The Present and Future

The FARO Laser Scanner has opened many new doors for the NRAC. In addition to the concourse project with Triad Engineering, the Laser Scanner has allowed the NRAC to educate students and other researchers at West Virginia University on the many benefits of the technology in digitally documenting objects and environments. Specifically, the NRAC has scanned many historically-rich areas throughout West Virginia on projects done in association with the University’s Landscape Architecture program. They also assisted the Civil Engineering College in their state-of-the-art self-sustainable solar house project. Strong interest has also been shown by the Forensics department for accident reconstruction and the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering department for design and documentation of automotive parts and all-terrain vehicle seats. The NRAC has even provided information to other departments within the state on the capability of scanning underground, to the point of creating 3D models of active, retired, or abandoned mines, railroad tunnels, and even bat caves.

Another unique project that has recently developed is one where the NRAC is working with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources to re-design two 120-foot culverts for native brook trout passage. By scanning the existing culverts, the NRAC and WVDNR can make informed decisions on the current state of the culverts and suitability for further construction that would allow for fish passage and spawning – further increasing the population and overall health of the trout in a high-elevation headwater stream.

As can be imagined with so many possible and unique applications, it is difficult to determine how much time is exactly saved using this technology. Frankly, there are not very many alternatives to accurately document the conditions within a dark culvert or an abandoned mine.

“I can say this, the implementation of the FARO Laser Scanner has enhanced not only our toolbox, but our overall product result significantly,” said Mr. Riley. “The stadium concourse project with Triad Engineering is but one example of this. The project’s results were improved simply by the fact that there were many areas that were unattainable not using this technology. Using the FARO Laser Scanner, we were able to fully document this project and incorporate detailed 3D data into not only this project, but the many others.”


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