FAIRMONT – Among the images stored on the computers at 4D Tech Solutions are 3D models of landscapes around North Central West Virginia.
The images had been taken by the company’s RedTail LiDAR system, which is similar to a drone in that it automatically flies over areas to capture images and data.
The only difference is, the RedTail is not equipped with a camera.
“We have a laser and there is a tiny little mirror, millimeters in diameter, and this laser light bounces off this mirror,” said Brad DeRoos, president and CEO of 4D Tech Solutions. “It pulses up to 400,000 times a second... as it scans, the light reflects off the ground or an object and it measures the amount of time.
“We get all this data, and it’s creating 3D images.”
According to DeRoos, 4D Tech Solutions is using a system that fires and collects light from the drone, simultaneously allowing for it to navigate and also gather data on the landscape it is evaluating. LiDAR stands for ‘Light Detection and Ranging, he said, and 4D has developed technology that uses that data to create the 3D mapped images.
“We developed the whole system,” DeRoos said. “We generate the file and there are other programs to view it with. An easy way to think of it, it’s kind of like a 3D PhotoShop program.”
DeRoos said that 4D Tech is mainly a government contracting company, which develops technology for the use of government agencies. As examples of this LiDAR technology, DeRoos and his team have taken the drone to local areas including Prickett’s Fort State Park and Mt. Zion Nursery, which the company has then made 3D images of on its computers.
“One of the biggest applications for LiDAR is actually in the world of construction and environmental monitoring,” DeRoos said. “They can go in and do a LiDAR map before they start working on a site.”
The creation of the RedTail model used modern technology to complete as well, through the cooperation of multiple engineers at 4D Tech Solutions. While the product creates 3D images itself, the LiDAR drone at 4D Tech Solutions itself was actually 3D printed.
“All of our internal machining is 3D printed parts,” said Matthew Bartrug, a mechanical engineer at 4D Tech Solutions. “I can print a system in about a week with these.”
And while the light detection technology has been around for several years now, the application of the system has been evolving in that time, and DeRoos believes 4D Tech Solutions is aiding in that evolution.
“LiDAR systems in different aspects have been around for a long time,” said Eric Sorton, principal applications engineer at 4D Tech Solutions. “It’s just recently that they have become affordable to small businesses.”
Sorton said that 4D Tech made this technology accessible to local business owners, which could utilize the system for use as a commercial product.
“We did a lot of the core engineering work to package the system and to prepare the system for a commercial product,” Sorton said. “We did a lot of software improvements. Their system was usable by scientists in a lab. Our system is usable by a construction engineer.”
According to DeRoos, LiDAR technology is being tested for use in products from self-driving cars to environment mapping, and it could evolve in the coming years. He said the fact that it is being developed and used in Fairmont may come as a surprise to some because this technology is also being optimized in California by tech giants.
“The stuff we’re doing here is Silicon Valley kind of stuff,” DeRoos said. “LiDAR is really big and I think people would be surprised to know we’re doing something this high tech in Fairmont.”
Email Eddie Trizzino at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @eddietimeswv.