Robotic scanning

The challenge

Can we save time on site by making 3D scanning cheaper, quicker and more available?

In this article

  • How we created a robot and automated 90% of the 3D scanning process.
  • Using iterative prototyping to apply emerging technology on site.
  • Working with our clients to understand problems where technologies could provide simple solutions.

3D scanning lets us capture the exact size and shape of an object or space as a digital 3-dimensional representation. This offers big possibilities the built environment. 3D scanning can be used to streamline fit-out design, to document and monitor construction and to provide scope for augmented facility management software. 

This technology has the potential to revolutionise the way we think about designing and construction. However, current use in the building industry is limited by early stage technology, cost and time.

Time is the main culprit. It currently takes 11 minutes to scan anywhere between 30 to 120 square metres of space using a high resolution Faro Scanner. That’s one minute to position the scanner and another 10 for the scanner to perform its reading.

Daniel Messina, an engineer in our buildings group, aims to improve the efficiency of this process with the design of an Unmanned Surveying Vehicle (USV) called Hermes.

Translating Technology

Daniel’s USV is affectionately named Hermes after the trickster god of boundaries and transition. After plotting a path, Hermes navigates and scans along the way. While the total time it takes to perform the 3D scan may remain the same the surveyor is able to do all his work upfront, freeing them up for the remaining 90% of the scanning process to perform more pressing tasks. This drives labour costs, increases efficiency and ultimately makes high resolution data acquisition far less costly.

Less expensive scanning means we will be able to perform more of it, leading to better monitoring and documentation of our assets. It also allow us to invest more into the way we use data. This could include services like augmented facility management systems, allowing users to perform site inspections remotely. This will also improve simulations to better inform the way our planners, engineers and designers make decisions.

The next step for Daniel and Hermes? Translating to other building services, for instance replacing the Faro scanner with a Lux sensor to automate assessing and measuring the quality of light in various spaces.

Prototyping, Testing, Iterating, Collaborating

3D scanning is used primarily when the documentation of a space does not exist, construction projects require verification, or assets need to be coordinated across a highly detailed space.

Daniel first identified the potential for automating the scanning this process following an through an internal audit on Arup’s current scanning practice.

The team came up with a number of prospective solutions to each of the 3D scanning needs. They presented these solutions to a number of prospective clients across the built environment. The feedback from these sessions was then aggregated and used to inform their first prototype design, a 15cm tall, self-driving robot made from lego.

Once Daniel figure out how to make his tiny robot work, he then built the second prototype, a sturdier, larger robot named, Hermes. The next stage of research will be to test this modified version of Hermes on real construction sites. Our thoughts are with you, Hermes!


  • Using Hermes, we were able to reduce the human intervention needed to scan buildings by 90%. This reduces the cost of procuring 3D scanning data dramatically.
  • Technologies are always open to new applications, tweaks and shifts. HERMES was created using low cost, iterative design methods. Our researchers were able to rethink the technologies they used everyday, course correcting and improving as they learned.
  • You should never stop playing with Lego.

This story was written by Jeff McAllister, as part of the Research Review. This series is produced by the Arup Australasia Research team; Alex Sinickas, Bree Trevena and Jeff McAllister with contributions from Sheda and Noel Smyth.

Lead Arup Researcher

Daniel Messina
Daniel is a mechanical engineer working from our Buildings team in Sydney.

Ask Daniel about

  1. How he built and programmed Hermes, from a lego prototype into a fully functional unmanned surveying vehicle
  2. How greater access to data will enable us to explore and develop a wider suite of digital products
  3. How we're exploring the ways Hermes can be used to automate other repetitive tasks, such as measuring building light levels


Research TEAM

Duncan is a BIM and CAD manager in our Sydney Buildings team.
Dan Candy is an electrical engineer with our Melbourne Buildings team.

Have a problem or a project?

We work with industry partners, governments, universities, startups and community organisations. We do this through research partnerships, and as consultants and facilitators for foresight, research, storytelling and technical writing workshops.

research with us