The Coming Point Cloud Deluge

Tue 13 May 2014 | tags: Point Clouds, -- (permalink)

The David Foster Wallace commencement speech, "This is Water", from Kenyon College is one of my favorite commentaries on the modern condition. I probably listen to it once a quarter because I've found it especially poignant as a middle-aged, middle-American guy. Like a longer contemplated "Once in a Lifetime," it challenges you to realize the depth at which the human condition can be realized.

A lesson of DFW's reflection is the substrate in which we all swim, the water, is often underlooked as the thing that makes our experience unique. We don't necessarily notice it, and it sometimes takes a special day for us to acknowledge its existence, if we ever do at all. Like a fish, we need the water to breathe, move, and live. Without the thing that we barely realize is there, we don't exist.

So what does this have to do with point cloud data? The layer of "water" of the human emotional existence is being augmented by a layer of data water that can allow complete memory of actions, physical reality, and feelings. Your Facebook updates, Yelp complaints, and Waze speed trap pointers are clear water in which we imagine ourselves frolicking. The tadpole trails of location data we leave unseen with the cell phone company are bilge we unconsciously know exist. The always-on video, photo, sound, and point cloud sensor capture of our physical reality is full-depth ocean in which we really swim.

Point cloud data, unstructured masses of irregularly-spaced points with other attributes such as color or intensity, are going to be another layer of water in which we will find ourselves soon swimming. We won't be shooting each other's eyes out with lasers, but instead we'll be creating point clouds with structured light sensors, exploitation of video through structure from motion, and road trips in our self driving cars.

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