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How a Machine Learning Scientist from NASA is Accelerating Digital Transformation for Architectural Engineering and Construction (AEC) Professionals

Spin off technologies from Mars to appraisal

Floor plan sketching used to be a painstaking, manual process with a steep learning curve; for most appraisers, the toolkit comprised a measuring device, a clipboard, and ample tenacity. Today, AI-powered mobile solutions like the one from California-based OpalAi allow valuation professionals to capture a detailed, ANSI-compliant floor plan in minutes with minimal training, drastically reducing the time spent measuring and creating floor plan diagrams. OpalAi’s next-generation artificial intelligence processes your 3D scan into a PDF floor plan exhibit which can be imported into your report-writing software of choice, including TOTAL, ACI, ClickForms, and SFREP.


Like most of us in early 2020, Dr. Ryan Alimo suddenly found himself spending more time at home while Covid-19 redefined our relationship with housing. Like many, the sound of power tools soon followed as renovations to his home commenced. Like some, he noticed the excessive difficulty and cost of creating a simple as-built floorplan during the process. Like few, he dug deeper and discovered a significant market need for new technologies to digitize the built world. Uniquely, he has just the right toolkit to make autonomous floorplan reconstruction a solved problem.

Dr. Ryan Alimo, a machine learning scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and California Institute of Technology (Caltech), founded OpalAi to improve the quality of people’s lives by automating labor-intensive tasks. Guided by his sister, architect Audrey Alimo, AIA, Ryan got to work prototyping OpalAi’s first product. They found that the one-inch or 1/10th of a foot accuracy required by ANSI necessitated data from a depth ranging sensor; fortunately, this need coincided with the advent of LiDAR-enabled phones and tablets.

Building Blocks

LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology has existed for decades but until recently was cost-prohibitive for appraisers – it works like radar but with invisible light, emitting thousands of pulses per second, detecting reflections off objects, and calculating depth measurements by timing the travel of each pulse. In 2020, Apple took this technology mainstream by embedding a LiDAR sensor in the camera array of Pro-line iPhones and iPads.

The widespread adoption of LiDAR-enabled mobile devices will be a highly disruptive force. For context, let’s look at a more familiar technology: GPS – remember when “getting lost” was a thing? Much like the miniaturization of GPS technology and its incorporation into smartphones paved the way for navigation apps and spawned entire new industries (e.g., ridesharing), LiDAR democratization will provide the high-quality 3D spatial data needed to unite the digital and built worlds. While that may seem like a nebulous fantasy, the real-world implications are immediate. For appraisers, it means that accurate indoor 3D mapping is now possible using commercially available off-the-shelf (COTS) mobile devices.

The Solution

OpalAi empowers users to 3D scan an entire building in minutes with no specialized training or additional hardware – that’s right, no tripod or proprietary gimble required. Simply put, if you can record a video on a phone, you can 3D scan a building with OpalAi.

All you need to do is download the app on a supported device and start scanning. No need to move any furniture or get the whole building in one scan, either – if the space is too large, you can capture it in multiple scans using the “extend scan” feature. You can even scan the exterior walls and site improvements for assignments requiring ANSI compliance. When finished scanning, select your desired output format and upload the scan to our secure cloud server for processing – within 24 hours you will receive a professional floorplan with measurements.

OpalAi’s mobile scanning solution is suitable for projects of any size, including residential, commercial, and industrial spaces, both interior and exterior. Using the most advanced AI and machine learning tools will make creating floor plans for your properties a breeze.

OpalAi is proud to be sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which awarded the company a prestigious Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I grant in early 2022. This grant is offered to promising startups aiming to revolutionize a field and positively impact society.


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