Many cavers have imagined having a small device you can take into a cave to scan it - the idea has even shown up in movies and on TV. With the advent of compact LIDAR technology, scanning a cave in 3D finally became possible. A few caves have been scanned with impressive results, but the cost and complexity was out of the reach of nearly all cave mapping projects. Additionally, nearly all LIDAR systems require mounting the equipment on a tripod and moving it from point to point to scan an area, which for the vast majority of caves is not practical.
So, what if something existed that was small, handheld, and what if you could scan the cave just by walking through it? And what if the device was affordable to many cavers so that rather than just a few large caves being scanned, now many caves everywhere could be 3D mapped? That is what the Caveatron strives to be. With the ability to generate 3D models of caves quickly and easily, a whole new way to survey and understand caves opens up that was not before possible.
My background is in physics, optics, and electrical engineering and I have been caving for over 20 yrs and surveying caves for much of that time. The idea of the Caveatron started by thinking about ways we could integrate all the cool technology that's out there into something to help us learn more about caves. I started by building a small device to measure airflow but where I really thought that electronics would be useful is in surveying, which is still largely done the same way it has been for many years. Sketching is an especially time consuming activity that is prone to error and in early 2012, I started working on ideas of how to do it electronically that would be faster and more accurate. After much trial and error and many iterations of development, I think the Caveatron is finally nearing a level of maturity. I have been getting many questions about it, so decided to setup this website and blog to describe it and show its capabilities.
The Caveatron is currently in a prototype stage and four units have been built so far. In this blog, I plan to update the status of the project and talk about the progress of new developments. I will also talk about the history of the Caveatron and how it got to have the design it does today. I see this as a project for the caving community, so if you are interested in finding out more or helping out in the development effort, please feel free to send a message on the Contact page of this site.
To close out, I want to thank a few of the people who have worked on this project so far. Steve Gutting has a huge amount of time, helping out with the electronics design and has done nearly all of the electronics assembly and wiring. Gregg Williams has also helped out quite a bit, assisting with the enclosure design and has done all the machining of them. Other significant help came from Matt Capps, who designed the LIDAR module lid, Jill Orr, who developed the on-screen icons and has helped with editing papers and documentation, and Ellie Watson, who came up with the Caveatron name and designed the logo. Too many other people have helped with testing and ideas to name here and their input has been greatly appreciated!