Ancient caves mapped for first time thanks to SLAM technology

Revolutionary handheld scanner lets university team create digital map of tourist attraction Grand Caverns

A university team has geospatially scanned the oldest public cave in the United States with the aid of simultaneous localisation and mapping (SLAM) technology.

Geology and environmental science assistant professor Angel A. Garcia Jr and undergraduate students from James Madison University, Virginia used the 3D mapping technology to scan Grand Caverns in Virginia, a major tourist attraction that has been open to the public since 1806, but which has never been comprehensively mapped to the dangerous conditions in unseen areas.

To map the site, Prof Garcia Jr used GeoSLAM’s handheld ZEB Horizon scanner, which can collect 300,000 points per second using a ‘walk and scan’ method, with an accuracy of up to 6mm – it can also scan data with a range capacity of 100m.

Powered by SLAM technology, the device does not require GPS signals, meaning it can be used below ground level.

The resulting 3D point cloud was created in under 12 minutes, with a view to monitoring speleothem formations and human impact, creating 3D printed models and giving an insight into the geo-heritage of the cave.




Professor Garcia Jr is now working with caving experts to begin capturing new passages within the caves.

“A cave system often presents challenging environments for scanning, with narrow passageways, uneven surfaces, difficult terrain and areas presenting dangerous conditions,” he said.

“Scanning the Grand Caverns has presented a fantastic opportunity for the undergraduate students to dive straight into the project, gaining hands-on, practical experience in using LiDAR hand-held scanners. Not to mention working with the data it outputs, without needing extensive technical training beforehand.”

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