Kaarta, 3D Modeling City Assets with Public Works

Annia Aleman
Aug 31, 2017 · 4 min read
Charles Anderson Bridge, Pittsburgh, PA

Kaarta is one of five startups participating in the second PGH Lab cohort. Kaarta develops 3D scanning technology that produces beautifully detailed, high-fidelity digital models of the real world in real time. Users can easily and instantly scan their surroundings with the handheld device that resembles a sci-fi Star Trek tricorder. Kaarta technology blends multiple advanced sensors — a 360° lidar laser scanner, a motion sensor, and a feature tracker — to survey its environment and accurately determine where it is and what’s around it.

For the past couple of months, Kaarta has worked with the Department of Public Works, which is responsible for maintaining the City of Pittsburgh’s infrastructure, including streets, bridges, steps, and public buildings — all ideal environments for Kaarta’s technology. The team has completed two test projects to date.

Test Case 1: Determine conditions and the severity of damage at a former boiler plant

Poli’s restaurant stood in Squirrel Hill for decades until a fire in the large building behind it resulted in the restaurant being torn down in 2015. The demolition work exposed an old, boiler plant underneath the burned-out building which has been deemed a public safety hazard as it is no longer functional. The Department of Permits, Licenses, and Inspections (PLI) tasked the Kaarta team with figuring out a way to understand the extent of the interior damage and gain more information on the site components — no easy task considering the building’s complete darkness. To everyone’s disbelief, it took Kaarta less than one hour to survey the entire building. The results are remarkably detailed, showing the layout of the building and its components including machinery and an elevated catwalk, none of which could be seen before with the naked eye. Thanks to Kaarta’s technology, PLI currently has the accurate information it needed to determine how to proceed with the site moving forward.

Former Poli restaurant on Murray Avenue, Squirrel Hill

Test Case 2: Optimizing space in DPW’s warehouse

Public Works operates a warehouse located under the 62st bridge in Lawrenceville. Architects in the department have been tasked with determining the most efficient use of the space. The warehouse contains office space and is also used to store various materials, vehicles, and equipment used by Public Works and the Construction Division. Organizing all these resources in one building can feel like playing a game of Tetris. The Kaarta team scanned the building and was able to provide data that showed the layout and usage of space in a way that architectural drawings, pictures, or floor plans cannot quite provide. This 3D information will help Public Works architects quickly visualize how to utilize the space as efficiently as possible and make daily operations easier for the staff in the building.

City of Pittsburgh, Department of Public Works Warehouse

Following these two test cases, Matt Jacob, Project Implementation Analyst and Kaarta’s City Champion from the Department of Public Works remarked, “The process to scan the buildings appeared to be quick and easy, and the data collected was very informational and can be used for upcoming and future projects.” Indeed, the results have been impressive and useful, and the digital model images, stunning.

Kaarta and the Department of Public Works have one more project planned before the pilot period ends.

Startup Showcase in September

Join the the Inclusive Innovation network for an afternoon showcase of entrepreneurship and innovation. Meet Kaarta and the rest of the PGH Lab Cohort on Friday, September 15th to learn about the final pilot project results. RSVP on Meetup.


PGH Lab brings local entrepreneurs to beta test products and services in local government for 3–4 months. Get inspired to start working on your own innovative ideas. Ask questions about PGH Lab on Twitter @PGH_Lab

Department of Innovation & Performance

The Department of Innovation & Performance is building a 21st-century government for the City of Pittsburgh and its residents.

Annia Aleman

Written by

Nicaraguan-American. Innovation Director @Ascenderpgh , former Sr. Civic Innovation @CityPGH . @pittsburgh_cm enthusiast.

Department of Innovation & Performance

The Department of Innovation & Performance is building a 21st-century government for the City of Pittsburgh and its residents.

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