I attended a weekend training course in South Wales a few years ago run by a team of very committed and enthusiastic people who were working with the hand held Disto X laser to build a network of accurate points from which a cave 'map' was drawn by hand. I felt this system was extremely awkward to operate, and involved a lot of standing about fiddling with equipment when underground. It also involved a lengthy setting up procedure to calibrate the system before every new project. Finally, the Disto X upon which this system relied was now discontinued, so in my view the whole concept was moribund.
I therefore explored the idea of building a new cave recording device which I called a 'Cavemite'. It is built from readily available components, and uses sonar rather than laser to target the cave walls. A pair of cavemites (or more), can work as a team to create the same network of accurate points as was created by the Disto X system, but the interior shape and form of the chambers is also recorded as a fixed sequential string of data which is then merged by computer software. This can create 3D maps, 3D printed models of cave systems or specific chambers, and could also be used as a way to explore caves in a 3D virtual format. Cavemites can also use lasers and even light sensors to record data more accurately or to add colour to virtual cave interiors. Cavemites can be mounted on tripods, or strapped to your chest whilst walking through tall passageways, or they can be hung from ropes down shafts or pushed into tight holes.
This project has been possible through the tremendous help of an electronics engineer in the USA who published a simple means to focus sonar beams to pick up surface detail more accurately. He has built the prototype Cavemite, and we hope to be making many more of them soon. When proven, the idea is to publish the design and provide kits of parts or completed Cavemites at relatively low cost.
I am new to this web site so not sure if this message is being posted in the right place. It would be good to link up with any others who are clever with electronics or interested in low cost 3D surveying. If you are interested then do contact me directly. John Nicholson firstname.lastname@example.org