Thursday, August 24, 2017

Microsoft HoloLens in Architecture; Case Study with Vertical Endeavors Rock Climbing

This week the "stars were aligned" for LHB's first on-site test of the Microsoft HoloLens with an architectural client. This had nothing to do with the solar eclipse, although that was amazing too. Rather, I am referring to a perfect sized project, in a re-purposed facility, with an amazing client who also uses 3D design software.

The Project:

We are working with Vertical Endeavors (VE), a company that specializes in designing and manufacturing rock climbing walls and operating indoor rock climbing facilities. They are expanding by opening a new facility in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Metro area. This new gym will be housed in an existing warehouse building with exposed wood trusses and a barrel-vaulted roof as shown in the next two images.

Revit Model - Overall View

Revit Model - View from Main Entry

The model shown above is a composite of LHB's Revit model and a climbing wall model provided by VE.


HoloLens Setup

Before the on-site visit we optimized the model to only include new building elements and removed hidden items (e.g. plumbing in walls and above ceilings). Because the HoloLens is Augmented Reality (not Virtual Reality) the existing elements are omitted from the model uploaded to the HoloLens. The result is a holographic projection for new elements within the fully visible existing space!

By the way, in case you didn't know, the HoloLens is a self-contained unit that sits on the user's head. There is no computer or external power required.

On-Site Visit

The next picture shows the wide open climbing floor after the demolition of the previous tenant’s walls and ceilings. This is an amazing space with a continuous skylight offering lots of daylight.

Existing facility
The first step was to calibrate the holographic model within the existing space. The model is automatically 1:1 real-world scale. It just needs to be moved and rotated into the proper position.

Client Engagement

Once the model was properly positioned, the client was able to put the headset on and see the model while walking within the entire project site. The next photo shows VE President Nate Postma commenting on the climbing wall design in the context of the existing space. When he looked straight up he saw the actual existing wood roof and trusses. When he looked straight ahead, he saw a mixture of new and existing building elements, depending on the direction.

VE team engaged in climbing wall design discussion
The picture above shows my laptop being used to stream the composite new/existing video so others can vicariously participate in the experience. BTW, the cart was appropriated from the contractors stuff off in one corner! I pushed the cart around, alongside the person wearing the HoloLens just to make it easier to talk about the design.

The next image is a photo of my laptop screen, showing a nice example of a live composite view. Notice the new elements highly obscure the view of existing elements beyond, making the experience more "real" for the user. The gray floor is the actual, existing, concrete floor. I love how the perspective is so accurate, and things like the ceiling fans and pergola look correctly positioned.

Live composite view as seen on nearby laptop
In addition to a cart being available, there was also a movable self-standing ladder in the building. Remember what I said earlier about the stars being aligned! We moved this near the edge of a new mezzanine (the stairs to this are seen in the video linked below). Although this was not nearly as high as the mezzanine will be, it still offered a reasonably similar vantage point while wearing the HoloLens. Granted, this was slightly dangerous, but we are working with climbing experts with amazing balance!!
Slightly dangerous aerial view of project

Live Video Capture

Not only can the HoloLens vantage point be streamed to another device, like my laptop, it can also record this to a file. The final media item below is a video, hosted on YouTube, I recorded once the model was calibrated. I start near the front entry of the facility and then walk to the back wall. To help you appreciate the calibration, note that the stair to the mezzanine, seen near the end of the video, is aligned with the back wall.

The hologram started out a little jumpy when moving, as seen in this video. I think the issue was the unit had not finished scanning the large space yet. This did smooth out over time. BTW, it was never jumpy when testing in the office.


Everyone involved absolutely loved the experience. We had a few minor hiccups with the model shifting out of position 2-3 times... and after nearly 2 hours of constant use the battery died! Overall, this was a great success. We are really excited to find new opportunities to leverage this experience on other projects.

I am testing this now to align the new underground utilities (e.g. sewers, water, vaults, gas and storm water pipes) our Civil Department is designing for the street replacement project right out in front of our office!

Stay tuned for more...
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