How Reality Capture Went from Event Coordination to BIM

May 11, 2016 | Comments

Reality capture can extract real-world context for models and designs from just photographs, so it’s no surprise that it’s growing in popularity in the AEC industry.

As part of his keynote speech at the SPAR 3D Expo and Conference, Bentley Systems CEO Greg Bentley discussed the role of building information modeling (BIM) in large-scale event planning and how we can recycle the same model for future projects, too.


The Pope’s Visit: Scanning 60 Acres of Philadelphia

To prepare for the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia in September of 2015, event production firm ESM Productions had some work to do.

ESM worked with AEROmetrex, a digital aerial mapping company, to figure out the logistics of the visit. In all, it would require 56,400 temporary structures, 33 miles of security barricade perimeter and a plan to ensure smooth traffic flow for the city’s population around necessary road closures.

It was by no means a small feat.

The first step to planning was to create a usable map. The team brought in a helicopter to take aerial photographs of the city, which were then combined with ground footage using Bentley Systems’ ContextCapture software to create a 3D reality mesh.

The 3D reality mesh created for the Pope’s visit. (Image courtesy of Bentley Systems.)

This mesh, a lightweight photogrammetric model (and a much easier way to handle 28,000 digital photos), was then moved to MicroStation. There, the team could start designing the layout for the thousands of required temporary facilities in the virtual context of Philadelphia.

The mesh contained the original location’s GPS coordinates, which allowed the team to use LumenRT to simulate likely weather conditions and daylight to facilitate smooth timing.


A Testing Ground for Reality Capture

The entire project served as the testing ground for reality capture and its involvement in a large-scale design workflow.

“The fact that we test-drove [ContextCapture] on a 60-acre site just gives us all the confidence in the world that the next arena, opera house, convention center or 60-acre site that we choose to employ this tool will be successful again and again and this will be a tool that we use many, many times in the future,” said Scott Mirkin, president and executive producer at ESM Productions.

However, the test didn’t end when the Pope left Philadelphia. Although the visit was a once-in-a-lifetime event, the 3D reality mesh of the city is being put to new uses.


The Comcast Tower in Philadelphia

The Comcast Innovation and Technology Center is positioned to be Philadelphia’s newest skyscraper—and at 1,121 ft (341 m), it will tower over its neighbors.

Although it boasts sustainable features targeting a LEED Platinum rating, it has something just a little different: its design process incorporated the model of Philadelphia made for the Pope’s visit.

The Comcast Innovation and Technology Center, shown here as the tallest building in the skyline, was placed into the context of Philadelphia to model the effects of things like sunlight more accurately. (Image courtesy of Comcast Corporation.)

The design team from Foster + Partners incorporated the structure into the previously generated model to give it a bit of real-world context. Because this includes accurate geographical and directional information, they were able to demonstrate how certain weather conditions and sunlight during different times of day would affect the residents of the tower.

As an example, Greg Bentley took his SPAR 3D audience on a tour of the structure, illustrating exactly how the view would look from each floor. Bentley also showed one particular case in which the sunlight entering a specific window at a particular time of day became a problem, so the user could create a shading system to compensate.

In all, the presentation depicted a future for reality capture and photogrammetry in the creation of event spaces and structures alike.

Is reality capture the future of designing our buildings and cities? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


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