BIM, 3D Photospheres and AR R&D Project Update

In our previous post we announced the kick off of our R&D project with the University of Bristol. This research project, which is co-funded by the UK Government Innovation Agency (InnovateUK), aims to democratise access to BIM within operations and maintenance by using 3D photorealistic environments and augmented reality.

Achieving this will provide the education sector (schools and MATs etc.) and the commercial sector with access to pragmatic, affordable and leading edge technology to help maintain buildings and assets.

This post describes our progress so far with 5 months still to run.

Capturing 3D Photospheres

Our first activity was to visit several schools to collect a range of photospheres from rooms and spaces of differing sizes, shapes and lighting conditions.  We also gathered excellent ideas and feedback from school business managers on how the project could be used to assist with managing and maintaining school buildings and assets.

Collecting Photospheres
Fig 1 Collecting photospheres at The King’s School

From this work we’ve been able to assess the optimum number of photospheres needed in order to provide proper fields of view for an entire room which might not be a simple square or rectangular shape and also in many instances will have furniture or equipment obscuring the field of vision.

Importantly this process has also shown how quick, easy and cost-effective it is to collect the photospheres using a 3D camera with a connected smartphone. This is essential as we want our users to have the capability to do this work themselves without having to use external resources although this is a future service we’ll be providing for those that want it.

We’ve also shown that multiple, inter-connected photospheres will be required so that a user can fully explore a class room or office by virtually walking through it whether that’s a relatively small room or a larger space such as the assembly hall in figure 2.

Fig 2 Churchill Academy Assembly Hall photosphere

This is particularly important in order to provide the right level of coverage to ensure it’s possible to zoom into a feature or asset anywhere in the room e.g. a fire alarm or lighting switch.

This work also showed the need to assess the ability to read augmented reality markers in a room based on size, angle and distance from the smartphone’s camera. The results of these tests are currently being evaluated.

Integrating Photospheres and 2D Floor and Site Plans

Photospheres have been integrated into 2D plans within AltoSites. This means users can collect the photospheres and position them on a floor or site plan.


Photosphere marker integrated into a 2D floor plan
Fig 3 Photosphere marker integrated into a 2D floor plan

The extract below shows the ease of displaying a photosphere linked to a 2D plan.

With this integration in place we are now assessing how assets and maintenance/service request details located on the 2D plan can be augmented onto the photosphere for that room or space.

Stakeholder Engagement – Early project win!

During our discussions with business managers they’ve identified that as well as using the photospheres for operational asset and maintenance purposes they’re much better than photographs to provide stakeholders with an interactive visual perspective of a room or space.  Typical uses would be:

  • At school governor meetings to better visualise and provide a virtual experience of the condition of school buildings needing refurbishment or replacing.
  • To show new or refurbished facilities to help promote a school to prospective parents;
  • To promote the school’s facilities for use by external organisations to help generate income.

Given the interest in this we’re launching a service to provide:

  1. the capability for a school or organisation to take photospheres themselves (or we can do this as a service) and
  2. software which you can integrate into your website to display the photospheres

For more information on this new service please contact us.

If you’d like to receive notification of further project updates please register via the ‘Subscribe for email updates’ window, or provide your contact  details or simply check back in a couple of months’ time!