A fellow ArchiCAD user alerted me to the Kickstarter campaign for Structure Sensor. The Structure Sensor is an attachment to an iPad that gives the mobile device the ability to sense, understand, and document its surroundings. In short, for around $350 you can buy an attachment for an iPad that opens up an insane amount of possibilities for architects by being able to map the environment in 3D. Of course the Structure Sensor is only half of the solution. The other half consists of apps that makes sense of the data in useful ways. Some of those apps come with the device. Others need to be developed. The team at Occipital is excited to see 3rd parties (ei. their Kickstarter backers and future users) develop all sorts of crazy and amazing apps that work with the Structure Sensor.
I Ain’t Got Time for App Development (Part 1)
As cool as this device is (watch the Kickstarter video), for it to be useful for the average architect, it needs to be able to turn a profit for our businesses from day one. It can’t just be an aspirational piece of tech. Waiting for apps to be developed is not an option. Because if that’s the case, we should just wait another few years until these sensors are built into the next generation mobile device we will buy in 2015, 2016, or 2017. You know that’ll happen. Therefor when reading through the Kickstarter campaign, what concerns us architects is this question and answer from the FAQ:
What file formats can be exported from the Object Scanning demo?
We currently export in OBJ, STL, and PLY. Most all modeling programs and 3D printers can import and understand these formats. Plus, since developers will have access to the source code for the object scanner demo, it will be easy to extend this to other formats.
So…without developing any new app, something scanned with this tool can be opened in a BIM application (ArchiCAD 17 can import .STL files and I assume Revit can handle at least one of those file types as well). From there it’s up to you to decide what to do with it. But here’s three quick scenarios:
- First scan all the important objects in a client’s house. Then open the files in ArchiCAD one by one as .STL files. Convert to Morphs or Objects. Add some extra non-dimensional data. Place everything in your model. Wow your clients when you show them that in fact their exact furniture or boat or sculptures or whatever they have will fit and look great in their new spaces.
- Scan some important feature of an existing structure. Use that data as imported into Revit or ArchiCAD to investigate all the geometric properties of it in finer detail than ever before to extrapolate some larger truth that you’ll use as a generator of ideas for the overall project/renovation.
- Save an object (table, couch, trim detail, etc.) from ArchiCAD to .STL. Open that file using a Structure Sensor app and view the object super-imposed on real space on the screen of the iPad.
What I describe is all theoretically possible and sometime around February 2014 (ie, like insanely soon), it will all be 100% testable and implementable. Now personally, the Structure Sensor is more of an aspirational product for me. I just don’t have the type of work right now where I could make use of it: I don’t need to 3D scan my writing, and all my prospective architecture projects are half-way across the country. (I am supporting the campaign because I think it’s a great tech, and to get a sweet t-shirt).
I Ain’t Got Time for App Development (Part 2)
In addition to professional uses, the Structure Sensor offers huge potential for game development. Coincidentally, for months I’ve been thinking about a game where your smartphone or iPad becomes a spaceship. The whole thing. Like when we were little kids and would run around the house and our backyards with toy planes in our hands. But also like when we played video games like Star Control, Star Command, Starflight, and all those other greats. This concept would turn the imaginary realm of playing spaceship or fighter pilot, which we ALL did as little boys, into a more immersive and interactive game. Imagine an app that’s half video game and half childhood imagination. Little kids (and adults) chasing each other, hiding behind furniture, using their smartphones to merge various forms of traditional entertainment into an awesome augmented reality experience. Or imagine a dozen people in a field playing this game. It’d be like tag on steroids. Of course letting kids (or adults) run around with expensive smartphones or ipads (with equally expensive add-on devices attached) is a horrible idea today. But phones are getting increasingly durable, and cheaper. And more powerful. So it gets a little less horrible each day. And as I said above, I have to imagine that in a few years the tech in the Structure Sensor will be ubiquitous or at least a lot cheaper.
The idea of augmented reality play is intoxicatingly awesome. What amazing and wonderful things could we do with our imaginations then?
Oh and because it also needs to be said: imagine LARPing with all the players using iPads with Structure Sensors. It would be awkward for a lot of reasons, but then again it would also be an incredible step towards the merging of the digital and physical. And of course that’s the point. The convergence to augmented reality will come from both the professional and entertainment realms. Which do you want to explore first?
BONUS! Other AR tech you need to know about…
- Want a free add-on to import Point Clouds into ArchiCAD? Download Cadimage Pointclouds BETA for ArchiCAD 16 and ArchiCAD 17.
- Do you have an iOS7 device? Have you ever needed to measure the slope of anything? A ceiling maybe? Or do you want to see if that picture is level? Check out this article on the Compass App for iOS7.
- Want another Crowd funding campaign to support? Orthograph is running an Indiegogo campaign to bring Orthograph Architect to Android Devices. Here’s a blog post about it.