Editor’s note: Today’s blog post comes from Mike Hoppe, Creative Director at Geopogo. Geopogo empowers project teams to make our buildings and cities even better, by inventing and developing 3D visualization software tools which improve the process and outcome of design and construction.
On a warm July morning in Oakland, California, I drove to Lake Merritt, one of my favorite spots in the city. This beautiful estuary overlooking downtown Oakland offers a great view and a vantage point to see all the city's towers. I was there to try something newly developed by our CTO along with one of our interns. The engineering team had just finished the latest update of Geopogo for the Magic Leap 2 (ML2) AR glasses.
This update has a special new geospatial feature built with the Cesium platform and the new Photorealistic 3D Tiles from Google Maps Platform. The new 3D Tiles provided us with a 3D mesh model of the city. We used this as an occlusion layer to overlay our own 3D tower models on top of the real world. In other words, we used it to bring 3D AR models of buildings and towers to interact and hide partly behind real buildings, just as they would when completed. The stakes were high. As a start-up, we needed it to work!
Successful occlusion, a process whereby something is hidden or obscured from prominence or view, solves a major problem for AR, making AR content feel more realistic in the real world. By allowing AR models to hide behind real buildings and objects, occlusion creates depth. For architecture and design, occlusion is a paramount feature for successfully placing new building proposals on site, in real life, for presentations and design review. Without occlusion, the buildings appear to only float in front of the camera.
Achieving building occlusion in Magic Leap 2 glasses
Standing on the shore at Lake Merritt with the ML2 powered on and my phone's hotspot engaged, I proceeded to test the new feature. It succeeded! I even said, “It works!,” out loud. As I overlaid the Photorealistic 3D Tiles and 3D building models on top of my view of Oakland, I locked the models into place and turned them invisible, creating the occlusion layer–the invisible mask that lets AR content interact with and hide behind real objects and buildings in the world.
We had embedded a whole number of 3D building models into the Magic Leap 2 AR app: skyscrapers; small buildings; homes; and even trees that can be placed all around the city. Now I was playing SimCity in the real city, and it was working. I could barely contain my excitement that our theory worked. Now it can work in other cities too!
As I was completing my captures at Lake Merritt and marveling at what I saw, a curious jogger stopped beside me and asked what I was doing. Excited, I took the glasses off and said to him, “Check this out.” I placed the glasses on the jogger, and then gestured towards the AR towers I had placed rising above downtown Oakland, “Whoa!,” he shouted, “That’s AR?” Pleased with his reaction, I said “Yes,” and showed him how he could move the towers around the city with the handheld controller, “That’s incredible,” he said. He thanked me for the experience, shook my hand, and went on his way. I was pumped knowing we had achieved city-scale occlusion, and a curious jogger got a satisfying experience to share with his friends.
Now onto the details, here’s how we did it
We started with Cesium, a 3D geospatial platform with open source plugins for Unity and Unreal Engine 5, gaming platforms that developers use to create applications for AR glasses and VR headsets, as well as for the web and mobile devices. We discovered that we could project 3D maps with the ML2 glasses. The Geopogo team then created a special occlusion material that could be applied to the Photorealistic 3D Tiles to make it invisible to the user, allowing AR models to interact with this occlusion layer and hide behind it. We then built location tools to move, rotate, and align the model in the real world and lock it into place.
Packaged together with Cesium, Google’s Photorealistic 3D Tiles, and the Magic Leap 2, Geopogo is becoming a powerful platform for visionary architects, leaders, designers, and commercial developers. With Geopogo, they can design, review, and present their building concepts in the real world. Everyone can see and understand the visual impacts of a building design before it is built. Firms like HOK Architecture, Engineering and Planning (the largest in the US) and their teams are using the Geopogo platform for their presentations and design reviews.
Standing at Lake Merritt during that warm summer morning, it became clear to me we had moved ever closer to our mission for enhancing the architectural presentation further beyond renderings and blueprints. Geopogo is being built for anyone who has ever had an idea about how their city could be designed better, for you to say, “Here is my idea, put these on, take a look!”
Now show us what you can do!