Virtual Tour of HPA

It’s hard to commit to living at a school for up to four years under most circumstances, but imagine the leap of faith it would require if you had never seen your own campus before the day you moved in. HPA has 200 students living on their campus, most of them coming from families that live thousands of miles away. One important factor that sets HPA apart from other boarding schools is the beautiful campus. That’s an easy claim for any high school to make, but how many can actually prove it?

Post-grad Oliver Nie and senior George Donev are currently designing a virtual tour for the campus that can be run right on the school’s website. The current trajectory of the project will allow a visitor to explore the campus through a series of panoramic images, similar to how Google Street View works. The tour will provide a much higher quality than a Street View tour, however, as the students create their images with a Nikon DSLR D7000 5k camera equipped with a fisheye lens. These photos don’t represent the entire project though.

The students have also been experimenting with computer generated meshes of the campuses buildings.They were able to demonstrate a current model of the energy lab that they had created using a open source tool called Blendr. The model shows the architecture of the building essentially as a 3d blueprint. This part of the project is difficult, requiring the students to learn and modify the software as they try to use it. In addition to the meshes, the students are using an advanced photogrammetry software, called Reality Capture, to recreate the interior of the building.

The process for photogrammetry requires the students to take hundreds of photos of a room from as many different angles and positions as possible, after which the software uses advanced algorithms to stitch everything together in a way the gives the room and all its objects a three dimensional structure. This technology is very powerful, only requiring about 15 minutes to create an entire room. George and Oliver both hope to build a start-up company based around their project, where they will offer to create virtual campus tours for college campuses.

I was also able to view a panoramic view of the school’s swimming pool area, through an Oculus rift headset. I had never used an Oculus prior, but their panorama was so responsive to rotating that I momentarily forgot that I was not at the pool and was shocked when I could not walk around the pool. However, by the end of the project the 3D meshes and panoramas will converge, allowing you to actually walk around past the panorama.The tour can be viewed with a VR headset, Google Cardboard, or just right from your computer screen; the students realize that VR technology is not readily available to everyone, but they want the experience to be.

Photos by Aaron Schorn.