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ProStar - Geospatial Intelligence Viewer

edited October 2016 in Projects

My name is Carey Wheeler, and I am the point of contact and the lead developer on our Hololens project at ProStar Geocorp. In July of 2016, ProStar Geocorp purchased the first two of our current three Hololens units. 30 days later, we purchased a third unit for additional development.

Our Background:
ProStar Geocorp is a GIS-centric software & services company that is focused on providing utility owners and pipeline operators with cloud and mobile solutions designed to improve their asset management and damage prevention practices. We have developed Transparent Earth which is an entirely web-based geospatial platform comparable to other popular desktop GIS software, but with a focus on the conflation of data for Utilities and Oil & Gas. Our clients store or stream their data into the Microsoft Azure cloud and can reference numerous streaming data sources into layers providing a conflated view of their projects.
Transparent Earth also streams information to ecom tablet devices through our PointMan app. Our system ingests accurate data points from the field through the use of handheld GPS units and utility locating tools. The data entered in the field is then shown in the web environment (and data entered into the web environment is shown in the field).

About our Hololens Project:
We ordered the Microsoft Hololens with the intention of creating an app that works by streaming our data from the Azure cloud into a 3D holographic environment. We partnered with a local drone survey company to provide high-resolution orthorectified imagery to locations with poor satellite imagery options. One of the other datasets produced by them is a rectified point cloud which we convert to a mesh for use in the Hololens.
The entire process is as follows:
1. A fixed wing survey drone collects images of a project site. These sites can be a small static location or a linear project up to several miles long.
2. The drone mates its flight log with the photographs to create additional metadata that will be used to process the images through photogrammetry software.
3. Photogrammetry software removes the distortion and then uses a process known as bundle adjustment (or triangulation) to increase the accuracy of points in common in an image as well as the images perceived location. Once the process finishes, we further correct the data using survey control points and then re-optimize. The resulting data is the high-resolution image and point cloud (3D model) that are perfectly aligned to the earth surface.
4. We simplify these millions of points into a triangulated mesh that we then load into a unity environment.
5. The Unity3D environment then is also loaded with GIS data (streaming or rasterized) from our Transparent Earth GIS software. The result is what you see in the video. A holographic representation of a section of land with conflated data points.

Why Hololens Matters to us:
We are fond of the analogy that what we are doing with the Hololens is equivalent to a car company developing a race car. While we may not field the Hololens with every seat or login that a client has, we will use and leverage the technology to put into our mobile application with a better understanding of augmented reality. We view 3D as the next evolutionary leap in our software and using Microsoft products to develop makes a lot of sense. We are very pleased with the results of our Hololens experiments so far and will continue to develop for both Hololens and Azure. This isn’t to say that our experience isn’t without its shortcomings.

Our shortcomings so far:
• The lack of a geospatial coordinate system in Unity3D. Currently, we have to convert between real world coordinate systems and the “flat” system of the Unity3D environment. While not impossible, it is difficult to automate, and very time-consuming.
• The lack of onboard GPS. We fully understand that the Hololens is meant for indoor use, but we cannot help ourselves wanting to place mesh into the real world from where it was mapped. Recently, we have been working with several BlueStar handheld GPS units in attempts to add a geospatial component to our spatial mapping. This is still in the early development phase.
• As of now, we are manually inserting the data but are in the process of having the point “billboards” load streaming assets from our online environment. Again this has to do with the limitations of using a real world coordinate system and rasterizing data for use as assets. We are still working out the software communication issues.
• The current rendering capability is astounding for what this device is. We have extremely large data sets that we scale to beautifully display on the Hololens. Of course, we hope that the hardware will be further improved to include even larger data sets or utilize higher resolution images of the data we currently have without choking while live rendering. So far we have discovered our limitations and build new scenes from scratch within those limitations.
• A frequent initial reaction from clients and people testing the Hololens is that the viewing area is too small. We noticed that this becomes less of an issue the more you use the Hololens, but something that could be improved with a commercial release.

Any feedback on our shortcomings or improvements would be greatly appreciated. We love to develop for this technology and see the Hololens potential for widespread use. Included below is the video of the ProStar PointMan Holographic app being manipulated in our conference room. We are very excited to be developing this technology and will continue to post updates as we meet our milestones.

Also, I have included a link to our most recent press write-up regarding our work with the Hololens.

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