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Students Finish Strong in American Society of Engineers Datathon Event

A multi-disciplinary student team comprised of members from Wentworth Institute of Technology, Auburn University and Arizona State University took second place in the inaugural 2020 Datathon Competition.

Sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Computing Division, the competition took place alongside the annual 2020 Construction Research Congress (CRC 2020) Conference, which emanated from in Tempe, Arizona earlier this spring.

The datathon focused on rapid 3D and virtual reality (VR) modeling (launched in two phases—off-site and on-site) asked teams to work on generating accurate building information models (BIM) and VR models from a given set of drawings of a real project.

The team consisted of Dreux Santos-Quesnel and Cullen Ullo, both graduate students in the Wentworth’s Master of Architecture program;  Brendon (Austin) Haikes, a student in the Master of Building Construction program at Auburn University; and Joshua Gigantino, a Ph.D. student in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering at Arizona State University. The team was coached by John Cribbs, Ph.D., assistant professor in Wentworth’s Department of Construction Management.

For Phase 1, the competition team was initially provided with a set of building documents spanning the architectural, structural and mechanical disciplines. These documents were utilized by the team to generate a coordinated Building Information Model (BIM) using parametric authoring software. This model was then evaluated by subject matter experts for model completeness, semantic data representation, model accuracy, and final renderings and a video presentation.

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Figure 1: Storyboarding the Video Walkthrough & VR Environment

After successfully navigating Phase 1, the team quickly switched gears and focused on the generation of a single-person VR model of the building using open-source gaming engines. The final environment which the students were able to generate was a realistic environment for a building walk-through, at first-person height. This final model, which was developed utilizing Unity 3D, was evaluated for VR model completeness, user experience, creativity of VR environment and functions, and the realistic nature of renderings and material mapping.

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Figure 2: 3D View of Native Building Information Model Produced by the Student Team

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Figure 3: VR Renderings of Final Competition Model

“This project was engaging,” said Santos-Quesnel. “The process moved quickly and the use of BIM360 made remote collaboration and development move extremely quickly, as we finished the majority of the work for Phase 1 in three days.”

The project showcased the ability for future multidisciplinary teams to collaborate quickly in an all virtual environment. The competition team spanned three time zones, with students spread across 2,500-plus miles of distance. Communication was handled largely via the Slack application with data and model management based in cloud sharing applications and heavy use of the Autodesk BIM360 tool. Live VR development took place in rapid succession through scrum development techniques.

Additionally, the team was able to develop an Augment Reality (AR) version of their model, which was pushed into a Microsoft Hololens. This model contained the ability to be visualized in real-time, at various scales. Ultimately, a user was able to look inside the AR model and visualize the space as if they were inside the designed and constructed building.

--John Cribbs