May 15, 2017 | By Tess

An assistant professor from the University of Utah’s School of Computing has put his 3D design and printing chops towards a particularly ambitious project: recreating a full-scale replica of a popular outdoor climbing route. The project has involved 3D scanning, extensive 3D modeling, and 3D printing.

The project, which is specifically recreating the climbing route “Pilgrimage” located in St. George, Utah, is being led by assistant professor Ladislav Kavan and his colleague Emily Whiting, an assistant professor of computer science at Dartmouth College. The pair, who studied together as postdoctoral students in Zurich, were inspired to recreate a climbing route based on their own experiences climbing in Switzerland.

The idea was to combine their shared hobby of climbing with their expertise in computer modeling. "To us, the idea of being able to take famous routes from different places around the world and still climb them at our home gyms was the exciting part," said Whiting.

And while this is certainly not the first attempt to recreate a climbing route for training purposes (wooden replicas of climbing mountains have been in use since the 1980s), it may be the first time that 3D modeling and printing technologies have been used for that end.

According to the research duo, a team was assembled that included Nada Ouf, a computer science graduate from the University of Pennsylvania; Zhenyu Shu, from the Ningbo Institute of Technology Zhejiang University in China; Christos Mousas, a doctoral researcher at Dartmouth; and Liane Makatua, an undergraduate at Dartmouth.

Together, the group was able to capture a 3D model of the Pilgrimage climbing surface using hundreds of photos taken of the climbing route from various angles. Then, using multiview stereo software, the team was able to stitch together many photos to create a 3D model of the climb.

Of course, 3D printing a whole mountain face could be incredibly laborious and expensive, so the team had to find a slightly different approach. Ultimately, they decided that if they could track a climber’s ascent of the route, they could pinpoint the specific handholds and footholds used and recreate them.

To do this, the researchers video-taped someone climbing up the route and mapped out the climber’s skeletal structure. This mapping was then overlaid onto the 3D model of the mountain, which allowed the team to accurately place a number of handholds and footholds.

The actual fabrication process (which is still in progress) has consisted of using a computer-operated router to create foam models of the different holds, which are then overlaid with a silicon mold. The researchers then filled the molds with a casting resin for the final part.

According to Whiting, the team is still working on finding the best materials for capturing the textures of rock for a more accurate climbing experience. "Sandstone in one location versus granite in another location will have those tactile differences, and we are still working to capture that properly," she explained.

In addition to giving climbers the chance to train remotely for a particular climbing route, the project also has a conservational value. That is, as popular climbing routes are used more and more, the rocky surface of the mountain inevitably begins to erode and wear down. A 3D printed replica of a climbing route could help cut down on the number of climbs and help to preserve the environment.

As Kavan commented: “The rock is taking a toll. The climbers are practicing over and over again until they get it…but it is kind of destroying the rock."

Another inspiration for the project was Dean Potter’s infamous Delicate Arch climb in 2006. Potter notoriously climbed the soft and iconic sandstone arch, much to the horror of nature preservationists everywhere.

Delicate Arch, Utah, USA

Kavan thinks that in the future, 3D printed replica climbs could be used to make locations such as the Delicate Arch more accessible. "If you can take things that aren't even accessible and you don't even have access at all and still be able to bring it to your gym, it's exciting to us," commented Whiting.

The researchers also believe in the potential to one day crowdsource other climbing routes, as climbers could submit their photos to a special database that could then map out and 3D model routes from around the world.

The research project was recently presented by Kavan at the 35th annual Association for Computer Modeling conference in Denver.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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