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The virtual world is becoming a reality for St. Clair College students who are partnering with the augmented reality design and construction firm Geopogo.

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The Silicon Valley-based company joined the college and Invest WindsorEssex in building a 3D model of Windsor ( designwindsor.com ) that went live at the Automobility and Innovation Centre’s virtual reality cave in mid-November. The college will also incorporate the software and technology provided into several programs.

In addition, Geopogo plans to establish an office in Windsor in 2022.

“I’ve never seen something like this before in terms of the scope,” said St. Clair College’s director of innovation, research and entrepreneurship, Peter Wawrow.

“The entire city and Detroit has been modelled. Having that is a huge benefit to urban and transit planters, manufacturing.

“The fact that it will be available for anyone to download is a huge benefit, as well.”

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Wawrow said the timing of Geopogo’s creative director and St. Clair graduate, Mike Hoppe, reaching out with the concept was fortuitous.

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen the growth of virtual reality explode.

“We’ve been working on some virtual-type of projects already with manufacturing and the VR Cave,” Wawrow said. “The pandemic really solidified the virtual world is here to stay.

“When you look at the programs we have, architecture, construction, civil engineering technologies, manufacturing, interior design, getting them into the 3D world is a good next step.

“Expanding the college’s capacity and capability in the 3D world is beneficial for many of our students and helps the region build the skill sets required for the future.”

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Wawrow said it’s too early to tell whether the partnership is going to require any additional investment by the college beyond having the necessary software and computer capacity.

The college’s digital twinning team has worked with their counterparts at the Automobility and Innovation Centre to install the basic platform for use at Canada’s largest publicly accessible virtual reality cave. The process has now begun to scan buildings and their surroundings to create detailed, 3D images for input into the model.

“When I was in the architecture program (at St. Clair College) we had always dreamt of the concept of a full 3D model of the city and we could never achieve it and that was only 10 years ago or less,” Hoppe said.

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“Now we have entire regions done. What we’re moving into as I explore my relationships with St. Clair’s digital twin team and Invest WindsorEssex, is a complete 1:1 scale of the entirety of the city — all buildings, mapped, textured, terrains, heights, topography, weather simulations.”

St. Clair College research assistants, Kaitlyn Cotey, and Brian Gernon, left, are pictured in the virtual reality cave at the Automobility and Innovation Centre where a 3D twinning of the city of Windsor is projected onto the screen, on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021.
St. Clair College research assistants, Kaitlyn Cotey, and Brian Gernon, left, are pictured in the virtual reality cave at the Automobility and Innovation Centre where a 3D twinning of the city of Windsor is projected onto the screen, on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

Invest WindsorEssex’s Senior Manager of the Automobility and Innovation-Simulation Team Ed Dawson said the attraction for the local economic development organization was twofold.

It adds an innovative tool for regional planning and development and is part of an attempt by Invest WindsorEssex’s to lure Geopogo to Windsor to diversify the local economy.

“We’ve shown them the resources and support we can offer by getting it into the VR Cave to give a real platform to launch this model,” Dawson said.

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“They know they have an ecosystem behind them.”

Dawson said the value to local planners, companies and citizens is the tool lets you envision a project, propose changes to existing infrastructure and the impact those changes will have without the expense and at a much quicker pace.

“You’ll be able to envision anywhere in Windsor,” Dawson said.

“In developing new projects, it allows people to actually visualize it, so it’s much easier to understand what is being proposed and what it will look like.”

Hoppe said the program will help planners and residents build the city they really want because of its ability to be inclusive. He wants to be part of that process by returning to his hometown.

“The plan is to open a Geopogo office in Windsor next year,” said Hoppe, who still has family in town.

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“Vancouver and Toronto want us to go there. I’m from Windsor and I have direct input in this decision.

“I want to build Windsor by getting companies like Geopogo to come to Windsor.

“It’s not just the auto industry that’s going to transform the city. We must open new channels to the future economy.”

The 3D modelling includes Detroit, making it useful for the cross-border autonomous vehicle initiatives between Ontario and Michigan. The program is also being tested out by select architects on both sides of the border and a Detroit developer.

By making the software available for anyone to download onto their computer, Hoppe said it will give residents a voice in urban and transit planning as the city tries to re-design its core.

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“We create these things to give anybody the opportunity to explore and express their design visions through civic projects,” said Hoppe, who began his quest to build a digital twin of the city during his early days at the Downtown Windsor Business Accelerator before heading west.

“We can create and gamify tools that are traditionally highly focused software suites and give the public the tools to say, ‘This is my proposal for how I think the Celestial Beacon should be or where on the riverfront it should be.’

“I know a new community transit group has formed and they’ll have the opportunity to simulate bus patterns. They could do bus maps, move bus stops and show the simulated effects and outcomes.”

Hoppe has also chatted with officials from the Ambassador and Gordie Howe Bridges about getting 3D scans of their infrastructure to incorporate into the model.

“We can simulate regional traffic and traffic outcomes,” Hoppe said. “We can see the future of our region 10 years out.

“For students in architecture and engineering, we have an opportunity to give them an incredibly powerful tool.”

dwaddell@postmedia.com

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