Melbourne: AR Helps Revitalize City Center

Melbourne: AR Helps Revitalize City Center
July 18, 2017
Ben Sinnott (left), the team leader of special systems, views a virtual building with Dr Mowlam. 


Local residents and potential investors can stand in Werribee's main street and view the revitalised city centre, while proposed buildings are still on the drawing board, thanks to the WynLens augmented reality project.


Built around Microsoft's Hololens augmented reality headset, Wyndham City Council's WynLens superimposes architectural plans over the wearer's view of the real world. It allows the council to visualise the proposed revamp of Werribee's city centre, in Melbourne's outer west, which is now open to 20 story buildings in an effort to attract local investment.

Wyndham City Council's Dr Adam Mowlam looks at a virtual building that's yet to begin construction. 


Wyndham is one of Melbourne's major population growth centres and the first stage of Werribee's transformation involves turning four ground-level car parks into residential apartment complexes, multi-level car parks, offices and retail stores.


WynLens goes far beyond traditional artist impressions and scale models, allowing people to stand in the actual street and see the buildings of the future, says Wyndham City Council's digital lead Dr Adam Mowlam.


Part of Wyndham's push to become a smart city, WynLens has won several awards including the Department of Infrastructure's 2017 National Award for Excellence in Local Government. Mowlam is also presenting WynLens at the Smart Cities conference in Barcelona later this year.


"For us WynLens is not just about promoting investment, it's also the perfect way to illustrate our vision for Werribee to the surrounding residents to ensure that everyone is on board," Mowlam says.


"Augmented reality is such a fantastic way to visualise these kinds of projects and I'm surprised more people aren't using it to bring their ideas to life."


Microsoft's Hololens augmented reality headset works by overlaying computer-generated images onto the wearer's view of the real world, similar to a fighter pilot's heads-up display. With a tiny built-in Windows computer, the Hololens headset is completely wireless, using built-in cameras to track the wearer's movements so the digital overlay remains perfectly aligned with the real world.

Dr Mowlam says AR is 'an amazing tool for taking ideas off the drawing board and dropping them into the real world'. 


Along with seeing how buildings will look from the street, Hololens wearers can also walk through architectural plans to tour buildings long before construction begins.


For now the WynLens augmented reality models are stored on Hololens, but Mowlam is looking to eventually stream models straight from the cloud. He is also keen to import more data sets into WynLens, such as details of the stormwater network to allow city engineers to stand in the street and see the underground drains.

Microsoft's Hololens headset. 


The ability to work with standard 3D modelling tools and import designs allowed Mowlam's team to put together the WynLens models in only a few weeks, although it is necessary to scale back some of the fine detail to allow for the Hololens' computing power. This flexibility allows the council to quickly develop WynLens models as new planning permits are issued and take the Hololens onsite to show people what the building will look like, Mowlam says.


The only drawback is that the augmented content can be difficult to see in bright sunlight and the Hololens offers the best results on an overcast day. For people who have never experienced augmented reality, Mowlam says it works best as a shared experience so WynLens offers the ability to link two Hololens headsets so someone can act as an augmented reality tour guide.

Dr Mowlam uses the Hololens at Wyndham City Council. 


"It turns out people don't care too much about the fine textures of the buildings, because they know it's not a computer game and it's not trying to look picture perfect," Mowlam says. 


"People get past the novelty of AR surprisingly quickly and recognise it as an amazing tool for taking ideas off the drawing board and dropping them into the real world."

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