Assistant professor Ladislav Kavan from the University of Utah’s School of computing, and his colleague Emily Whiting, a assistant professor from Dartmouth, began working on a full-scale replica of a climbing route. The project, which is specifically recreating the climbing route “Pilgrimage” located in St. George, Utah was a monumental undertaking .The pair, who studied together as postdoctoral students in Zurich, were inspired to recreate a climbing route based on the ir 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.
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.
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.
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.