Virtual Tour de Force
Team members Ian Miers, Garvi
Sheth, Patrick Carter and Joanna Perey high above the
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS
Students build online 3-D model of campus (digital) brick
By Greg Rienzi
Think you know the Homewood campus? You're about to
get a new perspective, thanks to an
industrious and dedicated team of Johns Hopkins
Office of Student Technology Services
is preparing to unveil version 1.0 of
Virtual JHU, a complete, visually accurate 3-D model of the
Homewood campus, including its grounds
and exteriors and interiors of each building.
This model will offer a virtual tour of the campus and
eventually will allow users to spatially
browse information about each building's contents and use,
right down to the location of vending
The project began last summer when Ian Miers, a junior
major, asked a simple
question to a colleague at Student Technology Services. "I
just said, 'Wouldn't it be cool if we did a 3-
D model of campus?' I thought, Why not?" Miers said.
To his surprise, he found a very receptive audience. A
small team soon formed and set out to
obtain blueprints of Garland Hall to test the feasibility
of such a project. Miers, in less than a day,
fashioned up a 3-D mockup of Garland using the floor plans.
He said the image was "nothing fancy," but
it proved a point. "We looked at each other and said, 'We
can do this.'"
Miers and his co-project leader, Patrick Carter, a
science major, enlisted other
students to help with the effort, which had received the
full support of Deborah Savage, IT manager
of Student Technology Services, a unit of IT.
Coincidentally, another group of students, working at
the Brown Digital Media Center, had
started a project to enter an international competition
sponsored by Google to produce a 3-D model of
their campus and put it in Google Earth. By partnering with
their counterparts in Student Technology
Services, they were able to complete it in time for the
Everyone's efforts paid off.
Johns Hopkins was one of nine schools from five
countries chosen as winners of the 2008
Google International Model Your Campus Competition. The
finished 3-D models of the JHU buildings
were put online (contest.sketchup
.com/intl/en), and the team of students each received
an Apple iPod Touch, a Nintendo Wii Console and a Google
T-shirt and hat.
The Virtual JHU project was a challenge. The terrain
was not uniform, and satellite images of
the campus were outdated. The team obtained existing
topography measurements and blueprints of
the buildings. To fill in some blanks, the students went
out on campus with commercial measuring tools.
They also took to the sky, of sorts. The team used balloon
aerial photography — a simple digital camera
tied to party store helium balloons — to take aerial
pictures of new buildings and landscape that the old
satellite imagery did not show.
A work-in-progress screen capture
of Mason Hall shows attention to details such as columns,
windowpanes and benches.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS
The planning and execution of the aerial photography
took about one month, although it did not
always go smoothly. Slight winds led to several crashes
onto trees and roofs, and on one occasion a BB
gun (courtesy of Campus Safety and
Security) and crane (courtesy of Facilities
needed to bring down balloons caught in trees. The aerial
pictures were stitched together and edited
using Adobe Photoshop, a process that allowed the students
to create a bird's-eye view of the newly
completed Decker Quadrangle.
The majority of the data and models created for the
Google Earth competition will be used in
the Virtual JHU project.
Due to the immense scope of the undertaking, the
Virtual JHU team broke into groups and
additional students were brought in. The lion's share of
the work was conducted this summer.
Joanna Perey, a senior
Seminars major, joined the project in its infancy to
add her graphic design expertise. She has since become a
technical adviser, helping to train other students to
input data and work with the modeling program.
Perey said the experience has been both fun and
"It's been great, and a lot of work," she said. "It's
been a real team effort. It's not just
computer science majors; we've been able to bring in a lot
of people from different departments who
add their own abilities and creativity."
The first version of Virtual JHU will feature a 3-D
walkthrough of the Homewood campus with
detailed and textured models of the buildings. Over time,
Virtual JHU will be populated with
information from individual schools, departments and
offices. Ultimately, the team plans to add
information boxes to every office, classroom and lab,
providing information such as classes offered in
given rooms, operational hours for various offices and
links to the appropriate Web sites. For some
offices, there will also be informational videos.
Savage said that the aim is to produce an interactive
version of campus that will help people
navigate and experience it remotely. It will become "a
single point of service" for anyone looking for
general or specific information about Homewood. In coming
years, the plan is to create similar 3-D
models of every Johns Hopkins campus and satellite
Miers said that Virtual JHU will be a more
user-friendly way to learn about Johns Hopkins
"What we have now are maps and lists, which are flat
and not always attractive," he said. "With
Virtual JHU, you will able to look at the campus the way
you interact with it in reality. It will become
an actual environment to explore, and a useful way to show
the campus. That is the basic idea."
In recent months, the Office of Student Technology
Services has partnered with the offices
Government, Community and Public Affairs; and
Development and Alumni
Relations to move the project toward completion.
Miers said he's been blown away by the support and
growth of the undertaking.
"At one point I wondered, Why did I open my mouth in
the first place?" he said with a laugh.
"This has moved way beyond our original expectations, and
it's been wonderful to be part of."
When completed, Virtual JHU will be found at
It is expected to go live at the end of the month.
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