December 8, 2022

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Mixed Reality used to help measure forest growth

At Rice University graduate student Daniel Gorczynski and bioscientist Lydia Beaudrot developed a modern way to measure vegetation in the field. The proof of concept utilizes the Microsoft HoloLens Mixed Reality headset to measure plant growth for ecology and conversation efforts.

Designed so “Ecologists won’t always need expensive and bulky equipment to measure vegetation in the wild.” This custom application called VegSense was developed by Daniel. In fact, this was his first crack at software engineering. Thankfully through the internet Daniel found a wide variety of tools to help him throughout the custom build. This shows how anyone can develop their own application without any prior experience and find immediate success.

Early results of the PoC are promising and according to Daniel and Lydia “could be a suitable alternative to traditional classical field measurements at a low cost.” The goal of this project is to replace traditional field surveys where you would go out with a measuring tape, stick, and stick to measure each plant one by one. As you can imagine how time consuming and inefficient the whole process is.  Instead, researchers place the headset on and complete measurements in a fraction of the time they would normally take the traditional way.

The benefits do not stop there. As users measure each plant or tree, a dashboard will show live data for initial analysis. In the event ecologists miss a plant or gathered the data on the wrong tree. They can always go back to the history archives and pull the information with ease. The whole process is cost effective compared to the traditional process and the goal is this open-source application will be available for anyone to use.

How VegSense works is a user will place the headset on and walk through a forest or any place with vegetation. As they look through the plants the HoloLens will scan their field of view and measure the vegetation. Users will see a “holograph-like grid pattern that tracks the surfaces of vegetation” and see what areas have been missed. During a field test tests at Houston’s Memorial Park, VegSense easily detected 48 of 50 such trees in the target area, a circle about 30 feet in diameter. The level of detail is like the manual process but only takes a fraction of the time.

This proof of concept pushes the boundaries of what we think Mixed Reality and Microsoft HoloLens could be used for. While manufacturing, health care, and education have the mainstay of use cases, the hopes are that this project shows how anyone can develop their own custom application for use in any industry.