Tag Archives: Unity

Visualising Point Clouds in Unity by Height and Intensity

ArcelorMittal Orbit

For some time there has been a free point cloud viewer available on the Unity asset store. While I was learning about the capture and processing of LiDAR data for my PhD I used the package repeatedly to visualise my data. I also made several changes to the code but couldn’t determine who the author was and whether the code had a licence. Recently I managed to get in touch with the author Gerard Llorach who kindly agreed to set up a repository for the project on GitHub with an open MIT licence. I’ve now created my own fork of the project with my updates which you can clone or download from the following location:


While the free point cloud viewer was originally designed to visualise point clouds photorealistically using RGB values, I found that many of the raw point clouds I was using did not come with RGB values. However, they were rich with other information such as the return intensity of each point and its height which can be used to determine the height of buildings for generating 3D urban datasets. In order to be able to visualise these properties I updated the point cloud viewer to be able to access the and visualise them using colour gradients. You get a sense of the effect in my screenshot above of the ArcelorMittal Orbit tower on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London. Post processing effects and shaders can be used to further manipulate the visualisation in Unity.

My code currently assumes that a comma delimited XYZ file with an .xyz extension will be provided. The code also anticipates a file containing up to seven columns of data in the format XYZRGBI (where I is intensity). At present you need to manually check your files to determine min and max values for Height and Intensity, if you intend to use those features. Be prepared to adjust the code to suite your data if necessary.

Personally I love the abstract look this gives the point clouds, especially when viewed in Virtual Reality. There are a number of great projects which use point clouds creatively as a visual metaphor for alternative modes of perception. My favourite is a wonderful VR experience called Notes on Blindness which accompanied the film of the same name. The film and VR experience tell the story of Philosopher John Hull who recounts the gradual deterioration and loss of his sight in an inspiring and uplifting audio diary of his experiences. Another example was In The Eyes of the Animal which places the user in an immersive audio visual experience as one of four animals exploring a forest. Finally, Where the City Can’t See is a speculative film by Liam Young and Tim Maughan which was shot entirely with laser scanners and proposed to depict the near future city as seen ‘through the eyes of the robots that manage it’.

I started working with the package after attending a workshop by the Bartlett scanning group B-Scan in 2017. Dominik Zisch in particular was great at suggesting ways I might by change the code to meet my aims. There are still lots of features and small touches I’d like to add when I have the opportunity. While my changes aren’t yet ready for the asset store, I do hope to have some of them incorporated in the near future. In the meantime you are free to clone or download my fork of the repository and experiment with the updates. Have fun!


Roames: Virtual Asset Management With Unity

Roames is a Unity-based 3D data visualisation platform created by Dutch company Fugro for the purpose of asset management. In particular it has been used to visualise LiDAR point clouds as the basis for the management and maintenance of power networks. In the video below Glen Ross-Sampson and Peter O’Loughlin from the Fugro Roames team discuss the challenges involved in creating a platform for geospatial data in Unity.

Behind the scenes Amazon Web Services (AWS) are used to provide scalable computation for processing large amounts of point cloud data. Algorithms are run on the AWS clusters to classify and extract different types of features from the point cloud. These include power lines, poles, vegetation and buildings. Further business rules can then be applied and visualised to help users make decisions. In this case they helped Ergon Energy in Australia assess the risk of damage to overhead power cables caused by growing vegetation. The benefit of this kind of ‘virtual asset management’ is that it allows clients like Ergon to make assessments about the assets they manage without having to send crews to inspect every site. By prioritising those sites most at risk they can expect to make significant savings.

Roames was the outcome of a five year project. Unity was chosen as the visualisation client because commercial GIS software didn’t provide the performance they required. They also wanted to be able to customise the interface and experiment with simulation. Using Unity enabled the team to prototype without having to build low level functionality from scratch.

The system allows the user to explore the scene in real-time. Data are streamed in to the scene and unloaded dynamically with the aid of memory and hard-disk caches. Changing level of detail (LOD) is used to support zooming the view from out of space all the way in to a ground level view. As the user zooms in points are replaced by a voxel representation. All of this is achieved using Amazon S3 for cloud storage.

As well as discussing the motivation behind Roames’ and their technical stack the talk does a great job of discussing some common problems and solutions in working with large spatial data sets in Unity.

Technical notes:

Regionation – Map data in Roames is structured according to the Tile Map Service (TMS) specification developed by the Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo) and served via a Rest API endpoint. Tiles of different LOD are provided based on proximity to the camera. This is also used when the camera is tilted to ensure lower levels of details are used for objects that are further away.

Floating Point Precision – Unity using 32-bit single precision floating point numbers to store the positions of assets. This gives an average accuracy to 7 significant figures. The need to map data across the whole globe to millimeter precision. However, on the scale of the globe accuracy to the nearest metre alone requires 8 significant figures. The spatial uncertainty this introduces is visibly represented by an onscreen spatial jitter. This was resolved by storing the positions of objects with 64-bit double precision and using a floating origin. The floating origin was achieved by setting the position of the main camera to the Unity world origin (0,0,0) each frame and moving the other objects relative to that position rather than moving the camera.

Manipulating large numbers of objects – Manipulating the positions of thousands of objects is computationally expensive and reduces the frame rate. The Roames team used a number of evenly distributed empty game objects or ‘terminal nodes’ as references that other objects could be parented to. This meant Instead of updating the positions of all objects in the scene they just had to update those of the terminal nodes.

Memory Management – As objects are loaded and removed from the scene their are spikes in activity caused by lags in Unity’s automated memory management or ‘garbage collection’; the process by which unused memory is freed for reuse. These issues were resolved by reusing existing objects to avoid allocating more memory and making those objects static where possible. Use of for loops or enumerators was recommended over foreach loops which allocate memory internally. Reducing the amount of string manipulation is also recommended.

Scratch Arrays – Roames introduced their own ‘Scratch Array’ pattern to resuse commonly sized arrays.

Binary Formats – Rather than use KML which is a verbose, text-based XML format, Roames uses the Binary PLY format which performs much better. This reduced file sizes and improved load times and garbage collection allocations.

In order to display the points efficiently they are batched into single meshes on 65,000 vertices. They also lower the density of their clouds prior to loading.

The Core Engine and the other aspects of the product like the user interface were separated to make the project easier to handle. This enabled the 14 developers on the project to work more efficiently. It also meant that other custom tools could be quickly developed in separation from the main project.

The team’s goals going forward to get the product working across the web, to open the Core API to developers, and to start using Unity physics for simulations.

A/B: Participatory Navigation with Augmented Reality

Imagine navigating the city with an augmented reality app, but where the choice of route is determined by a crowd and the decision floats in front of you like the hallucinations of a broken cyborg. A/B was an experiment in participatory voting, live streaming and augmented reality by Harald Haraldsson. Created for the digital art exhibition 9to5.tv the project allowed an online audience to guide Haraldsson around Chinatown in New York for 42 minutes. This was achieved through a web interface presenting the livestream from an Android Pixel smartphone.

The smartphone was running Haraldsson’s own augmented reality app implemented with the Unity game engine and Google’s ARCore SDK. At key points Haraldsson could use the app to prompt viewers to vote on the direction he should take, either A or B. ARCore enabled the A/B indicators to be spatially referenced to his urban surroundings in 3D so that they appeared to be floating in the city. Various visual effects and distortions were also overlaid or spatially referenced to the scene.

More images and video including a recording of the the full 45 minute can be found on the A/B project page here.

Thanks to Creative Applications for the link.

One Man Game Jam: HTC Vive Basketball

HTC Vive BasketballLast week CASA finally received the HTC Vive. Everyone in the office had great fun exploring Valve’s demo experience The Lab. During the week the Longbow emerged as a particular favourite and caused several of us to discuss which sports might work in VR as viable training simulations. Wanting to get to grips with the HTC Vive hand controllers I decided to take up the challenge by creating a basketball simulation for the Vive in Unity.

I started by downloading a SketchUp model of a basketball court from the 3D warehouse. The model had no walls and a lot of reversed faces so I quickly fixed it up in SketchUp with the aid of the S4U Material plugin, ThomThom’s Material Tools and ThomThom’s excellent CleanUp³ plugin. I also obtained a royalty free basketball model from TurboSquid.

Basketball Court SketchUp

As the Unity importer for SketchUp had failed last time I used it I exported the model from SketchUp in Collada format, and converted it to FBX out of habit using the Autodesk FBX converter. After importing the models into Unity I downloaded the SteamVR plugin and added the CameraRig prefab to my scene to handle the basic Vive interaction.

Basketball Court Unity

Trigger colliders were placed in the basketball hoops with a C# script attached to count the score. The Steam scripts for TestThrow and Teleporter were then added to the hand controllers and modified to enable the player to navigate the entire basketball court and to spawn and throw the ball. The ball physics were handled with a simple Unity physics material which was surprisingly effective.

Using the Vive hand controller works well with two qualifications: Firstly it isn’t possible to apply back spin to the ball; secondly there is a high risk of throwing the hand controller out of the window. Risk of breakage in injury aside the final game is really challenging but great fun. I thought I’d actually got the drop on Basketball games in VR but it looks like HelloVR are adding a basketball experience to their social VR platform Metaworld. Could be fun!

Unity 5 Released!

Great news today from the Games Development Conference in San Francisco. After almost a year since its first announcement the latest version of the Unity game engine has just been released.

From a real-time visualisation perspective the newly enhanced graphical features are the most exciting:

  • Realtime Global Illumination
  • Physically-based Shading – Makes materials look more true-to-life under a range of lighting conditions
  • Reflection probes – Adds better

Jointly these help enhance the realism of Unity scenes by more effectively simulating the way light interacts with materials and bounces off of them. This is demonstrated to great effect in Unity’s ‘Viking Village’ example:

These new features have been used to great effect by Alex Lovett in the development of his ‘Divine Shrine’ concept visualisation below. You can read more about the making of the project here.

Additional enhancements for Audio, in game UI and the Editor mean that Unity 5 is a massive leap forward over previous versions in all regards. This is brilliant news for the scores of indie developers who continue to make the most of Unity’s favourable pricing structure and ease in deploying projects to a wide range of platforms.

Over the coming months I expect to be working with the Unity engine extensively and can’t wait to explore Unity 5’s new features. Aside from the obvious benefit of the graphical enhancements I’m looking forward to experimenting with the ability to deploy direct to the web using webGL which should spare users the need to download an additional web plugin.

Unity 5 is now available for download from the Unity website here. Enjoy!

VUCITY: Approaching real-time city information

On Tuesday I was invited to visit Wagstaffs Design in London to take a look at their latest product VUCITY. Powered by the Unity game engine, VUCITY offers an interactive 3D model of London that can be deployed to a touch screen table, video wall, tablet or desktop computer as required. The standalone application enables users to rotate and view the entire scene and zoom down to the scale of individual buildings.


Currently VUCITY covers 80 square kilometres of Central London, from Earls Court in the west to the ExCeL exhibition centre in the east, and from Old Street in the north to Battersea in the south. The project is a joint venture between Wagstaffs and Vertex Modelling who are able to provide high detail 3D models of the London area. Created from high resolution imagery the models boast an average accuracy tolerance of 40mm compared with full measured surveys. This degree of accuracy is particularly important for viewshed analysis and visualisation proposed as a possible application in Wagstaffs’ promotional video:

Over time Wagstaffs are seeking to integrate a range of data including data on demographics, property prices over time as well as live data streams for transport. The inclusion of real-time data is possibly the most exciting aspect of the project but also holds the biggest challenge. This is a fantastic project and I’ll be following it keenly. I thoroughly recommend heading over to the Wagstaffs’ website to check out VUCITY and their other great projects today.

Virtual Architectures at the UCL Coding Club

At the end of July I was fortunate to be invited to contribute a workshop on Virtual Reality and the Oculus Rift so the series of coding workshops that UCL have been running over the summer for teenagers at Stratford Library.

This was a fantastic opportunity to give young people hands-on experience of the latest technology and help them engage directly with the possibilities it affords for participatory design. To that end I chose to offer a workshop in which I’d lead participants right through the workflow for creating a 3D scene and generating an interactive walk-through. In doing so I wanted to demonstrate the relative ease with which a 3D environment of any kind could be created with accessible free software including Trimble’s Sketchup Make and the powerful Unity game engine. My hope was that after trying these tools participants might be encouraged to start experimenting for themselves.


Following a brief outline of the session and a presentation about the Oculus Rift we jumped right in to the process of building a model in SketchUp. I began by demonstrating the user interface and walking participants through the creation of a basic room using the rectangle, line, extrusion and offset tools.


Once we had our room we added basic textures and created an array of windows.


After turning the room into a component I demonstrated how the same array technique could be used to quickly turn one floor into an entire building. The ability to copy and array parts of models is fundamental to speeding up work in 3D. It can be tricky to understand and get it right at first so it was really rewarding to watch as the penny dropped. After adding a roof and door to our models we stopped for a break.


During the break it was really encouraging to see that some of the participants were keen to start work on models of their own. The influence of Minecraft was very apparent.

Once we were back at the computers I quickly demonstrated how to export a model from SketchUp and use the free Autodesk FBX Converter to prepare it for import into Unity. As we were running slightly behind at this point I had to move through the process of working in Unity more quickly. After demonstrating the interface I imported the warehouse model we’d created in SketchUp, being careful to note the importance of setting the model scale and position correctly.


A directional light was added for the sun and I imported a model of a town square that I’d prepared in advance of the workshop. The group were really surprised and excited when I told them that I’d been able to create the scene from scratch in about 45 minutes in SketchUp using the same techniques I’d demonstrated earlier.


A skybox was added to complete the scene and the Unity first person controller was added to provide the ability for the player to interact with the scene.


I built the scene and had a working first person experience, in minutes, all within the free version of Unity.


After explaining the process for integrating the scene I’d just created with Oculus Rift we moved to another room for the final demonstration of two Oculus Rift headsets running demos I’d built previously with Unity Pro. Alongside the CASA Urban Roller Coaster I also showed off my City Run driving demo which I’d created with new sample assets from Unity. The latter demo was particularly popular amongst the gamers in the group as it provided the freedom to explore the city for jumps and stunts using an Xbox controller.

[vimeo 105501647 w=625 h=351]

The session was really challenging but we had a great time and managed to achieve a lot. I’d like to share a big thank you with the staff at Stratford Library and Kim and the Public Engagement team at UCL for making this workshop possible. I’d also like to thank CASA for their support.