Margarita Benitez (Modeler + Designer)

Markus Vogl ("Developer" + Designer)

Location: E15 - Lower Level Atrium - Table 100


3D models: Rhino, Grasshopper, Poly

AR dev framework: A-Frame

Libraries: Three.js, AR.js, gblock.js

Custom AR Marker created AR.js Marker Training.

Grasshopper definition is based on a tutorial file that was originally tested on 12/27/2018.


AR art in nature experience to bring awareness to the habitat loss of the near threatened chimney swift. The Chimney Swift is a very fascinating bird, as they cannot perch, but only hang on to walls. They are found in certain places in North America (including Ohio) and in some instances their migration can take them down to parts in South America.

Chimney Swift Migration Range

They spend all their time in the air except when roosting or nesting. They make their nests in Chimneys, but as industrialization moves away from American mainland and homeowners lock them out from their chimneys by capping them, they have lost over 70% of their habitat since the 1960’s and are now being considered a near-threatened bird species in their US habitat. One tower will hold a large number of migrating chimney swifts but only one breeding pair. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology states “during migration, as many as 10,000 swifts may circle in a tornado-like flock at dusk and funnel into a roosting chimney to spend the night. The lives of these widespread urban birds are surprisingly unstudied, because of their inaccessible nesting and roosting sites and their aerial lifestyle.” There has been efforts of bird lovers to mitigate this crisis, by building artificial chimneys out of cinderblocks, wood or metal sheeting.

When we first learned about the chimney swift, as designers we felt we could push the aesthetic design of these artificial chimneys through the use of digital fabrication and manufacturing. We have been working with Dr. Lara Roketenetz from the University of Akron Bath Nature Preserve Field Station, Dr. Judy Semroc from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History Museum and using the book “Chimney Swift Towers: New Habitat for America’s Mysterious Birds, a Construction Guide” by Paul and Georgean Kyle to develop the designs for our digitally designed and manufactured tower.

With this AR App, we wanted to share a project close to our hearts and bring to light the plight of the chimney swift. Our AR App uses a marker to place a chimney tower on site. We hope FlockAR to be used by field stations, parks, and schools to bring awareness about the chimney swift population decline and help the preservation of habitat for these awesome birds. It may even serve as a way to motivate the community and individuals to create their own chimney swift towers to help raise the population numbers of these adorable birds.

What it does

Flock AR is a WebAR App utilizing a custom chimney swift marker to place a virtual 3D chimney tower on site (ultimately to be built in nature).

How we built it

We used A-Frame with Jerome Etienne's A-Frame AR (thank you, Jerome!). Our Chimney tower models were created in Rhino using Grasshopper (parametric modeling) which were then loaded via poly. Custom .patt marker was created via Jerome's AR.js Marker Training.

Challenges we ran into

Ideation and team building were the first challenges we faced. We decided on our idea mid-Friday and we didn't feel it was possible to find a developer at that time to work with use so we focused on making this a learning experience. We ran into issues importing the model - some would import in Poly, others would not - turns out you have to turn on the allow for remix setting for the model to be able to be called into the app. We originally had an ASUS Zen Phone and a Google Daydream and it became instantly obvious that the Daydream is not an AR capable headset (no hole for the camera). We tested a VIVE Focus (as well as the Microsoft headset) but it felt like overkill as we wanted to keep the application as a web based, mobile AR experience. We had some issues with the marker triggering but the model not hiding once the marker was off camera. Mentor Or Fleisher was incredibly helpful in demystifying how models load and parts of three.js.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

We are proud of having learned about how to approach AR for mobile devices during the hackathon and that even though our project is technically "simple", we made something that is close to our heart in topic - the conservation of chimney swifts.

What we learned

Our takeaway from the keynote was to learn and have fun. We learned so much about the current hardware and software. The workshops and community talks were interesting and full of insights that we will take with us moving forward with our explorations in XR. Or helped us realize three.js is approachable.

What's next for FlockAR

The tower model will be changed to reflect actual tower design that will be physically constructed. We will be releasing the webAR at Bath Nature Preserve in Ohio so that the visitors there can visualize the chimney swift tower we will be installing there later this year. We plan on switching to a GPS markerless AR experience and plan to add a flock of chimney swifts at the top of the tower. We hope to add more content about the chimney swift (facts, photos, conservation info).

Built With

  • a-frame
  • ar.js
  • gblock.js
  • grasshopper
  • poly
  • rhino
  • three.js
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