We're building tree houses!

We are using tree houses to explore current, relevant, difficult challenges in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry. The objective is a software tool and product definition that will allow parents and kids to configure a tree house that can be easily built, either with parents or independently by kids. We'll follow offsite construction principles, use simple materials, and treat the process as an exploration of "productization" in the built environment. Our hack is like a "professional art project" - our goal is to make you think by creating objects that defy current industry standards.

What it does

Our app uses reality capture, photogrammetry, and design automation to allow a user - hopefully a kid - to design and configure a tree house in their neighborhood. Point a phone or tablet's camera at the environment captures surfaces. Algorithms detect likely tree trunks and a user selects three trees to support their structure. The structure is shown in augmented reality on the phone camera display. In a design mode, a user can configure platform and rail heights.

The app is a deployment of a Unity project, which includes other algorithms and processes geared for desktop computing. For example, we can display point clouds, detect trees, and create networks of tree houses.

How we built it

We built it on Unity, using code we wrote from scratch (except for a few basic algorithms, like cylinder detection from a set of points). We used Matterport scans, publicly available LIDAR data sets, and a data set from Hexagon. The tree house was designed by us and detailed by engineers on the team. All graphic design was done by our team.

Challenges we ran into

A kid wanted a zip line, so we added a zip line. We initially designed based on a triangular platform but our self-imposed limitation of only using 2x4's limited our capacity. We considered using a team member's SPOT robotic dog by Boston Dynamics, but the LIDAR data from the nav unit is not yet accessible (but will be later this summer).

Accomplishments that we're proud of

We deployed an AR app! We're doing reality capture on very limited devices, like Android phones with no depth sensing. We created funny videos. We exceeded our expectations and used the talents of everybody who was willing to join our team. The design worked and resulted in great insights into offsite construction. No kids got hurt! We designed an awesome t-shirt! We did a home project with only TWO trips to Home Depot and ONE of those trips was because we needed zip line parts! That's amazing and a credit to software-based bill-of-materials generation.

What we learned

The stress of a complex hackathon project mimicked a real project and made us think hard about decisions and outcomes. Overall, the use of software to improve prefabrication outcomes was validated in a number of ways. For example, construction waste, fabrication errors, and field-driven design changes were eliminated. Jake Olsen is a pretty good singer.

What's next for Hack My Tree House

We think we can dominate the market for tree houses by adding just a few more tree house typologies. We created a website and may find others who can contribute to a growing software code base.

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