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Artifice mimics nature as expert rock-climbing route re-created via 3D modeling

An expert rock-climbing wall has been re-created within a gym thanks to a team of computer scientists and engineers. The gym wall isn’t exactly the same as the one found in nature but instead focuses on the rock’s key climbing features that a skilled climber would use.

“We were excited by the idea of essentially being able to transport famous routes from around the world into our own local climbing gyms,” Emily Whiting, lead author of the study and rock climbing enthusiast, told Digital Trends.

The team reconstructed the most difficult sections (“cruxes”) of two popular climbing sites: “Things As They Are Now” (TATAN) in New Hampshire and “Pilgrimage” in Utah.

Emily Whiting, et al.
Emily Whiting, et al.

The team began by taking photos of the wall to generate a 3D digital reconstruction. They then watched sample video of a climber making his ascent. By analyzing how he positioned his body, the team was able to pinpoint where the climber placed his hands and feet, while estimating the direction of his hold to determine contact regions.

By comparing the digital reconstruction with where the climber grabbed, the team was able to develop 3D models that accurately resemble the most important holds.

“The key idea is that we only replicate critical portions of the rock face that are needed for grasping or as foot holds by the climber,” Whiting explained. “We call this ‘strategic fabrication,’ as it takes advantage of the way climbers interact with the rock.”

Rock climbing is fun of course, but the technology that made the project possible may find more serious applications as well. For example, it may be used to reconstruct difficult or dangerous areas to bring archaeological sites to life. “Our system could be applied to sites that are difficult or dangerous to access, but it’s important to experience the space,” Whiting said.

The researchers are also keen to move into virtual reality to match the visual aspect to these tactile experiences.

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