Clirio is the “metaverse for the real world”
Although its platform creates 3D visualizations for the engineering industry, Clirio’s impact is changing the lives of everyday communities.
The metaverse will transform the way consumers interact with screens, say commentators – if only it had a killer app. The engineering industry, however, is ahead of the curve. In geology, mining, structural engineering, and beyond, the tech is starting to become indispensable. And not in the ways you might think.
Vancouver firm BGC Engineering has been headquartered in the city for 32 years. With offices across Canada, the U.S., and South America, the company solves engineering problems that intersect with earth sciences and geology – the kind of problems that create a whole lot of 3D data. Lidar, CAD designs, photogrammetry, satellite pictures, and more are commonplace for the organization, and half a decade ago it set about innovating how to faithfully represent those images. After the arrival of the Microsoft HoloLens, a tool for augmented reality (AR) visualization, BGC spun out a new company in 2020: one that it could collaborate with to scan its own data, but also that could work with other engineering firms. The new company was named Clirio.
“Our tagline is ‘metaverse for the real world,’” says Keith Lay, Clirio’s director of content. The organization, he describes, offers a platform where anyone can use an iPhone or iPad Pro to capture 3D scans of what’s in front of them, add that data to a map which is an exact digital twin of the landscape, and share it with others in a virtual meeting. “The organizational piece kind of gets glossed over, because it’s not the sexy part, right?” he continues. “The sexy part is 3D-scanning something in the field and then putting on a headset and having a virtual meeting. But that middle piece is the glue that holds it all together.”
Clirio’s product has become a breakthrough tool in technical engineering projects. Oil and gas explorations, for instance, can use the tech to build 3D holographic presentations that can be shared with regulators and the public. Civil engineers and project managers are able to document notes and photos on a digital map of the site, and send them for review by experts at the office. But as well as its applicability to those working in industry, the product has become hugely significant for the public. By visualizing subterranean landscapes, the company’s tech offers ways for communities to understand and learn more about the ground they stand on. That education can have a weighty cultural significance.
Just a few months ago, for instance, BGC used Clirio’s technology to document the excavation of a Jewish resistance bunker in an ambitious and sensitive archeological dig. In May 1943, more than 100 poorly armed individuals in the Warsaw Ghetto fought for three weeks against Nazi SS troops to stop them from taking the remaining Jewish people. After the bunker fell, little was known about how many people died in the shelter, and what happened during their defiant fight. Using Lidar tech on iPhones and iPads combined with Clirio View – an AR tool developed for geological site investigations – researchers at the site could capture a photo-textured 3D digital twin of the excavation, displaying the correct dimensions and subtle features of the trench, and helping map the bunker before the excavation took place.
“The fact that they were able to use our technology to create the 3D scans on site, in a very sensitive way, without bringing in tons of equipment – not being invasive on the site – now, you've got a much better document of what was seen there,” says Lay.
Closer to home, Clirio’s technology is helping educate and maintain the safety of communities around the Northwest Territories’ Giant Mine. Opened in 1948 a few kilometres north of Yellowknife, the enormous facility operated until 2004, pulling gold from the ground. In the process, it left approximately 237,000 metric tons of deadly arsenic trioxide dust under the feet of the city’s residents. The soluble and easily-blown powder is a byproduct of the extraction, and in an attempt to reduce harm, the dust was collected and stored in sealed underground chambers. Nevertheless, it remains potentially devastating for the population. In 2006, for instance, flooding around the Giant Mine’s Mill Pond’s subterranean chamber threatened to dump large amounts of arsenic into Yellowknife Bay.
“This has been an ongoing issue for people there for a long time,” says Lay. “This is a massive concern to people living there. [...] There is an engineering solution. It's to drill into the ground around these former mining chambers, where the arsenic is stored, and put in what are called thermosyphons, which basically pull any heat out of the ground to ensure that it [the ground around the arsenic] stays in a frozen state. BGC Engineering are working with a variety of other firms to present the information about what's happened. BGC specifically has the contract to present the public information.”
Clirio’s visualization tools are an intuitive way to show residents where the arsenic deposits are located, and how the engineering solution will help to keep the deadly dust contained. Engineers take the HoloLens headset into the community – often in a large hall, like a gymnasium – and fill the space with an accurate model of the underground of the mine.
“You put on the HoloLens, and you literally walk around, and you can actually see a very large-scale model, and get a feel for that,” says Lay. “And we overlay on top of that a map of the area. And so people are literally going, ‘Oh, there's my house. And there's where the mine relates to where I live, or where I go fishing, or where I go into the countryside.’ And then we're able to show the engineering solutions in the underground. [...] There's a visualization of how the water table changes naturally over the seasons, and how this plan would keep that water table from interacting with that highly soluble arsenic.”
Given its wide applications, Lay sees the possibility for Clirio’s tech to add value to a number of other industries. Because it doesn’t require any standalone hardware – the only necessity for Clirio’s 3D scans is an iPhone or iPad Pro – the tech could be used by realtors, he suggests, to take realistic images of a location and create a scaled visualization. Interior designers could use it to find pieces for their clients, scan the furniture or art, and share them in customers’ homes or through a virtual meeting. Climbers could take images of rock walls, tag them on a map, and review them later outside of the location.
“There's no end to where this could go,” says Lay. “And we're really excited to see how that grows organically on its own. But in terms of ourselves, being the nerds that we are, we're going to continue to work with other engineering firms for our goal. We literally want to change the state of practice in engineering. If we'd walked into engineering firms in the ‘70s or ‘80s, and there were a bunch of people on drafting tables with slide rules, and we said, ‘Hey, you're going to do this on computers. You're going to use this thing called CAD’ — at the time, they’d think you were crazy. But of course, that's where they all are now. And that's where we feel like we are today — like we're literally walking in and saying, ‘You guys are looking at all this data on your flat 2D screens. We're going to get you up out of your chair into the room with a headset, or glasses, or who knows what that technology will be in the future. And you're going to be doing your engineering practice in a totally new way.’ And that's a very lofty goal. But that is the goal that we've stated.”
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