WILSON’S LOCAL PRINT AND DIGITAL COMMUNITY INSTITUTION SINCE 1896

Innovation drawn to Wilson: Virtual reality tour being developed for incubator

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The doors of the Gig East Exchange aren’t open yet, but technology already is being used to make a virtual reality rendering of the incubator in downtown Wilson.

“Part of the Exchange is building a community within Wilson, but also being strategic in building a strong relationship with East Carolina University. Through some introductions, we were able to meet up with some people in the geography department and we were able to brainstorm how to leverage what we offer in the space,” said exchange manager Darren Smith. “It led to one of the deans suggesting some of the students do a virtual mapping of the exchange with cutting-edge technology.

“We are excited to see this happening before the first nail is even driven.”

Applied geography senior Ethan Poppe has spent several sweaty days in the vacant two-story building at 127 Goldsboro St., operating a Leica P40 laser scanner that will take measurements of every little detail and capture 360-degree photographs of the space.

“When we’re done scanning, we’ll go back and put all the scanned data into the computer,” Poppe said. “The program will automatically recognize the sharp edges in the space and match those in different scans to give a nice 3D image.”

Poppe and others from ECU even used a drone to capture the exterior of the World War II-era building. The information captured can be used during the construction phase to design the space and determine the density of various materials, but with additional scans as work nears completion next spring, the public will be able to take a virtual reality tour and see the transformation.

Smith said the students’ finished product will help attract tech-focused entrepreneurs and companies to the exchange.

“One of the interesting things about this technology is it is pretty similar to the way that self-driving cars see. They shoot out lasers and take points to continuously map the environment they are driving in,” Poppe said. “In the future, there is going to be a lot more of this TLS (terrestrial laser scan) data to work with that can be integrated in a range of uses. For instance, you could continuously measure the state of sidewalks or the grade of handicapped ramps to make sure everything is up to code.”

In fact, Smith and Greenlight General Manager Will Aycock said Wilson has developed a reputation that attracts companies, especially those developing smart city technology.

“Green Stream is doing a pilot program with Wilson for flood sensors,” Smith said. “Green Stream is looking to be members of the exchange and the Gig East community, but they are also actively looking for a place to build their business and Wilson is on their list because the city embraces technology.”

In addition to the geography interns, the city also is hosting a software development intern from ETI Software, which is using Wilson as a site for beta testing.

“That is another example of Wilson being used as a test bed for smart city technology,” Aycock said. “Sixty percent of all jobs in the future are going to be created primarily in urban areas and around these technologies, but we’re trying to expose the community to that and lay the groundwork to keep Wilson relevant in the inevitable job evolution of the future.”

Funding for the ECU interns is covered in the Gig East Exchange budget and will count as the city’s allocation for grants associated with the $2.7 million project. The city council is expected to approve a contract for construction of the exchange at Thursday’s meeting and work is likely to begin next month.

Smith said he’s had a handful of remote workers commit to become members of the exchange when it opens and he’s working to find more Wilsonians who work from home but would like to work in a creative and collaborative space. Raleigh Internet of Things, RIOT, also has committed to having a cohort at the exchange.

He’s been hosting Gig East meetups, including one in September, and officials are planning the next Gig East Summit that will take place in April and coincide with other downtown events.

“Most smart city discussions are around communities like Cary, Charlotte or Asheville, but there are opportunities in communities like Wilson and the exchange helps create opportunities,” Aycock said. “We want all our youth to understand there are opportunities right here.”

Visit tinyurl.com/yyo6bwlq for more information about the exchange and upcoming events.

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